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- Episode: The Fourth Hand (Season 1, Episode 9)
- Starring: Mike Vogel, Dean Norris, Rachelle Lefevre, Natalie Martinez
- Written By: Daniel Truly, based on the novel by Stephen King
- Directed By: Roxann Dawson
- Network: CBS
- Studio: CBS Television Studios
Under the Dome: The Fourth Hand Review
Mobile Suit Gun Dome
By Michael Henley
August 20, 2013
For nine weeks, the underlining mythology of Under the Dome has been sputtering as the series casts about for interesting directions to take its story, while at the same time overextending itself to prepare for a show that may run multiple seasons. This feeling of running on the spot is a familiar one to students of serialized TV shows centered on sci-fi puzzles. So it was nice this week to get some geuine movement on some of the series’ backstory. Indeed, the very title of “The Fourth Hand” alludes to the episode’s concluding revelation that Joe, Norrie and Angie have all been specially selected by the dome, and that by putting their hands on the mini-dome completes three fourths of a special unlocking technique, perhaps for the egg inside. While the answers this week seem to just raise more questions, it’s great to see the series break open wide its crucial enigmas.
Angie is the newcomer to the Dome’s Chosen Ones Club that Joe and Norrie co-founded so many weeks ago. One day at the diner while fending off the attention of Junior (sigh…this again), Angie seizes and starts muttering the same proclamation of pink stars that Joe and Norrie themselves spoke about during their own seizures. Angie is of course frightened by this development (just as Joe and Norrie are disturbed by the butterfly tattoo on her shoulder in light of last week’s revelations), and finds herself seeking out Junior for help. The disturbed lad shows her an oil painting his mother made years ago, one inspired by a dream she had where Junior stood surrounded by a flurry of pink stars. This device is one that bears an uncanny similarity to a plot point from the last season of Battlestar Galactica, but I’m a sucker for the trope of artifacts from the past being re-evaluated because of shocking present events, so I bought in, despite the increasing squickiness of the Angie/Junior pairing. It’s a TV truism that genuine romance can grow between people simply by sticking them together long enough, and if that happens between Angie and Junior, I’ll shoot my TV in disgust.
Of course, if I lived in Chester’s Mill, shooting the TV wouldn’t be an option anyway, because Big Jim gets the bright idea to organize a program to compel people to turn in their guns. This sparks a miniscule debate between Jim, Barbie and Linda about what this means for the Second Amendment, and whether Chester’s Mill is still even a part of America or is a separate union. Interesting ideas, but they’re then brushed aside so that Big Jim can confiscate the weapons of a depressed loner we never met before, while Barbie tags along and remembers the veiled threat he made to Jim last week, struggling with how much he can unveil. This makes two weeks in a row that Big Jim and Barbie approach a citizen’s home with guns drawn and prepare for a showdown. Come on, guys.
Is there a bigger plot behind Jim’s efforts to grab all the guns? Of course, silly. Linda gets a whiff of this when she begins to investigate Jim’s U-Store-It propane stockpile. Scanning security camera footage, she spots long-departed Duke (played by a stand-in, since Jeff Fahey does not show up just to be a blip on a video monitor) talking with a mysterious stranger. And who is this woman? It’s Max (Natalie Zea), business partner to both Big Jim and, it turns out, Barbie. She’s been trapped under the dome just like everyone else since the beginning, and only now does she decide to show her face, because…oh, some hand-wave of a reason. It’s not important. Anyway. She’s the one who feeds the gun stockpile idea to Big Jim, and she makes it clear that she knows both Jim and Barbie’s every secret. She is, in essence, the woman behind the curtain of all the minor-league criminal activity that’s happened in the dome so far. And she’s…a disappointment.
Max is not a very interesting character so far. She’s not particularly intimidating, even when she’s blackmailing two men to do her bidding. Heck, she’s not even very persuasive; she overplays her hand when she tells Barbie that she’s been watching “everyone” in town since the dome appeared. Everyone? Whatever you say, lady. She outlines a plan for growing a black market in Chester’s Mill that is confusing in its relationship to the gun program, and makes it clear that Barbie and Jim work for her, now, or else. And she does all this with the glibness of a femme fatale wannabe from a nighttime soap opera. Max may grow into someone intriguing, but for the moment she’s exceptionally weak, and it makes Jim and Barbie look even weaker for them to so easily fall under her thumb.
The other subplot this week involves Joe and Norrie’s quest to find the mini-dome when it goes missing. This whole chain of events feels like filler, especially when the mini-dome turns up in the McAllister barn, having been drug there last night by a sleepwalking Joe. Angie turns up and explains this key piece, having witnessed Joe sleepwalk out of the house last night around 3 AM. And when her brother rightfully asks why she didn’t do anything, Angie just sighs and says that weird events are nothing new anymore, which is a rather perversely jaded way of looking at it, don’t you think? Anyway, this triggers the conclusion, where the three kids put their hands on the dome and clearly have a sort of effect, and the dome itself calls out for a fourth hand. But who’s? We shall see.
Julia has her own mini-arc this week where she seems to abandon the principle that the dome has rationality behind it, although we don’t really get to see much of what causes that change in thinking. MIA this week is Carolyn, still upstairs in the McAllister bedroom for two weeks straight, unseen in a way that the show annoyingly calls attention to (Norrie refers to a “long talk” she had with Carolyn). The direction this week, supplied by Star Trek veteran Roxann Dawson, is surprisingly iffy. Dawson has been directing TV for a long time, on plenty of solid shows, but she manages to coax inexplicably weak performances out of some of the regulars: the scene set in the McAllister house foyer is not a shining moment for any member of the cast, especially Colin Ford as Joe. And later, Dean Norris gives some shockingly flat line readings, especially when he thanks Barbie for not killing him. And that’s not even counting the weird ADR that popped up several times this week (especially from Norris—listen to him in the police station scene and hear how jarring it is).
We’re now four episodes away from the end of season 1 of Under the Dome. Things progressed this week, but they should be along a lot further than they are. We should be building to a climax with a real villain, not this bush-league stuff with Max. Big Jim seems to be drowning in a sea of confusing motivations when he should be revealing his true colors, and the obviously incoming reveal of Barbie’s past to the town feels less like a time bomb waiting to explode and more like this thing that will arbitrarily happen at some point. While I liked the directions this week promised to move in, I would like them more if this had been done by episode 5, not 9. I’m imagining a leaner, tougher version of Under the Dome that would be really great. It’s probably not a show that would be airing on CBS, though. It’s ironic that a show that touches on the growing scarcity of resources should feel so regrettably watered down.