Recap and review of Under the Dome – Season 1 Finale – Curtains:
Meh. I suppose I shouldn’t really be all that disappointed in the season finale of Under the Dome, since it’s been a very hit-or-miss season, filled with as much good material as questionable content. The show often operates with infuriating vagueness, which wouldn’t be so irritating if the characters were strong enough to make the mythological mystery secondary. But they aren’t, and so “Curtains” has to find a hook to make it feel as though 1) these characters have grown in some fashion over the thirteen episodes and 2) we’ve gotten a little closer to the solution to the mystery than we were before. While we made incremental progress on the second point, I’m not sure we made much progress on the first, and if this season finale has any singular failing, it’s that.
Here’s the long-and-short of the episode: Barbie (Mike Vogel) escapes the prison with the help of Julia (Rachelle Lefevre) and Angie (Britt Robertson), and they meet up with Joe (Colin Ford) and Norrie (Mackenzie Lintz) at the cement factory. Once there, the mini-dome crumbles and Julia is crowned The Monarch, but Barbie is recaptured once Junior (Alexander Koch) turns on the others, refusing to believe his father is the evil man they’re all saying he is. And so Julia makes off with the egg while Barbie is condemned to death by hanging, and during all of this, Chester’s Mill is plunged into total darkness after the monarch butterfly covered the mini-dome in black spots that engulfed the entire structure — an effect that transferred over to the big dome. But right as Junior is about to throw the switch on the gallows Big Jim (Dean Norris) has had erected, Julia drops the egg into the lake in order to protect it — an instruction she received from the beings responsible for creating the dome itself, appearing in the form of Norrie’s late mother, Alice. Right on cue, the lake bubbles to life with a glow that sends pink stars up into the sky and falling back down in lines, restoring the light and leaving us with a big ol’ WTF cliffhanger to mull over until next season.
That’s pretty much it, and it sounds inoffensive enough in a condensed form, but there’s actually a lot to dislike about this finale, and it mostly goes back to the inconsistent storytelling that has plagued this series since day one — mostly as it concerns the characters themselves.
Linda (Natalie Martinez) went from a fairly straightforward, determined character to one of TV’s absolute worst in the span of about three or four episodes towards the end of this season. So much of the power Big Jim wields springs off of her complete inertia as a character. As the episode starts, she alerts Big Jim to the location of the mini-dome, then ignores the teens, who seem to have a better idea of what they’re talking about than she does, and declares the mini-dome police property. She then stupidly ignores their warning not to touch it and gets herself zapped across the room. When she comes to, the kids are gone and the police radio reveals that Barbie has escaped the prison with the help of Julia. Even though Barbie has been accused by Big Jim of shooting Julia, Linda never once questions why she would be helping him, nor does she ever consider that Big Jim might have been lying about the shooting. The Linda of the first several episodes, compelled to fill the big shoes left by her mentor/father figure Duke, has been cast aside in favor of a person too shortsighted to see what’s staring her right in the face. Granted, this might be the point of the character, but even then it’s hard to root for her — assuming, of course, that this is something the show wants us to do, as it apparently does with Junior.
I’m sure we were supposed to feel pangs of concern for Junior, as if to shout “No, Junior! Don’t trust him!” at our screens during the scene in which Big Jim converts Junior to his side by telling him that the Rennies have been chosen by the dome. It’s a convincing argument Big Jim makes, preying on Junior’s love for his late mother by revealing that she wasn’t crazy after all — her paintings and her nonsensical ramblings prior to her death actually predicted all this, meaning the Rennies must be special (an idea put into his head by — who else? — Linda). Dean Norris is so good that it’s nearly enough to get us to actively root for Junior to stab his father in the gut like the dome (seemingly) requested of him. But despite the past several weeks interacting with Angie, Joe and Norrie, Junior never really turned the corner towards being a good guy. Sure, he became a bit more sympathetic, but that’s not really the same thing. So it’s no big surprise when he sides with his dad, since he’s not only a lost kid still looking for his father’s acceptance, he’s a guy who hates the same people his father hates.
But beyond these issues, the show still has trouble making the mystery of the dome as compelling as it was earlier in the season. Here, we learn that presumably-alien beings have encased the town of Chester’s Mill in the dome to protect them. From what? Well, the being doesn’t tell them, though we aren’t really given any reason as to why they can’t know. It’s mystery for its own sake, rather than as an organic extension of the story. It just doesn’t work the way it should have.
I will say that Dean Norris pretty much carried this finale on his back. Anything that worked in this episode worked because of Big Jim. For instance, the scene in the church where he uses the religious convictions of the townspeople to win even further support is terrific stuff, as is his speech on the gallows, announcing to the town that lawlessness cannot reign in Chester’s Mill. Norris is also excellent in the scene where Big Jim brings Junior into the fold, uniting father and son in a moment that would be touching if it weren’t so twisted. Those are the moments Under the Dome nails best: Big Jim works because he’s the character with the clearest motivation. The second season would be wise to find a similar angle for each character, as the protagonists seem to have little impetus beyond Stopping Big Jim/Escaping the Dome. That’s a goal, but it isn’t a motivation. Hence, the characters don’t feel as three-dimensional as they should, and it makes them harder to root for beyond the simple fact that they’re opposing the bad guy. And they can be so much more than that.
I’m still convinced that Under the Dome has potential to be a really fun, involving series, but none of that was really in evidence in this finale. “Curtains” is a middle-of-the-road episode presented as a finale, when it could have been much, much more if the series had done the legwork in making the non-Big Jim characters more fully realized. With any luck, season two will find a way to make each character compelling in his or her own right, independent of their opposition.