'Under the Dome' Recap: An Outbreak Fails to Thrill But Lays Interesting Groundwork
'Under the Dome' Recap: An Outbreak Fails to Thrill But Lays Interesting Groundwork
Ted Kindig
Ted Kindig
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
As the military pulls away from the dome outside, the people within Chester's Mill are largely hospital-bound this week. Angie nearly manages to attack her captor Junior, but only succeeds in cutting his hand. Junior checks in at the hospital, where Joe and Norrie are awaiting tests after their seizures last week. As for everyone else, they have a sudden outbreak of meningitis.

As a psychiatrist and big city smart person -- see glasses -- Norrie's mother Alice steps in to act as the town physician. She warns that diseases are dangerous and contagious, helpfully explaining that "They cough, [snaps fingers], it spreads." She and her family are vaccinated, as are Junior and Barbie, but the rest of the town is forced to divide a very limited supply of antibiotics.

Big Jim gives Junior a shotgun and leaves him in charge of quarantine, then goes off in search of Reverend Lester, who's hard at work setting fire to the much-needed medicine and claiming that it's God's will for some reason, while still speaking in sinister pseudo-Biblical cliches. Regular viewers will note this as a startling character shift from his blatantly unrighteous work burning evidence of criminal conspiracy, unless of course one is inclined to buy "always be evil with fire" as his primary motivation.

Julia the journalist, meanwhile, catches on to the fact that Barbie had prior dealings with her recently deceased husband. She finds the cabin where Barbie killed him, which apparently held financial records indicating that they were broke. Barbie comes clean as an illegal debt enforcer, but allows Julia to believe that her husband left town before the dome came down.

Caught on Camera

Joe and Norrie have seizures again, this time intentionally: they trigger the attacks by touching each other while recording themselves on video. This leads to the episode's best moment, as Joe involuntarily sits up mid-seizure and gestures "Shh" to the camera. It's a creepy, intriguing permutation on the seizure-per-episode formula, suggesting some form of dome consciousness speaking through the teenage pair. The episode ends with pretty much everyone treated, concluding on a cliffhanger with Big Jim discovering Angie locked up in the shelter.

How does the meningitis outbreak stack up against other one-episode-wonder perils like the house fire, the rogue cop and the mundane tunnel situation? Unfortunately, about the same. A number of disappointing patterns are emerging here: low-stakes peril is introduced through unrealistic and idiotic character actions, only to be resolved in anti-climax by the end of the hour. One underdeveloped character has been killed off per episode -- this week it's a heretofore unseen teacher who's too virtuous to accept treatment -- but the situations have felt more manipulative than perilous, and there still aren't any characters worth identifying with here.

This show's biggest problem on every level is that it forces everything: forced plot points, forced suspense, forced performances and forced emotion. That's a shame, but at least this episode ends with clear room for improvement: while I didn't buy Junior's heroic crowd-control for a second, at least his appointment to deputy at the end could go in a number of interesting directions. And while the Angie plot line has been frustratingly static up to this point, at least Big Jim's arbitrary discovery at the end portends development.

These are two great setups that could really turn the season around if they're allowed to play out naturally. Under the Dome needs to sop bending character motivations around toothless disaster scenarios, and start letting the situations evolve around them.

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(Image courtesy of CBS)