Under the Dome: Outbreak Review - Mania.com

Under the Dome Review

Mania Grade: C-

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  • Episode: Outbreak (Season 1, Episode 4)
  • Starring: Mike Vogel, Dean Norris, Rachelle Lefevre, Natalie Martinez
  • Directed By: Kari Skogland
  • Written By: Peter Calloway, based on the novel by Stephen King
  • Network: CBS
  • Studio: CBS Television Studios
  • Series:

Under the Dome: Outbreak Review

King Dome Hospital

By Michael Henley     July 16, 2013
Source: Mania.com

“Outbreak” is the title of this week’s installment of Under the Dome, and it’s one of those cases where a title perfectly reflects the amount of thought put into the plot of said episode. In this episode, a whole bunch of Chester’s Mill residents contract a particularly virulent and rapid strain of meningitis, and soon the sole hospital is swarming with patients. One would think that this would be sufficient fuel for a drama about sacrifice and moral quandaries, as medicine is scarce and certain members of the community must be prioritized. Or, at very least, one would suspect the sickness plot would provide a sufficient structure to build character development and significantly forward storytelling. Guess what. It doesn’t.

“Outbreak” feels very much like a contrivance to confine everyone to a hospital for a majority of the episode, and for what? To save money, I guess. It’s bad news when we’re on episode four and we’re already getting something that feels painfully akin to a lazy bottle episode. The meningitis story lends no new insights into the notion of life (and death) under the dome, and it fails to exploit the dramatic potential that one would think would be inherent in a hospital-centric narrative. Aside from shots of lots of sick people in the same redressed corridor, as Alice (pressed into service with her small medical experience) administers to the ill, nothing much happens. The episode’s logic for why certain characters are immune is also suspect: army and college vaccinations, they say, which would explain Barbie, Big Jim and possibly Norrie, but Joe? Oh, whatever.

There’s one emotional beat in the entirety of the meningitis sequence. Linda is given antibiotics and an elderly neighbor (and former teacher) of hers is not, and Linda feels perfunctorily bad about it. The ordeal is given such little weight that it barely registers. It’s the very definition of going through the motions. I’m not saying that we need to tug at the heartstrings over every single death that happens on the show, but these characters really need to have nuanced reactions to their problems, or we’re going to have trouble buying them. Like we still do, to this day. 

All the other character movements this week happen at an odd remove from the meningitis story, even though that should be everyone’s most pressing concern. Everything that happens feels awkwardly jimmied into the cracks. The big piece is Julia’s venturing out of the hospital, effectively ignoring instructions to minimize the threat of further infection (why do we like Julia again?) She’s suspicious of Barbie after her talk with Junior last week, and is determined to find the truth about her husband. She does—mostly. Her husband was involved in a shady deal that emptied the couple’s accounts. She discovers everything except for the detail that Barbie murdered the poor guy, and Barbie—in self-preservation mode the entire episode—steers her towards concluding that he fled. Julia nevertheless kicks Barbie out of the house. 

It’s nice to see Julia deepen as a character here, somewhat, but she’s still weakened by putting so much stock in Junior’s poking holes in Barbie’s story. Since Julia is meant to be a smart reporter, it’s ironic that as of yet I haven’t seen her do anything that suggests she’s very bright. I criticized Rachelle Lefevre’s acting a few weeks ago, and my remarks still stand, but it certainly doesn’t help that Julia is written as a character who clomps around town after having read too many Nancy Drew books without really quite understanding them.

Then there’s Junior, who takes the charge to keep everyone confined to the hospital so seriously that he brandishes a shotgun, earning the respect of Big Jim. Junior is a complete mystery in this show, and he’s now getting to be a very tiresome one. Alternately manic, collected, insane, erudite, wimpy and strong, he’s not a complex character….he’s a guy that changes on the arbitrary whims of the writers, even going so far as to drop a few pearls of wisdom in Linda’s lap as she recovers, which inspires her to deputize him (shudder). Junior is just a deeply problematic character, which is probably why his relationship with Big Jim lacks punch (and unfortunately, their scenes together give Dean Norris an excuse to overplay everything). It’s perhaps ironic that the Alice character (we’re reminded this week) has a background in psychology, because that’s one particular area that this show is terrible at representing. The biggest problem so far with Under the Dome is that this is a series about characters being pitted against each other, and yet four hours in, I haven’t been made to sufficiently understand who these people are. Maybe because the writers don’t seem quite certain, either.

Big Jim this week is relegated to chasing down prescription meds that have been stolen by the Reverend, leading to an anticlimactic confrontation and then an even more anticlimactic one later on Big Jim’s front porch (the Rev is out of Jim’s propane-stockpiling business, FYI). It feels like they’re marking time before they can really get the ball rolling on Jim; so far on this show he’s done a lot of standing around and sneering things that sound like they might evolve one day into threats. Thrilling.

There’s more movement on the kid front this week, as Joe and Norrie are sequestered in a part of the hospital, uninfected. They attempt to recreate the mysterious seizures (don’t try this at home, kids), and do so by simply touching each other. They collapse into a heap of spasms that are—honestly—horribly acted, and made so much worse by a later reveal that halfway through Joe sits up and gives a shushing gesture to a nearby video camera. It’s meant to be creepy, and in actuality it looks ludicrous. No wait. I meant “funny.” In fact, it’s really funny.

The single worst aspect of “Outbreak,” however, is the plot of young Angie McAlister. For four episodes (days) now, she’s been chained to a dirty mattress in a dusty cellar: barefoot, starving, and fending off the unwanted attentions of Junior. And what’s more she has to tolerate being opposite against Alexander Koch’s acting as crazy Junior. The kid brings her a dress to wear and sniffs it before handing it off, because Junior just wasn’t unpleasant enough so far. Poor Britt Robertson. I’m reasonably certain she deserves better than this.

And so what does this episode do? Her plan to stab Junior with a confiscated knife and escape is quickly foiled by the boy, so improbably it beggars belief. Then Angie, alone, dumbly breaks a water pipe. It knocks her unconscious and almost drowns her in a flood of muck, before she wakes, drenched, and screams for hours, eventually leading to Big Jim discovering her down there (cliffhanger!). So disturbingly blasé is the episode’s attitude towards her plight that it only lackadaisically checks in with her throughout the whole show, because apparently a character who is seconds away from downing just isn’t worth mustering the energy to travel back to often. Forget the weird time discrepancies going on here, why does the episode treat a major character’s possible death as “eh, a thing that may happen, who knows?” It’s as if they don’t really care whether Angie dies, and don’t want you to, either. Such apathy towards any character would be bizarre; when you factor in that Angie is a young, pretty girl chained quite literally to a subplot that borders on exploitation, it becomes downright twisted. All of Angie’s scenes are deeply gross this week, and I only pray Big Jim’s discovery of all this bring out the captivity subplot to an end. Because enough already.

Is there much left to say about “Outbreak?” Not really. It’s a very dull, generic episode of a series that, I’d like to remind everyone, is intended to be about earthshattering events. Much speculation has been made about Under the Dome’s high ratings which might create demand for a second season. After all, wouldn’t extending the series cause the writers to run out of ideas? It’s touching, this idea that they haven’t started to do so already. A notion that I’m finding myself less and less inclined to share.


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raynardmuldrake 7/16/2013 4:26:09 PM

And that pisses me off about Angie...just knee the sonofabitch in the nuts...and when he's down on the floor crying his eyes out....stab the bastard.

karas1 7/17/2013 11:57:14 AM

I've read the book so I know that there IS a reason that Junior is acting so strangely.  I don't want to give spoilers but the writing for his character isn't just lazy or unthought out as the review implies.

hanso 7/17/2013 2:41:52 PM

 That Jr/Angie storyline is sucking balls, hopefully its over now that Big Jim found her.  I'm guessing he won't let her out and will kill her or will have Jr kill her so the secret of Jr being a nutcase is safe.  

Now that Jr is a cop Big Jim will run the police force too.

hanso 7/17/2013 2:44:24 PM

 I agree about the hospital stuff, I thought they would've gone deeper into who lives/who dies type of thing but in the end it looks like they have enough to save everyone and that lady sacrificied herself for the cop so it took the hard choice from the Dr.'s hands.  Nothing came of people being stuck in the hospital unless the whole thing was a setup to get Jr to be a cop.

Dodgyb2001 7/17/2013 10:23:14 PM

I'm getting annoyed with the lack of scientific or rational problem solving as regards the dome. Everyone just seems to accept it and pretty much ignores it, when I'd be thinking constantly about it, trying to figure things out about, spraying it with paint to make it visible, spraying it with water to see if it is in fact a dome, going underground to see if you can go under it, (only Junior had the idea to do that, and he's nuts). Seeing what it's permeable to, like air, other gases. Seeing if it gave off any electrical or other fields. Is it solid but invisible, like a transparent brick wall? Is it a force field, which would need a power supply?

redhairs99 7/18/2013 8:26:14 AM

Yeah, the writing on this show is just plain dumb in regards to several of the main characters.  Again, I haven't read the book, but my firend who has keeps telling bits and pieces about characters and such and this show seems completely off.

Did anyone else wonder how Junior with a shotgun was really that much of a threat that he could stop a mob of crazy sick people?  I mean, what's he got 1, maybe 2 shots in there?  Not much of a threat. And then the bigger question is why would everyone in the hospital demand to be let out?  Obviously they are well aware that there's an outbreak and its highly contagious.  And where exactly would they all go?  Just go home and not have any treatments?  Certainly, they aren't going far what with the titular dome around the town.

ddiaz28 7/18/2013 10:17:37 AM

@Didgyb2001, while I do feel like the town seems to be too ok with the fact they are stuck in a dome we've seen at least the scientists testing it from the outside.  And the one kid was mapping it out at least.  They just aren't showing enough of that kind of stuff.  One thing I wish they would show is them trying to communicate with the outside world more.  Like wouldn't these people want to at least see their loved ones who got stuck outside.  I can't imagine parents outside not demanding to see their children and communicating with them through the dome.  And wouldn't the army and scientists want to know what the conditions are in there, not just on the outside?  I didn't like the army just up and leaving.  I doubt they would exhaust their resources that fast and just give up.  It's like, oh well, guess they are stuck forever, we'll let them all starve to death. 

Karas is right, there is a reason Jr. is a bit off.  He plays it a bit over the top but give it a chance. 

@redhairs, I wound't bum rush a guy with a shotgun even with a group unless it was like a terrorist or something.  I don't think anyone of those guys wanted to die so if they had rushed him, one or two would have gotten a bullet.   And to just leave the hospital, they figured it wasn't worth it.

Iridan 7/18/2013 11:00:27 AM

I'll only keep watching since it is only 13 episodes.

Dodgyb2001 7/18/2013 4:44:25 PM

@DDIA Exactly. I was going to mention how they could set up a wipe board to communicate with the outside world (that's why we developed writing, DOH!!) , and asked where the people who live in the town and were out of it at the time the dome formed are, but the stupid mania comments seemed to be broken and wouldn't let me finish my comment.

 Where are that kid's parents? Or any of the others outside the dome? Why aren't they trying to communicate from outside? The army doesn't seem that insterested either. The kid did a little in mapping the dome, but that's tailed off, and no-one inside the dome seems that interested. If there IS a power supply keeping the dome up and it's inside the dome, the army isn't going to find it. Their major problem isn't going to solve itself, but no-one cares.

jd25u 7/20/2013 7:57:57 PM

So ... umm ..... when do these geniuses trapped under this dome start to realize that they are in some serious sh8t??  Not only are there food, water, and fuel rescources on a timer that is quickly dwindling ..... but what about their AIR SUPPLY??!!  Sure, they have enough in this huge dome to not notice for a while, but soon enough, not only is their oxygen level going to get dangerously low ... the carbon-monoxide levels are going to get dangerously high.  

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