Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen series premiere of CBS' "Under the Dome."
Stephen King adaptations have had a checkered past, but if Monday night's "Under the Dome" pilot is any indication of how the rest of CBS' summer series is going to go, expect to be hooked.
"Under the Dome" is exactly what a summer TV show should be -- a well executed and addicting drama that doesn't waste any time. In the series premiere, the residents of Chester's Mill (a small town in Maine known for its "rich, fertile land and warm, inviting people") find themselves trapped under a transparent, impermeable dome.
What ensues is pretty much what you'd expect would happen (albeit with a few more special effects) when a small town is suddenly trapped under a huge bubble.
The show begins in true King fashion -- a man digs a grave and then buries a body in the mist-covered woods. We find out the gravedigger is Dale "Barbie" Barbara (Mike Vogel), but we don't find out until later who he has wrapped in a white sheet. Barbie arrived in Chester's Mill under unclear circumstances -- all we know is he has a pretty face and an affinity for the dead.
A good pilot is never easy: the creators have to introduce the plot as well as quickly lay down the most important characters. "Under the Dome" doesn't delay on character development. Within the first eight minutes, we get the lowdown on everyone worth knowing.
We are soon introduced to the sheriff, Duke (Jeff Fahey) and his deputy, Linda (Natalie Martinez). Both characters are likable, your average hometown heroes straight out of a Springsteen song. Less likable is Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris), a local politician and used car dealer. Our first encounter with Jim has him paying off a waitress with a $100 bill for her vote (although apparently, Jim "always runs unopposed"). He quickly becomes the too-eager superman, clearly way too hungry for power and reveling in the town's tragedy.
Meanwhile, Junior (Alexander Koch) and Angie (Britt Robertson) are introduced in the bedroom, but we quickly learn they aren't your typical teenage couple. Junior is planning to ditch college in hopes to win Angie's love, but she isn't having it. Her refusal quickly leads to an altercation in his bedroom and Junior becomes the abusive, obsessed lover. More on that later.
Finally, we meet the "newspaper woman," Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre), the new editor for the local paper. This is Julia's big chance; the biggest news story is about to happen and she's the only journalist trapped inside the dome. Lucky her.
When the dome finally falls, Barbie is the first person to encounter it. The birds and cows begin to stir -- never a good sign -- and everything starts to shake. What seems like an earthquake instead cuts Chester's Mill off from the outside world, and causes a gruesome yet hilarious scene involving one very unlucky cow.
Overhead, a plane crashes directly into the dome, exploding into flames and nearly killing Joe (Colin Ford), a teenager we'll see more of, thanks to Barbie shoving him out of harm's way.
This small town quickly finds out there's no way to escape -- and no way in. Power lines are snapped, cars are smashed like pancakes into "thin air," and families are severed by way of the invisible force field.
Relationships will be tested. Deputy Linda's fiancé is trapped on the other side. Joe and his sister, Angie, are safe but their mother was having breakfast on the non-dome part of town and they're all alone. So far, the only way to communicate with the outside world is through a local radio station -- the only broadcast in working order.
The imagery of the dome is pretty spectacular in itself. There are homes completely split in two, like something out of a surrealist painting. There's a particularly scary scene where a semi truck smashes into the dome, and while terrifying, what results is oddly beautiful.
As expected, there's a good amount of gore but it never feels contrived or done for gore's sake. The falling-from-the-sky limbs and severed arms and mutilated cows actually make it more believable.
Amid the chaos, we're presented with two additional and important plotlines. First, Big Jim has also been stockpiling propane on the side. We don't know why, but as noted, it may be hard to swallow the fact that he and the sheriff were collecting so much propane right before the dome fell. Later, when it seems we may get a revelation about something from the sheriff, the dome causes his pacemaker to fail and he dies mid-confession. The timing is a bit contrived, but now, we're left wondering what all this gas was for and what they know. But hey, sure comes in handy now that energy is at a premium, eh?
The other key plotline is a little harder to accept. Remember Junior and Angie, the lover and the uninterested object of his affection? Well, Junior goes off the deep end pretty quickly at Angie's dismissal of his adoration, breaks into her house, knocks her unconscious, and locks her in his father's fallout shelter. Oh, and his father happens to be Big Jim. Surprise!
I have to admit, I can suspend disbelief that a dome has turned Chester's Mill into a living snow globe, but I had a hard time understanding Junior's hasty switch from attractive college kid to all-out psycho. But alas, we're left with poor nurse Angie trapped in a dank, dark dungeon. But really, is it any worse than being trapped outside of it?
At the end of the episode, we know that the town has lost 12 residents so far, a crazed Junior is claiming to be the "only person who understands what's going on around here," and Big Jim is determined to seize all the power he can from this catastrophe. Oh, and that dead guy Barbie casually tossed in a grave earlier? He happens to be the editor of the paper's husband and Barbie just so happens to be staying at her house during this hard time. That can't end well.
What we know about the dome:
- At first, it's electric. Not enough to kill you but enough to warn you not to touch it.
- Anything in its path is sliced in half.
- People on either side of the dome cannot communicate -- it cuts off all sound.
- Some people seem to have seizures when they're near the dome.
What still isn't clear about the dome:
- Obviously, where the hell it came from. The townspeople are leaning towards act of God or terrorism.
- Oxygen. The air supply (or lack thereof) has yet to be addressed, but we can only assume it has to run out someday.
- How long the resources can last. It's a small town so they likely don't have a huge supply of necessities waiting around for a massive calamity. Except, you know, that propane Big Jim was hoarding.
- Why the dome sends some people into seizures and not others.
"Under the Dome" airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.