Under the Dome: Exigent Circumstances Review - Mania.com

Under the Dome Review

Mania Grade: B+

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  • Episode: Exigent Circumstances (Season 1, Episode 12)
  • Starring: Mike Vogel, Dean Norris, Rachelle Lefevre, Natalie Martinez
  • Written By: Adam Stein, Caitlin Parish, based on the novel by Stephen King
  • Directed By: Peter Leto
  • Network: CBS
  • Studio: CBS Television Studios
  • Series:

Under the Dome: Exigent Circumstances Review

Arrested Dome-velopment

By Michael Henley     September 10, 2013
Source: Mania.com

“Exigent Circusmtances” is one of the finest episodes of Under the Dome’s first season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. After weeks of doing the television storytelling equivalent of twiddling one’s thumbs, the showrunners have decided to up their game and deliver a good example of the kind of stories that Under the Dome should be telling, and hopefully next week (and next season) will be telling more often. Make no mistake; this is not superlative television. But by the grading-curved standards of Under the Dome, this is pretty strong stuff.

“Exigent Circumstances” wisely eliminates one of the elements the series has consistently fumbled throughout its run: world-building. Frustratingly, Chester’s Mill has been treated over the course of this season not as a plausible community brought to the brink of an existential crisis, but instead as a giant version of Mary Poppins’ carpetbag, where anything that the plot requires can be revealed. Things such as a drug kingpin supervillain we’d never heard of before, or a faceless mob that suddenly materializes to attend fight clubs (and then disappears the next day) or protect the property of a water-hoarding old coot. While a mob does appear in a few scenes of “Exigent Circumstances,” they are more elegantly folded into a plot that is essentially about Big Jim conjuring the threat of Barbie on the lam as an excuse to curtail civil liberties, cover up his tracks, and attempt to locate the mini-dome. Rather than telling a town-wide story involving dozens of extras, this is instead about our main characters picking sides in a serious power struggle. Simple as that.

It’s hard to quite connect the Big Jim Rennie of this episode with the one in every episode previous. Though he was always hungry for power and willing to commit murder to achieve it, this is the first episode we’ve seen him be comfortable in his role, for the most part. It’s a bit clunky; what could have felt climactic feels instead like an unexpected gear shift. But I won’t quibble, because for the first time in a while, Big Jim is really entertaining to watch. Whether he’s gloating to a captured Barbie and blackmailing him with a horror scenario of framing practically everyone in town or when he’s sparring with the children, Big Jim finally steps into the role of head villain, and it’s a treat to see. I have a weakness for stories about people wielding fascist power and rebellious individuals who use their heads, and there’s a good amount of that cat-and-mouse gameplay present here. It’s a little moment, but I love the weight beneath the scene where Jim and his cronies illegally search the McAllister barn after arguing with Carolyn (a lawyer, remember), so that she effectively bears witness to his betrayal of every principle. And then he discovers there’s nothing in there, having tarnished himself for nothing. I love scenes like that; the reversals throughout the whole episode are quite satisfying.

Even the other characters seem to find new freedom and intelligence in what they’re asked to do here, perhaps because they’re aided by a storyline that cleanly pits Barbie, Angie and the kids against Jim, Junior, and an unwitting Linda. With the sides well-drawn, almost every character surprises us this week. Linda acts as a pretty competent cop, Angie shows some nice strategies and proves she’s not just a pretty face, and Barbie smartly moves to protect Julia, since she is a liability to Big Jim’s plan, being the only person who knows that Barbie didn’t shoot her. Dodee correctly surmises that Big Jim is the actual murderer (and gets killed herself for her trouble). And Norrie, one of the most uneven characters on the show, gets to have a great moment when she actually squares off against Big Jim, both physically and ethically.

Even Junior shows discomfort with all this and gets confrontational with his father; though Angie does raise the point of how strange it is that Jim wants to be notified the second Julia regains consciousness, the suspicion does stay with him. Junior even correctly guesses Angie’s attempt to distract him from Julia’s room at the clinic as a ruse, angrily saying she “tastes like cigarettes,” and her smoking means that Barbie is near. That’s a very odd callback to the pilot, but he happens to be right, so I’ll give it a pass. Though there are some hiccups here and there, it’s very encouraging to see an episode of the series where the characters make decisions based on who they are, not what reductive labels they have.

Maybe I just enjoyed this episode because it’s essentially a political thriller. It’s a solid structure to hang an episode of Under the Dome on, and I hope we get more of that, because it allows the characters not to just move at the whims of the plot, but actually stand up for things they believe and trust in. Linda shows reluctance to shred civil liberties but she gives in to Big Jim because the used car salesman is exceptionally good at manipulation. The kids move the mini-dome to protect it but also because they believe Big Jim has no right to take it, and as throwaway and cliché a moment as it is, when Carolyn is forcibly moved by two of Jim’s thugs and Norrie tries to help, it’s a nice little moment. Under the Dome was originally pitched as a morality tale with a sci-fi bent, something in the tradition of Rod Serling. So it’s very pleasing to see characters take a stand on moral topics and profess their values; it provides the whole enterprise a spark it has been desperately missing.

It’s no coincidence, too, that this episode goes very light on the dome mythology. We get a couple scenes as Ben (temporary keeper of the mini-dome during the house searches) freaks out at some weird noises emanating from the egg. But for the most part, the dome and mini-dome are treated as a pair of MacGuffins that propel the action but do not define it. This is how it should be. Although much time has been spent (wasted?) on showing the kids deciphering things about the dome, they aren’t of much interest, because the dome is just a device to influence the action in Chester’s Mill, and apply some heat to this pressure cooker. The more time they devote to the mysteries and not on the characters, the more the ultimate “reveal” will most likely disappoint, especially since the dome is so fantastical and improbable it could have almost any arbitrary, meaningless solution. The best way to avoid this unpleasantness is to dial down the mystery and focus on the characters trapped within it. Which they seem to be learning. I hope.
It’s been a very bumpy ride, this first season of Under the Dome. But “Exigent Circumstances” is the first entry in a while to make a strong case for Under the Dome being more than just a cheap attempt at a Lost-style mystique. Next week will bring us a season finale and the trial of Barbie, which probably means a courtroom scene, which I can’t wait for. You can keep your dome tornadoes and fight clubs; I’m more interested in learning about the people. Perhaps the writers of Under the Dome are finally starting to think the same.


Showing items 1 - 9 of 9
Dazzler 9/10/2013 4:19:21 AM

This show never caught my interest, is it that good? 

redhairs99 9/10/2013 7:27:32 AM

Haven't read the review, but needed to say if you are going to change a show's air time enough to where you can put a notice along the bottom of the screen earlier in the night to announce the time change then you sure as heck should be able to adjust the time for DVR schedules.  I got half the show last night because they pushed it to like 9:25 or some crap.  I'm not paying to rent the episode either from Amazon Prime.

ryanwareham 9/10/2013 11:18:42 AM

Watched it last night and the whole thing to me felt trite.

Big Jim and his plans to get the mini dome are irrelevant. As the show has demonstrated, the mini dome will mess up people who it deems shouldn't be near it, which means the kids should be taking Big Jim to it and saying "watch what happens when you touch it" - then having him get zapped like Dodee did.

The whole Julia schtick is sickening. Every time this character arc is brought up makes me turn away from the screen. She went into a coma from a gunshot to the shoulder? The nurse who saw Barbie save her and care about her goes missing without saying "actually jerks, he saved her while i was busy helping someone else"?

Angie trying to get Junior away was like watching a 12-year-old computer geek ask out the head cheerleader - i wanted to cringe and yell and just tell them to get this over with, don't make it any more painful than it already is. This is the person WHO KIDNAPPED HER! Yes he's mental, but don't give him ammunition to do WORSE to you. So what if the actual good guy wants to knock him out or hurt him - HE'S DOING THE RIGHT THING IN THAT REGARD.

Creating unbelievable scenarios for the sake of drama is not good storytelling, it is insulting to the intended viewers and casts the actors, network and directors in a bad light. Why are they willing to let the writers give them this trash to work with?

Given all your rants in the previous weeks about how stupid these people are and how much we're bashed over the head with every fact, this week when we weren't bashed over the head you suddenly forget how horrible these people are and give the show a good review? Bad form.

Iridan 9/10/2013 2:04:51 PM

I don't know how they are going to get another season out of this.

ddiaz28 9/10/2013 2:55:23 PM

Definitely the best episode so far.  And a lot of that for me had to do with Big Jim finally stepping up as the dispicable bastard he's supposed to be.  Most of the people he has killed kind of had it coming but Dodi's murder was just heartless and just what the audience needed to really start hating Jim. 

Michael, seems like ryanwareham is taking your usual view today.   ; )

redhairs, just watch it from the CBS website.  Global has it up on their website here in Canada so I assume CBS does as well.

Wildstar 9/10/2013 5:21:19 PM

I know it's cliche, but the book was SOO much better. I really can not believe people are sticking with this show. By this point in the story people should be either starving or freaking out. Is the public going to stay tuned for another season? I thought the first 4 episodes were pretty good and it was progressing nicely for the climatic ending. Then I heard there was going to be another season, which just didn't make sense. The towns people were raiding the stores and pharmacies in the 4th episode...wouldn't it be a lot worse by this point? Needless to say, I stopped watching when the red head got shot last week and I'm not going back. I can only take so many idiotic story lines just for the sake of filler. If they were going to change so much of the story, why did they leave some things in...for instance, semi-crazy junior? Pink stars falling? Dumb

karas1 9/11/2013 4:36:40 AM

The more time they devote to the mysteries and not on the characters, the more the ultimate “reveal” will most likely disappoint, especially since the dome is so fantastical and improbable it could have almost any arbitrary, meaningless solution. The best way to avoid this unpleasantness is to dial down the mystery and focus on the characters trapped within it.


That's the mistake that Lost made.  They made the island fantastic and exciting and introduced many mysteries and told us these things were important.  When they found they couldn't tie it all up in a logical manner they threw up their hands and made it even crazier and said "Well there is no logical explanation.  It's magic and therefore doesn't have to make sense.  But it doesn't matter because it was all about the characters anyway."

The trouble is, I don't watch a scifi show for the characters.  Yes, good characters are important and without them your show sucks.  But you don't need a scifi framework to make a show about interesting characters.  A contemporary drama can showcase characterization and acting just fine.  I watch a scifi show for the scifi elements.  If the scifi elements don't hang together then it doesn't  matter how good the characters are.  It's a bad show.

So focus on the mysteries of the Dome.  Make them important.  They should be important to the people traped inside and also to the people outside looking in.  In the book Big Jim used the appearance of the Dome to consolodate his power in Chester's Mill.  But that turned out to be a total disaster for the town and everybody living in it.  King's whole point was that Big Jim was ultimately a small person who let his desire for personal agrandizement bring disaster while Barbie and his friends were bigger people because they worked towards the common good.

But in the end King was more focused on the characters than his scifi trappings and the ultimate explanation of the Dome was silly.  I was so disappointed at the end of that book.  I was hoping that if the series was going to change the ending then they could improve it.  But it doesn't look like they've put any more thought into it than King did.

ddiaz28 9/11/2013 7:04:44 AM

I've been hoping the same thing Karas, that they would "fix" the ending for the show.  At least they are placing a lot of importance on the egg from the get go.  In the book they only found the equivalent of the egg towards the end. 

redhairs99 9/11/2013 12:57:27 PM

 Thanks ddaiz.  I looked the other night but it wasn't there.  Guess they put it up early due to the time shift.



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