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Under the Dome – Recap: In A Barbie World

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Recap and review of Under the Dome – Season 1 Episode 11 – Speak of the Devil:

Under the Dome is perhaps TV’s most potentially-interesting and routinely-obnoxious show, trafficking as it does in ambiguity and misdirection. Each week, the characters posit a new theory about what they think the dome wants them to do. Each episode’s cliffhanger is built on the ashes of the cliffhanger from the episode previous, with a new potential avenue of exploration for the dome’s significance being discovered only after the previous theory has been exhausted. Generally, I like this sort of investigative work, especially because it shows the four dome-sponsored characters (Joe, Norrie, Angie and Junior) taking initiative. But that sort of storytelling becomes infinitely more compelling when it’s tied into the other main plot of the episode, as it is here. “Speak of the Devil” just might be the show’s most focused hour, and it results in one of the better episodes the show has yet produced. The manhunt is on for Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel) across Chester’s Mill — all because everyone suddenly decided it’s a good idea to start trusting Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris).

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There are two overarching plots that glue the stories together in impressive fashion. A storm is penetrating the dome, and no one seems to have any idea why. Naturally, a pair of simultaneous occurrences, which provide the basis for this week’s story, could be the culprit: on the one hand, Julia (Rachelle Lefevre) is shot by a scorned Maxine (Natalie Zea), prompting Barbie to once again do his damndest to save another life; on the other, Junior (Alexander Koch) decides to abandon his role as the Fourth Hand once Angie (Britt Robertson) rejects him definitively and declares that as soon as the dome comes down, he’ll never see her again. These two incidents offer up distinct paths for the story to take, regarding the mythology of the dome. As Barbie rescues Julia’s life — in a maddeningly perfunctory storyline, since it’s impossible to buy, at any point in the story, that Julia is in any real danger of dying — Joe (Colin Ford) declares that perhaps Barbie is the person to whom the dome is referring when mentioning a “Monarch” who will be crowned, given his natural propensity for saving lives. “Maybe you’re here to save all of us,” Joe says to an incredulous Barbie. “Junior was right. The Monarch’s a person. And that person is you.” Never minding the fact that “Junior was right” are three words no one in Chester’s Mill should ever have occasion to say, it’s an interesting theory that suddenly makes Barbie a much more valuable character than he’d been before, stuck as he’s been in his endless, passive-aggressive war with Big Jim. While Barbie being the Monarch is too simple an answer to actually be the case, it’s a worthwhile theory for the show to explore.

Credit: Brownie Harris/CBS

But for Barbie’s potential role as the Monarch to be explored, he has to overcome a bit of personal trouble: once he’s successfully stabilized Julia in the hospital (with his crazy MacGuyver skills, in a scene that illustrates just how low on medical supplies the town is), he goes to confront Maxine with the help of an unlikely ally in Big Jim. But Barbie has no intention of making the alliance anything more than temporary. In fact, Barbie flat-out states that as soon as he brings down Maxine, he’s coming to knock Big Jim off his throne. And so, off they go to the cement factory to confront Maxine, setting up a trap that will shut off the power in the factory after ten minutes, allowing them to get the drop on her and take her alive. Once in the factory, Barbie and Big Jim are taken at gunpoint by Maxine and her henchman, Otto Aguilar (Rey Hernandez), and it’s here that we get to see the full range of Maxine’s craziness. She offers Barbie one last chance to live, saying that she had plans for them, for a future (echoing Barbie’s earlier monologue about the differences between himself and Big Jim Rennie, in which he declares that he’s trying to build a future while Big Jim only wants to build a kingdom). In short, Maxine is in love with Barbie but can’t take “no” for an answer, so she moves in for the kill, pressing the gun to Barbie’s heart. And right on cue, the lights go out, allowing Barbie and Big Jim to take control of the situation. As they move their captives at gunpoint to take them to jail, it looks like everything is coming up roses for Big Jim and Barbie. Except it’s never that simple…

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Big Jim disobeys Barbie’s instructions to take Maxine and Otto alive, and shoots both of them in cold blood. Finally, Big Jim embraces the megalomaniacal role he’s been building towards for the past ten episodes, stating that he had to kill Maxine because she would have been a threat as long as she was breathing. To be fair, he’s probably right, since Maxine threatened to murder Junior, and that was before she discovered that Big Jim had killed her mother. So he likely felt he had no other choice. But he takes things a bit farther by turning his gun on Barbie, saying that he’s a threat as well. Luckily, Barbie is able to disarm Big Jim and nail him with a palm thrust, knocking him to the ground. But this leads to an unfortunate misunderstanding, as Linda (Natalie Martinez) arrives on the scene and misinterprets what she sees. Big Jim pounces on the moment, saying that Barbie went crazy and killed Maxine and Otto, and is now trying to kill him. Barbie tries to explain himself as Linda arrests him, but then blows it all by elbowing Linda in the face and making a run for it. She fires at him on Big Jim’s orders (because sure, let’s do what he says now, I guess), but it’s too late. Barbie has gotten away. Of course, it’s not as if Linda didn’t have evidence that Barbie isn’t what he seemed: with the help of Phil (Nicholas Strong), Linda learns that Barbie was the debt collector for Maxine, and that he was meeting with Peter Shumway on the day of his disappearance. Linda and Phil theorize that Julia discovered Barbie murdered Peter and was shot when she confronted him about it. Barbie’s getaway has now made the situation invariably worse, as he only looks more guilty. But hey, he actually is guilty of killing Peter Shumway. And I doubt having saved Julia will erase all that.

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Meanwhile, Big Jim puts out an APB over the radio, pinning the murders of Maxine, Otto and even Maxine’s mother on Barbie, as well as the shooting of Julia and the attempted murder of Big Jim himself. This is all pretext for Big Jim receiving more power in the town, and as a result of his trusted status in the community, Dodee (Jolene Purdy) reveals to him a transmission she intercepted from the military, stating that Barbie is “the one we’ve been looking for.” Sure, Linda may not have complete confidence in Big Jim after the whole propane fiasco, but she certainly trusts him a whole lot more than she trusts Barbie, and I imagine most of the town feels the same way. Hopefully, his survivalist skills aren’t rusty.

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As for the second potential cause of the storm, Junior abandons the group despite the clear fact that they’re all connected. The mini-dome’s constellations have been emblazoned on the interior of the barn, and the group has no idea what any of it means, but they get to theorizing, naturally. Joe deduces that four single-file stars among the constellations are representative of himself, Angie, Junior and Norrie (Mackenzie Lintz). But he doesn’t have much else to go on. And once Junior deserts them, they have no way of really testing any hypotheses. So Angie rushes to get him back, explaining that the violent storm occurring inside the dome is his fault. The dome is angry because he’s denying his responsibility. “We need you,” Angie explains, but she should ought to know by now what he really wants to hear. “You need me, Angie,” he retorts. “Fine! I need you!” she says, just to placate him, for once. But Junior isn’t convinced until he saves Angie from flying bench, at which point the storm clears up, as if acknowledging that Junior has returned to the fold.

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And so they return to the barn, and Joe deciphers the constellations and figures that they’re all supposed to touch the dome at the bridge near the edge of town. They go to the point and do just that…at which point, they see a vision of Big Jim, bleeding from multiple stab wounds. When they look down to their own hands, they’re holding bloody knives. Junior is understandably freaked out, and races off to find his father. But for the rest, they’re left to parse out the dome’s meaning, and it seems clear: for the dome to come up, they need to kill Big Jim Rennie.

Credit: Brownie Harris/CBS

“Speak of the Devil” is a lean, focused hour of TV, with two overarching plots that dovetail into one another nicely. It also helps that the main plots of the season are coming together in interesting fashion: the Four Hands now have to deal with Big Jim, just as Barbie does; meanwhile, Big Jim is consolidating his influence and power, all while the dome continues to loom large over all. With two episodes left, Under the Dome just might finish its season as strong as it started, and that could be enough to overwrite the often shaky in-between.

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