A couple weeks ago, I suggested that the Under the Dome writers had accidentally made Big Jim the hero of their story, but even I didn’t expect to see him become such a progressive force in Chester’s Mill government: between his drug decriminalization efforts and his common sense gun control initiative, the guy is becoming a regular Dennis Kucinich.
It’s a relatively interesting evening under the dome this week, particularly as the show alternately explores Big Jim’s sketchy past in illegal drug manufacturing and his present effort to reduce gun violence — the former is a bit obvious at this point, but at least the story’s moving now; the latter is most interesting on a meta level for its obliviously apolitical take on a hot-button issue, like an abortion-themed episode that politely acknowledges Roe vs. Wade but never engages with it. Quibbles aside, I’ll take a plot line that’s interesting either in spite of or because of its faults over the silly pink star monarch gobbledygook any day.
First and foremost, I think this is about as deep as we’ve gotten into the actual details of Big Jim’s shady past: we’ve heard hints about how he was using propane to try and boost the Chester’s Mill economy with some morally dubious mystery product, but this week that product is revealed to be a super-drug called Rapture — nice of the drug’s unseen chemists to give it such a thematically appropriate name.
With this reveal comes an old business partner of Jim’s named Max, who spends most of her time onscreen doing whatever the female equivalent of mustache-twirling is. While it’s pretty late in the game to be introducing new characters this ostensibly major within the dome, the show justifies her sudden presence by saying that she was hiding out in a house watching everybody for eight days, like some kind of femme fatale Boo Radley. The upshot is that she’s borderline omniscient, she knows both Big Jim and Barbie and she wants everybody’s guns.
So lets talk about that: after an irresponsible gunman accidentally shoots his neighbor, Jim introduces a voluntary gun turn-in program that rewards disarmament with food and propane, apparently in coordination with this new Max person. The people that the showrunners seem to think of as heroes — Officer Linda, Barbie — are deeply concerned that the peoples’ rights are being infringed, while the supposed villains — let the record show I refuse to acknowledge Big Jim as such — are actually proposing an entirely practical and unobtrusive solution to a significant problem.
When Max later reveals this plan to be part of a Chester’s Mill takeover attempt, it’s clear that we’re supposed to view their gun strategy as an unforgivable overreach. The writers instead make the fascinating mistake of endowing their villains with an evil scheme that’s entirely reasonable.
Case in point: the heretofore unseen hapless gunman who shot his neighbor is revealed to be dangerously unstable — this week’s dome victim ex machina, if you will. When Big Jim takes it upon himself to unilaterally revoke the man’s improbable gun licence by force, Barbie tags along, stands literally four feet outside the window and points his rifle at the back of Big Jim’s head lest any Second Amendment rights be violated.
But before you can say, “Freedom,” the gunman is pulling the pin on a grenade and trying to kill himself on the spot; Big Jim, my hero, yells, “No,” tackles the guy and shoves the pin back in — it’s hilariously anti-climactic. So what is the show saying here? Jim is bad for introducing a voluntary gun control program, but he’s also completely right? It’s a fascinatingly incoherent political statement, trading on the interest of contemporary issues without making any effort to engage with them.
If you’re tired of real-world politics, however, this show never fails to devote at least a third of its run time to arbitrarily impenetrable mythology with no bearing on human concerns. Junior leads that charge this week, as he once again pops into Angie’s life like the whole abduction and de facto torture thing never happened. I’m getting pretty sick of the show letting Junior off the hook at this point: wherever one falls on the political spectrum, I don’t think anybody will deny that Angie should be bearing arms at all times with this psychopath still hanging around, and would be entirely justified in shooting on sight.
Alas, we seem to be going down some sort of redemptive path for Junior here, as he cares for Angie when she has a seizure and she joins the pink stars club with Joe and Norrie. The three parentless epileptics — Norrie’s surviving mom “needs to be alone right now,” because I guess somebody on staff thinks that’s a reasonable parenting choice when there’s a death in the family — all gather around the mini-dome egg thing and put their hand on it. A fourth hand print appears on the force field thing, suggesting that someone else is going to have a seizure and say some crazy stuff, and then the egg will fulfill its destiny or something.
I don’t have a ton of patience for the paranormal dome mythology, largely because it so thoroughly misses the point of what makes this story’s premise interesting: the magic dome is just a storytelling device, so it doesn’t really matter whether aliens, Soviets or giant super-intelligent monarch butterflies are laying the metaphysical eggs here — what’s really interesting about the dome is what it brings out in the real human people it affects. So far, the show has leaned heavily on the metaphysics, and seriously undeserved its characters. Here’s hoping the burgeoning interest in politics, however ridiculous, signifies a shift toward the human element in Chester’s Mill.
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(Image courtesy of CBS)