'Under the Dome' Recap: Chester's Mill Heats Up with Fire
'Under the Dome' Recap: Chester's Mill Heats Up with Fire
Ted Kindig
Ted Kindig
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
Under the Dome made a big impact on the TV landscape last week, as its series premiere drew an impressive 13.1 million viewers, the largest summer debut in years. That wasn't all that was big about the episode, as it set up nearly a dozen characters, hinted at a shadowy town history and quite literally dropped a massive, inexplicable mystery on top. If you missed the premiere, then you'll definitely want to track it down before this week's episode; this hour is all about parsing the rules of what we saw last week, as well as expanding on the ugly underbelly of Chester's Mill that was hinted at before. For every solid fact we get, another two mysteries arise, suggesting that CBS's hearty ratings share will last all summer long.

The biggest development since last week's pilot is the crop of military personnel stationed just outside the dome. They appear to be under orders not to acknowledge anyone inside, but bits of their radio chatter are intercepted by radio engineer Dodee. This leads to two big revelations for the people of Chester's Mill: the military are calling this thing a dome, and they have no idea what it's made out of, suggesting pretty strongly that the government is not behind this.

On a character level, hints of Barbie's dark past start to emerge, as he begins to dream about a man he killed while working as a criminal enforcer. Barbie's also dealing with psychotic loverboy Junior, who's still keeping his girlfriend Angie locked in the family fallout shelter. Early in the episode, Angie adopts the improbable and thoroughly unhelpful strategy of claiming a relationship with Barbie, which, unsurprisingly, fails to soften Junior's heart -- instead, Junior decides to creep around Barbie threateningly, instigating a fistfight and earning himself a well-deserved punch in the face.

While it's satisfying to see such an abusive, repellent character get his just deserts, we're still pretty early in the series to be doling out righteous payoffs -- it's a smart story move, then, when the beat-down sparks nothing in Junior but a self-righteous grin. If you're crazy enough to chain your ex-girlfriend to a bed underground, I don't suppose a good sock in the eye will shake your resolve.

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Secrets of the Dome

The bulk of the investigative work in Chester's Mill is being done by smarty-pants teenager Joe, employing and explaining advanced mathematical concepts in order to draw a circle on a map. As he pokes around the perimeter of the dome, we learn that the dome is at least somewhat permeable, as trace amounts of water can penetrate it. It is, however, quite reflective when it comes to smoke and bullets, as we soon find out.

Dean Norris' "Big Jim" Rennie is looking increasingly sinister, as he spends the episode trying to cover up a presumably dirty secret with holy man Lester Coggins. Rev. Coggins accidentally starts a house fire while trying to conceal evidence of their mysterious plot, which brings out the best and the worst of Chester's Mill: on one hand, the community rallies together to stop the fire from spreading. On the other hand, the incident sparks an outburst from paranoid policeman Paul, who caps a hopeless rant with a few frustrated gunshots at the dome. One bullet ricochets back and hits an officer in the chest, sending a clear message that it isn't the environment that poses a threat here: it's the people inside.

Though a few issues from the pilot persist, Under the Dome is definitely on the right track here: if every episode can offer this blend of questions and answers, then it will be every bit the hit that its debut ratings promised. Unfortunately, the uneven performances don't appear to be changing anytime soon: the young Colin Ford is in way over his his head whenever the script needs him to be nerdy, scenes of folksy dialog that doubtless dazzled on the page feel forced onscreen and even the show's most fully realized characters -- Dean Norris as Big Jim and Alexander Koch as Junior are doing great work here as the villains -- still don't feel like they're operating in the same universe.

This type of thing will probably be smoothed out as the characters have more time to interact and develop onscreen relationships, but the writers will have to go out of their way to make that happen with all this exposition to get through.

That said, the central mysteries are more than enough hook to bring me in as a weekly viewer. Between the unknown force outside Chester's Mill and the dark secrets beneath its surface, Under the Dome has all the pulpy summer intrigue you could ask for from a master of the genre like Stephen King.

Watch every episode of Under the Dome season 1 now on Amazon Prime. Completely free for 30 days>>>

(Image courtesy of CBS)