Stephen King’s works have been adapted into a number of features over the years, but few stories of his have been explored in a television medium. Last summer, CBS added to the latter list with an adaptation of the King novel Under The Dome, focusing on the town of Chester’s Mill as it saw itself cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious clear dome. The show’s second season drew to a close on September 22nd, and while it began with some promise, the season undid itself with inconsistent writing and plot developments that had no connection with each other, among other problems.
The biggest issue of Under the Dome’s second season has been the plot contrivances. Coincidences have driven a lot of the story forward in the season, and the most glaring example has been the Zenith arc. Not only did the dome’s portal conveniently lead to the city where Pauline was hiding, but Zenith also happened to be the city where Barbie resided. In addition, Barbie’s father happened to be the head of a powerful security firm, and happened to know about the egg inside the Dome, despite only a handful of people in Chester’s Mill being aware of its existence. As if these contrivances weren’t enough, the entrance back to Chester’s Mill happened to be on Barbie’s family property, Pauline’s sole confidante in town happened to be the IT expert at Aktaion, and to top it all off, Melanie and Barbie happened to be related. The contrivances were really driven home in “The Red Door” when Pauline, Sam, Lyle, and Barbie all found themselves in Hunter’s apartment through unrelated circumstances. This manifested itself in smaller storylines as well, as the problem of a diminishing food supply in Chester’s Mill was solved by the revelation that a long-dead member of the town was a survivalist hoarder, and Melanie’s locker happening to be the one with the tunnel leading out of the Dome. Put together, these stories gave the season a lack of cohesion, as they seemed to be stitched together, rather than formed as an overall plan for the season.
The contrivances, however, could perhaps be overlooked if the characterisation was consistent. This, however, has not been the case over the fourth season. Despite the first season’s issues, Big Jim’s presence as an antagonistic force hungry for power was a consistent aspect. The second season, however, muddied up his character, as Big Jim saw the error of his ways and decided to help the town, then began seeing himself as a Dome-appointed town saviour, then had an attack of conscience about killing people, then proceeded to return to playing political games and manipulating people in a bid to reclaim power before cutting deals to escape from the Dome, and capping off the season by going on a murderous rampage targeted at affecting the Dome. This lack of consistency has affected other characters as well, as both Joe and Norrie have found themselves forgetting their deceased family members immediately following the character deaths, engaging in love triangles instead, and recalling the family members at plot-convenient moments. Junior similarly reacted to the death of the woman he claimed as the love of his life by soon getting into another relationship, erasing the primary motivation of his character’s actions for much of the first season. Even minor characters such as Andrea have been prone to inconsistent characterisation, as she has, over the course of the season, both shot down Big Jim’s plans in order to defer to Julia, and shot down Julia’s plans in order to defer to Big Jim.
The season has had a number of other issues as well, the biggest of which was the character of Rebecca Pine. Introduced as a science teacher, Rebecca went on to demonstrate a vast knowledge of every science-related issue that came up, whether it’s how to effectively treat hypothermia or how to properly neutralise acid rain or how to keep someone alive in an emergency room situation, knowledge that seemingly nobody else in the town possessed. As odd as this was, however, the biggest issue with her character was her revolving door of beliefs regarding the Dome. Beginning the season believing that the Dome was a purely scientific phenomenon, Rebecca immediately aligned herself with Big Jim because she considered him the Dome’s Chosen One, and proceeded to rotate between dismissing the Dome as something that can be studied and understood, and something whose powers are beyond human comprehension. The character of Melanie similarly suffered from a combination of inconsistent characteristics and plot contrivances, all of which resulted in a romantic entanglement with Junior, the son of her childhood friend and nephew of her old flame, that had no prior buildup. Which is not to say the season didn’t have a few interesting moments, as the show managed to extract genuine suspense out of a few moments. These positives were not enough to outweigh the season’s negatives, however, as the show rapidly erased any attempts at change that the season premiere put forth. The devolution of the show, which already ended the first season at a low point, does not bode well for Under The Dome’s already-confirmed third season.
– Deepayan Sengupta