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Dollhouse - Episode 3: "Stage Fright"

They're moving things along quickly. Maybe a little too quickly.

I wasn't crazy about the opening concert scene; again, the glitz smacked of Fox, and it went on a bit too long. I liked this episode, but more for the reveals than the main storyline. I found the Britney/Beyoncé entertainment=prostitution metaphor and Dollhouse parallels to be grossly heavy-handed, yes, yes, we're participating in objectification, supply and demand, and we got your little inside joke of having it on Fox right at the outset, Joss, particularly with those promos. We get the meta aspect of life imitating art, and recognize that you're making lemonade out of lemons and using the network to your advantage to tell the story. Other than that, the actress playing Rayna Russell did a good job -- you can tell she's a real dancer (also a typical Joss hire in that, given Summer Glau's ballerina days).

I remember Joss mentioning in an interview about the show that Eliza could sing, so I figured he'd be using that at some point, knowing his love for musicals. I didn't realize it would be quite this soon, but she was surprisingly good. There was no reason for Faith to be singing in Buffy at that point in time, so I'm glad she got the chance to demonstrate that ability here.

  • I truly didn't see the Lubov/Victor thing coming at all. I'm assuming that Ellie is an Active -- it makes sense that the Dollhouse would position a neighbor right across from Ballard's apartment to keep an eye on comings and goings -- but I've mostly avoided spoilers, so it really didn't occur to me that he was a Doll. I thought he was just a lead, and possibly a false one that would show Ballard's persistence against a hydra.

    I liked that twist for a few reasons. First, it establishes that the Dollhouse regularly factors redundancy into risky missions, frequently without the Dolls realizing that they're working toward the same goal. If we assume that Ellie is an Active, they used her in tandem with Lubov ... almost makes me wonder now if that lasagna might have been poisoned. I thought she was a solo operative; I definitely didn't realize that she was a misdirection so we wouldn't suspect Lubov. Anyway, it was a nice mirroring of the Echo/Sierra collaboration that occurred in the main storyline for the episode.

    The other thing I liked about the Lubov twist was the continued establishment of the Dollhouse as a wish fulfillment agency, even when dealing with an enemy -- from one perspective, killing Ballard could almost have been a win-win situation had they succeeded. Consider this: the Dollhouse could have had him killed a while back. Instead, they let the Doll string him along ... had he died, he would have done so thinking that he had a real lead instead of realizing that he'd been in the hands of the puppeteers all along. I don't have the impression that he has any idea that he's being toyed with. Was Ellie at the hospital to finish the job? Perhaps she'll fail, and that will be how he begins to put two and two together. Who put Ballard on this assignment, anyway?

  • I think there might be just a little bit of Maggie Walsh in Adelle DeWitt. I think she has a certain amount of ego, and wants to see where Echo will go -- she wants to see the fruits of the Dollhouse's labor and just how successful they can be at creating a realistic simulation. This may be why Dominic is so vociferous in his desire to see Echo boxed put in the Attic. He may have seen this behavior from Adelle before, with Alpha, and while she may believe that they have everything under control, he believes otherwise.

    Speaking of Adelle, what was her association with Biz, Rayna's manager? They seemed to know one another well. Was she a talent scout at some point before the Dollhouse?

  • Graham Norris (the guy who played the stalker) reminded me a bit of a ginger-haired Jake Gyllenhaal.

  • This bit of dialogue is interesting:
    Langton: She's my responsibility. And we both know there's someone out there ... someone who wants her dead. The word from upstairs is it can't be Alpha.
    Saunders: You're certified.
    Langton: Thank you.
    Saunders: And do keep a close eye. Someone else is watching.
    Langton: Someone always is.

    Who else is watching? The heads of the Dollhouse? Does Saunders know about Ballard -- is she referring to him? It was also a nice little bit of writing that Saunders didn't want to call Langton by his first name; a little reinforcement of her reluctance to trust after Alpha's attack.Three episodes, and I still want to know more about Amy Acker's character.

  • Did it mean anything that Sierra was dizzy coming off the treadmill? Are there physical aftereffects from the wiping for new Actives, or was this just a scripted bit to demonstrate the connection between her and Echo?

  • Nice working in of Topher's objectification, there. He's a morally bankrupt, repulsive nerd who unconsciously puts the cool of "can do" above the ethics of "should do" every time. They're doing an effective job of making him creepy and icky.

  • The nod at the end was interesting for what it suggested. How long has Echo had that sort of recall -- is this a residual from the water she consumed during her previous assignment? Where between that episode and this one did she figure out that it was important to conceal that, and why does it seem that Sierra may have some recognition, too? Is that part of Echo's "specialness" - that she can help other Actives retain memories?

I'm looking forward to the sixth episode and beyond, where, supposedly, Fox loosens the reins a little bit, and Joss has more control.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 5th, 2009 12:18 am (UTC)
I admit that I have more interest after this episode than after the first two, but I'm still not feeling it. I'm particularly intrigued by the Lubov reveal (which I also didn't see coming) because it confirms an obvious implication - that the Dollhouse deploys actives for its own agenda, without paying clients, which begs the questions of how big the organization is, and whether that agenda is limited to defensive protection or if it extends to freelance for-profit initiatives as well, and if so, who's picking the jobs?

And, now that I think about it, is there actually an ethical difference to that distinction?

I think you're wrong about Topher, though. I suspect Topher will function as the Joss POV character, like Wash or Xander. I don't believe he's a baddie, and I don't find him creepy and icky in any case. Do you think maybe it's a gender issue?

Mar. 5th, 2009 01:51 am (UTC)
And, if they're using Actives for their own means, for how long and in what positions? I can see situations where an Active becomes too valuable in a position for the Dollhouse to hold up their supposed five year bargain.

On what basis, given the three episodes we have been given, do you base your opinion that Topher isn't bad? I agree that he's the Joss PoV character, but that doesn't keep him from being part of the skin trade, as it were.

I don't think it's a gender issue so much as a philosophical one. This is very much Manhattan Project territory for ethics. Yes, we can open Pandora's box, but should we? Topher's a big thumbs-up on that -- he wants to feed his vanity with the product of his brilliance. He wants to play with the shiny tech.

No, I think Topher absolutely views the Dolls as objects instead of people, and would not be surprised if he used them recreationally from time to time as a perk of the job, if his contract permits such. I think his character's perspective, at least at this point in the story (there's nothing saying he won't change down the road, as Spike did), was pretty much summed up in the quote from Hamlet that he spoke in the pilot:

"There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.


Topher: We're all so misunderstood, which great humanitarians often are. Look at Echo - not a care in the world. She's living the dream.

Langton: Whose dream?

Topher: Who's next?

To him, they are commodities. Not someone's brother or sister. Not anybody he'd like to get to know. He's in total control and can build whatever he wants, which is a perfect balm for his insecurities. He's brilliant, but he'll take the robot since his ego likely couldn't deal with a real partner. There's plenty of Warren Mears in Topher, I think.

He's getting the few funny lines, which of course makes him more likable, but that doesn't mean he's a nice fella. Badger was funny, too, but shady. Not scary like Niska, but definitely not a shining beacon of morality. Heck, Spike got some of the best lines in the whole series when he was a villain ... and Mayor Wilkins broke it down for Buffy and Angel in the cafeteria in "Choices." Joss is good at writing three-dimensional baddies.

I'm not saying Topher doesn't have a shot at redemption. It's entirely possible that something could happen that causes him to stop dehumanizing the Actives. Right now, though, he's the one wiping these people's brains day after day. He's completely depersonalized them -- they're just vessels, as far as he's concerned.

As for "not feeling it," believe it or not, I can understand that. :) It's not gelling as fast as Firefly did. Like I said, I'm looking forward to the sixth episode and beyond to see where the series really might go, instead of these first five episodes that have been Fox-ilized.

(Edited to fix formatting problem.)

Edited at 2009-03-05 01:53 am (UTC)
Mar. 5th, 2009 02:05 am (UTC)
BTW, I am so glad that you're watching! I mean, I remember your previous post about it, but hadn't seen you mention it for a bit, so I'm really glad to be able to discuss it.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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