An Under the Dome Community
CBS (ended 2015)

Under the Dome S01E04: "Outbreak"

Dearest Ethel,

It's been 20 days since something crashed into the dome. Since then, we've endured a house fire, a manhunt for a renegade cop, and a waitress locked in an underground shelter. I fear it will be many more weeks of dome-related destruction, and all we'll be left with for excitement is whatever plan the stoned reverend decides to botch due to the lobotomy he received from a Chinatown doctor. I feel trapped and unable to escape from this horror, yet I also feel strangely drawn to it. There is unrest among us, and we may soon become our own worst enemy. Pray for me. I hope to return to your loving arms and sanity soon.

Yours in love and faith,

There is a group of people, a community if you will, looking for an escape from a horrific imprisonment. The passage above is the last known journal entry written by a member of that community—Mr. Peter J. Periwinkle, Under the Dome viewer—before he stopped watching the CBS summer drama. It's likely that many of his peers will follow him after tonight's episode, "Outbreak," which cemented Under the Dome's failing of the 4-Episode Test (copyright, trademark, fine print legal jargon).

I came into "Outbreak" with a false sense of confidence because CBS sent out Episode 4 and Episode 5 in advance of tonight's airing, and mid-season screeners are typically a sign that a network feels so good about the episode(s) that they're counting on us to become part of the hype machine of marketing. Maybe next week's fifth episode is really good, I don't know yet. But as of "Outbreak," we're back to the scare-of-the-week while Mr. Dome laughs at its prisoners.

But the episode didn't start out that way! In fact, things looked GREAT when a mob of people were gathered near the dome, writing on it with spraypaint and generally acting uppity about their situation. That's how we all expected people to act under the circumstances, right? Officer Linda drew her weapon and threatened to pop some caps in some people's head-domes, yet the mob still pushed forward. But then Jim rolled up and said, "Hey quit it, you guys!" and everyone backed off in unison. ARGH so frustrating. These citizens of Chester's Mill are a mercurial bunch, ready to flip burning cars one moment and then hold hands the next. Capturing the social climate of a small town is never easy in television, but Under the Dome has managed to nail it. This is not a normal town. These Chester's Millsians are a collection of insane weirdos. They're like the Bipolar Borg.

But at least Under the Dome finally attempted to illustrate some of the panic that the show has been missing. It's just too bad that once it did, "Outbreak" reverted to Under the Dome's pattern of saying, "F the dome, let's create a new problem!" This week, an outbreak of flesh-eating bacteria ebola meningitis! I'll grant you that a deadly viral/bacterial outbreak under the dome is scarier than, say, a house fire, but the way the threat was squelched was even less interesting than the bucket brigade from two weeks ago. Basically, Big Jim and Barbie went to go get medicine, they eventually found medicine (Reverend Junkie had taken it all), and then they brought it back to the hospital, where those afflicted with meningitis took antibiotics and got better.

When all these dome survivors eventually recall their trials and tribulations under the dome for their future book deals, the meningitis scare will fall somewhere between "that one time someone stubbed their toe" and "the day the diner ran out of iced tea." There's nothing wrong with having episodes be more self-contained, with their central problem introduced and solved within the same hour, but can the characters at least face a little more of a challenge in finding a solution? In previous episodes, Big Jim put out a scary fire by running over it with a tractor, and the deadly manhunt for Officer Paul came to an end when Linda stumbled out of the woods, saw Paul holding Jim and Barbie at gunpoint, and then shot him. What happens next week? Does Junior lock his keys in the car, forcing Barbie to spend the whole episode unlocking the door with a coat hanger while the entire town watches in fear? Believably high stakes require more than just a sense of danger, they need a sense of accomplishment once a problem is resolved. Give the characters an obstacle! In "Outbreak," Big Jim and Barbie went to a store and then to a friend's house, where they shoved an old man to the ground and stole back their medicine. My brave heroes!

So no, the big meningitis scare didn't exactly make "Outbreak" thrilling to watch. The most important takeaways from the episode were in the little details. I guess the most interesting thing was the synchronized seizures experienced by teen squeezes Norrie and Joe? They recorded their shaking session on Joe's eternally charged cell phone (he has a generator), watched Joe sit up midway through the seizure and "Shhhh!" at the camera, and then arrived at the very scientific conclusion that the dome had possessed Joe and instructed him not to tell anyone about the seizures. You know who else told Joe not to talk about his seizures? His idiotic friend Ben. Therefore, we can surmise that Ben is the dome. Hey, it's as reasonable as what the show actually insinuated (dome possession)! Like I've said before, I haven't read the book and I don't know what this dome is, but seeing Joe sit up in the middle of a brain fritz and hush his smartphone pushes this whole mystery in a direction that I'm not sure I want. And the Wonder Teens' decision to not tell the only doctor in town that they'd had more seizures *Joe winks at the dome* was the kind of behavior we only expect from teens on a television show. 

Junior got to play hero this week when his dad tasked him with keeping the hospital quarantined. Basically Big Jim gave him a shotgun and told him to stand by the door. Nobody bothered to explain the situation to the people who were gathered in the waiting room; Junior just said, "The clinic is now closed, no one leaves... understand?" and waved his gun around the air like he was Yosemite Sam. Maybe you wouldn't need to brandish a shotgun if you told people what was going on, ever think of that Junior? And don't most hospitals have more than one door? I'm pretty sure fire codes dictate that buildings must have multiple exits. And ALL THREE of the doctors who worked in the hospital were gone or incapacitated (one was on vacation, one had smashed his car into the dome, and one was "MIA"), but plenty of nurses, medical assistants, and lab techs were still there. Does Under the Dome think we're not paying attention to anything?

To top it all off, Junior got the angry masses in order by telling a story about eating cornbread as a child, and relating that to being part of the town and blah-bitty-blah everyone backed down. Again, the townspeople of Chester's Mill become docile in a situation in which they should've been toting torches and pitchforks. Junior cocked a shotgun in their faces, but as soon as he said "cornbread" everyone was like, "Oh okay. Right, cornbread." And if that wasn't enough, Junior ended up earning a deputy's badge from Linda because of his heroism and coolness under pressure. Methinks Linda would give a badge to someone she'd just arrested if they complimented her on her earrings. People shouldn't worry about the dome giving people meningitis or turning them into psychos, they should worry about it making everyone act super stupid, because that's what's happening.  

But once again, the real joy of Under the Dome came from seeing Angie stuck in an underground shelter. Remember those scissors she hid last week? Well, she took a stab at Junior after some pretend seduction, but messed that up before the opening credits even rolled. So that was totally worth it. And then it was almost Benny Hill theme song time when she broke a pipe that jetted water into her face, slowly filling her tomb. After that, it was just watching her try to scream out a vent and get really upset at her chains. I know that Angie met a different fate in the book (I was spoiled), but surely that was better than what she's been through so far on this show. However, the nightmare looked as if it was coming to an end when Big Jim found her in the hole (she wasn't even grateful!), but I'm hoping he just turns around and leaves without saying a word because I've become grimly attached to seeing her trapped. Can we leave her down there for one more episode? At least give her the chance to get really bad diarrhea or slip on a banana peel a few times.

We're four episodes in and Under the Dome has taken a promising adaptation and turned it into mush. The show's writing is terrible and its characters don't have anything to do except walk around and bounce off each other like pinballs. The only winner in this whole thing is that cow that got halved. Lucky cow.


– Where was Joe's pal Ben? Did he knock himself out while performing a reverse McTwisty fakie goofy-foot style at the skate park? Is he "hitting that" with some bored teen girl? Did he try to lick the dome? I miss Ben and his wisdom ("If humans are 70-percent water, can we pass through the dome?") already. I don't want to watch another episode of this show if Ben isn't in it.

– Congratulations to the reverend for burning pills without burning his house down. He's really showing vast improvement in his mental capacity. But I question the God he believes in. He can be involved in a drug operation and steal propane and get high off of whatever it is he finds under the sink and that's all good in his Lord's eyes? But then he can also let innocent people die from meningitis? This religion sounds pretty shitty.

– Did you all like how Barbie carried Julia out of the cabin in slow motion and to the tune of sentimental acoustic-guitar jamz? 

– Did you all like how all the main characters ended up at the hospital at the same time? Do you think they carpooled?

– Could Julia have contaminated the rest of the town when she left the hospital? What a selfish little lady.

– Linda's third-grade teacher never stood a chance of surviving. Fifty bucks says it's never mentioned again and it was just a poor attempt to bring some emotion into this empty threat. 

– Another fIfty bucks says Alice is gonna wish her wife stole that insulin! And really, if you're the only doctor in town and you just saved it from an outbreak of meningitis, aren't you entitled to a few shots of diabetes medicine?

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 9/10/2015

Season 3 : Episode 13

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