September 22, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Under the Dome”


UNDER THE DOME went rather bonkers in its second season, apparently flummoxed by the fact that it existed at all.  Dome had originally been conceived as a limited summer series that, like the Stephen King novel which inspired it, would have a beginning, middle and end.  But the show became a sensational hit, the highest-rated scripted summer series on a broadcast network in years, and naturally CBS had no interest in having it stop, especially since a cost-sharing arrangement with Amazon (which got accelerated digital rights in return) kept the costs low.  So it was soon announced that Dome would be back in 2014.

The problem was that no one from series developer Brian K. Vaughn (who departed during the season) to showrunner Neal Baer seemed to have any idea what to do with the story, which had already departed greatly from King’s original novel in tone and plotting.  Or maybe they had too many ideas: Dome Season 2 flailed around in a dozen different directions at once.  It went backwards in time to invent a new mythology in which the egg that somehow powers the Dome was activated decades earlier by characters who were played as adults by Sherry Stringfield (an old colleague of Baer’s from ER, whose character was supposed to have died but turned out just to have moved to the next town, where she painted prophetic pictures and mailed them as postcards to a pal in Chester’s Mill–no, really, that was an actual key plot point), Dwight Yoakam and Eddie Cahill–and a fourth character, Melanie (Grace Victoria Cox), who’d been murdered by one or more of the other three all those years ago but magically came back to life, still a teenager, in the present.  It went–literally–down by revealing a series of Dome-created tunnels under the town, which were reached by walking through a school locker.  The series also violated the most important unity of the narrative by having those tunnels lead to portals that took characters out of Chester’s Mill and into the neighboring town of Zenith.  Zenith wasn’t just the home of Stringfield’s not-dead character, but the father of series lead Dale “Barbie” Barbara, whose dad was an evil industrialist who wanted possession of that egg.

It wasn’t just that none of it made much sense–the writer/producers themselves seemed to have no attention span at all, and the show would raise one idea or another and just drop it.  (It’s still not clear what happened to Barbie’s father after he was apparently going to help the town by giving Barbie back the egg.)

A very strange motif that continued to run through the two seasons of Dome was the rehabilitation of characters who’d done dreadful things.  Sam (Cahill) was revealed to have slaughtered Angie (Britt Robertson) with an ax, out of a mistaken belief that it would bring the Dome down, but it was barely a hiccup in his character’s being one of the overall good guys.  Another hero was Junior (Alexander Koch) who, while not the murdering psychopath he was in the novel, had still imprisoned Angie in his bomb shelter, yet he was soon redeemed.  Another new Season 2 character, Rebecca (Karla Crome), was initially introduced as some kind of scientific sociopath, willing to poison large parts of the town in order to save the rest, but by the end of the season she was also a sympathetic helper, perhaps with a touch of Asberger’s.  All of it added to the feeling of dramatic instability around Dome.

Tonight’s season finale was a misshapen mix of The Shining and Lost, written by Supervising Producer Cathryn Humphris and Story Editor Caitlin Parrish, and directed by Jack Bender.  After 2 seasons, Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris) finally became the homicidal maniac of King’s novel after his wife (Stringfield’s character) died once again.  He murdered both Rebecca and his sweet little old hoarding lady neighbor, and stalked Julia (Rachelle Lefevre) through the woods, after being both stabbed and shot, in full Jack Torrance mode.  Meanwhile, a whole new set of tunnels opened up in the woods, and when Barbie touched the part of the rock wall where a butterfly had paused, the wall crumbled and supposed-to-be-dead-again Melanie was standing there amidst a lot of white light, beamingly telling the townspeople that they were going “home,” whatever that meant.

Under the Dome was idiotic and incoherent much of the time, but you couldn’t call it boring.  The writers piled so much mystical and mythological junk into each episode, leavened with second-rate special effects and wholly unconvincing character twists (which the cast did their best to carry off, not succeeding very often), that the show certainly held one’s interest for an hour each week.  Ratings, while sharply down from Season 1, were still above-average for a scripted summer series, making it quite possible that Dome will return for a third and perhaps even crazier season.  Who knows what’s beyond that white light behind Melanie?  An apparently nonexistent island in the South Pacific?  Stephen King’s study?  The possibilities are endless, and on Under the Dome, there’s no need for them to make any sense.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."