To quite vividly illustrate an unsuspecting town’s sudden entrapment by an invisible barrier, Under the Dome defied Bart Simpson and halved a cow, man.
It was six years ago (on June 24, 2013) that CBS’ adaptation of the Stephen King novel made its debut. The premise found the fictional town of Chester’s Mill suddenly cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious and indestructible dome, leading to a clash of would-be heroes, opportunistic residents, local government, military forces and the media.
At the instant that the dome dropped, Iraq War veteran Dale “Barbie” Barbara (played by Mike Vogel) was busy stabling himself amid seismic rumblings when he looked over and saw one half of a nearby cow slowly slump down to the ground… while its other side, bloody interior now exposed, clung onto the opposite side of the barrier. (In King’s novel, the bisected beast was a groundhog.)
The image was quite disturbing, a bit disgusting and hugely memorable. Meaning, it was a ready-made for heavily repeated on-air promos!
Reflecting on the cleaved cow, Under the Dome‘s showrunner, Dr. Neal Baer (now boss of Netflix’s Designated Survivor), tells TVLine, “Shooting the scene wasn’t so difficult, because it was all special effects” — a mix of CGI and then practical effects, for when Barbie walked over to inspect the curiosity. The matter of “how much to show,” though, demanded discussion.
“How much of the inside is pulsating? Do you want it to look bloody? Is it clean? Does it look like at the butcher shop?” Those were some of the questions Baer had to ask. “There was lots of debate on the sliced cow, but of course that’s the moment we all remember.”
Animal rights groups had no beef with the shocking visual (“because no animal was harmed,” Baer notes), while CBS embraced the promo-friendly jaw-dropper. In fact, the network may have liked the provocative moment too much, wanting lots more of that from its first summertime original in a while, and less character-driven storytelling.
Shaking his head a bit, Baer notes, “You have this amazing concept, people locked under a dome, but if you’re not going to really pursue character — and instead do the windstorm, the rainstorm, the dome getting dark, running out of food — it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge as opposed to pursuing it in a character-driven way, which I wish we had done more of. But that was the edict of the network back then.”
Looking back on the show’s three-season, 39-episode run, Baer counts among his blessings getting to work with the likes of Vogel and female lead Rachelle Lefevre (“They were wonderful”), as well as rare (due to the premise) guest stars such as Mare Winningham. She played Agatha Seagrave, a bit of a loon who was ultimately left to die by sketchy councilman “Big Jim” Rennie (Breaking Bad alum Dean Norris).
Sharing his inspiration for Agatha’s watery demise, Baer says, “I was passionate about the movie A Place in the Sun, where” — 68-year-old spoiler alert! — “Montgomery Clift is in love with Elizabeth Taylor, but Shelley Winters is pregnant with his baby.” As such, when Winters’ character topples overboard during a canoe ride, Clift “doesn’t save her. He doesn’t kill her, but he doesn’t save her, and that was so memorable.”
In Under the Dome‘s darkly comedic homage, Agatha fell off a boat that was being steered by Big Jim, and “he just keeps paddling…,” Baer recalls with a smile. “He wants to get rid of her, but he doesn’t kill her. He just lets her drift out.”
The practical cow, shared by Under the Dome‘s VFX boss:
(Half of) Dome‘s cow on display at the Cape Fear Museum: