TV Review: Under the Dome 1.10, "Let the Games Begin"


rating: 2

Under the Dome began (as the tedious voiceover reminds us before each episode) as a series as concerned with small town politics and the secrets of neighbors as it is with the mystery of the dome itself. Ten episodes into the show, however, there's only one of these types of stories that comes close to working, and it receives the least amount of forward momentum with each episode. I've already openly condemned this show a failure for its inability to build up characters sufficiently developed enough to warrant investment from the audience, and I maintain this criticism across the board. With the battle for characterization already lost there's only one other way to keep audiences interested and that's through plot. The characters may be paper thin, but if what happens to them is unique or interesting enough (personally, the seizure gang's mission to unravel the myth of the pink stars isn't either of these things, but I'm trying to be objective) then the story could still be worth watching. Unfortunately, the one consistently ongoing arc on this show, the one most closely attached to the basic premise (and title), receives the least amount of development with each episode, and I don't understand how regular viewers can stand it. If Under the Dome truly wanted to explore the various stories of a small town turned against itself, it would work better by granting the characters of these stories greater equity to the the main cast, something closer to what an anthology series looks like. Instead there's a specific set of characters who work as frames through which we watch occasional incidents play out with random other townsfolk, like when that woman had a baby as part of a single episode arc or when that cop shot some people then ran into the woods. When things like this or even thinner stories like "the town gets sick" or "the town gets thirsty" occur, what we're really watching is the main cast react to sets of circumstances that don't actually serve to further characterize their situations, their setting, or their ongoing arcs €“ they're isolated to the point of being dispensable. If there's one thing an ongoing series should avoid it's letting any installment feel unnecessary. The latest set of circumstances to emerge for the main characters of Barbie and Jim to react to is the new character (a problem in and of itself) unveiling the vice den she's cultivated wherein Barbie has to fight in a bare knuckle brawl (for reasons) while Jim looks for Max's dirt on the boys' illicit activities but ends up probably drowning her mother instead (also, for reasons, I'm sure). Instead of somehow spending time on why, even in such a closed society with such scarce and dire resources, communities need an outlet such as Maxine's vice den to vent their weaknesses or shortcomings €“ a legitimately intriguing question €“ we need to watch Barbie fight (admittedly cool, but narratively inert) and reject Max's advances. Sure, this shows us Barbie's the good guy, always trying to to the right thing even in a situation seemingly built from wrongs, but hasn't this been established already? Meanwhile Jim failed to acquire whatever proof of Jim and Barbie's damaging secrets, but he was able to turn the tables and take Maxine's mother hostage. Okay, but then he lets her drown more out of laziness than as part of any deliberate plan. What leverage does he gain over Max by doing this? It's an empty moment played off as being shocking, but falls flat, like most of what occurs on the show. Maybe if the series had spent its previous nine episodes constructing a pattern of continuous escalation as opposed to isolated "adventures" then this Maxine arc wouldn't feel like just another speedbump on the too long road to the first season finale. I'm glad Barbie at least appears to have told Max to take a hike despite the big secret she's been holding over his head (because how obnoxious would it be to keep hearing Max remind Barbie he's under her thumb? Almost as bad as the "pink stars" and "crowned monarch" catch phrases), but him and Julia coming to an understanding about the truth of his involvement with Julia's husband's death was even more of a failure than the other secret revealed in this episode in which Linda discovers Duke's involvement in Max and Jim's drug scheme. The Peter Shumway reveal fell flat because there were no consequences. Julia realizes Peter basically committed suicide by attacking Barbie and she immediately forgives him for lying and simply makes him promise not to do it again. After all that build up there's no consequences or change in status quo. Similarly, Linda forgives Duke because he was attempting to keep the drugs out of town by working with Max, but this reveal is much less of a satisfying piece of a puzzle than it is a moment of annoyed relief that Linda has finally caught up with what the audience has known since the pilot. There's no greater payoff of Linda's discovery other than the vague promise that the sheriff may actually begin to (that's right, begin to, after ten episodes!) bring down a criminal conspiracy instead of play custodian to the town's outbursts of mob mentality. As for the one ongoing arc which is at least trying to structure itself in a trajectory which yields genuine intrigue, albeit in the most minimally and frustratingly parsed out installments, there was one new development for the seizure gang (or maybe I should call them the Pink Star Gang; feels more like a 50s street tough/doo-wop a capella group) €“ turns out Junior is the fourth hand. This was obvious not only due to the fact that his mom was a horrible artist as well as a crazy psychic, but because the character's only function seems to be to terrorize Angie (remember how well his infiltration of Max's vice den went? Tell me that wasn't a waste of time) so of course he'd have to be forced back into close vicinity with her. The episode closes with the four turning the mini-dome on which creates a soothing sort of planetarium vibe (cough€”aliens!€”cough) and that's it. This may be the one plot which is leading toward a single big climax with pervasive consequences for the whole story (as opposed to Linda arresting Jim or Barbie, I don't know, also arresting Jim), but it's moving at a snail's pace, which should indicate just how awful this show really is. Champ

The real prize would be a better script.

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Fed a steady diet of cartoons, comics, tv and movies as a child, Joe now survives on nothing but endless film and television series, animated or otherwise, as well as novels of the graphic and literary varieties. He can also be seen ingesting copious amounts of sarcasm and absurdity.