Well, it's becoming painfully clear that Under the Dome isn't TV's next great sci-fi series. Instead, it appears to be a fictional adult-sized version of the late CBS reality show Kid Nation, minus all the fun. After a pretty good pilot and a terrible second episode, there was no bounce back in last night's "Manhunt," an hour that highlighted in big, fat yellow marker everything that's gone wrong with this series to date. Which is a lot.
There were three stories happening concurrently in "Manhunt," all of them depressing. It felt like we were stuck on a never-ending, three-tiered M.C. Escher downward staircase where each landing was a plotline, as we were dragged on a journey that just kept spiraling until we were dizzy from awful, hammy television. Apologies to Under the Dome fans out there, and I hope we can still be friends after what I'm about to say, but I did not care for "Manhunt."
Let's start with the repercussions from last week's freakout/moment of clarity (depending on your perspective) from Officer Paul, who realized that Chester's Mill was in trouble and fired his weapon at the dome, only to watch the bullet ricochet and rip right through the heart of Officer Nice Guy (that's two police officers who've died from exploding hearts so far). Apparently under the constitution of Chester's Mill, shooting at a magical dome and having the bullet bounce back into a police officer is the equivalent of cutting off a cop's head with a machete, because Officer Paul was met by an angry mob that dubbed him a murderer, and he was hauled into the slammer by Officer Linda. Is the guy a little crazy? Sure, but wouldn't you be if a superdome cut you off from the rest of the world? Is the guy a cop killer? I'm going with no. However, in this land of wafer-thin characters, everyone needs a simple identity, so cop killer he is. But Officer Paul was a crafty sonuvagun, and made Linda fall for the "I'm coughing up a hairball, help me!" trick, locked Linda in the cell when she came in to help him (*facepalm* @ Linda), and stole some guns and ran away. It was hilarious.
This kicked off a manhunt for Officer Paul, which essentially amounted to a bunch of people running through the woods with guns and really confusing editing. Big Jim and Barbie took some lesbo-hating bigots in one party, and Officer Linda, determined to prove that she's more than just a few credits short of getting her online acting degree, went off on her own in another manhuntin' party. Big Jim and Barbie eventually had some alone time, and Jim used the opportunity to explain his nickname in a scene that I assume was supposed to provide some kind of character development. But instead, Jim's monologue about being a tiny football player and shattering his own teammate's pelvis only allowed Officer Paul to sneak up on them and point a gun in their faces. Thankfully, safety valve Linda showed up and shot Officer Paul, and the thrilling manhunt was over.
In storyline number two, poor kidnapped Angie sent psycho Junior to look for a way out of the dome-o-sphere by convincing him to explore dangerous underground tunnels at the old cement factory where people had previously died. It was an interesting plan; let's say the tunnels are as dangerous as Junior said they were and Junior died, then Angie would slowly rot in the underground bunker she's being held captive in because no one else knows she's there. Sorry, I don't mean to poke holes in your plan, Angie! Love-whipped Junior packed his helmet and grabbed a flashlight and went spelunking, and that nosy reporter lady Julia followed him because she's a journalist, as she'd like to remind you at every opportunity because every character in this show is identified only by their occupations and/or mental illnesses.
It was dark down below, so Julia was able to keep a safe distance behind Junior as they descended into the concrete labyrinth. As soon as Junior took one step into the darkness I probably would have said, "Good luck, pal!" and stopped following him, but I'm not a real journalist like Julia. She actually said stuff like "asking questions is my job," and "I'm a journalist, I need to find out everything I can about this dome," so she obviously knew what she was doing when she spied on a mentally ill and violent teenage lunatic in the pitch-black bowels of a crumbling abandoned building with no working light source or phone or can of mace. Julia, you work for The Chester's Mill Independent, not Vice magazine. Isn't there a local with an impressive collection of buttons you can investigate instead?
Junior eventually face-planted into the dome like I did at that party when I ran into a glass door as a teenager, so I felt better about myself. But Junior's collision knocked the flashlight from his hand, and the dome made it explode, leaving the two of them deep underground with no light! Junior told Julia, "You shouldn't have followed me!" and then the episode cut to commercial, but when we returned Junior was pretty okay with her being there. Under the Dome loves its instigating-yet-empty cut-to-commercial dialogue, doesn't it? Remember in that one episode when Norrie said, "We're all going to die!" right before a commercial break and then we came back and nope, no one had died? And in fact, no one was even scared? They're just empty words. It's a terrible trick TV writers use hook viewers into staying through ads and it must be stopped.
But I digress! Julia saved the day by producing some matches and explaining that the way the flames flickered would tell them where the exit was, and all I could think was, "Holy sheep! This chick is totally Melisandre from Game of Thrones!" She's got the red hair, she uses fire, and she's hot. That's enough evidence for me. I was hoping she'd give birth to a shadow baby that could lead them to freedom, but I guess this show doesn't want to be that good. Anyway, they got to the point where they were on their last match, and instead of using it to get the F out of Dodge and save their hides, they used it to light up Junior's face so he could talk about Barbie. Here they were, staring death right in the eye, and they stood there like a couple of idiots and let their last match burn out so that Junior could talk about his fat lip! These people should be dead. I want them to be dead. We're all stupider for having witnessed them standing there without focusing on the immediate task at hand of escaping their concrete coffin. But these morons faced zero consequences and got off the hook when they looked to their left and discovered a staircase that led out of the tunnels. You've failed us, Darwin.
(Note: This scene occurred immediately before Big Jim's chat about his nickname, placing two of the most bone-headed scenes I've seen all summer back-to-back. And in both cases, all the characters in danger were saved by a stroke of luck.)
But really we're all here to talk about the big Electricity Party that Joe held at his house, because it was some incredible television. See, teens under the dome don't care about the dome because teens under the dome are worthless freeloaders who only care about texting. And because Joe was one of the few Chester's Millians with a generator, he immediately became the most popular kid in town. Through some high-school-party comedy-movie antics, everyone under the age of 19 heard that Joe had power and the shindig turned into a full-blown rager with 50 kids and a six-pack of beer. Kids were "refueling" and "charging up" their Microsoft-branded devices because DJ Phil only plays face-melters for your grandpa and not the boy-band-dubstep-remixathons that teens crave. After a dome sealed them in, these kids started playing Xbox unsupervised. Is every adult in Chester's Mill a deadbeat parent, or are they all just too busy forming angry mobs to pay attention to their children's safety during a state of emergency?
Things got really out of hand when resident cool kid Carter (who alluded to having sexual relations with Angie, but hey, who hasn't had a piece of that?) started charging teens five bucks to use Joe's power. The nerve of this guy! Gothy girl Norrie stepped up to him with some American History knowledge about the Sherman Antitrust Act (seriously, she did that) but all her display of intellect did was get Carter's hormones raging and he offered to give her a good rodgering in Angie's old room. Joe intervened and right before he was going to get his face pounded in, the generator blew and the place emptied out faster than viewers are fleeing this program. Again, a character was saved by chance.
There's a really awkward romance being set up for Norrie and Joe that's not working on any level, but they do share a connection beyond a basic knowledge of the original Star Wars trilogy ("I like nerds," Norrie said after Joe's Death Star talk got her all heated up). After Norrie's lesbian mom barged into Joe's house with only the explanation of "something goes 'boom' in a small town, parents tend to know!" Norrie and Joe held hands and had synchronized seizures. Why? Who knows?
"Manhunt" was not a fun hour of television to sit through, even for hate-watchers. I'm getting some serious Terra Nova vibes here with weird separated teen storylines, mundane problems-of-the-week, and one-dimensional characters, when the focus should be on
THE DINOSAURS THE DOME! No one is facing consequences for their stupid actions, the town is mostly going about its business as if nothing has happened, and those damned teenagers are running around in packs like rabid jackals. Under the Dome has yet to touch on any sense of a theme as it trudges through hollow weekly shenanigans and destroys its source material. Three episodes in, this show is a million-percent disappointment.
– Junior attacking the dome and saying "I hate you" was the highlight of the episode. What a spaz!
– Is it any coincidence that the BALD guy (a.k.a. the domed guy) is the bad guy? I THINK NOT.
– "Manhunt" wrapped up with these tantalizing nuggets to tide us over: Angie hid a pair of scissors from Junior, and Julia saw Barbie's map with some obvious business marked off in Chester's Mill. Not exactly the kind of stuff that makes viewers want to come back.
– Remember that scene when Linda was walking around the woods and then she heard a noise and it was all suspenseful and then a pig ran out and then that was it? That was great.
– If I were a teen, I'd be offended at how my generation was being written.
– Again, "I like nerds."
– "Dude it's the apocalypse. Advisories don't apply. Please tell me you hit that." Joe's idiot friend has definitely become the best thing about Under the Dome because it's unbelievable that this character actually passed several levels of network approval.
– Hey! Someone, the diner boss, finally noticed that Angie was missing!
– Did you know that the actress who plays Norrie, Mackenzie Lintz, is related to Madison Lintz, Sophia of The Walking Dead? Now you know!