After a successful (at least ratings-wise; quality is another story) first season, ‘Under the Dome’ returns for another batch of summer episodes that pick up right where last season’s cliffhanger left off. With Stephen King penning the premiere episode and veteran director Jack Bender at the helm, this season was sure to get off to a great start… Right? Well, not so much.
At the end of last year’s finale, Big Jim Rennie was just about to hang Dale Barbara in front of most of the townsfolk when the dome suddenly went all white and started to make a pulsating sound. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that ‘Under the Dome’ isn’t going to kill off its lead in the opening minutes, so the show has to very quickly figure a way out of the situation. The pulsation coming from the dome knocks people unconscious and Barbie tries to talk Jim into letting him go. Eventually, Sheriff Linda (Natalie Martinez) storms the stage, pulls her gun on Rennie and convinces him to free Barbie.
There’s nothing like a new season to introduce characters that no one has ever seen before, and we get two of them in this entry. The first we see at the very beginning of the episode. His name is Sam Verdreaux (Eddie Cahill). He’s been holed up out of sight in a cabin, and makes his presence known when he comes to the aid of a young girl that Julia Shumway rescues from drowning in one of Chester Mill’s lakes. They take the girl back to the cabin, where Sam tells Julia a little about his past. First, he’s a doctor who was dismissed from his position because of a drinking problem; and second, he had a sister who committed suicide. He also has a family scrapbook with drawings that look suspiciously like the girl he rescued from the lake. Say, I don’t suppose the producers could telegraph the idea any better that the girl Sam just rescued is the sister who committed suicide, could they? Later in the episode, we’ll learn that Sam is actually Big Jim’s brother-in-law, and someone he seems not to get along with.
The dome’s barrier has become magnetic. How do we know this? Because metal things get torn away from their point of origin and go flying across the sky until they hit and stick to the dome. For those slower viewers out there, we also get a master-of-the-obvious line from Barbie proclaiming that the dome is magnetic. Near one of the edges of the dome, the magnetic force pulls items off of Big Jim, Junior, Linda and Barbie, including attracting the handcuffs that Barbie is still locked in. The dome pulls Barbie all the way to its edge, then the truck that they arrived in gets pulled toward Barbie. Linda rushes to Barbie to unlock the handcuffs before the truck hits him, but she can’t get out of the way in time. The truck kills her, eliminating at least one of this series’ most clueless characters. Thanks, Stephen King! In case you’re wondering who’s going to be sheriff now, in a later scene, Rennie gives the badge to Phil Bushey, a character woefully underused last season (and who doesn’t have much else to do in this episode, either).
Our heroes and anti-heroes now split up. Big Jim returns to the bomb shelter outside his house to gather up some firearms. However, magnetized items crash against the shelter’s door, trapping him inside. He then has a vision of Dodee, the radio station operator that Jim shot and killed last season. She starts babbling on about how Jim has been nothing but selfish. Jim can’t get away from her fast enough. He rigs up an explosion with hand grenades to free himself from the shelter.
Meanwhile, Barbie attempts to steal a random truck and finds himself on the wrong end of a shotgun held by the high school science teacher, Rebecca Pine (Karla Crome), who – of course – we’ve never seen before. She’s aware of the dome’s magnetism as well, and is working on a plan to counteract it. Her solution is to build a giant magnet in the middle of town. Suddenly, I feel like I’m watching an episode of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and the Professor has just come up with a brilliant solution.
Before we get to giant magnet building, Barbie and Rebecca must come to the aid of Joe, Norrie and Angie, who’ve returned to Joe’s big farmhouse to rescue Norrie’s mother, Carolyn. She’s been knocked unconscious, thanks to what I like to call the “Attack of the Kitchen Appliances.” At least this scene has a little fun with the magnetic dome idea, as kitchen items (including knives and sharp utensils) fly towards the kids willy-nilly. Even nails get yanked out of the woodwork, and one impales Joe on the hand and then gets pulled right through to the other side. Ouch! Barbie and Rebecca arrive and get everyone out of there just in the nick of time as the house comes flying apart and is essentially demolished. Gee, I hope the series just didn’t blow its entire visual effects budget on that shot, but at least it was cool to watch.
Back in the town square at the site of the gallows that Big Jim had constructed for hanging Barbie (and anyone else he might not like), more townsfolk have passed out as the pulses from the dome get stronger. Junior falls unconscious and dreams about his presumed-dead mother, Pauline (Sherry Stringfield from ‘ER’), as well as a snow globe with the word “Zenith” on it, and a miniature town with an odd, Washington Monument-like structure.
In a totally out-of-character moment (supposedly motivated by being harassed by Dodee’s ghost), Jim decides that what the dome wants is his own death. So, he heads back up to the gallows and almost hangs himself, until Julia arrives on the scene and cuts the rope at the last minute (literally as he’s falling through the trap door). She’s come to the conclusion that the dome doesn’t want anyone’s death – it wants all the killing to stop. The dome seems to agree with her. The pulsating stops and the unconscious citizens start to recover.
Let me get this straight: The dome just threatened to kill everyone in the town so that it could stop the killing in the town? Not the brightest dome in the universe, is it?
We then jump to a scene of Junior’s mother Pauline painting pictures in an apartment. She’s done some of both Big Jim and Junior, and the one she’s currently working on looks like the trap door of the gallows we just saw Big Jim fall through. On the TV behind her is a report about the dome in Chester’s Mill, and outside the window we can see the big monument that Junior saw in the snow globe in his dream. This is the very first scene in the series that takes us to the other side of the dome (something I constantly hoped the series would do last year), and it appears that Junior’s mother is alive and well.
In the conclusion of the episode, Angie follows the mysterious girl who was rescued from the lake as she wanders into the town’s high school. Angie spots her checking out a locker and then disappearing deeper into the school. Angie opens the locker, gasps at something, and then gets hit from behind by an unseen assailant with a big axe. Blood splatters up against the locker.
Is Angie dead too? I didn’t see that one coming, and Junior is sure to be really pissed about it when he finds out. It’s obvious that the series couldn’t go another season with Big Jim being as evil as he was at the end of last season, but I’m not so sure I buy his (albeit mild) conversion. Regardless, he remains the most interesting character to watch in this series, thanks in no small part to Dean Norris’ acting.
The Season 2 premiere of ‘Under the Dome’ won the ratings battle for CBS on Monday night and was the evening’s most-watched program. However, it was down 33% from last season’s premiere and also down 21% from the Season 1 finale. Those numbers are sure to drop some more as this season progresses, but it still appears that enough people (9.4 million on Monday, not counting the DVR and streaming sure to follow) are watching this series for CBS to continue it into the foreseeable future.