Friday, June 26, 2015

In Which I Review Under the Dome (3x1 and 3x2)

It's baaaaaaack. Like the proverbial bad penny, Under the Dome has returned for its third season which means 9 weeks of my snark, my eye rolls, and my silly nicknames for characters I can't be bothered with. I've had almost a full month off of real reviewing but now is as good a time as any to dive back in--lest we forget, Under the Dome was one of the first shows to appear on this blog of mine. The season three opener "Move On" and "But I'm Not" (oh, so many jokes. So little time) has everything right where we left it. There's Barbie and Julie still doing their BBQ-ing; there's Little Crazypants Junior and Papa Crazypants Big Jim; there are Joe and Norrie--the incomparable Jorrie--making moon eyes at each other and acting like their love struck teenage shtick is real and will last. In other words, the opener for the (most likely?) final season of Under the Dome is a big giant mess full of weird pacing, weird acting, and weird plot lines that feel as though they are going nowhere. Ain't it great to be back? When we last left the residents of Chester's Mill, Barbie was about to lead them through an underground tunnel (of love?) full of butterflies (naturally) until Melanie (our residential Gollum) appeared and told everyone to follow her. Crazy is as crazy does, so of course everyone happily trotted after Gollum through the Cave of Wonders. What's on the other side? Answers? No, of course not. Suspense? Not really, mostly confusion. New characters that I really don't care about? You betcha. Oh Under the Dome...I am prepared for the terrible writing and overused cliches. Are you ready for my sass? Let's go!

Pod people! Like, actual pod people! Normally when we talk about pod people in media, it's a commentary on the poor character representation based on what has come before (see for example: Emma Swan in OUAT S3B and beyond. Too soon for OUAT snark?). But with Under the Dome, it's scarily literal. Let's be up front on this: these two hours of TV were weird. And confusing. And like something out of a bad 1980s science fiction film, complete with purple goop and cocoons. It felt like a hot mess because it was a hot mess. Future alternative realities that are being controlled by Gollum in an underground lair which houses the real residents of Chester's Mill, asleep in giant larvae? What were the writing tripping when they came up with this one? However, I will say this: it was so bad that it was almost good. This was campy; ridiculous camp that wasn't trying to elevate itself above campiness. I am fine with campiness; what I am not fine with is when a campy show forgets that it it's supposed to be grounded in the absurd.  This episode, thankfully, had that going for it. Basic premise: everything you saw in "future" Chester's Mill is fake. The Dome did not come down; Julia and Little Crazy Pants are not dead; Norrie did not join a a cult--sorry, sorority. Everyone is not "moving on" (and yes, you should take a shot for every time someone on the show mentioned the idea of moving on.) The concept of moving on seems very important to the aliens (can it really be anything other than aliens at this point?) in charge of the Dome. They want the residents to feel like they've moved past (shot!) the trauma of living in a fish bowl. Why exactly? Why create a false life for the people that you're....harvesting, or doing whatever to. Is there an empathetic streak to these aliens? Possibly, but I think, rather, that it's easier to control livestock if they think everything is perfectly normal. If you introduce an agent or stimulus into a carefully controlled environment, the animals can tell. They panic. For example, Junior suddenly showing up in Fake! Chester's Mill when everyone believed him to be dead causes Barbie to realize that things in this new, shiny, un-Domed town in Maine are not quite up to snuff. What is frustrating, though, is that none of this Fake! Chester's Mill is real so therefore anything that you learned isn't going to matter because it was all a construct. They're inside the Matrix, in other words (I'm pretty sure I made a lot of Barbie = Neo jokes last year...). Joe and Norrie? Not a struggling young couple trying to figure out how to be friends in the wake of romance. Junior? Not a Dudley Do Right who is out building homes for the poor and saving the world. Barbie? Did not go to Yemen to take down terrorists, one cell at a time. Any development the characters are perceived to have had is just that...a fraudulent perception that falls once the cocoon has hatched its new butterflies. Once I realized that the Future Chester's Mill was really Fake! Chester's Mill, nothing mattered in that timeline or that story. It all becomes muted and superfluous. Well. Maybe not everything--or everyone.

Remember what I said about new characters that I don't care about? Well, here's one of them. Now, granted this New! Red (whose real name is apparently Christine Price) is probably going to be pretty important. More so than Max No-Last-Name, Science Teacher Pine and Papa Q (ah, memories) at the very least. You don't go and hire Marg Helgenberger for a one off annoying role like all the above listed characters were. So, in my mind, a cocoon hive needs a leader, a Queen. Thus New! Red is going to be Queen Bee. I have decided that is her new nickname. She was carefully manipulating a lot of the situation in the Fake! Chester's Mill from Joey and Norrie to Sam and even to Junior once he joined the party. Queen Bee was also wearing a very loud purple ring that matched the purple goop that was "feeding" the livestock back in the underground caverns. If I had to guess, I'd say she's the leader of the alien race that crashed in Chester's Mill some indeterminate time ago (though, probably around the same time that those eggs began to drop) and has been waiting for some secret confluence of events to rebuild her race using the humans in Chester's Mill. After all, Gollum kept saying that the people in the cocoons needed to become what "they" needed. Oh, I don't think that's really Melanie. I assume the real Melanie is either dead or never existed at all given her obvious otherworldly quality in this episode. But Gollum did kill Papa Q, so I have to thank her for that. In other "new random characters that I don't care about" category there is Eva, Barbie's imaginary squeeze inside Fake! Chester's Mill who turns out to be not-so-fake and very probably very-really-pregnant. Because Barlie need drama like they need a hole in the head (and they do need a hole in the head) and in TVLand drama means love triangle. I am so excited. Can you tell? And finally, we have Mysterious Corporate Man Who Gave Exposition About Alaska to Papa Q. That's a long nickname, so I'll have to find some way to shorten it (it might just be Benton given that this new man is being played by Eriq la Salle and thus will always be Dr. Benton from "ER"). Raise your hand if you think Alaska is going to come back up along with Mysterious Corporate Man Who Gave Exposition About Alaska's back story about the eggs, the cocoon, and why the Dome fell? What I'm ultimately trying to get at is this: these first two hours of TV gave us a lot of questions, almost no answers, quite a few deaths--though few were real--and enough eye roll worthy moments to make it all taste funny in my mouth. The plot did not advance much and our characters were essentially back where they left off at the end of season two, under a Dome, with lots of mysterious things happening, not trusting one another, and unsure of how to continue living in this giant fishbowl.'s business as usual in Chester's Mill. 

Miscellaneous Notes on Move On and But I'm Not

--I will say that the CGI for the Dome falling in the alternative reality was quite stunning.

--Big Jim please stop shooting people, especially your son. I know Junior is Little Crazy Pants but putting a bullet in him is not the answer. Also, please stop declaring that "this is my town!" You're a tool.

--"We have to have the egg!!" Yes, Gollum. We know it is the Precious.

--Someone is going to have to explain why simply setting the egg on top of the largest cocoon caused it to shoot off fireworks.

--If the writers wanted the reveal that Chester's Mill was Fake in the future alternate reality, then they needed to not use the very obvious "purple haze" for each and every single transition to Chester's Mill.

--Obviously Ava and Christine are not natural citizens of Chester's Mill, and probably not of planet Earth. But what is Ava to Christine? Daughter? Lieutenant? Rival?

--How many times was "move on" uttered this episode? I'd really like a tally.

--"There's nothing good on TV anymore, anyway." Meta. Meta as hell, y'all. 

--Actual. Pod. People.  

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