With Big Jim in jail, Julia becomes the town's new random-in-charge.

By Chancellor Agard
July 29, 2014 at 02:52 PM EDT
Brownie Harris/CBS
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“I can tell life from TV; TV makes sense. It has logic, structure, rules, and likable leading men. In life we have this.” — Abed from Community

The primary purpose of order in societies is security. People join communities and create rules, norms, and power structures that govern social interactions and prescribe acceptable behavior because they are seeking to provide their day-to-day experiences with some kind of structure and security. The rules and norms created by a community provide a framework through which people can understand their encounters with other people. If someone should transgress, it’s nice knowing that there are rules in place that will ensure that said person will be punished for breaking the rules of society. Watching Under the Dome this season, it seems as though the show is concerned with how the people of Chester’s Mill attempt to find and maintain order. Living under the dome, our characters are constantly seeking to create some kind of order that would make the situation more livable and less hostile. Religious fanatic Lyle looks to religion to provide order, Rebecca thinks order will come from cold and misguided application of the scientific method (mass murder), and Big Jim thinks order will come from putting himself in power/the Dome. Yet, at every turn the characters’ attempts are undermined by some incident that causes a dramatic shift in who’s in charge, who’s sheriff etc…

This lack of order is also evident in the overall show. Television is a highly ordered environment. There are rules put in place, which limit what characters can and cannot do, and what story line options are available to writers. What’s evident from this season of Under the Dome is that this show lacks order. There is relatively little stability in the storytelling because the writers have done a poor job of establishing the rules of this show. (Or maybe the one rule is that there are no rules?) Whenever some semblance of order has been found on the show, however, it is quickly destroyed. Alliances, character relationships, and the balance of power are all constantly in flux and seem to change faster than the speed of light. In reference to the Community quote, Under the Dome is an the example of the “this” to which Abed refers—disorder.

Tonight’s episode made it abundantly clear just how little structure and stability there is in Under the Dome as we said goodbye to yet another sheriff (goodbye Phil, no one will miss you because you were even more incompetent than the FBI agents on The Following) and saw the townspeople forget what happened just a day earlier.

It was Julia’s boring story line this week that really made the order v. disorder debate relevant. Following Big Jim and Rebecca’s arrest last week, Julia has assumed the role of town leader. Naturally, she encounters some opposition from townspeople who preferred Big Jim and don’t believe he tried to kill half of them. Her first order of business as town leader is ensuring that there’s enough food for everyone. She proposes the creation of a voluntary food share program. Seeking resource security, the people decide to enroll in the food share program because they would be safer working with the rest of the town than on their own. When people enter society seeking community, they willingly give up some rights in exchange for the protection that comes with a set of rules and norms. This may be over-reading into this show—but, hey the show doesn’t give us very much to work with—but this process is mirrored in the people willingly donating food (comparable to giving up some rights) in order to ensure the safety of the community and thus themselves.

The community that is Chester’s Mill, however, is failing to provide it’s inhabitants with the security they so dearly desire. For one, making Julia the new town leader is probably the worst decision ever. Second, it’s clear that none of the town’s leaders have done a good job of establishing a code of conduct for the town as some of the townspeople still think that rioting and brandishing guns are acceptable responses to decisions they don’t agree with.

NEXT: Julia, you are no Jack Shephard

This crisis-of-the-week emerges when someone sets off a bomb in the building that appeared to be holding the food from the food share program. The culprit behind the bomb was none other than the less than capable Sheriff Phil. See, Phil was not feeling the whole “Julia is the leader thing” because he is one of the many people who had sipped the “Big Jim is our savior” Kool-Aid, and in attempt to shore up support for Big Jim and to get him out of jail, he decides to ruin Julia’s food share program to make the townspeople lose faith in her. His plan would’ve succeeded too if it weren’t for those meddling kids Carolyn (Norrie’s mother if you forgot) and Barbie. Carolyn discovers Phil’s plot and stupidly let’s Phil know she knows what he did and is thus taken prisoner. Luckily, Barbie shows up in time, shoots Phil and saves Carolyn.

In the end, not only does Julia save the food that was donated to the food bank, but also receives more food from some lady named Andrea whose husband was a survivalist and hoarded a ton of food. Having secured her power for the time being, Julia tries (and fails) to give a rousing “live together die alone”-esque type of speech in which she basically tells the townspeople that the only way for them to survive is for them to get over Big Jim and Rebecca trying to kill half of them. And because the inhabitants of Chester’s Mill are a fickle bunch, they oblige and are quickly over the whole mass murder plot.

After firing Phil, Julia asks Barbie to be sheriff. He refuses and points out how just the day before she didn’t trust him (are the writers poking fun at their own inconsistencies?) and that, “This town just has a funny way of turning on people.” That’s a nice euphemism for murder. The number of times people have changed their opinions of Barbie alone is further proof of the show’s lack of order. Because there aren’t any set rules in place for the story, there aren’t any consequences for actions. Julia tries to establish some ground rules by insisting on a trial for Big Jim and Rebecca, but that goes out the window once her and the rest of the townspeople’s bellies are full.

NEXT: More relationship problems and stupid decisions

While all of this food drama is going on, Junior and Sam, and Norrie, Melanie, and Joe are off on their own separate story lines.

We find out that prior that to her “death,” Pauline, Sam’s sister and Junior’s mother, was talking about how the only way to bring down the Dome was to get rid of one of the four hands. Sam, who’s apparently determined to take down the Dome—again, it’s hard to get a handle on the characters’ motivations on this show—killed Angie because of what Pauline said before her “death.” Junior being Junior (i.e. stupid) has yet to realize that Sam, not crazy-pants McGee Lyle, is the one who killed Angie and decides to tell Sam everything he knows. He reveals to Sam the identity of the other three hands, and almost gets himself killed when Sam gets him drunk and tries to kill him, but decides not to when Junior drunkenly tells him that he loves him.

Elsewhere, the Melanie-Joe-Norrie love triangle is still an annoying thing. Joe decides that it’s time Melanie tries to talk to the Dome. When Melanie places her hand on the dome, however, the dome doesn’t do anything and this upsets an already confused Melanie. Norrie, however, shows Melanie very little compassion because she views her as a competitor for Joe’s affections. After Norrie insults Melanie, Melanie runs off into the woods crying and Joe follows her after calling Norrie a bitch. As he’s comforting her, Joe and Melanie kiss, Norrie is there to see it all. Ahh, teen love.

Later on at the diner, Joe takes Norrie aside and tries to apologize by saying he loves her. Thankfully, Norrie is not that easy to win over and rejects his “I love you.”

What’s clear by the end of tonight’s episode is that Community‘s Abed would not be a fan of this show. There is nothing stable for the characters or the audience to hold on to as things change at the drop of a pin. Every episode this seasons has felt as if the writers are just throwing different things at a wall to see what sticks. Unfortunately, everything they’ve attempted just isn’t working.

Dome Thoughts: 

Why does the show still insist on doing things that make us compare it to Lost? Ending tonight’s episode with a shot of Rebecca, Junior, and Sam peering down into tunnel found in the mysterious high school locker immediately references the hatch on Lost. And Dome, you are no Lost.

–Does Under the Dome have any likable leading men? Or any likable characters at all?

Episode Recaps

Chester’s Mill residents suddenly find themselves cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious, impenetrable barrier, which surrounds the town in this Stephen King adaptation.
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  • 06/24/13
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