Under the Dome episode 2 review: The Fire

Review Frances Roberts 2 Jul 2013 - 15:00

CBS’ summer Stephen King adaptation keeps the action and the entertainment coming in its eventful second instalment…

This review contains spoilers.

1.2 The Fire

I needn’t have worried that Under the Dome had played its ‘cool stuff’ card too early, as episode two had action and entertainment value up the wazoo. There were explosions, daring rescues, punch-ups, and the rare but exhilarating opportunity to see a man fight fire using a mechanical excavator (water’s just too sissy for Big Jim Rennie).

Kudos to the series too, for deftly avoiding the tedious traps other such mystery shows fall into by not dragging its feet with minor revelations. In a lesser show, the question mark as to what went down between Barbie and Julia’s husband would have been left dangling, but not in Under the Dome. We saw what happened in the opening minutes and motored the hell on.

This is the chief benefit of the miniseries having a finite end-point; with just thirteen episodes, there’s no need to delay gratification or spin out mysteries for a potential second season. So far, it’s given the series pace and momentum. If only a few more dramas would aim so low in terms of longevity.

Episode two left good-hearted cop Linda cradling another colleague’s limp body (do you think she’ll get one a week?) as the credits rolled and the dome over Chester’s Mill slowly filled with smoke.

Or did it? As resourceful young Joe discovered, the “magic bubble thing” isn’t entirely impermeable. Rather, it functions as a kind of sieve, allowing small amounts of water, and presumably oxygen to filter through. Don’t worry, people of Chester’s Mill, it’s a breathable scary-ass unexplained magic barrier, made of like, space Goretex. That implies whom/whatever created it wasn’t aiming to suffocate you all in your beds like the large-scale equivalent of upturning a pint glass on a wasp to watch it twitch its last. You’re probably not all going to die.

Try telling that to Linda’s paranoid, panicking colleague, who spoilt the warm fuzziness of Big Jim’s speech about working together by accidentally murdering her fiancé’s brother. (One for the ‘stuff that gets through the dome’ tally: water droplets yes, bullets, tennis balls, and everything else, not so much.) The death of Rusty’s brother was another sign that Under the Dome isn’t messing around. A young woman separated from her fiancé but holed up with his brother would be a recipe for love triangle tedium in a different show, but thankfully, not here.

Duke’s death last week created a power vacuum in Chester’s Mill, and Big Jim fancies himself the man to fill it. Luckily for him, so does the rest of the town, seeing him as more of a Santa Claus saviour than the crooked, ass-covering councilman we know him to be. Dean Norris is a solid fit for the role of Jim, and easily handles the required range from affable and generous to cold-hearted pragmatist. So far, Big Jim Rennie is Under the Dome’s counterpart to The Walking Dead’s season three Governor, a man driven to protect his town and people, but one with a nasty edge, and a great deal to hide.

That nastiness was revealed courtesy of new introduction, Reverend Coggins, so corrupt and hypocritical a man of the cloth he could have sprung from the pages of Chaucer. His and Jim’s scenes, with their freezer full of corpses, introduce a good drop of poison to Under the Dome that counters the 'ain't small towns great' message in that water-bucket scene. Ned Bellamy can do grimy skeeviness in his sleep, so good call from the casting team on that count.

Still beautiful, dumb, and mad as a box of dome-sliced frogs is Big Jim’s son Junior, the show’s weakest link so far. Yes, his character introduces an element of unpredictability to Under the Dome, but it’s the kind of unpredictability provided by a balloon you’ve lost the grip on midway through blowing up: faintly silly and accompanied by a rumble of squeaky fart sounds. Gullible and impetuous, it’s hard to see Junior as a bonafide villain, no matter how many women he chains up in his dad’s fallout shelter.

That said, he is useful as a punching bag, as Dale found out at that cabin. Barbie vs. Junior hardly sounds like the fight of the century, but the two gave it a good go-around until the former showed mercy on his upstart attacker. Between that, wrestling not one but two guns from desperate men, and rallying the neighbourhood to put out that fire this week, Barbie is proving quite the hero of Chester’s Mill.

A few others are emerging as ones-to-root-for too, with endearing high school student Joe and Electronics Engineering radio whiz Dodee (played by Donnie Darko’s Cherita Chen, Jolene Purdy) representing for the nerd crowd. Joe and his stoner pal have a touch of the Famous Five about them, setting off to solve the mysteries adults are unable to. Now, they’ve even adopted a dog, albeit one whose owner met a not-very-Enid Blyton-ish end.

On the whole, Under the Dome may have sacrificed atmosphere for action, and depth for excitement, but the glimpses of that silent military corps working away in the background are still a pleasingly chilling reminder that this is no ordinary procedural. Consistently entertaining and capable of the odd surprise, I’ll happily spend this summer in Chester’s Mill.

Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, Pilot, here.

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