Comic-con panels are, of course, largely about self-promotion, but the second session in Ballroom 20 Thursday morning seemed especially purposeful in teasing the current season of CBS TV’s Under the Dome. That may be because the series has gone so far downhill after last summer’s stellar premiere and now requires a hard sell for people to stick with it.

Two clips from episode seven that opened the panel indicate things may be looking up for the people of Chester’s Mill trapped inside a huge dome. In the first, those who think that Big Jim (Dean Norris) has become soft will be happy to see that Jim is back to his usual behavior. In the second, in which executive producer Neal Baer said, “we take a leap of faith,” it looks like the action will be ramping up very soon.

Kevin Frazier moderated the panel and introduced Baer, as well as actors Mike Vogel (Barbie), Rachel Lafevre (Julia), Norris, Alexander Koch (Junior), Eddie Cahill (Sam) and Colin Ford (Joe). The panel was apparently fresh from filming the final episode of the season last Friday in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Teasers included in the panel:

Baer said that so far this season, they’ve kept body count down so they can rev it up at the end. And although he explained that when you’re dead you’re dead, he also said that doesn’t mean you can’t become an avatar and come back.

Are we any closer to getting out of the dome? “We’re closer, one of our characters might get out of the dome this season.”

Lafevre chimed in to remind us that for some of these characters, the dome isn’t their biggest problem.

Will we find out what Angie saw in locker? Baer said, “Yes”.

Will we find out who killed Angie? Koch said, “Yes… and revenge might be taken”.

Will Big Jim and Junior ever get along? Norris joked, “I keep tryin, but you know he’s a tough kid to raise. Part of our story is the difficulty of raising a psychopath, trying to maintain a father son relationship while we both have some psychological issues. Don’t judge me just because you don’t understand me!”

Is there a blooming love triangle among Barbie, Julia and Sam? Cahill said, “Yeah. Sam stepped over his bounds in the last episode that aired.”

Lafevre discussed the difference in time perception between people who watch a show and the characters in the show. She reminded us that the people of Chester’s MILL have been under the dome for only about a month. She has to “play carefully in that realm and keep it realistic, even though she (Julia) lost her husband such a short time ago.”

Frazier commented that Barbie started as a possible bad guy, but now you love him. Vogel elaborated, “He’s smooth.” He said it’s difficult work… “How would you react if your new love interest offed your husband?” Then there’s the added chaos of a dome coming down. His (Barbie’s) hand is forced. In season two, he says we’ll see more of what makes him tick. “He really is there to fight for the defenseless.”

Ford said that Barbie is a huge role model for Joe. “He’s an example of heroic behavior and bravery. If you can’t find the good, you have to move on in this situation.”

[ Check out www.houndsofdiana.com for vlogs from the characters of Joe and Norrie. ]

How important is Stephen King’s continued involvement? Norris said, “It’s awesome. It’s real important. He’s such an icon and a legend. It’s great that he has a voice in what happens”

At one point, producers claimed they had three to five seasons worth of “stuff”. Are they still on that trajectory? Behr answered that they’ve set it up so they can keep going. “We have more stories to tell.” Referring to a series of tunnels revealed in one of the clips, he said that is an example of whole new vistas.

About her character, Lafevre said she more like her this seaons. She’s more active and take-charge. “My personality is a little more balls to the wall, so it’s nice to play to that. I learned a lot last year. It took a while for her (Julia) to put her camera down and let her feelings show. It’s interesting to play a character who’s contained, then starts to let herself out. Julia is a reluctant leader, but will do what she has to do.”

About his character, Vogel said, “We get to come face to face with Barbie’s father this year in a new and open world.” While we first thought he was a military tough buy, he in fact could have been a trust fund baby. We may see why he’s pushed away from that lifestyle. “We find out some other familial secrets as well.”

Cahill said that there are reasons behind Sam’s actions and motivation tied into the dome.

Norris joked that in between seasons, Big Jim published a book of poetry.

Lafevre is very interested in how the rest of the world is reacting. “This season, you will get your first glimpse in a small way of what the impact of the dome has been. How are people reacting to it? What are they doing?”

The first question asked by an audience member was a creative one. If in real life the actors were trapped in a dome, who would they want to be with them?

Ford: “My best friend Gary.”
Cahill: “My kid and wife. I’d try to take them both.”
Koch: “Dean (Norris). Why not?”
Norris: Britney Spears.
Lafevre: I was going to say my dog, but if he says Britney Spears, I’ll say Clive Owen.”
Vogel: “Chuck Norris. Isn’t he the answer for everything?”
Behr: “CBS.”

Another audience member asked if the show was going to continue in a similar direction to the book? Behr responded that Stephen King wrote the first episode. It was his way of putting his stamp on it. They wanted him to lay the groundwork for this season. “We talk to Stephen all the time. He reads every script and loves it when we kill a character. We have a great collaborative relationship.”

Behr added, “For someone who writes such dark and often comedic material, he’s (King) impishly fun.”

Finally, when asked to sell the show to potential new viewers in Brazil, Behr concluded that the show is a parable for our times. “This season particularly. These guys haven’t taken as much care of Chester’s Mill as they might. Our show is really about how you get along when resources are scarce, without telling people what to think. It’s just what these people do.”

With the audience enthusiasm and camaraderie of the executive producer and cast, there seems to be every good reason that Under the Dome can turn around its sophomore slump and actually make us look forward to another season. I’ll stay under this dome.