by Josie Kafka
The first half of this review is spoiler-free. After a big, bold heading and an adorable spoiler kitten, I refer to end of the first episode, and hint at some stuff from the book. If you haven’t seen this episode yet, I recommend that you watch it before reading past the kitten.
Although I was originally very excited about a television adaptation of Stephen King’s Under the Dome, as the air date approached I developed some trepidation. After all, the history of Stephen King adaptations is hardly filled with victories: for every Shawshank Redemption and The Shining, there’s a Pet Semetary or The Mist. Even the 1990s adaptation of The Stand--I think it’s great because I love it. I don’t love it because it’s great.
And Under the Dome is a rather odd book. King began writing it in the 1970s and put it away; he developed and finished the story for publication by 2009. Under the Dome is half Lost-spinoff, half political allegory: King was directly responding to what he saw as a mass hysteria surrounding the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, and the Bush years in general. Some editions contained playing cards with pictures of the characters that were clearly based on President Bush, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, et al.
This adaptation is none of those things. It’s part thriller, part mystery, part psychological experiment. It’s pretty good, but not great—if this were the busy fall season, I’d probably drop it. But it’s summer, so why not?
After all, it has a fun premise: a gigantic fishbowl mysteriously appears over the town of Chester’s Mill in rural Maine. There are limited resources, limited emergency personnel, and more than a few children and teenagers left without parental supervision. And at least some of those kids have started having seizures and making foreshadowy pronouncements like “The pink stars fall in lines.” So that’s all to the good.
And it has some actors we already love: Jeff Fahey from Lost, Britt Robertson from The Secret Circle, Colin Ford (young Sam Winchester from Supernatural), Mike Vogel (Bates Motel), and Dean Norris (a little bit of everything). I haven’t seen Rachelle Lefevre in anything before, but her Julia Shumway is probably the character I identify with most.
That upsets me a bit, as my favorite books character is “Barbie,” a former military man who is supercompetent and more than a little cynical. Here, he’s been given a dark secret—the opening scene is him burying a body. I hope he manages a little redemption.
I don’t have similar hopes for Councilman Rennie, who clearly likes power and is up to something shady with all the propane-hoarding. (By the way, Councilman? Anton Chekhov called, and he’d like to remind you that a propane hoard in the first act must explode by the time the shotgun over the mantelpiece goes off.)
But, all in all, this has potential even if it lacks that spark I was hoping for. The writing and production staff includes Brian K. Vaughn, Steven Spielberg, and Mr. King himself. Jack Bender directed a few episodes, and his style is both elegant and familiar to us Losties. It is reasonable to hope we might get excited about this show. (And how’s that for damning with faint praise?)
And now for the Spoiler Kitten: If you have not seen this episode, and if you’re afraid to learn a bit about the book that may or may not be relevant to the show, please do not scroll past the kitten.
The creators have made clear that this series can—but might not—extend beyond just the summerish 13-episode original order. They’ve also clarified that the ending will be completely different from the ending of the book; I suspect that’s a bit of an exaggeration, so I want to warn all of you that “What happened?” is not a valid reason to stick around: the denouement is a let-down, and not the point. And if this show is in it for the long haul, who knows if we’ll ever find out the whys and wherefores?
One place where the show did stay faithful to the book is the character of Sheriff Perkins, played by Jeff Fahey. As soon as I saw him, I hoped the show would keep him around. They didn’t: that exploding pacemaker scene is ripped straight from the book, and is even more upsetting given how much I like the former Frank Lapidus. His death may add that “Oh, no, they didn’t!” element that all pilots seem to require these days, but it really just left me sad: he was one character I connected with, and there weren’t many of them.
Bits and Pieces (Of Livestock):
• The cow! The bisected cow! Jumping Judas on a unicycle, that's a cow in cross-section!
• Britt Robertson’s character Angie was given so much to do that I thought, for most of the episode, she was two different actresses who just looked a lot alike.
• Fun fact: Aisha Hinds, one of the two tourist moms traveling with the diabetic daughter, played a terrible (in the sense of evil and badly-written) character on the short-lived show Cult. I was happy to see her given some decent material here.
• Junior Rennie is crazy creepy, huh?
Two and a half out of four bisected cows. Bisected cows!
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)