Last week marked the start of Under The Dome (10pm Monday, Channel 5), an adaptation of Stephen King’s 2009 science fiction novel about a giant transparent dome that cuts a small American town off from the rest of the world. With the two big Steves as Executive Producers (Spielberg and King) and developed by Lost writer Brian K. Vaughan, Under The Dome has already been renewed for a second season by CBS following a successful first season in the US. But in a world where Stephen King adaptations are a largely hit or miss affair (just look at the disaster that was Dreamcatcher…), what did the Pilot have in store for UK viewers? The answer is, a lot. And nothing at all.
It all starts in the small town of Chester’s Mill, where people are seemingly going about their normal everyday lives. A girl argues with a boy about him leaving college for her, a seemingly nice politician chats up a waitress, a convoy of fire engines drive out of town to attend a parade as several truckloads of propane are suspiciously driven in, and a man with a nasty cut on his head buries a body in the woods. Oh yes, it’s all very normal in Chester’s Mill. As Dale ‘Barbie’ Barbara (Mike Vogel) is fleeing town following his dead body encounter, he swerves into a fence to miss a cow standing in the road and ends up with a flat tyre in a field. But that’s the least of his problems. What at first looks like it might be the beginnings of an earthquake, quickly descends into something much more sinister. An invisible and impenetrable barrier comes down around the boarders of the town, trapping the inhabitants inside and the rest of the world out. The initial consequences are disastrous and grizzly to behold. A cow is sliced in half, literally, a police chief’s pace-maker fails, cars travelling full-speed are obliterated when they hit the barrier and all electricity and communication methods are wiped out. Local newspaper reporter Julia (Twilight’s Rachelle Lefevre), whose husband is one of those still unaccounted for, sets out to investigate the invisible barrier with Barbie in tow, as the rest of the town try not to panic amidst the sudden chaos. Meanwhile, children start having strange reactions to the dome in the form of seizures, where they foam at the mouth and repeat the same line over and over again, ‘The pink stars are falling in lines’.
The pilot is an intense start to the series, with plenty of ‘what the…’ moments as it to jumps from character to character, introducing us to the main game players. Surprisingly, it’s the characters that are the most intriguing element so far, not the dome. Each person seems to be running to or from something and trying to reveal or bury secrets that may or may not be linked to the appearance of the dome. Whilst, true to Lost form, the story gives nothing away regarding the dome itself, the characters aid our own predictions as they take guesses at what the invisible force field could be and why it’s settled on Chester’s Mill. Is it extra terrestrial? Government? Is it, as police chief Duke ponders, punishment for past indiscretions? Whilst we’re more inclined at this stage to believe that it’s something to do with the Government, mainly because of the mysterious propane deliveries, army veteran Barbie tries to throw us off with a witty one liner when asked by teenager Joe if he thinks the Government built it. “Nuh uh, no way”, he says. “How do you know?”, Joe responds. “Because it works.” BAM! Take that American Government. We should savour that comedy though, because it about the only bit of humour to be seen in the whole episode.
Whilst Barbie seems like the villain at the moment, he did kill a man after all, you don’t feel as if he’s a massive threat – perhaps just misunderstood? Only time will tell. The real threats lie with Big Jim (Breaking Bad’s Hank) and his psychotic son Junior (Alexander Koch), both of whom look increasingly like bad news and steal the show in the process. Our hearts go out to poor Angie, who’s currently tied up in Big Jim’s derelict bunker (by crazy, knife-wielding Junior), and whose comment about the fish-bowl effect acts as our best line of the episode. “Stuck in a giant fish bowl. I used to have a fish, a goldfish. But then one of them got sick and the other one…the other one ate him. Did you know that goldfish did that?” What may seem like a throw away remark at first, might just end up as life imitating goldfish by the series’ end… this is a Stephen King adaptation after all. And, if we’re to go by Brian K. Vaughan’s previous offerings, the unanswered questions posed in the pilot are inevitably going to pile up like the already growing body-count… let’s just hope that, unlike Lost, the questions eventually get answered.