Friday, October 30, 2009

2.04 Belonging

Summary and spoilers

There’s a moral dilemma for DeWitt, and, surprisingly, for the normally conscience-challenged Topher as well. Nolan Kinnard, a high-ranking Rossum VP, has been stalking Pria (now Sierra) since she was a teen. When he rejected his lavishly staged advances (using all of the money and dolls available through his company), he did something truly evil. He drugged Pria into a state of schizophrenia, then convinced Topher and the Dollhouse to ‘save her’ and take her in. He then paid for her services as a lover. On a deeper, almost buried level, Sierra knows she is being violated, and she is able to relay that message via paintings to Echo, who passes it on to Topher. Topher investigates and discovers the client relationship. But when DeWitt tells Kinnard that he must stop, Kinnard threatens to remove DeWitt unless she has Sierra permanently implanted and given to him as a slave. DeWitt tasks Topher to do the imprint; on the surface, Topher agrees. But he implants Sierra with the awareness of what Kinnard has done. A violent confrontation ensues at Kinnard’s apartment, ending when Sierra stabs him to death.

Langton intercepts Pria’s call to Topher and goes into action. Kinnard’s body is disposed of completely, and his death is changed to look like a disappearance. Sierra returns to the house and asks Topher to remove her memories of the horrible events she endured and created, leaving Topher to deal with these secrets. Her mind wiped and her smile returned, Sierra renews her friendship with Victor – a friendship that is growing into love.


Halfway through the show, as I watched Sierra getting smacked around, I reflected on the robust and diverse performance of Dichen Lachman. She got to play four different characters: herself (Pria) before she was tampered with (when she was an Australian artist); Pria after she had been given drugs to split her personality (should I count this as two characters?); Sierra as Sierra; and Pria, with no memory of her experiences as ‘doll’ Pria, but with an awareness of the evil that had been done to her. And as I watched, I hoped this was not going to be the last time we see her on the show. Survive, Sierra, survive!

Conversely, Echo’s role is small but highly important. She has a great subtle conversation with Langton about just how aware she has become.

This episode was directed by Star Trek: Next Generation alumni Jonathan Frakes.

Dollhouse Quotes

"Look. This is a brain – a normal, boring brain – like your brain."
- Topher to Langton

 "Given that you’re a raping scumbag one tick short of a murderer – do you take sugar?"
- DeWitt to Kinnard

Langton: Echo – when did you learn how to lie?
Echo: Am I in trouble?
Langton: Not from me – but there are people who would be very upset if they knew what you were doing.
Echo: Reading?

"They even programmed me to think it was endearing how quick you were."
- Pria to Kinnard

Saturday, October 10, 2009

2.03 Belle Chose

Summary and spoilers

A psychopath with a Crispin Glover hairstyle is playing with live dolls – women with fashion model looks that he has drugged heavily, then posed and dressed as living statues. When one tries to escape, he clubs – or croquets, more accurately - her to death. While looking for a quick replacement, he is hit by a vehicle. His name is Terry Carrens – and why does he end up being treated by Topher in the Dollhouse? It’s because his uncle Bradley is a valued client and a major Dollhouse shareholder. It turns out also that Bradley and the Carrens family knew – and covered up – many of his nephew’s indiscretions. DeWitt agrees to allow the comatose Terry to be questioned safely. This is done by dumping Terry’s mind into Victor and then assigning Ballard to do the FBI-style profiling. Ballard exposes Terry as a abductor, torturer, and killer, but soon after, the plan backfires when Bradley grabs Victor and escapes. As they drive away, Bradley thinks he can have a little chat with his nephew to find out the still-secret location of the surviving women, but Victor unceremoniously snaps Bradley’s head against the steering wheel and crashes the car.

Meanwhile, Echo has an ‘R’ (Romance) assignment as an amorous student of a college professor. As ditzy Kiki, she is outfitted as a sex kitten and sent in to play out a porn movie type fantasy: sexy girl gets an ‘F’ and wants to know what she can do to improve that grade.

With Victor now imprinted as a serial killer and poised to take in another abductee, DeWitt tasks Topher with finding a way to do a remote mind wipe. The attempted wipe knocks out the Actives monitoring system and transfers Terry’s diseased mind from Victor to Echo – turning her into the killer.  Echo quickly incapacitates the professor with a quick letter-opener to the neck. She returns to her captives and lashes out at them, but is able to stop herself just short of killing them by using her growing ability to become aware of her implant.

Victor receives Kiki and goes on a flamboyant dancing spree. Ballard, who was glad earlier to dump Kiki with Langton, is once again united with her when he retrieves Victor.

A full mind-wipe later, Echo appears back to normal in the Dollhouse, but the episode ends with her viewing the still comatose body of the real Terry Carrens as she exclaims, "Goodness gracious!" – a lingering Terry-ism.


Fox said there would be changes for season two. One of these possibly Fox-driven changes is to focus more on the relationship/love between two characters, rather than having a true Joss-style ensemble show. I just realized that this seems to be the case, and the two characters are, of course, Ballard and Echo. Although their relationship is now the anchor, the other roles are still important and substantial.

Enver Gjokaj (Victor) is brilliant as psychopath Terry Carrens.

The tension in this episode slowly builds. Victor is looking for another woman to abduct, and Echo is seducing the professor. The two separate stories seem strikingly unlinked, unless…Victor abducts Echo! Okay, it didn’t exactly happen like that…

Dollhouse Quotes

Ballard: Would you like a towel?
Echo: [naked after a shower] Yes, thank you. I’m wet.

DeWitt: Any progress on locating our troubled missing employee?
Langton: She’s not really missing, is she? She left.
DeWitt: Well, I call that missing.
Langton: I call that leaving.

Kiki: Don’t you just feel like dancin’?
Ballard: Not overly.

DeWitt: You’re quite certain of this [that Carrens is a serial killer]
Topher: Certain enough that I have serious ethical problems trying to wake him up.
Langton: Topher has ethical problems. Topher!
Topher: [laughs] Way to land it.

Kiki: Okay, so, I probably never should have taken this course to begin with, I figured it was Medieval Lit, not Advanced Evil – how hard could it be. So I skipped Intro to Evil, or whatever, but, how is it that I got an ‘F’ when this guy that we’re reading – Chauncey - can’t even spell?
Professor: It’s Chaucer. It’s Middle English.
Kiki: Right, like, Hobbits or something.
Professor: Yeah, as I said, my office is open if you’d…care to discuss it.
Kiki: Yeah, I’d care to discuss it. I’m like the Scarlet Lady with the ‘F’ on her chest.
Professor: ‘A’.
Kiki: If only!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

2.02 Instinct

Summary and spoilers

In addition to programming Echo’s brain, Topher has also reprogrammed her body to produce a glandular reaction - in this case, allowing her to assume the role of a breast-feeding new mom. The possibilities, he says, are endless – and he can duplicate this basic concept for any active. Echo’s nightly feeds are going well, but not so much her marriage to a workaholic. Nate holds baby Jack like it has an infectious disease. He works late or stays locked in his home office to avoid baby – and wife – contact. Fortunately, Echo’s girlfriend Kelly (Sierra) is there to reassure her that things will work out. Echo resolves to be patient and give Nate his space, but this vow lasts for mere minutes. Soon, she is breaking into Nate’s office. She finds what appears to be proof of infidelity: photos of Nate and another woman. When she confronts Nate, he claims that the woman was a past lover who died. There are apologies all around, and Nate soothingly asks Echo to go to bed and rest. Later, Echo wakes up and hears Nate having an angry argument on the phone that ends with a promise to ‘get rid of the baby’.

The real story is that Nate has hired Echo to be the mother of his baby, to take the place of the wife who died in childbirth. Echo truly believes that she carried the child, birthed it, and nursed it. When she incorrectly suspects that Nate is up to no good, she flees with the child before Ballard can stop her. Echo eventually tells her story to the police. While at the station, she is confronted by Nate and Ballard. Echo is separated from the baby and dragged away screaming for her child.

DeWitt visits Mellie aka November aka Madeline, to check up on her and insist that she come in for her scheduled diagnostic. Madeline agrees. While receiving her diagnostic in Topher’s office, Echo is brought in kicking and screaming. The sight of Echo living through the pain of a ‘make-believe’ situation makes Madeline realize how tormented the life of an active can be.

Echo’s treatment does nothing to wipe her mind or relieve her pain; instead, she knocks out Topher and, with nothing functioning in her mind except the mothering instinct, heads for Nate and Jack. Echo is ready to take the baby at knifepoint, but Nate is able somehow to explain to her that she was hired to believe the baby was hers – but that it is not true. Enough of that message gets through, and Echo’s sentience about her role as an active allows her to give the baby back to Nate without being forced to do so.

Ballard offers to take down the Dollhouse without her help, and to have Topher fully wipe her mind and take away the pain, confusion and conflict of being aware of her role-playing, but Echo refuses, preferring to ‘stay awake’.


I’m not sure if it’s such a good idea for the Dollhouse to pursue Echo and the baby in that big hard-to-hide black van.

Is I just me, or is Topher looking more and more like Bruno this season?

Someone has leaked detailed and damning information about the Dollhouse to Senator Perrin, the politician who is intent on exposing the wrongs of the Rossum Corporation. We don’t find out who this person is, but Perrin knows (their name is in the report).

Memorable Moments

  • Echo unexpectedly snapping out of Stepford wife mode after a treatment and knocking out Topher.

Dollhouse Quotes

"I don’t want to use the word ‘genius’, but I’d be okay if you wanted to."
- Topher (about himself)

DeWitt: For your own well-being, come and have your diagnostic. I won’t take no for an answer.
Madeline: No. [pause] I don’t imagine you will.

Madeline: Is it always like that?
Ballard: Like what?
Madeline: She really believed someone took her child, heart and soul.
Ballard: Like I said, it wasn’t real.
Madeline: But it was for her – all that emotion, all that pain.

Topher: Hello Echo. How are you feeling?
Echo: Did I fall asleep?
Topher: For a little while.
Echo: [punches Topher, knocking him out] Should I go now?

Ballard: Think we’re looking at a genius.
Topher: I’m not as comfy with you saying that as I thought I’d be.
Ballard: Think about it: you changed her on a glandular level. Maybe her body was stronger than her brain.

"I’m awake now; I don’t wanna go back to sleep."
- Echo (closing line)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

2.01 Vows

Summary and spoilers

Echo is back in the chair to have her 39 personalities wiped, and to be sent out as a bride in someone’s fantasy wedding. Ballard has reason to be worried. Echo’s assignment is no ordinary ‘safe’ fantasy – the man she is to wed is Martin Klar, a leading arms dealer, and her mission is to become his confidante and bring him down. Topher also is worried, but for different reasons: he is being harassed by Dr. Saunders. Saunders is still angry at the discovery that she is an active; she is virusing Topher’s computer with clips from Bride of Frankenstein, and stocking his cupboard with phobia-inducing white rats.

Langton, as the head of security, watches as DeWitt’s touch lingers too long on Victor’s scarred and healing face.

DeWitt tries her best to convince Ballard to become Echo’s handler. I suppose this is another way of ensuring that Ballard takes more ownership of the Dollhouse and stops trying to bring it down. But the job of Echo Handler may not be around too long. As associate of Klar is looking at photos of Echo and Ballard – her mission has been compromised.

Despite being trapped, Echo uses her guile to convince Klar that she is innocent. But her own mind betrays her; she forgets the names and situations of her current mission. Ballard purposely gets captured so he can reach Echo and whack her around enough to make her go medieval on Klar and his men. This ridiculous plan somehow works.

Ballard does not tell DeWitt about Echo’s multiple personality issues, knowing that this could send her to the attic. Instead, he vows to help Echo find Caroline, and he accepts the role as her handler.

Langton discovers a goodbye note from Saunders. She has triumphed over her programmed fear of everything outside her office and has left the Dollhouse.


Echo’s sentience continues to grow. She recognizes Dr. Saunders as Whiskey and remembers that Whiskey was ‘number one’. Saunders adds to this active memory by briefing her on the Alpha origin of her scars.

Saunders and Topher eventually resolve their conflict, to a degree. Topher created Saunders from the personality of the real Dr. Saunders, then added checks and balances to ensure that she would not be attracted to him. Saunders cannot live with the thought of being fabricated, and yet is not willing to give up her rented body and die.

We were told that Dollhouse season two would have some changes. I think the exploding vehicle and what I suspect may be an obligatory fight sequence each week may be a sign that every show is going to have more requisite action and fireballs. Fox may have insisted that Dollhouse adopt the Lost ‘one explosion per episode’ credo.

Memorable Moments

  • Ballard’s pushups coordinated with Echo’s wedding night boogie

Dollhouse Quotes

"My entire existence was constructed by a sociopath in a sweater vest."
- Dr. Saunders

Topher: What the hell! Are you drunk?
Saunders: Just…trying to be my best.
Topher: Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, I don’t want your best.
Saunders: [looks down] I think you do.
Topher: Okay, that is – the – minority vote.

Topher: You’re human!
Saunders: Don’t flatter yourself.