It was all good just a week ago. Except for that cow.

Writing a new show's second episode can't be easy, especially when it's following a strong, eye-opening pilot like last week's Under the Dome premiere. The inexplicable dome dropping on top of Chester's Mill landed with gruesome impact; the characters—save for the overly "crazy guy" Junior Rennie (Alexander Koch)—all had at least semi-interesting narrative hooks; and the hour concluded with the sudden death of one of the cast's biggest name actors (Jeff Fahey's police chief, Duke Perkins). Far from perfect, Under the Dome's first hour set the bar higher than any Stephen King fan could have hoped for—past book-to-TV travesties like Rose Red and The Langoliers still sting.

It might be time to panic. Under the Dome's second episode, "The Fire," diminishes much of its predecessor's earned good will. Ignoring the mysterious dome and all of its potential otherworldly implications, ep writer Rick Cleveland instead attempts to develop Chester's Mill's many human threats. With Duke officially a corpse, Councilman Jim Rennie (Dean Norris) is beginning his descent (or ascent?) into the power-hungry antagonist role, seizing the opportunity to lead a scared, leaderless group of (so far) mostly anonymous and uninteresting citizens. First, though, Rennie has to put the kibosh on those propane storage plans he, Duke, and the town's incompetent reverend have been hiding from everyone else.

Rennie's first power move, though, is a fail. He sends the reverend to Duke's house, where he's supposed to dig up the propane documents and get rid of them. Which he does, by taking a lighter to them and tossing the burning papers into a little trash can. Decent plan, now just get the hell out of the soon-to-be-charcoal house, right? Nope, the dumbass reverend knocks the pail into the nearby window's curtains, smirking as he kicks it, a real shit-eating grin that suggests he's more than happy to burn Duke's house to the ground. Why, then, does the reverend suddenly freak out once the curtain's in flames, as if he's stunned by the fact that fire catches easily?

The rest of "The Fire" devolves into a hardly tense, ultimately lame homage to Backdraft, with Deputy Linda (Natalie Martinez, so far painfully one-note) darting into the house to pull the buffoonish minster out of the fiery would-be coffin. She's a hero, Rennie's livid, the townsfolk are soiling their undergarments, and one of Chester's Mill's cops, Freddy (Joe Knezevich) has been accidentally killed by his unstable, trigger-happy partner.

In other words, not much progressed. The biggest revelations last night were, in no particular order: that thing encasing the town is, gasp, a dome (!), the noble cop is, surprise, a hero, and Under the Dome botched its first big non-dome action sequence. Are there any more cows around to cut in half?

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Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)