Mania Grade: D
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- Episode: Speak of the Devil (Season 1, Episode 11)
- Starring: Mike Vogel, Dean Norris, Rachelle Lefevre, Natalie Martinez
- Written By: Brian K. Vaughan, based on the novel by Stephen King
- Directed By: David Barrett
- Network: CBS
- Studio: CBS Television Studios
Under the Dome: Speak of the Devil Review
By Michael Henley
September 03, 2013
So. Joe McAllister returns to the barn about halfway through this episode, after having a rather eventful morning. When the rest of the mini-dome guardians ask Joe where he’s been, Joe tells them: Julia Shumway was shot and so he drove her and Barbie to the hospital, where Julia is facing an uphill battle and flatlines, before finally, with great difficulty, stabilizing. Or, as Joe breathlessly puts it: “I think she died for a minute, but she’s going to be okay.”
Guys. Someone wrote that line. It made it through several drafts. It was performed and later edited into the episode, all supervised by people that I presume are intending we take this show that they create seriously. There’s not a trace of irony or self-parody in this line. It’s quite simply…shockingly tone-deaf dialogue, robbed of pathos, nuance, or drama. It’s perhaps the dumbest line to ever grace Under the Dome, and that’s saying something, especially when in the same episode Big Jim Rennie stares at a tornado forming inside the dome, and intones “What the hell?”, to which Maxine (you remember Maxine) answers “Hell’s already here. Want a ride?” What.
It’s really hard to come in to each new episode of Under the Dome hoping for the best, because week after week it’s revealing itself to be a show fueled by silly dialogue, inscrutable character motivations, bad acting, and shockingly inept logic gaps. Logic gaps? Example: when Maxine comes right to the front door of Julia’s house and shoots her point blank in the shoulder, wouldn’t you expect the kids in the barn right outside, mere yards away on this very property to hear the very loud gunshot? What can I say? Nope. They don’t.
Or how about poor Linda, under-utilized by the series up until now, and here stuck playing inadvertent stooge to Big Jim Rennie, who as the episode begins, is admitting his guilt in the propane-and-drugs conspiracy she unearthed last week. Slowly, Big Jim is able to prey upon Linda, first by employing a weak “ends-justify-the-means” defense, and then eventually by planting doubts in her mind about Barbie. Big Jim is only able to do this because Linda, based on the evidence, is a dummy who doesn’t know when she’s being played, even if that manipulation is through raising plausible suspicions. So stupid do they make Linda this week that Big Jim is able to frame Barbie in Linda’s eyes for the murder of Maxine and one of her flunkies, despite the ballistics and geography clearly favoring Big Jim as the culprit. I mean, it’s so obvious that this could only work if Linda doesn’t know anything about police work, which is frustratingly probable.
By this point, I’m also getting pretty tired of the series positioning Big Jim as its resident boogeyman, because all of his evil actions have been so small and repetitive. He kills corrupt people and plots and tries to manipulate the feelings of the town. Wash, rinse, repeat. His animosity towards Barbie feels like nothing more than childish posturing, and while everybody often accuses Jim of thirsting for power, from week to week we see very little of that. He’s stuck in an endless loop of skulking around and being kinda sorta evil, but never really committing or showing much depth. Maybe it’s because his IQ level seems to vary from scene to scene, or maybe it’s because the only way to show is able to dramatize him wielding power is to make every single townsperson dumber than he is.
This week does finally see the end of Maxine, and Natalie Zea’s arc on this series couldn’t come soon enough. No offense to Zea as an actress, as she did plenty of good work on Justified, but here was a ridiculous character that never made sense and was never a palpable threat. She’s another character who was painted a certain way by dialogue (especially other characters’ dialogue), but never once did the show do the heavy lifting of actually making that dialogue seem like a plausible way to describe that character. I don’t want to be told that she’s a smart criminal super-villain. I want to be shown that she is one, and I never was. This week we got a half-hearted attempt to provide backstory for her and Barbie (by revealing them to have had an actual relationship), but it’s deeply reductive, and her squeals of jealousy over Julia (which is what puts Julia in the path of the bullet) weaken the character to an almost offensive degree.
Speaking things that were a problem last week, what’s the fallout from the big Barbie/Julia anticlimax? You know, the one where she learned he murdered her husband? Not much. He sleeps on the couch, but she says she wants him back in her bed, and then asks Barbie to take her to her husband’s grave with such little gravitas she might as well be asking him to take her anywhere. Then Maxine’s bullet puts Julia out of commission, which was a relief because at last something that Julia was feeling actually made sense to me. I don’t get this character’s almost sociopathic level of detachment, but I do know it doesn’t make very interesting drama. Oh, and please don’t rebuke me for not feeling an inkling of suspense regarding Julia’s fate, because come on.
On the mini-dome front, the kids (the ones who can’t hear gunshots) go through some pretty boring sturm und drang. Angie, miraculously, rebuffs the advances of Junior, as if the show suddenly remembered that any attempt to pair these two characters up is seriously disgusting. Junior, because he’s so mentally balanced, takes that as a sign to give up caring about the mini-dome, right around the same time a tornado touches down in Chester’s Mill, leading to Angie to believe it’s a sign from the dome to bring Junior back in line. The kids’ budding faith in the powers of the dome is one of the juiciest notions the entire series has done so far, at least conceptually. In execution, it’s been nothing but silly, leading to a convoluted conclusion tonight where the kids “realize” through a vision that the dome will fall if one of them kills Big Jim Rennie. It’s another situation where the characters think things, say things and do things because the plot demands it, not because it’s believable they would ever think, say or do them.
The episode concludes with a revelation that the military outside the dome is looking for Barbie and know that he is inside (the electrical interference made it possible for Dodee to connect with the outside), giving Big Jim the idea to use the radio waves to turn Barbie into public enemy #1. He publicly frames them for the murders and for Julia’s shooting. So with two episodes to go in Under the Dome’s first season, we’re headed towards a manhunt in the woods, which is exactly where we were in episode #3. How far we have come.