10:00am PT by Laurel Brown
'Under the Dome' Boss: Season 3 Will Answer Who — or What — Is Behind the Dome
Executive producer Neal Baer knows that Under the Dome viewers are getting antsy for answers as the CBS summer drama returns for its third season Thursday.
"Season three is more like season two, because it's more chilling and horrifying, scarier, spookier," Baer tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It's also the season where we do tell you — and we promise to tell you — why the dome came down and who or what's behind it."
Explaining the origins of the dome "will bring up more questions, more mythology," Baer says, but that doesn't mean the drama based on Stephen King's best-seller has its end in sight. "I'd like to keep it going. Our intentions are to tell a great story every summer for as long as the audience wants to watch the citizens of Chester's Mill."
In order to keep that somewhat frustrated and dwindling audience happy, Baer notes that each season has "an overarching philosophy" that distinguishes it from what came before. "The first year was faith, fear and fascism. The second year was faith vs. science. This year, it's the individual vs. the group, with the theme being the enemy within."
Those enemies will appear quickly when Under the Dome returns, and some of the show's favorite characters may not last too long. Just as in season two — which featured the deaths of two major characters in its premiere alone — the Grim Reaper will also come early in season three. "We premiere with a two-hour season opener. In that season opener, we will lose a beloved character," he teases. "We will also lose more characters soon thereafter."
Although the world of Under the Dome is, by definition, a closed one, that hasn't prevented new characters from popping up throughout the show's run. That will continue in season three with a trio of high-profile guest stars.
CSI alum Marg Helgenberger has the biggest new role, playing Christina Price, a woman who "wreaks havoc" around town. "You're going to see her in a way you've never seen her before," Baer teases. "Christine is very dangerous. Marg certainly shakes things up this year and has a big impact on all our characters — especially our male characters."
In addition, two former ER stars will reunite with Baer this season. Eriq La Salle will guest as Hektor Martin and play a pivotal role in the mythology of the series. He'll appear in episodes two and 10. Paul McCrane — who played "Rocket" Romano, the nemesis to La Salle's Dr. Benton on ER — will portray Danville, a man partially responsible for starting energy company Aktaion and Hektor's best friend. "I loved having them fight it out on ER. We're very excited to reunite them," Baer notes of the characters who won't be outsiders when they arrive in Chester's Mill.
The new characters come as season three will see a less of the outside world, Baer says. "There is some impact, but less so than in the past," he notes, adding that the military will also have a reduced role this season.
In Chester's Mill, meanwhile, alliances will be shifting as Big Jim (Dean Norris) finds an unexpected ally in his ongoing fight to dominate his world. "He's sticking to the dark side, but he has an unlikely partner this season," Baer explains of the show's main antagonist. "One of our characters becomes an unlikely partner for him this year."
As for the identity of that unlikely partner, Baer says it will be one of many "new alliances" that are "quite unexpected." "Who you thought was bad may not be as bad as someone else you thought was good," Baer warned.
Whatever changes may be coming in season three, Baer is adamant that none of them were in response to critical or audience reactions to the first two seasons.
"I always feel like critics ... if they could do it better, they'd be writing the show. So bring it on!" Baer replies when asked about less-than-favorable reviews. "It's really easy to criticize, and it's really hard to develop a show."
"I think criticism is important, because it brings context to shows. It gives insight," Baer says. "But criticism has changed so much in the past several years because of the Internet. There are so many places, so many voices. Sometimes it feels like there's a bandwagon of sorts!"
"Fortunately, the audience has been pretty critic-proof in many ways," Baer points out with a laugh.
Under the Dome season three premieres Thursday, June 25 at 9 p.m. on CBS. Will you watch?