“Four weeks ago, an invisible dome crashed down on Chester’s Mill, cutting us off from the rest of the world. The dome has tested our limits, forcing each of us to confront our own personal demons… rage… grief… fear. Now, in order to survive, we must battle our most dangerous adversary… the enemy within.”
Under The Dome began life as a Stephen King novel. The basic idea was that a mysterious clear dome isolates the town of Chester’s Mills from the rest of the world. Of course, the story was populated with King’s trademark characters that represent his own special version of Americana. That’s the kind of thing that likely makes his work best suited for a television series rather than a film. And when Under The Dome started 3 years ago it had the kind of promise that King’s work often offers. Stephen King himself came onboard as a writer and producer along with the likes of Steven Spielberg. The first season lived up to most of that hope. By the third season King had pretty much stepped away and the story took some rather odd turns. It’s little surprise that the dome came crashing down for good with the end of season three.
“Chester’s Mills is known for its rich, fertile land and warm, inviting people…”
Oh, and there’s the invisible dome that surrounds the town. If you’ve never seen an episode of the show, do not start with the third season. It won’t really make much sense. In fact, I’m not sure that it does, and I’ve seen the first two seasons. Unfortunately, you won’t find those reviews here, so I can’t help you so much with getting caught up. CBS didn’t send the first two seasons, but I did manage to track them down so that I could get myself up to speed. It’s just the kind of thing we’ll do here at Upcomingdiscs to help our readers out.
The first season dealt very much with the King novel. We were introduced to our main characters that included Big Jim Rennie Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris. He’s the only member of Chester’s Mills’ government remaining when the dome appears. There was a big parade and party in a nearby town where many citizens and all the other civic leaders were. He’s a used car salesman in every sense of the word. Both literally and figuratively. He also uses his professed love of the town to rationalize everything from killing to working with drug dealers. He’ll do anything to hang on to his power in the isolated town. We also meet Dale “Barbie” Barbara, who was in town to collect a debt for a mobster. He’s former special forces and ended up killing the guy he was collecting from. In a bit of strange storytelling, Barbie ends up in bed with the dead guy’s wife Julia (Lefevre) who recently moved to town to run the paper. She’s touted as a journalist, but honestly they never developed that part of her character. We also met Big Jim’s son Junior (Koch) who keeps his ex-girlfriend chained in an underground shelter, obviously for her own protection.
The season was very much about the characters and how the town deals with the issues of being cut off. Obviously, resources become scarce, and people don’t always handle those things very well. Add a few Biblical-like plagues, and the town’s people are pushed to their limit. The show deals with the power struggles and uncovering the town’s dirty little secrets while four of the kids discover they were “chosen” by the dome and begin to play around with a mini-dome and a strange egg that appears to power it all.
The novel material was pretty much picked clean by the second season. Stephen King stepped in to write the second season premiere episode to set the new year on solid footing. What we get is new dynamics, but more of the sociological experiment this kind of situation provides. Power changes hands, and a few more answers are given. It ends with Barbie following a resurrected dead girl supposedly out of the dome.
That’s where season three picks up. We are taken one year into the future. Julia and Big Jim never made it out, and the town is holding a memorial to mark that first anniversary. Meanwhile Barbie has moved on and is working special ops again, where he hooks up with a new girl named Eva (Bunbury). He begins to notice something isn’t quite right, and he’s correct. It’s all been a made-up life while their bodies are in cocoons. It’s just like The Matrix, which is how they refer to those imagined lives once they are free.
The town is now being led by new character, Christine, played by CSI‘s Marg Helgenberger. This is where the story begins to mimic every alien invasion show from V to War Of The Worlds, complete with magical babies and hive mind plotlines. This is also where I suspect the show lost the audience that led to its season-end cancelation.
The problem here is that they even played with the characters. Barbie was always a strong character, and even when he shakes the kinship deal, he’s never quite the same. One of the reasons is that this was the first time they were operating with no input from King himself. I think he was the only one who truly understood these characters and situations. Everything that we learned in the first two seasons is contradicted here. The show loses its focus, and it all drags behind sci-fi conventions we’ve seen too many times before. It might have made an interesting episode of Dr. Who, but it doesn’t have legs for a television season.
The production design remains high, and the actors are still doing the best they can. Dean Norris remains outstanding as Big Jim. I feel bad for the directors who had to work with these stale stories. It’s obvious they continued to deliver solid filmmaking, but nothing could stop the collapse of this dome. The first Star Trek film had Robert Wise as a director. He was one of the best, but even he couldn’t save a project muddled in bad writing and a complete lack of direction. He might not say so publically, but I suspect King himself was very disappointed in these final episodes. There are two good seasons out there, and I highly recommend you check them out. It’s good stuff. Season three? A clear lack of good writing and leadership. “And I’ve seen enough bad movies to know.”