Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Monday, September 30, 2013

Television Review: Under The Dome

I'm at about 10 episodes into Under the Dome and I feel the series losing me. Okay let me back up Under the Dome is a relatively new science fiction television series based on a book by Stephen King wherein an invisible dome isolates a small town. And like a lot of shows I've seen recently it doesn't seem to get what's so interesting about it's premise.

I like the idea but the second half starts to throw subplot after subplot at the wall losing track of cool idea I liked in the beginning. The premise, of what would life be like if everything you took for granted was suddenly gone, and what would be a dramatic enough force to create such a cataclysm while done before, (RevolutionThe TribeJerichoJeremiahFalling SkiesThe Walking DeadBattlestar GalacticaAndromedaand anything involving the fall or rise of the Roman Empire or the Sengoku period) was interesting made all the more so by the fact that the catalyst of such a society would be caused by isolation rather than full on destruction, but it is as if the series has so little faith in that premise that it has to keep throwing superfluous stuff at the audience to keep them interested.

Part of me wants to go into a quasi review of BSG because basically in the first 5 episodes I was watching it for the same reason, watch a group of interesting strong characters being forced by circumstance to have to deal with one another. Most of the characters have interesting motivations and it looks like it's going to be really fun seeing how they interact with one another once the polite facade of society falls and choices have to be made about whose ideas, resources, plans and even lives get priority in the pressure cooker that is the dome. And further more the mystery of what the dome actually is.

But as I watch each episode it seems more and more like the show just doesn't understand that or even if it does it can't think up ways for the interesting characters it set up to affect the plot. Most of the characters fall into interconnected camps so I'll just describe them.

  1. Adults
  2. Kids
  3. The Law
  4. The Media
All of these groups share characters, but at the beginning it always seem liked each of them had something to do. The kids were the ones who rather than focusing on how to survive in the new world order were intrigued and trying to find out exactly what happened. The adults focused on practical how do we survive stuff. The law were trying to maintain order as well as they could in the chaos. The media were doing more or less the same thing the kids were doing, but rather than analyzing phenomenon they were watching the frequency for chatter.

The problem is by about episode seven the story switches gears to plots which generally aren't all that interesting. For instance there is a subplot of the town elders manufacturing drugs, but I've seen that plot. Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad.

The original reason why the drug dealing subplot intrigued me was for its characterization of those involved. While the town thought of these guys as paragons, at the end of the day they'd do anything to get theirs. But midway through the interesting character dynamic is ground to a halt to deal with a SAMCRO lite plot.

It was interesting to just watch the kids walk around and adjust to the new world order in ways the adults couldn't but, I kid you not, the later half has them stuck in a barn staring at a CG egg. 

I have a love hate relationship to Stephen King, being mostly familiar with his work through adaptions, and the bad ones tend to fall apart in the second act as deus ex machinas start to metastasize and interesting ideas become overrun with needlessly complicated plots. 

The most obvious way it does this is by introducing new characters in an already sprawling cast.  Everybody introduced in the first episode seems like a person everybody else just seems like an ill fated attempt to shake up the status quo.   Can you even have a status quo halfway through the first season? Moreover, each new plot element after episode 9 or so seems like it could have made a new series in it's own right.

Even the original characters start to feel flat as theoretically the wigity woo starts to mess with their minds. The aforementioned personality shifts rather than making them more interesting and compelling actually starts to make them less interesting by taking away subtle complexity. For instance one of the characters in the drug ring in the early episodes begrudgingly parts with propane, a necessary ingredient for the aforementioned drugs, when faced with a choice between keeping the now lucrative propane and watching the town die of thirst. He goes nuts and starts killing people when in a similar situation later. Keep in mind that the timeline of the show is about two and a half weeks. That's less time than it would take for me to empty a fridge let alone go "Kill the Pig".

See the point I think was to leave it ambiguous as to whether most of the characters were already sort of nutty, but the circumstances pushed them over the edge into actual sociopathy or if the paranormal shim sham is slowly edging everybody into madness. I can see it but if that was the aim the pacing is way off. The actors do their job well enough in the beginning so that almost everybody has a way to pull a convincing here's Johnny, but when it actually does happen they go so far that it breaks suspension of disbelief.  

In the first half every thing seemed synergistic. Even if the characters were not aware of it almost every individual action and plot had impact on the story as a whole. As the series goes on it gets harder to say that. 

As it goes on it more or less becomes Lost. And to be clear Lost had a lot of promise depending on whether it was on the rails (seasons 1, 3,4 and 5) or of them (season 2 and 6). As it goes on nothing makes any sense. Don't get me wrong I love fantastic elements in a story, but there has to be a consistency. Here it is as if whenever the writers got stuck they decided to do something else in the hope that doing so would keep the audience from realizing they were writing themselves into a corner.  The shows I like always feel like there is a plan. Even left turns fell like they were set up. That's not the case here. In a scene with a new character an established character asks where she was up until this point. Good question.

P.S. There is no way to bring a character back to the light after he chains his ex up in a bomb shelter.

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