Monday, April 27, 2009

1.10 Haunted

Summary and spoilers

Echo and Dewitt’s story: The Dollhouse is on idle in its post-Dominic regrouping phase, but one client, Margaret (a good friend of DeWitt) has been transplanted into Echo. It seems that Margaret, suspecting her life was in danger, had brain scans captured by the Dollhouse for a year and a half prior to her death; now, she has been implanted within Echo to attend her own funeral and try to find out who murdered her.

Taking the identity of Margaret’s backpacking friend Julia, she infiltrates the household. None of her surviving family (son, daughter, husband, and brother) seems particularly brokenhearted that Margaret is gone, and yet none are ideal suspects. The husband, Jack, was younger and was considered a philandering gold-digger by some of the others, but he seems truly heartbroken. When Julia test-seduces him, Jack is uninterested ᾦquot; and angry that the others are spying on him. He directs suspicion toward Margaret’s brother, William. William claims to have reconciled with Margaret the day before her death and points Julia toward Nicolas and his gambling problems.

At the stables one night, Nicolas confronts Julia, recognizing that she is indeed his mother (he’s a Dollhouse client as well). Nicolas apologizes for not telling her about his gambling debts the first time around. At that moment, in a nearby part of the stable, Victor (who was sent in by Boyd to spy under the cover of a prospective horse buyer) confronts Jack with proof that the racehorse Jack was trying to sell is drugged up and worth much less than he appears. After Victor leaves, Jack goes nuts and starts wielding a shovel around. Nicolas stabs Jack with a farm implement, and he and Julia flee to the house. Nicolas convinces Julia/Margaret/Echo to write a pre-dated letter implicating supposed killer Jack, then loads up a lethal syringe and tries to kill her (again). Jack arrives just in time; he and Julia are able to knock Nicolas out.

Julia writes that letter, but this time it implicates Nicolas. She also gets a chance to re-write her will, and to write heartfelt letters to her daughter, husband, and brother, letting them know how much she loved them.

Topher’s story: Under the pretense of needing to run tests, Topher gains Langton’s permission to implant an active. Langton gives him Sierra. But Topher is really looking for a buddy for a long night of video games and laser tag. What starts out to be another example of Topher being a jerk has a touching wind-up, when we find that this is Topher’s birthday, and he only does this once a year. Dewitt, having also (until recently) used Victor as her own personal play toy, is sympathetic toward Topher, and advises Langton to take no action against him.

Ballard and Mellie’s story: Ballard makes a romantic dinner for Mellie, then, under cover of doing the washing up, bags her wine glass and, later, sneaks into Loomis’ office. Reluctantly, Loomis agrees to run the prints on the computer. Ballard and Loomis briefly view results: Mellie was a woman named Polly Keller (and a handful of other names). Then, suddenly, the results disappear, and the search reports no matches.

Ballard is torn between his feelings for Mellie, her feelings for him, and his knowledge that she is wired as a spy but with no knowledge of her subterfuge. Ballard takes the lead and their lovemaking becomes more intense, perhaps partially in an elaborate ruse to hide his awareness of the situation.


Early on in the first season of Dollhouse, I mentioned that the basic concept of the show was extremely open-ended, with almost limitless possibilities for storytelling. This clever idea (implanting a dead woman to investigate her own death and reconcile with her family) is a good example of this.

Quotable Quotes

“Margaret, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you…you’re dead.”
- DeWitt to Echo

Nicolas: Well…I mean, it seemed like you wanted to -
Echo/Margaret: No.
Nicolas: Subconsciously?
Echo/Margaret: No!
Nicolas: You said you wanted to comfort me.
Echo/Margaret: Not with my tongue.

“Illusions aren’t worthless. They’re at the heart of most relationships.”
- DeWitt to Echo/Margaret

Langton: You know that you’re asking her to voluntarily die when the time comes.
DeWitt: Well, if she resists, I have a new head of security who handles that kind of thing.

Ballard: What just happened?
Loomis: I just started to believe you.

“Well, I guess Topher can make friends.”
- Langton to Dewitt

Sunday, April 12, 2009

1.9 Spy in the House of Love

Summary and spoilers

Dewitt is off to an ominous meeting with the Rossum corporation, where she will probably be asked to explain all the recent problems in the Dollhouse. Dominic is left in charge. Not long after DeWitt leaves, Topher discovers a security breach that could allow anyone to reprogram Dolls to their whim. Topher alerts Langton and Dominic. Dominic locks down the house and programs Sierra as an NSA agent to break into the NSA and find the file on the spy. Meanwhile, Echo, who has been exposed to a lot of secondhand knowledge of the situation by careless Dollhouse employees like Topher and Langton, walks into Topher’s lab and suggests that he program her to find the spy. Seeing this as a perverse opportunity to both catch the spy and experiment on the Dolls, Topher gives Echo a high level of interrogation skills, and a heightened ability to read people and body language. Echo immediately accuses Topher of either being the spy or of being highly incompetent. This amuses Dominic enough that he agrees to let Echo loose.

Sierra breaks into the NSA, steals the file, and is extracted by helicopter. Upon her return, she says that Ivy is the spy. Dominic is poised to arrest Ivy and send her to the attic when Echo states that Dominic must be the spy (based on her reading of body language). Confronted with some hard facts, Dominic admits guilt and then starts about covering all his tracks by killing Echo, Topher, and Ivy. Echo is able to best him in a fight and apprehend him.

Upon returning, DeWitt is swift and hard with her punishment of Dominic; he is placed in the chair, forcibly wiped (during which time he steals a gun and wounds DeWitt) and is sent to the attic.

With Dominic gone, Langton is promoted to Head of Security, even though he would have preferred to protect Echo. Echo is given a new, green handler. He is there after her treatment, and while both of their responses are by the book, it’s obvious that Echo’s are directed at Langton, not her new handler.

We find out that DeWitt did not go to a Rossum meeting; for some time, and unknown to anyone (as far as we know anyway), she has been hiring out Victor as ‘Roger’ for romantic sexual encounters. By the end of the episode, she has finally decided to terminate these encounters.

Over at Ballard’s apartment, his on-edge state is startled by a sound in the hallway. Gun drawn, he finds Mellie returning to her apartment. He tells her it is not safe there; she willingly follows him in, and then suggests that her purpose is to distract him from his obsession with the Dollhouse and keep him ‘grounded’. She kisses him (a worthy distraction); when he tries to take things further, she suddenly switches to the persona of November and tells him he is on the right track – that there is a Dollhouse, that he needs to find out why it exists. November warns him that Mellie is a spy and that if he tells Mellie that he knows this, he will be killed. She suddenly switches back to her Mellie persona, and they resume making love.


This episode was written by Andrew Chambliss. As with last week, the dialogue is sharp and witty; such beautiful prose. Those who have stuck with Dollhouse are now being treated to some of the better written episodes of the series. There are some clever moments of irony, such as when Echo as a dominatrix discusses with Langton how beautiful it is to hand oneself over to another human being with complete trust – and Langton argues, of course, that the opposite is true. I also enjoyed – and think it was almost necessary – when Echo attacked Topher for his incompetency.

Eliza Dushku IS just now becoming Echo. It’s helping that she is gaining sentience and awareness; this is giving her a distinct personality that she can emote at all times, rather than having to play a blank slate. Yes, I’m going to miss Dollhouse; all that it could have been and all that it has become.

This episode uses a cool technique; a number of scenes are filmed from two different perspectives; for example, when Topher and Langton are arguing, we first see it from alongside, on the Dollhouse floor. Later, we see this scene from November’s perspective, looking down from the balcony.

For DeWitt, the pressure at the top must be relentless, so I have some sympathy for her motivations in using Victor as a sex slave. But this is surely a perverse abuse of power. She could be influenced to make decisions in the house that would favor Victor. And what about Victor’s rights? The morality of her actions makes us question the morality of the entire Dollhouse concept; despite their willingness/agreement to the terms, surely it is still wrong to use people as dolls in this way.

DeWitt’s actions with Victor reminded me of the actions of Captain Janeway of the Star Trek series Voyager. In the episode Fair Haven, she took a fantasy computer-generated holodeck lover named Michael and ‘tweaked’ his parameters to make him more compatible and desirable to her. I have less of a problem with what Janeway did, since she was using a computer program (without sentience). What DeWitt did seems much more ick.

Sierra is extracted with a rooftop helicopter, but because of budget restrictions, we never get to see the actual extraction.

Memorable Moments

  • Echo as a dominatrix

Quotable Quotes

Echo: Everyone thinks it’s about the pain; it’s not about the pain. It’s about trust – handing yourself over fully and completely to another human being – there’s nothing more beautiful than letting go like that. Langton: In my experience, that kind of trust always leads to pain.
Echo: Then maybe you need a session in my dungeon so I can show you otherwise.
Langton: Thanks, I think I’ll pass.
Echo: Don’t be so ‘vanilla’. You can trust me. I’ve already shown that I trust you – I got in the van, didn’t I?
Langton: You sure that was a wise decision?
Echo: I have a good feeling about you…and I’ve got the whip.

Echo: Everyone’s unhappy today.
Topher: Somebody put her tiny little thinking cap on!
Echo: He was mean to you. Were you not your best?
Topher: If it hadn’t been for me, there would still be a security breach. You’d think the security head would recognize that! Typical middle management hack. He’s mad at me for not discovering it before it happened. But I’m not a counter-intelligence agent, so I can’t catch a spy. And you have no idea what I’m talking about.
Echo: I can help you.
Topher: Why would you want to?
Echo: Why wouldn’t I?
Topher: Did I just lose an argument to a Doll? Okay – um, thanks, but you can’t – help.
Echo: You make people different. You can make me help.

"Wow! Guess the neighborhood went to crap while I was gone."
- Mellie

Ballard: I’m giving you an out. You can walk out that door.
Mellie: I’m pretty sure I can’t even unlock it.

Sierra: Can I borrow a pen?
[woman reaches for pen]
Sierra: Never mind. [injects woman with pen] Found one.

Roger: You are perfection. If I could make a woman, I’d make you.
DeWitt: Really?
Roger: Um, yes. In fact, if I were one of your clients, I would order one of you with a spare for when you’re in the shop.

DeWitt: Everyone has their first date, and the object is to hide your flaws, and then your in a relationship, and it’s all about hiding your disappointment. Then once you’re married, it’s about hiding your sins.
Roger: Catherine…mistress of the dark observation.
DeWitt: But with you, there’s no reason to hide anything real.

Echo: [looks at Topher] I want to start with him.
Topher: Uh [laughs] I’m not the spy. I discovered the spy. Remember? The spy was operating under my nose!
Echo: Which means you’re either dangerously incompetent, or you’re trying to throw us off your trail.
Dominic: [to Topher] I’m sorry I ever doubted your programming skills.

Echo: I’m not trying to incriminate you. I’m just trying to nail down your feelings about the Dollhouse.
Langton: We’re pimps and killers…but in a philanthropic way. [pause] Can I go now?
Echo: I don’t know why I trust you, but I do.
Langton: I must have one of those faces.

Dominic: That’s it, Miss DeWitt? You’re signing my death warrant like it was a business transaction?
DeWitt: It is.
Dominic: The agency will figure it out, and they’ll come looking for me.
DeWitt: And when they do, you’ll tell them everything’s fine, and then we’ll put you back in your box. [pause] What? Did you think I’d show you mercy? Or rage? Three years by my side – I’d think you’d know me better than that.
Dominic: Piece of work.
DeWitt: So they tell me. Goodbye.

Echo: What’s in store for you…you don’t have much to smile about.
Dominic: After you beat me to a pulp, they’re gonna erase me. But first they’re gonna erase you.
Echo: I can take care of myself.
Dominic: I know, that’s why I’m smiling. ‘Cause one day you’ll be erasing them, and even after all this, they still won’t see it coming.

DeWitt: How did I not see this coming?
Topher: No one did.
DeWitt: Yes, you saw enough to imprint Echo as an investigator.
Topher: Yeah, about that: unless you’re about to give me a better parking space, I can’t take all the credit for that.
DeWitt: Ivy?
Topher: Echo! She came to me and asked me to imprint her.
DeWitt: Dominic had her in his crosshairs for months. She took out her biggest threat.

Saunders: It’s okay to feel something.
DeWitt: That would imply I lost something.
Saunders: Didn’t you?
DeWitt: [watches Victor walk by] Nothing I can’t live without.

Travis: Everything’s going to be alright.
Echo: Now that you’re here.
Travis: Do you trust me? [pause] Do you trust me?
Echo: [looks at Langton] With my life.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Dollhouse Aftermath: Why (probably) No Season Two?

It appears almost inevitable that Dollhouse will not be renewed for a second season, so I’d like to take a moment to examine the possible reasons why. Before I start, its important that all dedicated Dollhouse lovers understand that the opinions here do not reflect negatively on your love and support of the show. In fact, in some cases, the opinions below do not even represent my opinions, but are instead canvassed from blog posts and comments I have read in reaction to Dollhouse. So here are some of the reasons:

  • The ‘slow buildup’ is risky: Joss Whedon likes to slowly build a show, rather than try to ensure that the first few episodes are audience grabbers. With network executives coming and going at an alarming rate, this can spell trouble. Often, as happened with Dollhouse, the executives that supported it have now fallen out of favor and may be on their way out. If the show doesn’t rate highly from the start, these executives cannot continue to support it, and sometimes they are not even around anymore to do so. On the other hand, if the show scores big audience numbers, it becomes immune from executive favoritism. It’s hard to validate the cancellation of a show while it is rating highly. With Dollhouse, it is generally agreed that it built slowly and found its groove in episode six. But by this time, the viewer numbers were already below what FOX wanted, and this was only enough to stabilize the remaining viewers.
  • The concept is flawed: Some viewers have expressed problems with getting emotionally involved with a show where the stars have different personalities every week. This has not been a problem for me: I have focused on other strong personalities among the Dollhouse staff and handlers, like DeWitt, Boyd, and Dominic.
  • Eliza Dushku is not right for the role: Eliza is well-respected in Whedon land from her roles on Buffy and Angel, but many have expressed reservations about whether she has the diversity to play the demanding, always shifting roles of Echo/Caroline. It is an extremely demanding or impossible assignment: to make her character a consistent personality, even while taking on multiple personalities. It demands an actor with an powerful and consistent core presence, no matter what role they are playing. I think Eliza is growing and improving every episode. But again, there is no leeway for the slow improvement in the role – not in the world of snap, cutthroat decisions on whether a show lives or dies.
  • Why Dollhouse? The reason it was made: There are some question marks about where the motivation for Dollhouse came from. Apparently, Joss and Eliza sat down and worked out a starring vehicle for her. If their goal was to create that, then they have succeeded. But perhaps Dollhouse’s reason for existence should have been someone with a burning passion for telling the story. There’s only a slight skewed difference between those two approaches, but its still an important distinction.
  • Joss Whedon is spread too thin: Why isn’t Joss writing and directing every episode? I believe this show demanded that, at least until it had solidified in the ratings. Apparently, he’s got a few other projects going at the same time.
  • This isn’t typical Whedon: I love and respect a lot about Joss Whedon’s work, especially the way he combines original humor and sharp wit as part of serious drama. Dollhouse has the serious drama, but it is missing enough of the trademark Whedon humor. When it is injected (usually by Topher) it seems out of place within the context of the heavy seriousness of the storylines. I loved the way action, drama, and wit swirled together in Firefly; I long for more of it here.

Summary: There are so many wonderful positives about Dollhouse – certainly enough to keep me watching. There’s the trademark Whedon ensemble cast, each with a fully fleshed out personality brimming with gray areas. There are the wonderful sets, the stylish direction, the intense situations peppered with occasional wit. There’s a base concept that is open to almost limitless directions for storytelling. If Dollhouse is not renewed, it will still not be a failure. The ideas will no doubt be used as a stepping stone for other shows that may achieve more success and longevity.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Dollhouse Future: Episode Airings, DVD News, and Cancellations

Previously, we reported that all 13 Dollhouse episodes would air. We also reported that there was no guarantee of this; FOX could alter those plans when they saw fit. Well...they saw fit. FOX now plans to make episode 12 (Omega) the final episode to air. Omega, written by Firefly and Angel vet Tim Minnear, will have to serve as our live finale. Read the full Dollverse article here

For a more satisfying finale, TV Shows on DVD reports that the Dollhouse DVD, due to be released on July 28th, will include the unaired 13th episode, Epitaph One. Epitaph, written by Jed and Maurissa, and directed by Joss Whedon, ties up some loose ends, while still leaving some questions unanswered. The DVD will also include the unaired pilot episode. Read the full article here

Will Dollhouse have a second season? Not decided yet, but, obviously, highly unlikely. Was the decision to can the final episode made by FOX or Joss Whedon? Unknown, but perhaps it was mutual - DVD sales will be boosted by the inclusion of this episode.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

1.8 Needs

Summary and spoilers

Ballard’s dreams are haunted – well maybe ‘haunted’ isn’t the right word when your dream is about Eliza Dushku begging you to make love to her. The haunted part comes later, when Mellie shows up and catches them in the act, then starts bleeding from the head. That’s haunted, as is what happens to Echo that turns Ballard into a necrophiliac.

In the waking world, Ballard has found a tracking device in his apartment. He brings it to an electronics expert, who grudingly identifies the device as being futuristic, untraceable, and possible unable to mask.

At the Dollhouse, DeWitt is leading a meeting for all staff about the sentience glitches that multiple actives have been experiencing. DeWitt senses the wave of a bigger problem, and warns all staff and handlers to be on the lookout for any unusual behavior, and to report it. Topher is going to try getting new equipment to do better wipes, and will mess with the drug cocktail used on the actives when they sleep.

Later that night, Echo freaks out in her pod. Other actives wake up around her with awareness of their surroundings but no understanding of why they are there. There are five actives with sentience; one of them, Mike, drops out after being given a treatment, leaving four (November, Echo, Victor, and Sierra). The four decide to attempt an escape. We learn soon after that they have been programmed this way, as a test of the security system. Only limited staff members are aware of this.

Observed by DeWitt and Dominic, Sierra, Victor, and November are allowed to escape. Echo returns to fight from the inside.

Sierra remembers being taken away by men with guns, and that a man named Nolan put her away. November has also remembered details of her past life, including that she had a daughter named Katie. She heads off on her own to rejoin he previous life, but her discovery is that Katie is dead (and, we assume, November was at least partially responsible for this).

Sierra and Victor go to meet this Nolan character. How decrepit is this: Nolan’s sexual advances were spurned by Sierra, so he had her put in the Dollhouse as punishment. He then hires her out as a willing sex slave. He admits as much, so Victor punishes him with a few punches and smacks before security arrives and the actives flee.

While hiding, Victor reveals that he is haunted by the memory of Sierra being hurt in the house while he was powerless to help her. About to be captured, Sierra and Victor promise to look after each other.

At gunpoint, Echo grills Topher. She is about to force him to have a treatment when DeWitt arrives. At gunpoint, Echo forces DeWitt to release all the actives. As the actives walk out en masse, Echo suddenly collapses, as do Sierra, Victor, and November. It is revealed that this was Dr. Saunders plan for provide closure for the troubled actives. Sierra needed to confront the man who put her in the house; Victor needed to get the girl he is in love with; November needed to deal with the death of her daughter; and Echo needed to lead everyone to safety. When this was achieved, the actives self-released a sedative.

And although Echo wasn’t able to lead anyone to safety, she was able to do one thing that was undetected: she sent a phone message to Ballard, telling him that she was attempting a rescue.


At times, the dialogue bristles in this episode, in particular when Echo and DeWitt go head to head. At other times, such as when Victor and Sierra promise to look after each other, it is beautiful and poetic. I thought this episode was an improvement, simply because of the fluent script written by Tracy Bellomo. Tracy is a staff writer for Dollhouse who has also written for Angel, Alias, and Smallville.


The electronics expert looks at Ballard’s tracking device for all of 8 seconds, then gives way more information about it than should have been possible, especially when he says that it hasn’t even been invented yet. If it hasn’t been invented yet, then he’s never seen it before – so how does he know so much about it?

Memorable Moments

  • Victor suppressing his shower arousal by reciting names and positions of New York Mets baseball players (eg: Mookie Wilson)

Quotable Quotes

Mellie: Oh, my god!
Ballard: Mellie!
Mellie: I guess I took too long getting back. You’re already with…her!
Ballard: I know this is confusing – f-for all of us.

"This house is out of balance."
- DeWitt

Topher: Echo?
Echo: Not anymore.

Echo: What the hell is wrong with you people?
Topher: We’re good people! Nice people! We – help people become better people by giving them what they need. I don’t usually do the sales pitch.

Topher: I have your memories. You can have them back.
Echo: You can do that?
Topher: Totally.
Echo: [points to chair] But I have to go in there.
Topher: Well, yeah, but -
Echo: Okay…you first.

Sierra: Who are they?
Victor: Maybe Nolan’s guys.
Sierra: What do they want?
Victor: Take us back, probably.
[shots are fired at them]
Victor: Or kill us.

Echo: You’re letting us all go.
DeWitt: You’re free to leave. Who are you to decide for the others?
Echo: Something you should have been asking yourself.

Sierra: What have they done to us? I don’t know which to hope for; it feels like dieing either way.
Victor: No. We’ll look for each other like we always do. And we’ll finish this; we will.