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I should say up front that, while I've read Stephen King's Under the Dome, my interest in covering CBS' new series is less about nitpicking the changes in the adaptation as it is in looking at this series for what it is, an exciting new TV drama with a dome full of potential for great character story. With that in mind, the changes are worth noting, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers for non-book-readers, we'll save those for later. For everyone else, consider this breakdown a book-spoiler-free look at the series premiere, for those who have actually seen the series premiere. If you're looking for a review that doesn't get into plot specifics, stop reading now and check out the review here. For those who have seen the first episode, read on…
The series wasted no time dropping the dome down on Chester's Mill, encapsulating its residents and whatever resources they have to survive, while the government, scientists and anyone else with a theory tries to figure out what's going on. But this series is about more than just a big bubble over a small town. Britt Robertson's character Angie McAlister probably summed it up best with her barely-veiled analogy about a fish bowl. If the town is the bowl and the people are the fish, which characters are the sick fish about to get eaten and which characters are doing the eating? Oh, I'm not talking about cannibalism in the literal sense - though, for all we know, it could eventually come to that - but with so many characters introduced in the series premiere, it seems evident that the real story is in the residents and visitors of this little town attempting to survive under their new circumstances. And since some characters appear to be a bit less mentally stable than others, there's definite potential for chaos and catastrophe.
Before we get to the character introductions, let's talk about that dome! The thing slammed down on Chester's Mill with no regard for anyone or anything in its path. RIP severed cow, sliced neatly down the center, giving us a look at the squishy, bloody insides of a harmless animal, whose only crime was standing in the exact wrong spot on Dome-Day. The dome also took the hand of one Chester's Mill resident, and the lives of whichever unfortunate souls were up in that plane when it slammed into the dome and fell to the ground in fiery pieces. The cow and the plane explosion were two of numerous displays of dome-related special effects. The truck that slammed into the invisible barrier was another. Add in a few dead birds and firefighter's broken nose, and the premiere episode made good use of its dome, and even threw in one fire-truck-fake-out for good measure, just to keep things a little unpredictable.
Moving on to the character introductions, we have Dale "Barbie" Barbara, an Army vet passing through town, who's introduced to us while burying a dead body. There's a story there, and one that's further delved into a little later. Then we have Big Jim Rennie, a seemingly friendly guy with political ties to the town, and the kind of cash flow that allows him to drop hundred-dollar tips on diner waitresses. That's his kind of charm, and Big Jim is that kind of guy. If ever there were a big fish in this small pond, Rennie appears to be it. Rennie gives off the impression of being a decent fellow, but we also know he knows something about the extra propane that's been shipped into town.
Julia Shumway also knows about the Propane. The local reporter of the newspaper no one's reading got a tip that someone's been hauling a whole lot of propane into town. That little nugget of information was shared with Julia before the dome dropped, but it's bound to cause some suspicion now that Propane's likely going to be in high demand, what with people's reliance on generators. In other news, Julia has a husband named Peter, whom she thinks is cheating on her. And maybe he was. We don't really know. What we do know is that he wasn't at work on Sundays when he said he was, and - thanks to Barbie - his body is now buried in the woods in Chester's Mill. That was one big reveal in the episode. Barbie had something to do with Peter's death, though we don't know what it is. But he now knows that he's staying at the home of the wife of the man he buried earlier that day. There's a major to-be-continued story there.
Duke Perkins is the local town sheriff, and all signs point toward him being a genuinely decent man, though he too knew something about the propane tanks, which was revealed in a conversation he had with Big Jim. But judging by that conversation, it seems like Duke's involvement in that may have been less direct, and he seemed to be harboring some guilt over it. Duke was about to tell Linda something about that situation when he touched the dome and his pacemaker exploded. We're left to wonder if he will survive, but given the way his chest seemed to burst, and Chester's Mills limited resources, I'm thinking the odds are slim there. If he does survive, at the very least, he'll be out of commission, which leaves Chester's Mill without its lead law enforcer, which is a bad sign.
Though, there is still Linda, the Sheriff's deputy and fiancé to firefighter Rusty, who's on the other side of the dome. The two can do little more than press their hands against the glass like two people trying to exchange contact in a prison visitors room ("No touching!"). The dome seems to block out all sound, which might make communication tricky, assuming they can't get things up and running again sometime soon.
Junior Rennie - Big Jim's son - and Angie McAlister were introduced to us naked and in bed together, in the throws of what seems likely to be their last sexual encounter… unless things take an even darker turn with Junior Rennie, whose sweet affection for Angie quickly turned ugly when he got rough with her. This came after Angie indicated that she was ready to move on. Junior's in love with her and Angie's in love with the idea of getting out of Chester's Mill, a feat that would soon become a lot harder than it was previously.
By the way he was tinkering with that switchblade, it was looking like Junior was contemplating suicide when he heard about the dome over the radio and changed his plan.He opted to kidnap Angie and stick her in his family's bunker. Junior also had a run-in with Barbie, whom he saw chatting Angie up earlier. It's unclear whether Junior or Barbie ever knew each other, though Junior seemed certain Barbie looked familiar, so maybe there's some history there. Or maybe Junior's just jealous that Barbie had Angie's attention.
Next up, we have Phil Bushey and Dodee, the two people working at the local radio station. Dodee seems like she could prove useful in a pinch, as she demonstrated her knowledge of generators and working with the other equipment. Another character who seems pretty capable is young Joe, a kid who came upon Barbie not long after the dome fell, and who was later seen talking to another kid about trying to find the source of the dome, believing it might be somewhere in Chester's Mill.
Finally, we have Carolyn and Alice, a same-sex couple driving through town with their daughter Norrie. Talk about the wrong place at the wrong time. They're now trapped in Chester's Mill with everyone else. And Alice has some kind of medical condition, which could teeter into cliche territory. Because it wouldn't be a trapped-somewhere scenario if there wasn't someone in need of insulin or an asthma inhaler, right? Ok, I may be jumping the gun on this, as that crisis hasn't actually been introduced into the story. I'm basing this prediction solely on the mention that Alice takes insulin. It seemed like a pretty relevant bit of information to drop in a casual but affectionate conversation between the two partners. It was actually Norrie who had the medical issue during the premiere, as she fell to the ground and had a seizure when she and her mothers were by the dome. She started rambling about pink stars falling in lines, which was the same thing Joe said when he had his seizure. So there's a link there, and one that seems likely to be explored further in the future.
Did I get everyone? With all of those character introductions, it's a wonder there was any time for plot developments, and yet the pilot managed to drop a few big ones in under the dome. You could almost forget the dome was there, when wondering why Barbie was burying a guy - later revealed to be Julia's husband - in the woods, what the deal is with the propane, what's going to happen to Angie in that bunker, and why teens are having seizures? Of course, the dome appears to be a catalyst to at least some of those things, and it will affect all of them, as no one can leave Chester's Mill now, nor can anyone get in. The dome contains these issues, limiting options, but not potential. And we're left to wait for the next installment, to see what's next for the residents fo Chester's Mill.
Book discussion after the jump!
By the Book
I really don't want to wallow in all of the changes they're making as they adapt King's story from book to screen because, for one thing, some changes will need to be made to adapt this from a one-novel story into a TV series, which could go on for more than a season. And for another, frankly - and I say this as a Stephen King fan - the book wasn't perfect, and there are ways I think the show could improve the story and the characters. If it were The Stand, I'd say go with as close an adaptation of the novel as possible. The same for It and some of King's other books, but Under the Dome is a concept brimming with potential, and the series may do better to expand and explore King's story in its own way than to try to stick faithfully to his story.
The above said, I can't help but note some pretty big deviations from the story, and I don't consider pointing them out as a criticism, so much as they are interesting points of discussion, as they might pertain to the direction of the series.
Here's the part where I talk in more specifics, and as some of what I mention might actually come to pass in the series in some way or another, consider yourself book-SPOILER-warned before you read on...
First, we have Dale's reason for leaving town. In the book, he was on his way out after a confrontation with Junior Rennie, which indicated that he'd only find more trouble in Chester's Mill if he stuck around. Junior's mention that Barbie looked familiar in tonight's episode makes me think they might have some history, but if it was as direct as it was in the book, I think Barbie would remember it. Even if Barbie was pretending to forget in an effort to brush Junior off, the fight he and Junior had (in the book), which led to their issues seemed like too big a deal to be glossed over. Then again, maybe TV-Junior was drunk when it happened. Or maybe their history in the TV series is different.
The dead body is also a pretty notable addition to the story, which links to another change - Julia has a husband. Also, Julia's a bit younger in the series than she is in the book. This mystery is one of the more exciting elements of the TV series for book readers, I'd say, as we have no idea how this mystery will play out.
Then there's Linda and Rusty. Not only are they married with kids in the book, but they're both inside the dome in King's version, and Rusty's a physician's assistance, who plays a pretty big role in the book. The series putting Rusty on the outside of the dome makes me wonder how much we'll see of the character in the TV series, and how the separation will affect Linda's story.
Also absent are the Town selectman. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but it seemed like Big Jim implied that he's all that's left of the government, which means he may be running things a bit more directly in the series than he did in the book.
Same-sex couple Carolyn and Alice are new. There were outsiders trapped in Chester's Mill in the book, but there wasn't a same-sex couple with a teen daughter. And in the book, Norrie Calvert is a friend of Joe's, so we may actually see these two teens making a connection at some point. In the meantime, they're loosely linked by their matching seizures.
The fact that people can't speak through the dome creates a communication block, which could lead to some interesting developments.
Finally, there's Junior's arc with Angie. If this were the book, Angie's fate would've been a lot worse. And I don't even want to go into specifics there, because the book really does tread into some dark stuff with Junior, and if the series does decide to explore that, I don't want to be the one who ruined if for anyone. If you read the book, you know what I'm referring to. Whether or not the series' Junior is as disturbed as the book's remains to be seen.
What did you think of Under the Dome?