Mania Grade: C
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- Episode: Manhunt (Season 1, Episode 3)
- Starring: Mike Vogel, Dean Norris, Rachelle Lefevre, Natalie Martinez
- Written By: Adam Stein, based on the novel by Stephen King
- Directed By: Paul Edwards
- Network: CBS
- Studio: CBS Television Studios
Under the Dome: Manhunt Review
By Michael Henley
July 09, 2013
So, “Manhunt,” Under the Dome’s third episode, isn’t an awful episode of television. But it’s very very mediocre, the kind of TV episode that makes executives happy because it follows a clearly-defined structure. Not very much interesting happens, but there’s some running around to make it seem like interesting things are happening. It’s very rote and routine, right down to the episode title. It’s called “Manhunt.” It’s about a manhunt. There’s your hook right there. But it’s “about” a manhunt in a way that really squanders some potential.
The man being hunted is Freddie, the deputy-turned-accidental murderer last week. Locked up in a cell, Freddie quickly overpowers Linda (still over her head) and escapes, causing Big Jim to take charge of the search for him, eventually marshaling together a whole search party that consists of four people: Big Jim, Barbie, and two diner patrons who we’ve never seen before. Turns out those two are homophobes to boot. Yuck. They go into the woods and search for Freddie. Yup, it’s the dreaded “cast goes into the woods” episode.
I’m being glib. The story’s not a terrible one, but there’s one thing that gets my goat about this whole setup: Freddie. Freddie exists as the figure that shows up in a lot of Stephen King’s books, the guy who goes manic and finds himself capable of unspeakable, horrible things. These types of characters are fascinating because, with skill, they can be made relatable. Their spiral out of control could possibly be constructed realistically. We can share empathy with a man who falls of the edge of sanity, because there but for the grace of God, right?
Nope, not here. Freddie is a plot device, one designed to get our characters out in the woods and give them a tiny task to accomplish this week. Not one moment is ever dedicated to bestowing Freddie with any empathy—he’s a stock villain, shooting a rifle from behind some trees, eventually getting the drop on Big Jim before getting dispatched by the growing-into-her-role Linda. If Under the Dome is the story of a town that begins to turn on each other, why tell the first piece of that narrative in such half-hearted, useless measures? Never for a second do we care about Freddie or what he represents, and we should. Hitchcock’s defined a “MacGuffin,” as an inconsequential piece of story that only exists to fuel the parts we truly care about, and Freddie is essentially a walking, shooting, dying MacGuffin. What a waste.
The stuff we’re “meant” to care about in the dreary woods sequences is the contentious relationship between Barbie and Big Jim. While Barbie remains a mystery, Big Jim lets his guard down and tells a story of his past as a star quarterback—one that speaks plainly to his rage issues. I realize (presume?) this is foreshadowing of things to come, but there has to have been a better forum to put Big Jim’s character development in. It comes across as shoehorned, as does the growing complexity of the two men’s bond.
The other stories don’t really fare much better this week. Junior, after being confronted by Big Jim in an argument that falls upon “bad angry dad” clichés (lots of sports pressure and stuff) returns to Angie, still chained up. Angie, trying to play a long con, attempts buttering up to Junior and pressing him to think of ways they might escape the dome. Junior heads for some tunnels. He picks up a stowaway when Julia follows him. In a show that’s starting to become desperate at figuring out reasons why certain characters do what they do, this takes the cake: Julia, now feeding the news regularly via the radio station, looks out the window and sees Junior walking somewhere, and gets curious. Yup, she just sees Junior walking and immediately thinks he’s someone worth following. A nosy reporter is one thing, but this just plain doesn’t make sense.
The writing is all wonky surrounding Julia this week. Junior ventures into a long tunnel and finds at the end of it the dome driving into the Earth. Enraged, he pounds on it until a simultaneous power outage, and Julia accidentally makes her presence known. Junior looks at her with threatening eyes going into the act-out, and then, incredibly, the episode returns from commercial and resolves this cliffhanger with these two characters exchanging literally a line each of banal, passionless dialogue. Junior forgot to bring a flashlight and Julia only has matches (?), which they use to guide themselves out. But not before Julia tells Junior about what she’s doing in Chester’s Mill (short version: she wrote a libelous story that cost her career). It’s a nice attempt at a character moment, but it feels out of sorts with everything we know about Julia. Perhaps this is again due to Rachelle Lefevre’s limitations as an actress, but nothing about her performance says “disgraced journalist” to me. That requires introspection—the ability to show character thought, and that isn’t present. Inspired by Junior’s ramblings (“Barbie beat me up!”) Julia suspiciously poking through Barbie’s belongings and stories, and again, I’m not sold by the transition here. Julia is billed as a smart cookie, which means either she should have been suspicious of Barbie from the start, or shouldn’t turn on a dime due to the crazed mewling of a teenager. It makes her look incredibly weak.
The third subplot, related to the power outage, involves Joe using the resources of his house to throw a makeshift energy party, lending juice to teens trying to charge their iPods and phones. Originally designed as a private affair to get to know Norrie (who has run away from home, in a plot point the show just tosses off), Joe’s party soon devolves into strangers invading his house and a near-altercation with a bully. Although there’s a cute, self-aware reference in this sequence to The Simpsons Movie, they’re a little painful, mainly because while the teen focus is a necessary component of the societal cross-section strategy of Under the Dome, the teen dialogue and behavior doesn’t feel remotely genuine. That’s a shame, because Joe actually does have a decent chemistry with Norrie—their budding romance will probably be a plotline this year I enjoy returning to most. More seizures from these two kids close out the
I’m enjoying Under the Dome, for the most part, but I must say that “Manhunt” is a huge, clunky disappointment. Hopefully we’ll have a nice rebound next time. We’re three for three on wounded cops closing each episode, too. So it’s confirmed: we have a perverse running gag.