[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Monday’s season-one finale of CBS’ Under the Dome.]
CBS closed the curtain on the freshman season of summer ratings hit Under the Dome on Monday with an hour that offered the biggest answer yet as to who is behind the mysterious dome that has encapsulated Chester’s Mill.
During the season finale, the presumed aliens behind the dome (a reveal in line with Stephen King‘s book) inhabited the late Alice’s body with a message: the trapped community isn’t being punished but instead protected. But that would be the only clue viewers would receive about Dome‘s central mystery. Just what are they being protected from? In the words of the Alter Alice: “You’ll see!”
The Hollywood Reporter turned to executive producer Brian K. Vaughan to respond to burning questions about the season, the creative direction of the series and his vision for season two.
Under the Dome started with good critical buzz, but that quickly faded. Are you happy how the show ended creatively?
Sure. For me, my concern has always been, “Is one audience member in particular happy?” — and that’s Stephen King. He’s been thrilled. We’re so excited to have him on board, especially for the beginning of next season. The show is going to take some very unexpected new directions next season but I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.
There were a lot of story detours and extraneous characters that defected from the central premise of the show — a town trapped under the dome. Is there anything you would have done differently?
Sure. I think there are always things — the speed that you’d put together a new show with and the fact that we had 13 episodes just about completed in their entirety before one had even aired. Looking back, sure, there are always things you’d do differently. For the most part, we concentrate on the parts of the show that we really liked and challenge ourselves to do something new next season.
Is the pace something you’ll be looking at to step up next year? Anything specific that you’re looking at doing differently in season two?
It’s hard for me. I never like to back-check the show. There are some things that maybe didn’t work for me that may turn out to be some audience member’s favorite part of the show so that’s why I’m being coy about what could have worked better or didn’t work.
Are there any specific things that will be different next year?
This first season is based on the framework of the novel. Next season is what always excited King most about the possibility of doing this as an ongoing series. If you’ve read King’s novel, it takes place over the course of a couple of weeks. King’s dream was always, “How will things change when we go beyond that, when we talk about people who aren’t trapped together for days or weeks on end but potentially years on end?” That’s the biggest change that will happen next season: We’re no longer dealing with the immediate aftermath of the dome. This season the challenge was to establish the tone of the town, and you’re dealing so much with the town coming to terms with if they’re really trapped and if there’s a chance they’re going to get out. Next season is exciting for us because it’s a season where everybody knows they’re not getting out and they’re clearly trapped — and this is the new normal. We’ll get to go to some places that the book never got to go to.
Will there be a time jump?
I don’t want to spoil too much because King will saw off my head if I ruin anything, but there will definitely be answers to the cliffhanger that we left. We will give you some immediate answers to that as well. But there is a possibility that there’s a bit of a time jump as well.
This season had two central questions — “Who is behind the dome?” and “Why Chester’s Mill?” — neither of which will be revealed until the series finale. Is that still the case?
The answers that we left with are, “Who is the monarch?” We now know conclusively that it’s Julia, so what does that mean? The second big answer is we’ve at least met some facet of who is behind the dome, and we’ve got an answer that’s very different than the book. Otherworldly beings behind the dome in the book were there for very malicious reasons; they’d put this dome down to toy with the people of Chester’s Mill. We now know that the people behind our dome have a very different reason: Their dome is there to keep us safe. That will be a major focus of next season, and we know Julia has the power to bring the dome down. Similarly, Big Jim might have the power to bring down the dome as well but he wants it to remain for very different reasons. Those are the two big answers we’re left with, and we will see what big answers come next season.
After you saw the premiere’s big ratings, did your approach to the series change or was the plan always to come back for season two?
We always knew from the very beginning when Neal Baer and I sat down to work on the show with King that the goal was we’re doing this for hopefully many seasons. We really didn’t have a plan for, “What if we tank in the ratings? How would we wrap everything up quickly?” We didn’t want to have that because sometimes it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We always knew that we were going to end on a cliffhanger with hope that we’d come back for season two. We knew that much, like in the book that we’d end with Barbie on trial with his neck figuratively and metaphorically in a noose. But other changes came during the season — that always happens. CBS, DreamWorks and us all tried to figure out what show we wanted to make together — and there were changes — but we ended up very close to where our plan was in the very beginning.
How many more seasons do you envision Dome running?
As long as it can keep getting better. It’s a challenge we recognize that a lot of people will say we’ve seen an entire season in this town of Chester’s Mill. We know that we’re not going to be going to a new place. I love that challenge that we’re coming back to the same place, the dome is still there and how can the show reinvent itself and become something new and better? As long as that’s a possibly then I hope that the show will get another season. That’s what we’ll ask ourselves each season: Can we do something bigger and better next season?
The immediate feedback to the finale on Twitter and from critics hasn’t been kind. You mentioned you want to see the show reinvent itself. What’s your plan to do that in season two?
We do [have a plan]. If I’ve learned anything from Lost it’s that we have to leave this for the fans and let them digest it and argue about it and complain about it. I’m being coy because I’d rather not reveal that. We have big plans for how next season will be different and more exciting but I don’t want to reveal them yet.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned this season heading into next year?
For us, every episode was learning how to make a brand-new show. We found out this is not like making a procedural. We had to figure out what this show was. By the time we got to the end of the season and finally figured it out, now it’s time to make a totally different show. If we learned any lesson it’s what King told us in the beginning: Keep the hammer down. It’s always about plowing forward. We’re not going to be a show about flashbacks or filling in the gaps. It’s always, “Let’s keep hunting for the new and push ourselves onward.”
What will season two look like now that we’ve effectively met the aliens?
We’ve met the otherworldly beings — I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether they’re aliens or something else. We’ll continue to get more answers as the dome reaches out and learns to talk to us. For us, the focus is on the people. We always knew our show isn’t The Walking Dead; it’s never going to be us vs. zombies; or Falling Skies, us vs. aliens. It’s always going to be about us vs. ourselves. Even though we’ve introduced these people behind the dome, we don’t want it to become a show about us vs. aliens. The dome is only there to pit us against each other and challenge our characters. We hope that will keep it a grounded human drama. We’ve always described the dome as a baby from another world and it’s still learning to talk with us.
Is the dome responsible for the salvation of the human race or just the town of Chester’s Mill?
That is a very interesting question and one that we’ll delve more into next season. The big revelation is that the dome is not there to hurt them but protect them — but at what cost? What about the rest of the planet? Was there a reason behind “Why Chester’s Mill?” What we learned about Big Jim’s wife and the fact that the Rennie family seems to have some connection to this or even knew that it was coming answers the question of whether this is random. It clearly wasn’t, for whatever reason: Chester’s Mill was chosen and the Rennies have something to do with this.
The dome wasn’t sent to punish but protect everyone. What are they being protected from?
I can’t say. The answer excites King and we have talked about it at great length — but I can’t say more than that.
Will you return Under the Dome for its second season? Hit the comments below with your thoughts.