I don't usually write about television, but sometimes you just need to get things off your chest. Case in point, the travesty known as Under the Dome. My wife and I finished watching the last few episodes last night, and we're pretty much agreed that a once promising show not only went off the rails, but ended with one of the lamest cliffhangers imaginable.
While there were a lot of things wrong with the show, I think their biggest mistake was in trying to make the show about the dome. It became one of those mystery-driven shows, à la Lost, where the writers tried harder and harder each week to make the dome - what is it, where did it come from, why is it there - the center of attention. The Scooby gang, the mini dome, the egg, the mysterious apparitions . . . all invented by the writers to try and make the dome something more than it really is.
What's more, they tried to make the dome bigger, badder, and scarier than in the book, but they just made it more ridiculous in the process. In the book, it was clear that the dome was at least somewhat permeable. Air and water could pass through it, as could radio and television signals. All of that was important, because it resolved the very real concerns about running out of things like oxygen and water - common sense fears that the series barely touched on. Sound was transmitted through it as well, making conversation with the outside world possible . . . and the soldiers' deliberate refusal to communicate all the more chilling.
book was never about the dome. The dome was nothing more than a plot device to isolate a town, cut them off from the outside world, and then watch what happens. His was a story about the people inside the dome, about how their lives were impacted, and about how the niceties of polite civilization fall apart under stress. It was a fairly typical Stephen King story of small town politics, human failings, and ordinary people standing up for what is right.
It was a big book with a large cast of supporting characters, but it was really only a small cast of core characters that mattered - and those characters were strong, consistent, and well-developed. The TV series not only made the mistake of arbitrarily adding new characters, but it couldn't seem to make up its mind about who they were. Some of it was clearly stunt casting, as was the case with Norrie and her lesbian parents, and some of it clearly desperation to keep the story going, as was the case with Maxine.
Don't get me wrong, I actually liked Carolyn and Alice. I liked the 'outsider' element they brought to the community, and I thought their relationship was one of the strongest, most positive, and best acted of the series. Making them lesbians, though, was like hitting the viewer over the head with the message that they really were outsiders. As for Maxine, her introduction was absolutely, positively, and unequivocally the moment where the show jumped the shark. Having her just wander onto the screen after weeks of being inside the dome was laughable, especially given how prominent her role in the town was revealed to be, but it was the artificial way in which forced a link between Big Jim and Barbie that really had my eyes rolling.
As for Barbie and Big Jim, far too much effort was wasted on trying to blur their lines and force viewers to question their motivations. Barbie was tarnished from the start by the murder of Peter Shumway, and the resulting romance with Julia was just gross and uncomfortable. The more of his back story we learned, the more questionable he became as a hero, which really distanced him from the book. As for his butt-kicking heroics in the last two episodes, taking out one armed assailant after another, while handcuffed, using nothing more than his legs and his head . . . well, even Chuck Norris must have been shaking his head at that nonsense.
That brings us to Big Jim. I actually liked the way he was originally portrayed, making the viewers really question his villainy, but then it seemed like the writers simply gave up and descended straight into cartoon villainy. Just when we were really beginning to wonder whether the writers were doing something clever, and leading up to a role reversal between Big Jim and Barbie, he whips out the proverbial black hat, starts twirling the metaphorical mustache, and begins snarling like the ghost of Cujo. He became absolutely comic in his over-the-top villainy, and the love-hate-love-hate-make-up-your-damn-mind-already relationship with his son (the most poorly acted role in the entire series) was just atrocious.
When it was originally announced, Under the Dome was supposed to be a single season, limited run series. Had they stuck to the plan, I suspect it might have been a better show. Instead, they were given a second season late in the game, forcing them to find ways to extend the show and delay a conclusion. Again, had they stuck with the spirit and themes of the book, making the show about the people and not the dome, a second season may not have been a bad thing. Instead, they offered us a lame cliffhanger that was entirely about the dome, a fact driven home (with all the subtlety we've come to expect) by the fact that Julia chose the dome over Barbie.
Personally, I thought the ending was the weakest part of King's book, but at least it was simple, and it kept the characters at the forefront. If you're only exposure to Chester's Mill has been through the television series, then do yourself a favor and read the original source material. Be warned, however, that you'll likely join my wife and I in having zero interest in a second season.