Mania Grade: B
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- Episode: Into the Fire (Season 1, Episode 2)
- Starring: Mike Vogel, Dean Norris, Rachelle Lefevre, Natalie Martinez
- Written By: Rick Cleveland, based on the novel by Stephen King
- Directed By: Jack Bender
- Network: CBS
- Studio: CBS Television Studios
Under the Dome: Into the Fire Review
Hellfire and Dome Nation
By Michael Henley
July 02, 2013
With the pilot having done all the heavy lifting, Under the Dome’s second episode, “Into the Fire,” gets down to the business of being a series: giving the characters time to breathe and develop, drawing story strands together and moreover making the case for Dome’s longevity. While “Into the Fire” lacks the novelty and ambition of the pilot, it’s a breezy episode that allows the show’s central premise to start feeling lived-in and natural. If the pilot was an off-the-rack purchase, this second episode felt more like putting on a comfy sweatshirt.
Of course, there’s still some awkwardness—this is the second episode, not, say, the thirtieth. So let’s get the big issue out of the way fast: Rachelle Lefevre’s performance as Julia Shumway continues to be problematic, perhaps because of Lefevre’s limitations as an actress, or perhaps because the character is shaping up to be a humorless pill. During one early scene she goes to the town rock radio station, overhears an intercepted out-of-town signal referencing their trap as a “dome” and then forces herself on the air to share it with listeners. While Julia’s little ego trip does get to the series’ key theme of letting being a big fish in a shrinking pond go to your head, her behavior is just strikingly obnoxious, especially the way she breathlessly uses her status as town reporter, yet doesn’t really have much to share, when you get right down to it.
I think my key issue is that the character hasn’t been truly thought through. Her relationship with Mike Vogel’s Dale “Barbie” Barbara (full name revealed this week) clearly is intended to have some chemistry, but the two actors don’t truly have any, and so far they haven’t had very much to talk about. Outside of stray lines of dialogue, she doesn’t seem remotely troubled about being “separated” from her husband (she’s still unaware that Dale killed him). In one scene with a really neat visual, we learn that Julia’s house is right next to the dome’s edge, as government officials standing literally across the street ignore her as they go about their business. “Even if you stripped naked they wouldn’t look at you,” Dale smirks. Julia’s response: “I know, I already tried that.” Is she serious? Is that a joke? Probably the latter, right? It doesn’t matter, because either way, I don’t believe her.
Dale ends up being our glue this week, constantly intersecting with other people’s stories. He catches Joe and Ben, taking the opportunity of a day off from school to use trigonometry to figure out the dome’s dimensions. (“He’s not from around here, he’s cool” whispers Joe). He catches a nasty altercation between newly appointed sheriff Linda and one of her problem subordinates, who is stockpiling weapons in preparation for the town’s inevitable collapse. And he bumps into good ol’ psychotic Junior, who comes looking for Dale after Angie, in a desperate bid to win her freedom, suggests to her captor that the interaction he witnessed between herself and Dale last week was more than it seemed. A nasty fight breaks out, one that Dale fails to finish, in a nice bit of symmetry between that and a flashback that shows the end of Julia’s husband.
Junior, while only given a few scenes this week, is nicely fleshed out. While still psychotic, we learn he’s wrongly attributed Angie’s “change of heart” regarding their relationship to the arrival of the dome. Poor sod, he just doesn’t understand women at all. There’s something heartbreakingly pathetic about his strident belief that “once the dome goes down you’ll love me again.” The love-struck maniac is a staple of King’s fiction, and it’s one that he typically writes with intelligence and empathy, even when having their actions flirt with caricature.
We learn some facts of dome life this week. When Dale purchases some cigarettes, he spots a despondent Norrie (who already believes that they’re all going to die) shoplifting and admonishes her thinking small. The cigarettes, after all, we be priceless investment within weeks, sounding a similar note heard early in the Lost pilot, in which the character of Sawyer establishes his philosophy of control through limited economy. We discover that the cow from last week wasn’t the only unlucky animal to be split by the dome’s arrival: a bloody smear represents the dragged-away carcass of a man who suddenly lost his legs. And we discover that the dome’s material is like a membrane, acting as a sieve that lets water slowly pass through.
Not that that does much good when a fire breaks out at the sheriff’s house. Big Jim, already taking large steps to consolidate his power, sends the high-as-a-kite Reverend Lester Coggins (Ned Bellamy) over the house to find the sheriff’s will and also destroy any evidence Perkins had of Big Jim’s propane stockpiling. The reverend, in a delightful bit of dark comedy, tries the old movie trick of burning important documents in a trash can, only to miscalculate and set fire to the drapes. Somewhere, Leslie Nielsen is smiling. It’s the first bit of broad humor in Under the Dome, but it works surprisingly well.
The ultimate town response to the fire is cleverly constructed, as some are worried about the blaze, some rightfully point out that the lack of rain could spark a brush fire that could destroy the entire town, and others fret about the smoke that could stay trapped under the dome (see, Julia, maybe telling everyone wasn’t such a good idea). And meanwhile, Big Jim is nervous about the evidence. Dean Norris is, I think, doing a very strong job as Big Jim, making him a scary tough guy making a power play, inserting dollops of humanity that will go a long way towards the case that Big Jim is not a one-dimensional monster (I loved his “sorry for the circumstances, but you’ll love Chester’s Mill” interaction with the lesbian couple).
The solution to the fire problem is a combination of bucket brigade and Big Jim flattening the sheriff’s house with a bulldozer, and although the process is a little hazy to figure while watching the episode, the defeat of the fire allows some nice moments for Linda to grow into her role as new sheriff, and subtly hint at the antagonism to come between her and Big Jim (notice the subtle way he insinuates himself into the center of the crowd in order to be congratulated with her).
Unfortunately, problem cop from before raises his head again and mouths off about how it doesn’t matter and they’re all doomed. He fires his weapon and an unlucky dome-based ricochet puts a bullet through his partner. Classic King device: tightening the screws on the unhinged guy, so we can watch him go super-crazy. (Also, I hate to be crass, but I’d like the point out that we’re this close to a running gag of one dead cop per episode). Interesting stuff here, and I’m curious to see where it goes.
Oh, and Junior, if you really want to impress Angie, maybe start by getting her some shoes. That dungeon of yours is filthy.