Mike Vogel, Aisha Hinds, Mackenzie Lintz/CBS

The good thing about the first season finale turning out to be the worst case scenario is that tonight’s second season closer could only look good in comparison. That’s not to say ”Go Now” is a satisfying wrap-up by any stretch of the imagination, but given the uninspired run of episodes since Barbie’s return from Zenith, it’s probably the best we could have expected. Under The Dome has become the show that redefines “faint praise,” so it’s almost a compliment to the finale to say that I was prepared for much worse.

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One big mark against it, however, is that the creators still couldn’t quite bring themselves to kill off Big Jim. He may have a gunshot wound to the chest, he may be trapped alone in Chester’s Mill, but there’s no reason to believe he’s gone for good unless we hear that Dean Norris has signed on to another show. (Or unless Under The Dome isn’t renewed for a third season, but we’ll get to that later.) That’s a shame because, for a while there, it felt like the show had finally caught up to those of us who decided Big Jim had outlived his usefulness about 10 episodes ago. Assuming the series continues, where does he go from here?

Big Jim’s demise would have been particularly satisfying given his stretch of activities in the last fifteen minutes of the episode. Up to that point, he’d been the most human we’d seen him in the series to date, rushing Pauline to the high school for treatment for her knife wound, racing off to find potentially life-saving supplies, and then returning to comfort her through her final few moments. It’s safe to say Dean Norris hasn’t been as well-served by this material as he was by Vince Gilligan and company on Breaking Bad, but he really did sell the emotion of Pauline’s death scene. After weeks of cartoon villainy, it was a timely reminder that the guy has a range beyond sneering sarcasm.

After that moment, however, all bets were off. Rebecca, who had finally given in to the wishes of the dome and injected Pauline with a lethal dose of morphine, is still holding the syringe in her hand. It doesn’t take Big Jim long to put two and two together and, shortly thereafter, put a hammer through Rebecca’s head. RIP, Science Lady: You were kind of annoying, but you grew on me, so I should have known your days were numbered. Next, Jim makes a deal with the dome: Bring Pauline back to life and I won’t kill every other member of the regular cast. The dome isn’t having it, so Big Jim burns down Pauline’s studio with her and all her terrible art in it. (Awful as they are, you have to imagine those paintings would have been worth something on eBay if they’d ever gotten out of the dome.)

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There’s a hint of The Shining in Big Jim’s remaining scenes. He lures Julia to the home of Andrea the Food Hoarder, who he unceremoniously shoots in the head before trying to hammer Julia’s brains in. Julia drives a knife into his foot and escapes (running pretty well through the woods on her one good leg, but I’m sure that’s what the dome wants). Junior takes it upon himself to finish Big Jim once and for all, but his aim isn’t so great and by the end of the episode, Jim is still standing. Dammit, Under The Dome, you blew it again.

Aside from that, things in Chester’s Mill are as frantic and nonsensical as usual. Norrie suddenly remembers that she not only has a living mother but a dead one, and gets sad about that for a minute. She tells Joe that she ended up in Chester’s Mill because she was being sent to camp for punching a girl who made fun of her hair, which sounds like a revelation the writers forgot about a season and a half ago. Aisha Hinds does make her belated return to the show, but she’s barely more than an extra.

It turns out that the “giant killer suckhole” leads to another underground cavern, and an evacuation plan is put into effect. Pauline has told Julia that, in Star Wars terms, there is another; she’s got a co-monarch she assumes is Barbie. The entire population of Chester‘s Mill (which is what, 50 or 60 now?) piles into the cavern in hopes of escape, but Julia is left behind when the dome’s contractions create a crack she cannot cross. (Didn’t anyone think to bring some of those big fallen tree branches down to use as bridges?) She’s okay with it, though, because (all together now) it’s what the dome wants. The dome-as-God parallel has never been hammered harder than it is in this episode, with true believer Big Jim turning apostate and Julia sounding absolutely nuts when she says “the dome’s gotten us this far.” Have atheist groups embraced this show at all? I’m sure they could have a field day with it.

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The ending doesn’t bring much more resolution that the first season finale did. A butterfly leads Barbie to place his hand at a certain spot on the dead-end cavern wall, which disintegrates, revealing Melanie. “Follow me. We’re going home,” she says. (But…isn’t Chester’s Mill home?) If the show does get cancelled, I suppose we can just pretend everyone still alive got out safely (assuming Julia and Junior figure a way across the crack). Chances are the show will go on, however, based on CBS’s lucrative deals with Amazon and foreign distributors. What the dome wants, the dome gets.

Stray observations:

  • The character of Tom must have been a running joke by the writers. He was introduced as if he’d been there all along and we all knew who he was, and proceeded to experience nothing but bad luck in his few brief appearances. Tonight he was trapped under farm machinery that was struck by lightning and no one seemed to care all that much, including his son.
  • They saved the worst Pauline painting for last. Her blood-puking self-portrait nearly made me spit up my drink.
  • “The time between contractions is getting shorter!” So the dome was pregnant?
  • Maybe we’ll meet here again next summer. It’s all up to the dome.

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