As usual with a Stephen King story, it’s the things you don’t see that really chills the blood. So far, one of the most effective techniques used in Under the Dome is only giving the viewers glimpses of what is happening just beyond the Dome. These glimpses heightens the show’s tone of extreme paranoia as audiences only get a peak beyond the dome, and of course, no one outside Chester’s Mill can hear or interact with those within the Dome creating a sense of paranoid voyeurism. It’s like being in the world’s biggest reality show as human drama and suffering are trapped within the dome and all those outside can just watch. The most effective visual in this week’s episode is when young Ben and Joe (played by John Elvis and Colin Ford) find the bottom half of a bisected body. The two young men can only stare at the blood trail left by the bisected torso as it was dragged away from the Dome. What dragged it way? The military, an animal, who knows? This sense of the unknowable happening beyond the dome creates a chilling tone that permeates every moment of the show.
This episode did have its hiccups that differentiate it from the pitch perfect pilot. For instance, the cliché flashback dream in which we learn how and why Barbie ended up killing Julia’s husband. It’s heavy-handed and clumsy, and the big no no of telling instead of showing. Barbie, a calm, efficient veteran leaves his dog tags at the murder scene, creating a sense of urgency that he will get caught. Sorry, not buying it, everything Barbie does is effectively crisp, he is a calming force within the chaos under the dome, and I’m just not buying he would leave such obvious evidence behind. That aside, the rest of the episode is spent establishing antagonists Big Jim and his almost serial killer son Junior. As Big Jim consolidates more power by gaining the trust of Chester’s Mill, Junior continues to unravel. Junior is the atypical King villain, a dark heart hidden beneath a veneer of normalcy, and his scenes are especially effective. When one considers that his father, who is quickly becoming the most important figure in the increasingly desperate town, probably suffers from the same instability, it is a particularly frightening notion.
The episode ends with a big set piece and reminds us that even the simplest disasters, one usually taken care of by organized infrastructure, can become a cataclysm on a grand scale. Wanting to hide some sort of secret regarding his shady business dealings, Big Jim sends the world’s most incompetent reverend (played by the spectacularly gaunt Ned Bellamy) to steal evidence from the recently deceased sheriff. Reverend Coggins ends up burning the house down, and Chester’s Mill and the audience is reminded of what severe damage a fire can do to a town that has no means of escape or support. Big Jim uses the crisis to further solidify his hold on the town by saving the day, but as everyone sees the smoke hanging in the sky, unable to dissipate thanks to the dome, the episode closes out with a reminded of just how dire a situation everyone is in, particularly since they are turning to the fascist father of a maniac.