CBS

The third(!) season premiere of Under The Dome begins by doubling down on the confusion that has become its stock in trade. Following a comically unhelpful recap of the story so far, we find ourselves in the tunnels under Chester’s Mill, where most of the residents have gathered to follow Melanie “home.” In this case, home appears to be a fluffy cloud, but when Barbie steps onto it, he finds himself covered in goo. Now everyone is outside the dome, which crackles with purple-pink energy and collapses. Barbie goes back into Chester’s Mill and finds Big Jim impaled on a stick and Julia and Junior likewise dead. Then suddenly he’s in Yemen running a black ops hostage rescue. This all happens in the first five minutes, despite the showrunners’ pre-season assurances that this episode would be a good place for first-time viewers to drop in. It’s nice to know they still have a sense of humor.

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The first new episode, “Move On,” does settle down a bit after that initial eightball of dangerously pure and uncut Dome. Barbie’s Yemen adventure at first appears to be a flashback, but then it turns out Hunter the Hacker is working with him, so it must be a flash-forward. Except that’s not quite right, either: Barbie and much of the rest of the cast have found themselves in the Matrix. Their real bodies are in cocoons down in the tunnels, but in their minds, a year has passed since their escape from the dome. Life has gone back to normal in Chester’s Mill, and a memorial service is scheduled for those lost during the doming.

The only people left in the real-world Chester’s Mill are Julia, Junior, and Big Jim, still alive despite becoming completely irredeemable last season. He hasn’t exactly turned over a new leaf, as he proves by shooting his own son in the shoulder, but he’s almost the voice of reason now that he’s realized the dome is nothing but bad news. Once he lets Julia and Junior go pursue the others into the tunnels, it’s amusing to see that he’s finally gotten what he really wanted: to be the only man alive in Chester’s Mill. (He doesn’t even have time for the dog.)

The first hour, “Move On,” is entertaining in a ”mirror universe” kind of way, with Norrie now a party-hearty sorority girl, Uncle Sam in jail for killing Angie, and Barbie now involved with new character Eva (Kylie Bunbury). Marg Helgenberger joins the cast as Christine Price, a FEMA trauma specialist who is obviously not really that given her omnipresence and seeming omniscience. This is all derivative, of course, cribbing from The Matrix and (as always) Lost, but this show is always more fun when it leans into its sci-fi elements.

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The second hour, “But I’m Not,” is more like business as usual. For one thing, that damn egg is back for what is, with any luck, the final time. We do get an explanation for it, of sorts: 25 years earlier, a meteor shower brought many eggs to Earth, but this is the only one that survived intact. Don Barbara, who you may dimly recall is the shadowy government guy who is father to both Melanie and Barbie, brings the egg back into the dome via the secret root cellar that empties out into the lake (it’s funny how all this nonsense comes back to you as you’re watching). Alas, this isn’t really Melanie but some sort of alien-Melanie, so she chokes him out and takes the egg back to the tunnel of cocoons.

Julia stumbles upon Melanie powering up the egg and it looks like she’s a goner, but Big Jim shows up to save the day and smash the egg, releasing everyone from their slimy cocoons. It’s an admittedly creepy visual, but as with last season’s detour to Zenith, it cuts short an intriguing development in order to restore the status quo. Presumably the powers behind the dome created this alternate reality in order to fast-forward the characters through their psychological baggage (Joe’s grief over Angie, Sam’s need to make amends, Junior’s anger toward his father), but it plays like a narrative fast-forward as well. Here’s hoping there’s actually a plan for the rest of the way this time, because restoring “normality” under the dome could make for long season indeed.

Stray observations

  • First laugh of the season: Barbie’s voice-over telling us the dome came down “three weeks ago.” How time flies when you’re having fun!
  • On that note, the “one year later” gimmick at least provides cover for Joe suddenly looking 25 years old, but how is that going to work now that we’re back to the “real” time frame and only three weeks have passed since the series premiere?
  • As soon as it became apparent that Skater Dude was going to have more than a couple of lines of dialogue, I kind of figured he was a goner.
  • Barbie: “To be honest, Ben, I remember very little about you.” It’s funny because it’s true.
  • I didn’t have time to check this, but I could swear Julia’s wound switched legs between episodes. Can anyone confirm or deny?
  • “It’s like you’re trapped under a dome and you don’t even know it.” Nice analogy, Norrie.
  • Hilarious visual of the week: Junior fighting a swarm of butterflies with a flare.

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