In order for a pilot to be successful in bringing people back for an episode 2, it has to accomplish the following:
- Give you a sense of place and time
- Make you understand (and care about) the characters and the existing challenges to the characters’ relationships
- Introduce The Problem
- Give you just enough scandal and intrigue to make you think that you may find resolution in the next episode (even though, at your age, you know better)
It doesn’t matter if it’s Stephen King, Joss Whedon, or Steven Moffat, these are rules, people. Fortunately, I think Under the Dome (CBS) has accomplished this.
I mean, thank God we start off the whole thing with an open grave and a dead body being dumped into it. Self-service body burial is hard work, and people only do things like that when they’re somehow responsible (directly or indirectly) for the body being dead in the first place. The guy burying the body – well, looks like we have ourselves and anti-hero. I mean, look at that face!
DALE “BARBIE” BARBARA (Mike Vogel)
Our new anti-hero goes from burying a body to being super-paranoid about the cops. He does what we all do when we’re guilty of something and we pass the cops on the road: he watches them fade in the rear-view mirror, hoping his luck stretches just a little bit longer. I’m surprised I haven’t done what he does, namely go off the road and into a cow pasture from not watching the road. As he recovers from the shock of being so spectacularly negligent, The Problem comes down from the sky. We see hints of the trouble all over town, but we don’t see the effects of it anywhere like we do in that cow pasture. And of course, of course, the first thing I think about when I see a cow chopped in half is, “When’s the next cookout?”
All of Barbie’s shady introduction sequences only make us more curious about the noble streak he displays later, his presence of mind and sincere need to protect and help. Oh, and the sense of humor behind my favorite exchange:
JOE: “What if the government built this thing?”
BARBIE: “I doubt it.”
BARBIE: “Because it works.”
“BIG JIM” RENNIE (Dean Norris)
We first see Big Jim sitting in the town’s only diner, reading a copy of Churchill like he’s waiting for war. We find out later in the episode that he (with the possible assistance of the police chief) is stockpiling propane, so it’s at least possible that he knows war is coming. However, it’s clear that the form of Chester’s Mill’s Problem isn’t what he was expecting. Sure, he swings into action by commandeering the only local radio station and making a plea for everyone to stop driving immediately, thereby saving lives, but you have to wonder about a guy who’s determined to power-play everyone into giving him what he wants, and you are left afraid some form of Big Jim Martial Law is coming, and soon. These suspicions of mine are given a little more concrete in the foundation when Big Jim decides to do some kind of rooster dance with Duke, the police chief over whether or not he has the authority to deputize additional officers. While Big Jim likes to say “We’re all in this together,” you kind of get the impression he’s really in this for himself.
“JUNIOR” RENNIE (Alexander Koch)
Ah, love. Say you’re a teenager, and you’ve had a crush on someone since the third grade, and you’d finally managed to charm them (or bribe them, or coerce them) into bed with you. Is this the time to make the big “I love you” declaration? Okay, say all that’s true and this is a Stephen King story. Yeah, we’ve met our show’s Crazy. You can totally see it in the kid’s eyes when Angie breaks up with him, then hits him. Big mistake, Angie. Later we see how big a mistake that is when Junior locks Angie in a slightly flooded fallout shelter, then gives Barbie the stink-eye while flipping around a butterfly knife, then engages Barbie in some kind of dick-swinging macho showdown. Kid, yeah, you’re Crazy, but Barbie has already buried somebody. Have a seat.
JULIA SHUMWAY (RACHELLE LAFEVRE)
“I get my news online, sweetheart, like everybody else.” Ouch. Julia is the editor of the local paper, and for some reason, despite the put-down, one of the locals feels the need to share her suspicions regarding the large shipments of propane she’s noticed lately with her instead of with the police chief. Julia doesn’t mind, of course, but it turns out that there’s a much bigger story in the works. When the dome comes down, Julia encounters Barbie, and yeah, I saw sparks. They walk the perimeter of the dome together, then she offers to let Barbie stay at her house, despite the fact that her doctor husband is at-large. Turns out that her doctor husband is the man Barbie was burying at the beginning of the show, but she interprets his discomfort as “Are you blind, woman? He’s cheating on you!” subtext. Shippers, get ready to sail.
JOE/NORRIE (Colin Ford/Mackenzie Lintz)
“The stars are falling in lines.” Ohhh-kayyyy. These words are muttered by two different kids in the middle of two different seizures. Joe seems to be the only one in town asking the one question about the dome that matters: “How do we turn this thing off?” I hope he finds the answer, but not until we have at least the full initial offering of episodes.
Overall, the decision to not pull any punches and, instead, show the full gore, fallout, and complications of what’s happened to the town of Chester’s Mill is satisfying. I’m looking forward to getting into more of this adaptation of a book I very much enjoyed.