Under the Dome – Recap: Sleight of Hand
Recap and review of Under the Dome – Season 1 Episode 9 – The Fourth Hand:
For an episode as steeped in the mythology of the Dome as this, “The Fourth Hand” was a particularly tiresome episode of Under the Dome. While we certainly got substantial plot movement, and a little bit more information about the lingering mysteries of the season so far, those positives were offset by an absurd set of developments that derail the plot in some cases, while wounding whatever confidence I had for this series going forward. Let’s get to the recap and explore what went wrong:
First and foremost, the central conceit of the townspeople willingly sacrificing their firearms when not even a week has passed since Chester’s Mill exploded in a fit of riots and violence is ridiculous. Of course, the ridiculousness of this development is somewhat leavened by Big Jim (Dean Norris) offering extra food in exchange for anyone who would comply. But, as we inevitably learn, while Big Jim was the one who initially proposed the idea for the voluntary firearm surrender to Linda (Natalie Martinez) and Barbie (Mike Vogel), it wasn’t actually his idea. It was all concocted by Max (Natalie Zea), a shady associate of both Big Jim and Barbie, though neither man knows of the other’s connection to the woman. As it turns out, she’s been under the dome the entire time, and has been hiding out in an empty house near the border of the dome. Naturally, when you have a contained series like Under the Dome or Lost, you run into the problem of how to introduce new characters in a place that is unreachable, and the answer is always that you introduce characters whom we later learn were always there. This was the case with Nikki and Paolo on Lost, and it’s the case with Max here, and it’s not really something I mind all that much, since the population of Chester’s Mill is well into the hundreds (if not thousands), so there are bound to be people whom we just haven’t met yet.
For instance, there’s Ted (Raheem Babalola), a widower whose wife and son were killed when they crashed into the dome eight days earlier. As a result, he’s severely traumatized and is hoarding a cache of firearms to defend his property. When this leads to Ted accidentally shooting a neighbor while defending his home from a druggie who’s addicted to a new super-drug called “Rapture,” Big Jim and Barbie go on a mission to get Ted to surrender his guns willingly. It’s a plot that seems designed to not only bring Barbie and Big Jim closer together, but to further flesh out the town of Chester’s Mill and its citizens. But it just never manages to get all that interesting, even when Big Jim is trying to negotiate with Ted and talk him out of committing suicide, all while Barbie has his sniper rifle trained on both men from a tree outside, ready to fire if anything goes awry. Big Jim is able to save the day by wrestling a grenade away from Ted and placing the pin back in before it blows them sky-high, but the only real worthwhile development is Big Jim deciding to commandeer Ted’s entire cache of weapons for himself, storing them in the bunker while Junior (Alexander Koch) secretly looks on. Big Jim will need the guns, especially since he now has a new threat to worry about in the form of Max.
As we learn, Max is the person Barbie frantically called after inadvertently killing Julia’s husband. In addition, we learn that she’s the criminal mastermind behind “Rapture,” the super-drug that Big Jim and Reverend Coggins (Ned Bellamy) were hogging all the liquid propane for, and for which Duke (Jeff Fahey) was being paid to look the other way (Linda, of course, learns about her mentor’s deception through security videos, although she doesn’t realize who else is complicit in the drug operation). Natalie Zea is winningly acerbic in the role, putting the men in their place with one zinger after the other. She’s been business partners with both men all this time, yet Barbie and Big Jim are only just learning about the other man’s affiliation with her, which makes for an uneasy alliance when Max forces the men back into business with her by threatening to reveal their secrets. I like Max, but she’s one of those villains that’s all too common in a genre show like this: the Ben Linus-type schemer who knows everything, holds all the cards, and is always one step ahead of everyone else with their scheming. It could be a fun character, or it could be a detriment to the series.
For now, I’m leaning on Max being a fun addition to the cast. However, her appearance does feel contrived, as she not only arrives at the perfect time to blow up everyone’s spot, she also apparently has mysterious ways of ensuring her own safety, saying that if anything happens to her, Barbie and Big Jim’s secrets will still come out. And while it’s meant to be a mysterious kind of threat, since we don’t know how she would ensure the release of their secrets, it pretty much fails for the same reason. Yeah, it explains why they have to do what she says, but it doesn’t really explain why they have to do what she says, other than some vague threat that their secrets will come out if they don’t comply. But I like that there are other threats in the series other than the dome itself.
The dome mythology continues to be doled out in increments, but for some reason, it’s considerably less interesting this week than it has been in the past. This week, Angie (Britt Robertson) tries to blackmail Big Jim into giving her the deed to Rose’s diner, free and clear. But when Junior comes to the diner to talk, Angie flips out and eventually has a seizure — the same kind of seizure that Joe (Colin Ford) and Norrie (Mackenzie Lintz) have been suffering, declaring that “Pink stars are falling in lines.” Angie wants answers, as does Julia (Rachelle Levefre), who tries to show Barbie the mini-dome only to discover that it’s mysteriously vanished. Joe and Norrie get on the case while Angie forms a skeptical alliance with Junior, who shows her paintings made by his late mother in the weeks before her death, depicting him on a hill with pink stars falling from the sky. This is the most sane Junior has acted so far, and it has me wondering if the show is trying to recontextualize his relationship with Angie and reframe this as a relationship we’re supposed to root for, because if that’s the case, I don’t know if I’ll be able to take this show seriously again. While Angie isn’t entirely receptive to the idea that she and Junior are “in this together,” she doesn’t seem as repulsed by his presence as she once did. But I feel as if much of Angie’s willingness to overlook Junior’s insane acts is the fact that he seems to actually have answers. Or at least clues. She slowly starts to believe that he’s right about her being sick, and actively seeks to get to the bottom of the pink stars mystery.
While answers remain hard to come by, it feels like we’re actually getting closer to a big plot discovery, as Joe and Norrie discover the mini-dome in a nearby barn, at which point Angie reveals that Joe went for a walk the night before and must have moved the dome unknowingly, having been sleepwalking the entire time. The three seizure victims touch the mini-dome, rationalizing that the dome only responds to those connected by the seizures. When they touch the dome, a fourth handprint appears, and Joe deduces that this is essentially a lock. To gain access to the egg inside of the mini-dome, they need to find the fourth person whose hand will unlock the peculiar structure. I suppose the only question now is how long the series can keep that particular mystery going, but now would be the time to offer guesses as to who the fourth hand could be. And it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it turned out to be Junior.
“The Fourth Hand” is a tedious episode, as the story sounds decent enough on paper, but suffers in execution thanks to tired pacing and languid performances from the usually-strong cast. Hopefully next week will offer a more engaging hour.