After a year off, Under the Dome is back. Last season of CBS’s adaptation of Stephen King’s thrilling novel was not – well – very good. It was a season steeped in misogynistic violence, directionless characters, and meandering plots, but it was also a show that was always on the cusp of something great. After all, the novel was wonderfully realized, and while the series has gone off the reservation when it comes to King’s tale, the concept is engaging enough that the show can be saved.
So we arrive in season three of Under the Dome hopeful that the Chester’s Mill ship will be righted, and this week was a step in the right direction. CBS dumped the first two episodes of the season in a two-hour event, and while no new ground was broken, at least the episodes were tightly plotted and (mostly) not at all offensive. Not being offensive probably doesn’t rank as the most impressive thing one can say about a show, but after last season, it really is a milestone.
Last season, we were left with a cliffhanger where Dale “Barbie” Barbara was about to lead his fellow Chester’s Millers out of the dome. This season picked things up right there with everyone but intrepid reporter Julia Shumway, mysterious ghost-like Melanie, evil “Big” Jim Rennie, and always unstable Junior Rennie escaping the dome. At this point, I thought they were going to have to change the name of the series to Not Under the Dome, but, and this is where things got intriguing, it turned out that instead of escaping, the residents of Chester’s Mill were all trapped in a Matrix-like alien construct overseen by Melanie.
Maybe it was because the set looked like something out of The Land of the Lost, but I really kind of dug the whole aesthetic, and even though the whole thing was an obvious rip of The Matrix, it was still a direction that set a solid foundation for the show. It also made everything seem more desperate, as our cast was not only trapped under the dome, they were also trapped in this creepy dream world.
Of course, Julia was still loose, so we got a two-fold story with the dreaming members of Chester’s Mill living a false life in a time after the dome fell while witnessing the adventures of Julia, Junior, and Jim in the real world. When Junior was captured by the now evil Melanie, it was just Julia and Jim who had to come to an accord to free the rest of Chester’s Mill.
Within the Matrix (which will hereby be known as the Dometrix), we got to experience some mostly cool character exploration, as it was revealed what kind of life each of the characters wished they had if the dome fell. I say mostly because Norrie’s tale was so brutally melodramatic that the whole thing was just painful to watch. Norrie was a character with such potential when she first debuted, an anti-establishment, sarcastic, young lady who found the strength to go on under the dome after her mother died. Her relationship with Joe was the show’s emotional core in the first season. Sadly, that relationship has been reduced to soap opera fodder as Norrie spent her time in the Dometrix drinking, spurning Joe, and having an affair with Hunter. This is all so obvious that it really hurts Norrie as a character.
Thankfully, Joe’s story had a bit more meat as he had to forgive Sam for murdering his sister Angie. This story arc was fraught with realistic drama and angst, and also took the character of Joe (puberty hit him like a hammer) to new levels of adulthood. So at least we had Joe growing as a character while Norrie was stuck in a stagnant mess.
As for our main players, Barbie dreamt that he went back to his soldier of fortune days and hooked up with a beautiful government contractor named Eva. Eva and Barbie went back to Chester’s Mill and cue Barbie’s struggle between the past and the present. Of course, Julia was still loose in the real world, so everyone inside the Dometrix thought she was dead. Barbie never gave up on her, though, and resisted the temptation of Eva in order to find the truth of their situation.
The battle against Melanie with the Dometrix began because of Ben, the long haired skater bro who was all but forgotten last season. This week, Ben was the first to cotton to the fact that the reality they were living in wasn’t real. In response, Melanie pulled Ben out of his Dometrix cocoon and murdered him, establishing herself as a really, really bad ass new threat.
It was clear that Chester’s Mill needed a savior, and we did get some Julia stuff as she was able to take on Melanie and figure out what the heck was going on. The series seemed to forget about Julia last season, only giving her story arc cursory attention, but her first season role of dome savior was reestablished this week. And save she did, with the help of “Big” Jim Rennie, who returned to his role of foil to just about everyone this week.
Yup, this week marked a return to the awesomeness of “Big” Jim. In the two hour premiere, Jim shot his own son (just to get back at Junior for shooting him last season) and called Julia a “hair bag.” Listen, Under the Dome may have its warts, but I’ll watch anything as long as it has Dean Norris calling people hair bags.
We got to see Julia rise to glory, Jim save everyone’s ass just to be spiteful, and Melanie become a rather effective villain. We also got to see a return to the alien-ness of the dome and the end of the going nowhere plot of Barbie’s father, who conveniently returned the egg back to Chester’s Mill before being killed by Melanie, his own daughter. In addition, we were left with quite the cliffhanger. When the Dometrix fell, joining the Chester’s Mill residents were Eva and a new psychologist character named Christine, who, at first, seemed like just part of the illusionary world created by Melanie. Okay, Under the Dome, you have two new female characters. Don’t screw it up.
The ship has somewhat been righted as the two-hour premiere of season three flew by at an entertaining pace, giving one hope for the future. There is still some unforgivable nonsense, like the vapidity of Norrie’s arc, but we’ll accept baby steps for now.
But listen, seriously, Mr. King, Mr. Spielberg, and anyone else involved with this show, there is nothing scary about killer butterflies. Nothing. At all. Ever.