Under The Dome 1.04 “Outbreak” TV REVIEW
Writer: Peter Calloway
Director: Kari Skogland
THE ONE WHERE A meningitis outbreak hits the town, as Julia discovers the truth about Barbie, Barbie discovers how little of the truth he can get away with and Junior discovers that he has a knack for law enforcement. Oh, and Big Jim discovers something else…
VERDICT Chester’s Mill, we may have a problem. We’re four episodes in and a handful of days into the series and the strain is starting to show. Not just in the town either, but on the show. The meningitis outbreak that this episode revolves around just feels… off . It’s not clunky, there’s no screeching sound of narrative gears being shifted, but this feels like an episode that should come later in the run. There’s no build-up, no sense of something coming until Linda falls over, and suddenly we’re in a fairly bog standard episode of House with a mild science fictional bent. If this had come towards the end of the season then it would have had a lot more impact. As it stands, it’s just sort of there .
Or at least, it starts out that way. The meningitis outbreak gives us the increasingly familiar, “Now we will split up and do stuff, everyone meet back here in time for the end montage and… break!” moment and most of it’s either scene-setting or character-building. The second is surprisingly fun. The first is, well, pretty much what we’ve had for three episodes already.
So, character building. The good news is this episode gives Samantha Mathis something to do. Alice and Carolyn have had very little action so far and it’s nice to see both of them stretch their muscles here. Mathis is consistently very good and as the only Doctor in town she’s got a nice combination of frantic and despondent this episode. It’s also worth noting she goes absolutely toe-to-toe with Big Jim and wins out, which says a lot about both how tough she is and how smart Jim is. She’s the only doctor in town, therefore she’s got power, therefore Mr Rennie Sr makes sure he’s standing next to her. The gradual drawing together of power continues and it’s interesting to watch.
Meanwhile, Julia continues her Lois Lane routine by discovering that Phil (who has ROCKING jammies by the way) and Barbie know one another. This, combined with her discovery of the map in Barbie’s coat leads to an awkward conversation or two at the end of the episode. Under The Dome is getting very good at this sort of thing; locking two people together and forcing them to have the sort of conversation Lost used to joke about avoiding for seasons on end. Here, inside four episodes, Julia not only confronts Barbie about her husband’s death but he gives her a completely understandable partial truth and she throws him out. That’s the show’s first micro-arc neatly set up and resolved, with hanging questions I’ll grant you, in four episodes. More of that please.
Meanwhile, over in Crazy Town, Reverend Doofus has decided the world’s ending and the Dome is God’s will. This is the sort of cookie-cutter religious loon plotting that normally makes me initiate a full eye-roll manoeuvre but here it’s given an interesting twist. Reverend Doofus repents, a lot. He gives Big Jim back the money he made from their “product” and effectively washes his hands of the whole endeavour. It’s a really interesting moment and I suspect marks the start of the Reverend’s end game on the show.
The members of Teen Science Squad! also have an interesting moment this week. Wrapping the science fiction conceit of the show up in a parcel of adolescent hormones and selfies is a really nice idea and they’re actually getting more likable week on week. Also, top marks for them being two of the only people in the town actually thinking about stuff, filming their seizure for clues. That by itself is clever, but the clearly unconscious (or at least not present) Joe sitting up and “Ssssh”-ing the camera was chilling. Much, much more of this sort of stuff please.
However, the episode belongs to Junior and that’s a much better thing than you might think. The moment when he’s handed a shotgun is rife with tension even without the stabby soundtrack and there’s a real sense that this could go very, very wrong. However, again, the show surprises us. Junior’s speech is the equal of one of his father’s and his manipulation of the crowd is absolutely masterful. Alexander Koch has been criticised for being a little flat up to now but he’s gradually peeling the layers of Junior back as the weeks go by. Junior certainly thinks he’s the hero of his own story, and this week finishes with him being given proof of that. Deputy Junior is, again thanks to the intrusive music, clearly not supposed to be a good thing but it could be the making of him. Whether or not Deputy Junior will bring even more doom to the town is dependent on how sincere that speech was, and Koch pitches it perfectly. Junior’s either on the way to redemption or the road to Hell but either way he’s armed now.
Finally, Angie gives Reverend Doofus a run for his money by almost drowning herself trying to escape. This is clearly meant to be Saw -style claustrophobic horror but it’s so borderline absurd it’s all but impossible to take seriously. Only the ending, where Big Jim hears her, opens the shelter and finds her, justifies the time spent on this plot this week. We’re well past the point where Joe would notice she’s gone missing, there’s nothing interesting left for her to do in the shelter and, hopefully, Big Jim will let her out.
Those six moments of character building are all really well handled. Even better, they all promise unusual developments further down the line. The only problem is, for me, the train isn’t going fast enough. So much time is spent on the meningitis outbreak that there’s precious little urgency to the episode. As a result, whilst these six moments are fun, the episode makes you work to get to each one. Hopefully with the developments in the last few minutes, the pace will finally pick up next week.
“You know X-Men?”
“I know a lot of stuff.” T een Seizure Squad Love. This is adorable.
“Those people are supposed to die. It’s God’s plan.” Oh, Reverend Doofus. You really are from Central Casting’s “Nutty Priest’”department. Such a shame.
“I’ll tell you soon.” Ghost Peter? Hallucination Peter?
“Duke always said, the greatest weapon we have as police is a good heart.” Linda hopefully appealing to Junior’s better nature and not pointing out he can totally kill people and get away with it now.
(ATTEMPTED SELF-)DOMETALITY OF THE WEEK Angie. Who almost succeeds in drowning. Underground. In a locked room. Reverend Doofus would be so proud. Or possibly ablaze.
BEST IMAGE The graffiti and eggs splattered over the side of the Dome is a really nice touch. Especially as it’s reversed inside the Dome.
SMARTEST MOMENT Junior putting the gun down and walking away. Best way to get a crowd not to do something is to let them do it if they want. He’s definitely his Father’s son.
CRAZY THEORY CORNER
• The Dome is Alive Theory: The thing responsible for the Dome is… the Dome. It’s alive (ALLLIIIIIIVE!) and is reacting to the people underneath it and how they interact with it. It has its own agenda and waited until the right people were in town before acting on that agenda.
Pros So a Doctor just happens to be passing through town as the Dome drops trapping all the other Doctors outside? Aside from the one Barbie killed? • Duke’s pacemaker being ripped from his chest could be a deliberate act to remove one of the principle authority figures in the Dome • The Army pull out after three days? Really? Maybe they know something we don’t and have been driven away. I’m still hoping for an outside-the-Dome episode with answers galore • The idea that Junior might be right about the Dome being alive (but not about it altering Angie’s behaviour) would be a hell of a twist.
Cons This would make the Dome, in essence, a sentient cake cover. I am okay with this. Others may not be. It’s a nebulous adversary at best, that characters and scriptwriters will struggle to get a grip on.
• What was Doc Shumway really doing when he disappeared on all those Sundays? Presumably gambling or trying to cover his debts.
• Who does Barbie work for? A bookie. Presumably a formidable one.
• Won’t Angie be missed? Apparently not and certainly not any more.
• Why does Barbie have a specific location circled on a map of the town? That’s the cabin where he was scheduled to meet Doc Shumway.
• Who’s left in the town police force? Linda and Junior.
• What is the Dome?
• Is it alien?
• How did the Army get there so (relatively) fast?
• Has Junior actually killed anyone, or would he just really like to?
• What are the strange transmissions Dodee’s picking up?
• Why did Norrie and Joe both repeat the phrase, “The stars are falling in lines?”
• Was Joe affected because he’d begun speculating about the Dome’s power source?
• Is it just me or do Barbie’s dog tags look like they’ve stopped a bullet?
• Just what did Barbie do in the armed forces?
• Why did he not perhaps think to hide that map somewhere a little less easy to find?
• What happened to Junior’s mom?
• How did it affect him?
• Who was patient zero for the Meningitis outbreak?
• Where are the drugs being kept?
• Given that Reverend Doofus gave his cut back to Big Jim, who did they sell them to?
• What’s controlling Joe and Norrie when they seize?
• Did Julia really see her husband or was she hallucinating?
• Under The Dome is currently airing in the UK on Channel 5, Mondays 10pm
• Read our reviews of previous Under The Dome episodes