Stephen King’s Under the Dome‘s first incarnation was a novel published in 2009 (which I reviewed here). It was adapted for a TV series in 2013 (first season reviewed here), and was renewed for a second season in 2014.
If I disliked season 1 so much, why would I even bother with season 2? For one, I did generally enjoy the book despite its faults and since the show starts at basically the same place but diverges drastically from there it’s interesting to see a kind of alternate universe version of the same concept. And, truth be told, I don’t hate having a show I can watch with half my attention while I’m writing reviews.
One of the major complaints I had about season 1 is that it’s very episodic–a new character would be added and killed in the same episode and played as though I’m actually supposed to care about this person. A fight club would be started and then disbanded and never spoken of again. This seemed to occur somewhat less in season 2, though it did still have some components that only happen in a single episode and then everyone avoids talking about.
A new twist in the series is that there were a series of strange events that mimicked the Biblical plagues. They seemed to be aiming for a significant theme on that early in season 2, but it petered out by mid-season. As with the episodic plots, it seems like there are either multiple writing teams working piecemeal without much interaction to aim at a cohesive whole, or a single writing team with the attention span of a toddler.
One thing that continues to bother me is the romance between Dale “Barbie” Barbara and Julia Shumway. The series started with Barbie murdering Julia’s husband in cold blood–our supposed hero was the hired thug of a bookie coming to collect gambling debts. He then meets Julia, they end up getting together romantically, and eventually she finds out that Barbie killed her husband. She’s distraught for an episode or two, but they end up back together again. About a month has passed in show continuity since the series began and now they act like they’re in a long-term committed relationship and never talk about the murdered husband.
A new character in the series was super-genius high school science teacher who somehow knows a way to solve every problem they come across and becomes Big Jim’s right-hand woman. She is often represented as a voice of science and reason, yet somehow has an apparently fervent devotion to Big Jim as their leader, despite the clear signs of Big Jim’s manipulations that an analytical thinker should be able to spot. And given her mad skills with science and her urge to be involved in everything that happens and attach herself to the leader’s decisions, where was she in season 1? The dome is a closed system (well, it was at the point she showed up anyway) — there could be characters who haven’t been onscreen, but given her skills and personality there’s no plausible reason for her to have not been in the forefront. I think the real answer is that the writers wanted to add a character and instead of operating within the constraints of the system they’d defined, they just wrote her in with no effort at maintaining continuity.
I’m sure there are many other individual plot elements I could talk about, but I think it would be rehashing more of the same kind of ideas, so I’ll leave it at that.
I feel like this show could be something of really high quality. The source material had a lot of meat in it. The casting is mostly excellent — in particular the casting of Dean Norris as Big Jim, Rachelle Lefevre as Julia, and Mike Vogel as Barbie. But the best source material and the best actors can’t make a good show without talented writers working with a cohesive vision of the show. The show has just fallen so far short in the writing. Under the Dome has been renewed for season three, perhaps because the show airs in the summer when network TV is mostly running reruns and reality shows and expectations are relatively low. I expect I’ll still tune in for season three to see where the show goes next, and probably to mock aloud the newest plot developments.