Under the Dome, Pilot, Review

There are no vampires or other supernatural creatures on display in CBS' TV version of Stephen King's "Under the Dome," but there's plenty of drama, suspense, and potential for real horror.

There have been tons of mini-series based on Stephen King’s works that have graced the small screen since 1979’s Salem’s Lot, but CBS’s Under the Dome marks just the second ongoing series bearing the master of horror’s name. The greatly missed Dead Zone ran from 2002-2007 and was a sign that King’s ideas do lend themselves to extended television narratives. Now, with Under the Dome, fans will get to experience one of King’s longest novels in episodic form.CBS has turned to a name familiar to comic book and genre fans, Brian K. Vaughan, to bring King’s encapsulated town of Chester’s Mill to life. Vaughan established his geek cred with major critical graphic novel hits like Y: The Last Man, Runaways, Ex Machina, Pride of Baghdad, and the current hit from Image Comics, Saga. Vaughn also established his television credits by serving as executive story editor, producer, and writer of Lost during seasons three through five. With a storyteller of Vaughn’s rarified talents combined with King’s gripping story about a small town cut off from the rest of the world, it seems CBS may have found a recipe for success.The early moments of Under the Dome had a tough juggling act to execute in order to win fan interest and viewer attention. Like most Stephen King stories, Under the Dome has a huge cast of characters, a cast that would have to be introduced quickly to make audiences care about the people who will live (ahem) Under the Dome. In the meantime, Vaughn and company had to introduce the dome and immerse the audience in the chaos a giant dome cutting a small town off from the rest of America would cause for these characters. In the opening moments of the show, Vaughn masterfully weaves character introductions with the dome’s shocking appearance.The dome is a hard thing to pull of visually. After all, it’s not a zombie or a vampire or a creature the people of Chester’s Mill, Maine (of course) have to overcome, it’s an invisible wall.  It’s something that cannot be punched, stabbed, bombed, or threatened. The small town endangered by an overwhelming force is a concept very familiar to King’s constant readers. It’s something he explored in It, Salem’s Lot, Needful Things, The Tommyknockers, and The Mist, among others. It’s what goes on within the town to combat the threat that makes these stories so gripping, and judging from the opening moments of Under the Dome, this story is no different. But this overwhelming force is something the viewer cannot see, which makes this particular story difficult to execute.So, how do you overcome this lack of a concrete threat? You cut a freakin cow in half in the opening moments of the freakin’ show, that’s how. Seriously, there’s some ballsy visceral television broadcasting these days between Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, and American Horror Story, but no one has cut a freakin’cow in half. Not even at the Red Wedding.Attention gotten, Vaughn and company then show the consequences of a typical American town under siege by an unknowable force. Like King’s book, Vaughn introduces the horrors that every small town contains. From the abusive and corrupt city councilman “Big Jim” Rennie played by Jim Norris, to Rennie’s quite possibly, maybe, could be serial killer son, Junior played by Alexander Koch. There are threats in Chester’s Mill that are only held back by the rules and edicts of an organized society…something that has been sliced away from Chester’s Mill by the dome.Rennie makes a bid for power almost instantly after the dome’s arrival, demanding the power to assign his own people to the town police force. This bid for power is shot down by the Sheriff in charge played by Lost alumnus, Jeff Fahey. The theme of absolute corruption caused by power is one King returns to again and again in his work and judging from the ending of the inaugural episode of Under the Dome, it is something that will be explored here as well. The enraged look on Rennie’s face as Fahey’s Sheriff said no to his bid for power was as disturbing and foreboding in the moments the dome touched down.The pilot also did a masterful job setting up the character of Junior. Viewers first meet Junior as he is confessing his love to his girlfriend, Angie, played by Britt McAllister. Britt spurns his love, and the look of rage on Junior’s face is terrible to behold. As the dome comes down and the plot unfolds, viewers witness Junior becoming more and more unstable over his obsession with Angie. Junior is the type of slow burn time-bomb killer that King has done so well with Jack Torrance and Annie Wilkes. He hides a terrible creature behind a charming, likable smile. When he see Angie talking to the show’s main protagonist, Barbie, played by Bates Motel’s Mike Vogel, Junior assaults and kidnaps Angie, hiding her in the family’s fallout shelter. Angie, in effect, is now the prisoner of two walls, the dome and Junior. If one looks at the dome as an aquarium of humans, Junior is the shark in the waters.Back to Barbie, a strange and compelling choice for heroic protagonist, as viewers first see Barbie burying a body right outside where the dome hits. Barbie witnesses the cow dissection and is the reluctant witness to a plane crashing into the dome. Despite his desperation to get away from police, Barbie must answer questions and try to be inconspicuous. He quickly and reluctantly gains the friendship of reporter Julia Shumway played by Twilight’s Rachelle Lefevre. Julia  is trying to do her duty as a reporter to find the secret of the dome, but she is also distracted by the disappearance of her husband who she believes to be having an affair outside the town. Now, if you can’t figure out who Barbie was burying after learning all that, you really need to bone up on your King.The dome is cool, the dome is flashy, the dome is frightening, but it is the small town drama and power plays, the political corruption and the hidden appetites that make this a world to return to. The story is a grand idea, but the mixing in of emotional elements, like Deputy Linda, played by Natalie Martinez, being cut off from her fire fighter husband by the dome, makes this a very human story. It is the idea that there is a serial killer in a town where the populace is vulnerable and cut off from the infrastructure of the United States that sends the shivers down the spine.Wherever a tragedy happens a proverbial dome goes up. This can be seen recently in Sandy Hook and Aurora, where the people struggling to retain a veneer of sanity and control are put into a fish tank by a society struggling to find a story within the bloodshed. As the pilot ends, and the viewers see the cacophony of first responders and news reporters all trying to see into the dome, they are reminded that a dome is ready to go up around any town whose darkness boils to the top. But in Chester’s Mill, Maine the dome is as literal as a heart attack, and with King and Vaughn as our guide, it will be one hell of ride.No cows were really bisected in the making of this program.Den of Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!


4 out of 5