Under the Dome: Let The Games Begin Review - Mania.com



Under the Dome REVIEW

Mania Grade: D

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Info:

  • Episode: Let The Games Begin (Season 1, Episode 10)
  • Starring: Mike Vogel, Dean Norris, Rachelle Lefevre, Natalie Martinez
  • Written By: Andres Fischer-Centeno, Peter Calloway, based on the novel by Stephen King
  • Directed By: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan
  • Network: CBS
  • Studio: CBS Television Studios
  • Series:

Under the Dome: Let The Games Begin Review

Play It To The Dome

By Michael Henley     August 27, 2013
Source: Mania.com

“Let the Games Begin” is perhaps the worst episode so far of Under the Dome, a series that has taken quite a bit of potential and has relentlessly squandered it. This is one lousy episode of television, filled with bad choices: acting-wise, direction-wise, dialogue-wise, storytelling-wise. And what’s worse is that this is the first episode in a while that has its hands on an intriguing character arc for good ol’ tortured Barbie. But it’s buried under counterproductive plot twists, lousy acting, several non sequiturs, and repetitive dialogue that restates revelations and goals so often that it’s like they’re trying to pummel us into submission.

Did I say pummel? How appropriate for our central plot of the week, which takes a page from Fight Club, even though the last fourteen years have left Fight Club with no pages left to spare. I am so very tired of the “underground fight club” trope in genre TV series, but I’m even more tired of Under the Dome appropriating wheezy clichés and doing nothing with them. This fight club, which is organized by the evil Maxine nominally as a release for the pent-up frustrations and boredom of Chester’s Mill (and in actuality is a scheme for her to tighten her grip on the town’s resources, cash and people) is a bargain-basement affair, shot without style or flair, even when Max ups her blackmail of Barbie by forcing him into the ring.

What’s especially frustrating about this is that Max’s notion that the frightened townspeople would turn to vices and violence is a believable one. But unfortunately, Under the Dome has shown time and again that it’s uninterested in dramatizing anything beyond what’s going on with the main cast. The entire town has been swallowed up by an invisible dome, there are endless battles for resources and people are dying, and yet we’re never shown the common man’s reaction to any of this. Here, they’re delegated to being a cheering, soulless mob in the background of tepid fight scenes, which is all so reductive and shallow. I buy that this would happen, but it’s so lazy to reveal simply by Maxine telling us how people are feeling, rather than actually show us. Max’s plan to bring the town to its knees by using its own thirst for vices and brutal “entertainment” against it is a fascinating, morally icky premise that no one on the writing staff seems willing to deal with in any way. What’s the point?

The juiciest character work in this entire episode is of Barbie, who feels his soul slipping away a little bit and then decides he’s had enough of Maxine’s manipulations, even if that means telling Julia the truth. These are heavy stakes (more Barbie’s sense of self-worth than his relationship with Julia, because their progression as a couple has been unconvincing and superficial). But I don’t really think we’re told much of a story with Barbie here after all. Barbie throws his fight in order to rob Max of satisfaction, while unbeknownst to him she’s bet heavy against him. And so his surrender actually makes her a lot of money, and while that weighs heavy on his conscience, the underlining of his no-win situation makes his ultimate decision to get from under her thumb a pragmatic one rather than ethical, which actually isn’t very emotional or dramatic.

But if you want something that kills drama, look no further than the final confrontation between Julia and Barbie. First, let’s backtrack. Julia has her own Nancy Drew adventure with Linda piecing together the propane stockpile with Max’s drug empire with Duke’s complicity in the whole sordid affair, courtesy of some friendly safe deposit boxes. Their discoveries paint Duke as a man who made a deal with the devil in order to keep drugs out of Chester’s Mill itself, but the emotional fulcrum here, let’s be mindful, is the tortured conscience of a dead man, so it’s hard to get too worked up about it (not enough is made of Linda’s complex disillusionment regarding her mentor). Some adjoining evidence shows that Linda’s husband took an empty revolver to his meeting with Barbie, and left a new insurance policy back in the deposit box. The implication is that he wanted Barbie to kill him, which ends up in her mind completely overshadowing the fact that Barbie did actually kill him.

What? This makes zero emotional sense. None. And what’s worse is that it completely undermines the story the episode—hell, the series—has been trying to tell with Barbie. Here’s a complicated man with a shady past catching up to him, who falls in love with the wife of the man he murdered. When the truth comes out, it should be explosive. But no, he ends up mostly off the hook, because Julia can apparently forgive him since her husband was actually seeking his own death. It’s not quite 100% as clear cut as that (Julia injects a grain of ambiguity in her discussion of her and Barbie’s future), but come on. People don’t behave this way. The idea that Barbie’s murder of Peter can be so effectively downplayed and excused is absolutely baffling, if not perverse. Under the Dome has always had problems imagining emotions and feelings that actual human beings have, process, and express, but this is taking it to a new, stunningly inept level. Who in the world thought this was a good idea?

Another subplot this week involves the kids trying to find the Fourth Hand for the mini-dome, and they’re spurred by the discovery of a caterpillar inside the mini-dome. The Fourth Hand ends up being…are you ready? Junior. Because the show needs more reasons to bring Angie and Junior together, albeit this time with chaperones (yes, I realize that Joe and Norrie are younger than Angie and Junior, but in the maturity department they’re leaps and bounds beyond). Angie eventually spills the beans to Joe about what Junior did to her, and so Joe promises he’ll kill Junior, but then he sorta forgets about that, just like he forgot that Angie was missing in the early episodes. Junior pressing his hand against the mini-dome reveals a cool 360 degree star map (“Pink stars!”). The episode’s last line has Junior staring and saying “But what does it mean,” which only forwards my theory that Under the Dome has become an elaborate round-robin writing exercise gone berserk.

Oh, right. I forgot about Big Jim. You see, while Barbie is swept into Max’s fight club, Big Jim is curiously unobserved, and so he escapes into an episode of Miami Vice, stealing a motorboat and travelling to Max’s island mansion, looking for the “insurance policy” she mentioned last week. He bumps into Max’s insane mother, who brandishes a rifle and tells her sad story about how she dropped out of high school after getting pregnant, and so she became a prostitute and Chester’s Mill was mean to her and now she hates this town and wants it to suffer and…guys…just wondering… do you care? I mean, does anybody? This motivation is so shoehorned in and ultimately meaningless that it almost plays like parody. Her monologue even begins with “You don’t know who I am, do you?” which is usually what villains say right before they launch into stories more interesting than this one. When last seen, Big Jim lets her drown, because it’s so unique to see Big Jim kill somebody, even though he’s killed several people already. 

The acting doesn’t help. As I discussed a few weeks ago: to see Dean Norris so underserved every Monday when on Sunday nights he’s killing it as the troubled Hank Schraeder hurts to watch. And then there’s Natalie Zea. She doesn’t improve upon last week’s introduction of Max: she still plays her with the airy sneer of someone from a romantic comedy. She has no menace, no vindictiveness, and even her attempts at playful, sexy opportunism are dead in the water. I don’t think its miscasting so much as Under the Dome is revealing with each episode that its own tone, mythology, logic and general point of view on anything has not been thought through. How appropriate for this week’s fight club episode that I end with this conclusion: what a bloody mess.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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karas1 8/27/2013 4:07:50 AM

Why is it assumed that if you go into the water with your hands tied you'll drown right away?  It would make swimming difficult but come on, does nobody know how to float?  You don't need your hands to float.  If somebody threw me into a lake with my hands tied behind my back I'd float on my back and kick my way to the shore.  It might not be fast, or much fun, but I'd get there eventually.

This woman has been living in Chester's Mill all her life, been working as a prostitute there, and Big Jim doesn't recognize her or know who she is?  You'd think that somebody who had his hand on the town's pulse the way Big Jim is supposed to have had would know the town whore.

The fight club scenes left me cold.  Chester's Mill might eventually turn to vice like that but it would take longer that a week.  And this is material added to the story by the TV show when more interesting things (like Big Jim's cadre of teenage thugs) is completely left out.

In the book Barbie was not a hitman or a collections agent working for a criminal.  He was a drifter who was working for a few months as a fry cook at the diner before moving on to a menial job in some other community.  His cred as ex army qualified him for a leadership position under the dome.  This Barbie is a more interesting character.  But you'd think that if they were going to change the character so radically anyway they'd change his name.  Call him Dale or Barbera but every time someone calls him Barbie I look around for a tall blonde woman in a tacky dress.  Perhaps giving him a woman's name was supposed to be some kind of statement but if so I don't get it.

SloPoke23 8/27/2013 9:05:07 AM

 Why were they so worried about water several episodes ago when the dome encloses a lake?

wish 8/27/2013 9:45:51 AM

Never mind me, the show itself ran out of fucks to give.  Buh bye domy dome dome.,

ryanwareham 8/27/2013 10:00:38 AM

 

This show is spinning it's wheels. The story could work in a mini-series way (The Stand and Langoliers prove that, because it keeps the story moving), but as a series, it doesn't have enough substance to keep traction for the long haul in the centralized week-after-week cast.

The fight club was laughable given the timeframe, the mother was too obvious (and oblivious to the situation she put herself in, really), and the kids are like goldfish or George W. Bu-look a squirrel!!!

While watching with my wife, at the end when Barbie was confessing, i was starting to say "if she doesn't freak out on him for killing her husband, this show will have lost every possible shred of believability", and i didn't even get the words out of my mouth before Julia was practically consoling him for the fact he had to kill her husband. Why was she doing this? Because she would get $1 million dollars from the insurance, BUT as was pointed out IN A SCENE WITH HER IN IT, there is no use for money (and really no way to collect $1 million dollars) under the dome. So, what, she has a piece of paper worth nothing, that validates the fact that the man she's shacking up with killed her husband, and what does she do? Consoles him. CHECK PLEASE, I'M DONE!!

If this season doesn't end with the dome crushing every resident and then jumping on to the next small town in the hopes of better story lines i don't know what i'll do....because nothing short of obliterating the entire town will suffice.
 

Iridan 8/27/2013 10:27:43 AM

I really hate to defend this show, but if I remember correctly, Barbie got in a fight with the husband and gun went off. I wouldn't say that Barbie murdered him, but I could be wrong.

As for Julia forgiving Barbie, well her husband pretty much ruined her life, so I don't think she has too much sympathy for him.  Of course the life insurance policy is currently meaningless, but she realized in the end he tried to do something to make amends. That's not to say that her reaction was realistic, but there is at least some internal logic to it.

I was thinking the same thing about the lake and the water shortage. That could be the biggest logic gap I've ever seen in a TV show or movie. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

And I didn't think it could be possible, but I think the acting was worse in this episode than any other.

F

F,F,F,F,F,F,F

F

jd25u 8/27/2013 10:33:20 PM

 Oh my God, why do I keep watching this show??  It is so sad to see Dean Norris (Hank) stuck with such a suck-b*llz Role in this show.  They should have kept this to one season.  The wheels are a spinning.

ddiaz28 8/28/2013 9:09:58 AM

This was a pretty dumb episode but I'm still enjoying it enough to keep it on my second screen at work while I work on the other.

As far as the water thing several people mentioned, in that episode someone explained that there was soem sort of gas pocket the dome cut into and it contaminated the lake.  They showed a shot of all the dead fish. 

I agree with karas that they could be pulling more interesting things from the book instead of inserting stupid plots like this fight club.  And yes, the town turning to this type of entertainment in only a week seemed ludicrous. 

And I can believe Julia's apathy towards Dale's reveal.  It's obvious her marriage was on the rocks before all this happened seeing as it didn't take much for her to sleep with another man.  Plus the fact that she finds out he did it to himself. 

My biggest problem is that in the book, Big Jim is the big baddie and I hated him every second I was reading about him, which made him a great villain.  But others keep emerging as villains here above Jim when I'd rather him be the main guy to hate.

ashamel 8/28/2013 11:14:34 PM

I really hope the woman threw herself off the boat deliberately, and has thus escaped. Otherwise the whole thing would be flat and pointless (which at least would make it consistent).

Although I think she said she had only recently returned to Chester's Mill, which is why Big Jim didn't know who she was.

ReleaseTheseFeces 8/29/2013 8:23:28 PM

@SloPoke23 That is the most intelligent review yet. Nevermind that blowhard Henley.

rkngl 8/31/2013 5:14:45 PM

Loved the dialogues on this one. I was always expecting them to say things like "Hello, I'm your girlfriend you have not yet slept with who lost her mother to diabetes just 48 hours ago. How is you reckless sister who was sequestered for days inside an atomic shelter we have not been already told about?" or "I feel sad about the fact that we have lost our sheriff on the first episode, who had a pacemaker and loved me as the daughter he never had because his son died because of drugs, have we already told you about him?" For a while it remebered me of some Fringe episodes when the actors spent minutes spewing expository dialogues about things they were supposed to know and share but somehow felt the need to talk about it in a useless way so viewers could remember the backstory...

Or dialogues like "hey your sister has a butterfly tattoo, how come you didn't think about it when we are desesperately looking for something relating to butterflies?" "Because the scriptwriters are sleeping on the job?"

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