Mania Grade: B+
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- Episode: Imperfect Circles (Season 1, Episode 7)
- Starring: Mike Vogel, Dean Norris, Rachelle Lefevre, Natalie Martinez
- Written By: Caitlin Parrish, based on the novel by Stephen King
- Directed By: Miguel Sapochik
- Network: CBS
- Studio: CBS Television Studios
Under the Dome: Imperfect Circles Review
The Dome Generation
By Michael Henley
August 06, 2013
First of all, hello to all Time Warner subscribers who aren’t getting CBS right now! Curious what happened on Under the Dome this week? Well, I’ll tell you…
I expected “Imperfect Circles” to be a step up for Under the Dome. After last week’s entry, which I still contend was an outright disaster, it would be harder to get much worse. What I didn’t expect was a really well done episode of television, but that’s what “Imperfect Circles”—for the most part—was. I have gripes, naturally, but they feel a lot less pronounced this week, because much of the storytelling was compelling and even moving enough to put up with lapses in logic and clunky dialogue. While Under the Dome so far feels quite content to stay within the safe confines of a CBS drama (anyone who suggests this show is as risky or boundary-pushing as a cable series is deluding themselves), if it continues to deliver episodes of this caliber, than consider my concerns somewhat addressed.
Granted, I wasn’t in love with this episode’s premise going into it. I dislike dramas that have to import a guest star for a childbirth sequence, because it feels like a desperate way to contrive some instant pathos with someone we’ve never seen before, and never will again. So when Julia’s very pregnant neighbor shows up asking for yogurt (and interrupting a little morning afterglow between Julia and Barbie), red flags were waving for me. And yes, the birth plot consists of a lot of “Push!” from everyone involved, but it’s done moderately well, and it goes down an interesting avenue when the expecting mother despondently wonders if it’s even worth bringing a new life into the dome, with all the horror growing around them. She has a point, and her support system (including Alice and Carolyn) successfully appeal to her emotions without necessarily dismissing the problems, which is neat. (Also, as much as Julia is featured in this subplot, there’s actually not much of her this week. Another bonus.)
While Alice helps with the birth, her own baby, Norrie, heads off onto an adventure with Joe, trying to escalate the bizarre phenomena that the dome seems to trigger within them. There are notes sounded of the budding teen romance between them, and for once they feel charming and sweet together rather than forced. When Joe suggests to try something new after endless making out at the dome’s edge gets no reaction, Norrie misunderstands (“I’m not going to have sex with you for the first time in front of the dome!”), and Joe’s embarrassed double take to that statement is as hoary as they come, but still pretty amusing.
The two kids trek to the center of the dome to perhaps find its power source, in a sequence that displays such a Goonies-esque feel that Spielberg’s name on this series finally starts to make a little bit more sense. The two uncover under a pile of leaves another hidden mini-dome with a tiny device inside that looks like an egg. The discovery is cut short when Norrie touches the mini-dome and sees a troubling vision of Alice, which recalls an earlier scene indicating that the dome may be sending out specialized hallucinations of loved ones to townspeople. An interesting development on the dome front to be sure, and iIt’s nice to see a bit of cohesion in these different subplots; surely it’s no coincidence that what separates Norrie from the pregnancy ordeal is the quest to find something that ultimately looks like an egg.
Meanwhile, Big Jim is making further advances in his bid to become dictator for life in Chester’s Mill. His rivalry with Ollie last week is not forgotten by either party, and when Ollie opens his well for town consumption and essentially becomes Mr. Popular, Big Jim sees a very real threat. And when Big Jim’s own propane supply is stolen and he’s roughed up by a no-nonsense security guard, he finds himself running low on the leverage he’s been stockpiling, which allows Ollie to waltz in and start making demands, as he essentially has his heart set on being the town’s greasy, hillbilly version of Mr. Burns. Big Jim’s solution is to drink and drink and eventually aim a well-timed bullet into a truck, frying the propane in a huge explosion and also the very same security guard who humiliated him. After weeks of iffy writing, Dean Norris comes through this week, handed here an arc that has just the right type of operatic, homicidal pettiness. It’s always juicy to see an anti-hero balance his ambitions and moral compass, and while there’s nothing here that’s jaw-dropping in its quality, it’s a nice reminder that for this series to work, it has to be about people.
And Chester Mill’s most problematic person, Junior, gets some interesting development here, sort of. Thrown out of the house by Big Jim and still stuck on Angie, he joins with Linda in hunting down the murderers of Rose (from last week), spurred by the news that they had plans to assault his lady love. The two lowlifes, briefly intersecting with the pregnancy story, cause a serious detour for Julia and her neighbor when they ambush them on the way to the hospital via a garbage blockade, and siphon their gas. Linda and Junior eventually corner them and get the drop on the fugitives, and while Linda’s dispatching of her quarry is clean, Junior’s is not.
No, he goes full on Death Wish with these guys, gunning down one in cold blood as they flee, with Linda far enough way to avoid any suspicion. He finds Angie again and tries to make amends, and her response is very chilly. Seeing Junior channel his Angie obsession in a way that markedly hurts others might be the best way to take this storyline. How interesting, too, that despite their differences, both Big Jim and Junior settle their problems this week with a few premeditated squeezes of a rifle trigger. Again, it’s just nice to see cohesion.
It certainly helps that Angie herself shows the most strength she ever has here: making decisions, displaying agency, and being cold to the sickos who are trying to keep her close. When she flatly rejected Big Jim’s offer to stay with him, I wanted to cheer. She’s even the only person in town who values Ruth enough to give her a proper burial (aided by Ben, who feels like he’s been put here by a random “let’s put character X and Y together” generator). Angie is a character that I like who is finally doing something other than being victimized and abused. About time.
But alas, time is very much up for Alice, who suffers a heart attack after helping deliver the baby, as she is already weakened by the scarcity of insulin. We should have known this was coming by the way she and Carolyn tenderly dance together early on, but it still came as a surprise, although when the new mother names the baby Alice and then by the end of the night adult Alice dies, that kind of lays it on a little thick, doesn’t it? It also doesn’t help that Alice is just not a character that we know very well—her death is seen as an effect on Norrie rather than a loss in and of itself, which feels deeply reductive.
Oh well. Alice’s death (though irritatingly constructed in that only-in-the-movies way where a sick person has just enough time to croak out every crucial life lesson they have left to dispense) is a bit overplayed by Samantha Mathis but is perfectly performed by Mackenzie Lintz as Norrie. Her grief feels fractured, unrehearsed and quite real, and it comes to an eerie climax when she runs out of the house towards the dome and pleads with it not to take Alice. This is a great moment, emblematic of the despair that should be running more often under the surface of this series, and it’s operatic nature is pure King—in another King story, after all, we wouldn’t be surprised for the dome to respond in some way.
And, actually, maybe it does, although the jury’s still out. Our last shot of the episode is of the dome-egg glittering to life, which comes at the end of an effective montage set to M83’s “Wait.” It borrows a page from the Lost playbook: this whole sequence is eerily familiar of the Lost episode where Boone dies and the hatch light comes on, but when a pop blend of drama, music and sudden sci-fi works, it works. This is the Under the Dome that I want to see every week: well-acted, intriguing, and constructed in such a way that by the end of each episode you feel you’ve been told a story, not a bunch of fragmented bits. More like this, please. Even better, if you can manage.