Under The Dome
My late wife and I were avid fans of horror master Stephen King back in the late seventies when a paperback edition of one of his books were too thick to fit comfortably in the back pocket of your jeans. Tomes including "It’ or ‘The Stand’ were meaty out of sheer necessity due to the incredible attention given by the author to character development and creating a suitably moody setting fir the story to unfolded our interest waned in part due to other authors eclipsing our interest in Mr. King’s change in focus and a desire to explore other authors. Then my interest was sparked once again with a novel of his being retooled for episodic television. The title to receive this honor was ‘Under the Dome’, a tale focusing on a town mysteriously cut off from the world by a barrier. In preparation for the CBS network premier I downloaded the novel to my iPad and went about reading. While not up to his classic high water marks this story was easily in line with the King books from his heyday. Usually this is not a positive sign for migrating a story from one media to another but since the series, for all its many differences, did receive the blessings of Mr. King as evident by his assuming the mantle of series producer.
One constant that permeates the spooky supernatural stories of Stephen King is his perchance for locating his stories in the bucolic small towns of Maine. With places like Haven, Derry and Salem’s Lot I have to wonder how Maine’s board of tourism feels about his dark and sinister view. Odd thing is it probably boosted it with horror fans purchasing tee shirts reading "I went to Salem’s Lot and all I got was this lousy shirt and a hickey". One of these picturesque towns in Maine is Chester’s Mill. There was little to set this town apart from the countless others; family owned farms, a main street, local newspaper and small police force. That is until one day something happened that would bring the attention of the world to focus on the town and alter the lives of all its inhabitants.
Dale "Barbie" Barbara (Mike Vogel) is a collector of debts with a perchance for compounding factures nit interest rates. He was with a client when the man declined the agreed upon remuneration initiating a physical confrontation. The result was unexpected; Barbie is pushed into taking the man’s life. As Barbie finishes the make shift burial an invisible barrier descends surrounding the town. It is impenetrable and indestructible. A plan crashes into it and crumbles. A semi-truck careens into the invisible wall and looks like an accordion. A cow with the misfortune of standing exactly on the line of demarcation is neatly bisected; cleaved perfectly in two. The first episode efficiently sets the stage and begins to introduce the principles and familiarizes the audience with the foundation for the story to continue.
As everyone in Chester’s Mill scrambles to make sense of the mysterious barrier they soon learn is a dome thanks to some intercepted military transmissions. When the police Chief Duke Perkins (Jeff Fahey) comes too close to the dome his pace maker explodes in his chest revealing a proactively dangerous; it overreacts with nearby electronic devices. In this case exploding Perkin’s pace maker. The entire fire department is out of town for big demonstration. Families are literally ripped apart as parents are unable to return to their children trapped in town. One representative case is Angie McAlister (Britt Robertson) and her younger brother Joe (Colin Ford). As if an invisible dome surrounding your town isn’t enough angst for s teenage waitress, she is suddenly kidnapped by Junior Rennie (Alexander Koch) the psychopathic son of the town’s most powerful man used car salesman, Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris) the town’s Selectman. The other citizen of similar rank yet far lower inherent power was the town’s mortician and clergyman, Reverend `Lester Coggins (Ned Bellamy). It turns out the Rev and Big Jim is the biggest methamphetamine cooks in the North East. A process that required amble amounts of liquid propane. Big Jim was cooking more than the meth, he also cooking the town’s ledgers concealing the massive purchases of the propane under the guise of town reserves. When the dome falls that propane becomes the only way to drive generators and keep the power on for the isolated community. Of course the irony of casting is Norris played a DEA agent whose brother-in-law is a biggest Meth cook in the southwest on ‘Breaking Bad’.
Initially Junior Rennie has Angie chained in an underground shelter in the family backyard. Just passing town just as the dome appeared was Dr. Alice Calvert (Samantha Mathis), her spouse Carolyn Hill (Aisha Hinds) and their teenage daughter, Norrie (Mackenzie Lintz). Both Joe and Norrie exhibit strange seizures rambling incoherently about pink stars falling and obviously connected to the dome. With the chef of police dead the authority of office falls to his senior deputy, Linda Esquivel (Natalie Martinez), now Sheriff Esquivel. Law and order inevitably dissipates as the dome remains day after day. The proprietor of the town’s café Rose Twitchell Beth Broderick) is raped and murdered instigating the need to argument the sparse force with people who would fail even the most cursory psychological vetting. This includes the obsessively manic Junior. Barbie becomes a staunch supporter of Sheriff Esquivel in keeping order as it begins to be disclosed he was special operations in the military. He also winds up staying in the house of the newspaper editor, Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre) the widow of the man he recently killed, albeit in self-defense, sort of. Finally about midway through the initial season a villain more odious than Big Jim shows up after hiding on the out skirts of town just within the dome, Maxine Seagrave (Natalie Zea), the crime boss Big Jim and Barbie answered to.
The fundamental structure of the series is well utilized in many television shows. The mystery of the dome, where it came from, how and why it formed represents was the overall story arc while management of specific critical situations drives the individual episodes; this naturally includes the stand by post-apocalyptic standards as obtaining sufficient water, food, energy and security. A fire bolsters some esprit de corp with a good old fashion bucket brigade. I had thought this would be an extended thirteen episode miniseries. The meatier novels of King do best when presented as miniseries. A perfect example is the ABC four part treatment of ‘The Stand’. I was somewhat surprised to discover this series was picked up for another second season of thirteen episodes. The novel was nicely self-contained so I don’t know how they are going to retain the momentum and interest for another full season. The deluxe collector’s edition features a reasonably hefty paper weight replica of Chester’s Mill.
Under The Dome: Filming The Pilot