'Under the Dome's' Brian K. Vaughan Answers the Premiere's Burning Questions
Why Chester's Mill? What's behind the seizures? The executive producer talks with THR in our new weekly postmortem.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series premiere of CBS' Under the Dome.]
Welcome to the mysteries of Chester's Mill, the fictional and now encapsulated town within CBS' summer event series Under the Dome, where birds fall dead from the sky and an invisible dome prohibits cars, planes and any and all communication from beyond the invisible barrier.
Monday's season premiere unwrapped several mysteries in the series, which is based on Stephen King's book of the same name and hails from producers Neal Baer (ER), Brian K. Vaughan (Lost) and Steven Spielberg.
Among them: How much does Big Jim (Breaking Bad's Dean Norris) know about the how and why of the dome after it's revealed that the councilman was behind the town's mysterious propane stockpile? Plus what's the deal with the dome itself, which carries a charge that only is emitted after first contact? And why are some of the town's younger residents having seizures and seeing lines of falling stars? And last but not least, what kind of affect does it have on pacemakers after the town's dedicated sheriff sees his shockingly burst from his chest as he's about to offer details of the town's secrets?
The Hollywood Reporter turned to executive producer Vaughan to respond to our burning questions in the first of our weekly postmortems.
THR: Why Chester's Mill? Is there something that the remaining residents have in common?
Vaughan: That is one of the big questions for this first season and even beyond. Why did it happen here and not my hometown Cleveland, Ohio, or Studio City in Los Angeles? Is it completely random? Is it safe? Were they selected? Is it, as Sheriff Perkins said, a town being punished for their sins?
THR: Is this a question that we can expect to see answered in the first season? How long can we expect the town to be under this dome?
Vaughan: The Gilligan's Island model is fair. It might go on for a while, but they get off the island and that's the end of it. Similarly, that dome is going to be there for at least the duration of however long our series goes, but we do know exactly what the final episode would be and what the final scene of the final episode would be. We have left ourselves some leeway on how we're going to get there, depending on how long people will stick with us for the journey, but we hope it will be for a long time because each month that they're under there, I think the show gets more and more interesting as their lives change significantly.
THR: How much does Big Jim know about what's going on? He opts against going to the parade, which would have kept him out of the dome area and seemed to know that the plane crash would foretell something. Plus he knew to stockpile propane.
Vaughan: It does seem that Big Jim knows more than what he's saying. The question is, is he involved in some conspiracy that's sort of mundane and Earth-bound, or does he have some connection to this seemingly otherworldly dome? We obviously don't know the answer to that in the first episode, but we'll come to learn considerably quickly what this conspiracy is that Jim was involved in and exactly how much he knew about the dome. We'll know that, and over the next few episodes, you'll get those answers.
THR: Junior (Alexander Koch) is obsessed with Angie (Britt Robertson) -- whom he claims knows the "real" him. Yet she rejects him. Why?
Vaughan: Junior -- who's actually Little Jim Rennie -- seems a bit unstable, and the question is, is he really just a mentally unbalanced young man who is obsessed with Angie, or as it suggests at the end of that first episode, does he seem to know what's actually going on? He tells Angie, "I'm the only person who really knows what's happening here," and as we'll start to learn that he has a very specific reason for keeping Angie in this underground bunker, and it's not as nefarious as it would seem at first.
THR: What kind of relationship does Junior have with his father that he'd lock Angie up?
Vaughan: One person's tortured is another person's protection from something else. Maybe there's something worse above ground that Junior thinks he's keeping Angie safe from. In terms of Junior and Big Jim's relationship, a lot of it can be summed up in that hug in the pilot. That has to be the world's most awkward hug between father and son, but we'll be learning much more about their relationship. A lot of it has to do with where Big Jim's wife/ Junior's mother is. How does she fit into this? What is the story there? I think that is the key to their estranged relationship when the story begins.
THR: Might that be Natalie Zea who was just cast as Maxine?
Vaughan: It might be or it might be someone completely different, but that's an interesting guess.
THR: Who's Barbie (Mike Vogel) working for? We see him bury Julia's (Rachelle Lefevre) husband Peter and on the phone with someone but it's unclear if he's just the messenger or actually killed him.
Vaughan: This will be one of those mysteries that will also be solved midseason. You will quickly find out why Barbie was burying that body and if he really did kill the person that he's burying or if he's just disposing of a body for someone. We'll learn even more about who that person was he was talking to on the phone in that first episode. All those answers coming fast and furious this season.
THR: Could he be working for Big Jim?
Vaughan: He could. It certainly seems that for Big Jim there is a ne'er-do-well side to him, and Barbie seems to have as well. Do they run in similar circles or different circles? That's something that will be answered in this season as well.
THR: Is there a reason Big Jim suggested only certain people buy a backup generator? Who else beyond Sheriff Duke (Jeff Fahey) knew about the propane deliveries? Might others beyond Julia begin to question why he was bulking up?
Vaughan: In that first scene where Julia is interviewing local hoarder Andrea Grinnell, she's at first interested in the propane. A bigger story has now fallen into Julia's lap --probably the biggest story in the history of humankind -- so she may spend some time delving into what the dome is and where it came from. But before long, she will be circling back to the propane and that is going to open up a can of worms down the road.
THR: The dome has a current running through it on first touch and also affects pacemakers, with no signal getting in or out of it. How can we expect to see the dome's science explained?
Vaughan: In the next episode we've got Joe (Colin Ford) and his friend Ben going on a Stand By Me journey to map the dome and go all the way around to find its scope and size and begin asking questions: Is it truly impenetrable? Does it let air through? Does it let water through? What is the science of this dome? So you'll get lots of answers to those questions. Probably one of the most frequently asked is why the hell isn't everyone just digging under this thing? And we will find exactly why not come next episode. Everyone's just like, "Somebody just get a shovel and this TV show is just going to be over," but it, of course, is not that easy.
THR: Norrie (Mackenzie Lintz) and Joe both have seizures and see "stars falling in lines." What do they represent? Is this something that only impacts youngsters?
Vaughan: It's interesting that there are two people having seizures and they seem to be totally unrelated, but yes, they're both saying, "The pink stars are falling, the pink stars are falling." We'll have to wait and see if these seizures will affect more people, where they're coming from and what their connection to the dome is. This is something that, if you've read the book, people say the exact same thing: "The pink stars are falling in lines." Our payoff will be different, our pink stars might be something different from King's novel, and something we're doing only with Uncle Steve's blessings. You'll be hearing much more about these seizures in episodes to come.
THR: Duke knew what was going on with the propane and Big Jim and claimed to have done what he needed to do to keep the town safe and from going bankrupt. How much of the town's backstory will we learn?
Vaughan: When we first started showing the pilot to the people and the testing to see what people think, they were so heartbroken, they loved Duke Perkins and couldn't believe he was dead. But nope, Duke Perkins is dead. He's the sacrificial lamb of our show to let you know that nobody is safe. Somebody who can seem like they're going to be the protector -- even the protagonist -- of this show can get killed off in a moment's notice. Even though Duke won't be returning, his shadow looms large over the rest of the season and what he was just starting to tell Deputy Linda (Natalie Martinez) is a story that's going to play out over the rest of this season.
THR: The radio station picks up on a signal that identifies the dome. How will Dodee (Jolene Purdy) work to future out what's going on?
Vaughan: We made a conscious decision that, other than that final shot in the pilot where we pull down and pull back to see the dome in its glory, we're not going to be leaving the dome. We're going to be trapped inside with these characters. We're not going to be flashing back to their childhood in Poughkeepsie or cutting to their girlfriend in New York; we're really going to be trapped inside Chester's Mill. The fact that Dodee has found a way to get a signal to the outside world is going to make her very, very important. Information is power and the question is, is she going to use this information for good or for ill?
THR: Julia learns that her husband, Peter, was not the man she thought he was. How will we see her investigate? Can Barbie keep the fact that he knew him and buried him?
Vaughan: Barbie really let himself into the lion's den. He's dangerously close to the woman's husband whose death he seems to be involved in in some capacity. We'll find that Julia is an extremely gifted journalist, but she has a blind spot and that she is so driven to understand the outside that she rarely turns that investigative lens inward. It's allowed her to miss some things going on right under her nose. Her strengths are going to make her very valuable in trying to find out the truth about this dome, but her weakness will challenge her. She was a tough born and bred Chicago girl so she and Barbie in many ways are outsiders, but her relationship with Chester's Mill is going to evolve as the season goes on.
THR: There's chemistry between them. Could we see their relationship evolve as Peter is out of the picture?
Vaughan: Her poor husband's body isn't even cold yet, so she can't be moving onto the next guy just yet. But at the same time, it's one of the things that we love about the dome: It forces people together who would never normally be paired up. Barbie and Julia are the kind of people that if there hadn't been a dome might have said hello to each other as they passed at the gas station, and that's it. Now, they're sleeping under the same roof. Their relationship has been one of the most fun things on the show. Part of you wants to see them get together, yet it's so wrong and so right at the same time.
THR: Before Duke's pacemaker explodes, he reveals he was approached about something. How are these things happening just as people like Duke and Joe are beginning to realize important details about the dome?
Vaughan: Was it just a coincidence; was it the dome somehow choosing this moment to end this person's life before he says too much? Can the dome be sanctioned, or are we just reading too much into things? I'm not sure. Both are possibilities, though. Does the dome, or at least the who or whatever is behind the dome, have an agenda? Is it choosing people, some people that it likes, some people that it doesn't? Or is it truly just an inanimate object that just happens to interact strangely with electronic devices and Duke happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time? You'll get answers this season.
THR: You've said that the series already stretches far beyond the short timespan of the book. What kind of time frame are you looking at for the season?
Vaughan: It's been pretty close to be going on a day for each episode. So, at 13, it's going to be at two weeks, which pretty closely mirrors the novel. The show is going to be what life is like in those first two hectic weeks under the dome. Hopefully this is just the start of an incredible journey. The fun will come in the second season, so fingers crossed that people will want to stick around with Chester's Mill.
THR: Do you have an idea of how long you'd like the show to run?
Vaughan: You know, Neal Baer has already worked on two shows that have gone at least 15 seasons. So a conservative 15 seasons sounds about right (laughs).
Will you return to Under the Dome? What are your theories? Hit the comments below with your thoughts.