I finished reading Under the Dome last week. I haven’t read much about the show, for fear of spoilers, but I did read the character bios. Dome Day is tomorrow and today I’d like to share some thoughts on what I hope will be included in (and excluded from) the novel. Read on for my vision for Under the Dome as a television series.
Judging from the character bios (and every whisper I’ve seen online), the show will be a loose adaptation of the novel. That’s to be expected considering the novel takes place over the course of a week. However, by expanding the time frame to tell a longer story, I think the series has got a great shot at being very entertaining.
When I read the book, I had hoped the plot would get more into the breakdown of society as resources get depleted. There is some of that in the novel. In fact, there’s a satisfying amount in the story. But, in order for the series to sustain itself in the long run, the characters will have to adapt to their isolation and the town has to become self-sufficient. There is plenty of storytelling material in this and that’s why I think the book will be best served as a TV series.
With the long form storytelling of television, the writers can pick and choose what plot elements to include in the adaptation and when they want to include them. Obviously, Vaughan and company will want to forge their own path and judging from the character bios, that’s exactly what they’re going to do. Characters who were under the dome in the novel are now out of the dome while lifelong Chester’s Mill residents are now “just passing through” when the dome comes down. This is all well and good, but there are some plot elements I hope will be included. In fact, here’s how I would adapt the novel for television.
Ideally, I would like to make as faithful an adaptation as I could. And I’d want to do it in five seasons. I’m a purest at heart with severe nerd syndrome. I can’t stand to see what I cherish creatively changed in any way. As such, I would keep most of the characters in the story as is. I would add some to round out the cast and use them to serve as cannon fodder as I develop the more distrustful (and outright sociopathic) characters.
MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE NOVEL AHEAD…
Junior Rennie, in particular, would have a bigger playground with which to stretch his murderous desires. I would keep his brain tumor storyline for the show and make him the main antagonistic character of season one. I’d kick off the premiere with his first murder as it is in the book.
From there I would give Big Jim the job of cleaning up his son’s mess. Throughout the season, I would play up Big Jim’s struggle with handling his son’s increasingly violent, erratic behavior quietly (as only a politician can) while also working to govern the terrified community under the dome.
Given the series’ (hopeful) longevity, I wouldn’t make Big Jim the out and out power hungry tyrant he is from the start of the book. I would devote the first season to developing his deep-seeded hunger for control. Whether he’s just good at concealing it or he’s unaware of it would be up for debate, but I would make season one all about his slow burn toward becoming a monster. Giving his son the moniker of “season one villain” would help build Big Jim’s inner monster up for a debut in the second season.
I would keep Big Jim as the person at the head of the clandestine meth empire and keep Lester Coggins as being complicit in the operation. The meth lab would still be in the radio station and Phil Bushey would still be the DJ and cook the meth. These elements would work together to have far-reaching implications for the series.
By the end of season one, I want Lester Coggins to reach his low point. The penultimate episode of the season would end with the scene where Big Jim murders him. For all intents and purposes, it would be depicted as it is in the book. Junior would come along and help his dad.
The season finale would be the Rennie duo covering up the murder. However, I would want Big Jim to distrust his son. The season finale would include a scene where Junior lets his dad in on his demented murder spree. Jim, realizing how compromised his newfound power would be if the truth came out (and noticing Junior’s strange, tumor-induced behavior) would murder his son with the intention of pinning the murders on Junior.
Throughout the season, however, I would have Barbie and Julia Shumway’s investigation into Jim get them close to uncovering the truth. Somehow, Jim would figure out they are onto him and, instead of blaming the murders on Junior, he would plot to pin the spree on Barbie. Giving viewers a nice view of one of the big plots for season two.
I would really want the series to show Phil Bushey’s descent into the madness of Chef. I would want it to span 2-3 seasons. He would set the explosives in the radio station at the end of season 2. The explosion would end season 3.
The rest of season 2, however, would be Big Jim pinning the murders on Barbie while Barbie and Julia work toward telling the town about Jim’s dealings. It would be a shadowy war fought between Barbie and Rennie.
Barbie would be arrested and his friends would bust him out at the end of the season. Meanwhile, Big Jim’s pursuit of tyrannical power would grow. He’d spend the season putting his plan for control in motion while grooming his protégé, Carter, as the son he never had. For Jim, the season would end with the town meeting wherein he would get his power.
But the meeting would go about as well as it does in the book. One of Barbie’s allies (or, rather, followers) would attempt to kill Jim. Carter would prevent it. All hell would break loose while Barbie is rescued from his jail cell and Phil Bushey sets the charges at the radio station. Barbie and his friends would go into exile while Big Jim gets what he needs to institute a police state and Phil Bushey sets us up for a good time bomb to ratchet up the tension in the third season.
Season three would feature a Chester’s Mill suffering under the heel of the brutal young army Rennie creates for himself. Here is where more of Rennie’s character would be revealed. He’s eager for power, yes, but season three would be where we realize just how much he craves power and how expendable he finds anyone who stands in his way.
Rennie would have the town against Barbie and he knows that a ghost works better than a martyr for his oppressive desires. He won’t go after Barbie just yet. Barbie and his friends would spend much of the season in hiding, looking to clear their names and expose Rennie. It would probably be this season when they would come across the mysterious box that seems to be controlling the dome.
I would lead the characters toward the radio station at the end of season three. Barbie would find out about the meth and go there to get evidence. Rennie would send people to stop him. When the different factions realize what Phil Bushey has been up to, they would get away. The season would end on a cliffhanger. The final shot of the season would be the radio station exploding and then a quick cut to the credits.
I just want to say for a moment that the way King wrote the radio station explosion in the book is some of the most intense and gruesome pages of his that I’ve read. It’s insanely well handled and harrowing. I loved it.
The cold open for the season four premiere would show what various people in the town were doing in the lead up to the blast. From there, the episode would introduce an entirely different Chester’s Mill. The bomb won’t have as devastating an effect as it does in the book. Obviously, for storytelling purposes, the town will be salvageable.
Rennie will have gotten into the fallout shelter with Carter. I would have Rennie kill Carter in the first couple episodes and then coming up from the fallout shelter as a true villain. It would happen just like it does in the book and it would act as a way to show that Rennie is more dangerous than ever. With most of the town dead, the resources cut down significantly and a suddenly harsh change in air quality under the dome, Rennie will be on a warpath. He’ll spend the season hunting Barbie and friends.
Morale in the town would be at an all time low, to be sure. I think the arc for the town would be trying to rebuild and trying to survive suddenly deadly conditions. It would counterbalance the chaos of Rennie vs Barbie. Season four would be about entire societal breakdown and all out war between Rennie and Barbie.
And I would end the season with a rare glimpse at the outside world. This is honestly where things get tricky. The book’s explanation for the dome caught a lot of grief. I didn’t mind it so much because I am a Stephen King fanboy and I’ve been conditioned to love the journey and take whatever ending he gives me.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t crazy about the (presumably higher dimensional) aliens playing with a magnifying glass explanation. I was even less crazy about the solution being Julia asking them to stop. But the fascinating thing about King is he can deliver a less than satisfactory ending like that and I would still be incredibly engaged. When Julia is communicating with the aliens and pleading for them to stop, I totally bought into it and, frankly, I was moved.
That doesn’t mean it would translate well to television. Not by a long shot. If that ending were handed to a mystery series, you’d face more fan outcry than the Lost writers (unjustly) suffered. So where does that leave us for The Obsessive Viewer Fantasy Under the Dome series? I’m not sure.
For now, I’ll go with an old Lost theory and say it should be a sinister government conspiracy or some kind of malevolent organization (perfect chance to use the Sombra Corporation for a loose connection to an eventual Dark Tower series) playing a sick game on the town. The end of the fourth season would blow the lid off of this conspiracy and usher in a final season that would be different and satisfying.
Maybe the final scene of season four would play out like so…
A full dark room, save for a monitor. No, a wall of monitors akin to the Architect scene in The Matrix Reloaded (only without the ridiculous dialogue). For the sake of argument, let’s say that we have heard whispers about the Sombra Corporation throughout the series but don’t know what or who it is, much less if it exists.
Someone in the room turns off the monitors and sighs. He tells a colleague something cryptic like “They’re getting close” or “The end is coming”. His colleague agrees in a sycophantic tone, showing this mystery man is clearly in charge. Mystery man turns and *GASP* it’s….well, I’m not sure. Someone we know, who is under the dome and, until now, trustworthy. The implications would leave audiences speculating until the final season premieres. What’s Sombra’s endgame? Why is he with them? Is it possible to escape the dome or is Sombra in Chester’s Mill?
From there, the final season would be the truth about Sombra coming to light and the final battle between Barbie and Rennie and Sombra. Maybe Rennie would redeem himself and take down Sombra (and the dome) or maybe I’m projecting something from Lost onto my ideas for Under the Dome.
In any case, this series has potential. I said earlier this week that this could be the next Lost, if handled properly. I also said that on the podcast. And all over twitter for months now. Tomorrow is Dome Day and that’s when we’ll find out what kind of series we have on our hands. Lost or FlashForward. We will see when the dome comes down.
That concludes Stephen King Week on The Obsessive Viewer Blog.
I would like to thank everyone for joining me in linking my obsession with Stephen King with my movie/TV obsession this week. A special thanks goes out to my friend and podcast co-host Tiny for the monumental effort he put into his Dark Tower feature. Thankee-sai, Tiny!
It’s been a blast to spew my Stephen King theories and thoughts with the internet this past week. Next week the blog will get back to it’s usual, broad pace. Don’t forget to check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast and stay tuned for many more episodes of that in the weeks to come.