Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dollhouse: Echoes

Oh, how I'm loving this show now!!

In last week's episode of Dollhouse, hilariously titled, "Man on the Street," Joss Whedon poked fun at critics of the show, having the usually boneheaded "man on the street" interviews interspersed throughout the episode of people saying what they think of the idea of a "Dollhouse" where people are mind-wiped, and whether it's misogynist or human trafficking or kinda cool. (Side note: If any Torontonians reading this listen to 680 News, that is one of my pet peeves of that station. They always ask ONE person on the street for their opinion of their top story, then run it, no matter how inane or mumbling or incoherent it is. It's gotten to the point where it's moved beyond pet peeve and has officially become a must-listen part of my day. "On the corner of Yonge and Bloor, I found Wanda, who says she's tired of this winter." Wanda: "I'm just tired of this winter." "There you have it John, back to you.")

ANYWAY... in recent episodes, as Echo begins to have flashes of her life before it was wiped, we were starting to find a thread between episodes. In the beginning, it was more of a mission-of-the-week feel to the series, but now it's moving to a more continuous arc, where you have to see each episode or you'll be missing out.

But last night's episode was the one we've been waiting for. This one tied together the series to this point (including having Echo back with the guy who hired her in the first episode) and for the first time, we see Caroline -- the woman Echo used to be -- in action, and what happened to bring her to the dollhouse. And, as with the last few episodes, it had lots of the funny -- the scenes of Topher and Adelle talking about her Britishness had me in stitches.

Free will versus blissful ignorance has been a favourite topic of Joss Whedon's for some time. The largely disappointing fourth season of Angel was all about it, where Jasmine came to the world wiping everyone's minds and making them fall in love with her, and all they had to do in return was give up their free will and be completely happy all the time. Oh yeah, and a few of them had to become daily lunchtime human sacrifices. There was that part, too.

On Dollhouse, we didn't know what Echo's life was before this (or Victor's, or Sierra's, etc.) but the assumption was, something bad must have happened to have made them turn to this as their solution. What could be so bad that they'd want to forget?

In Echo's case, it was losing her lover, who died in her arms as they tried to raid a lab and save some animals, exposing the Rossum Corporation for what it really is. It's still not completely enough to convince us that she'd want her mind wiped, so to provide the parallel, Joss gives us the present-day story of Echo/Alice wandering through the campus, and beginning to have memories of having been there before. After realizing who the perpetrator of the mysterious hallucinogenic drug release was, she rushes down the halls, and flashes of having run down those same halls -- moments before her lover was shot -- begin to invade her mind. By the time she gets outside, the two time periods have blended into one, and she's on top of the guy in the present, thinking he's the guy from her past.

Until now, we see Echo get off a "job" and Boyd is standing there, jolting her out of her persona with the trigger phrase, "Echo, would you like your treatment?" and it always comes as an unwelcome shock. We've seen her fall in love and have to be mind-wiped, we've seen her save lives and be forced to forget it. It all seemed like a horrible thing to do to a person. Until this episode, where the horrors of the past blend into the terrifying present, and Boyd's trigger phrase is as welcome to us as it is to her. He offers her salvation in forgetting.

And, at the end of the episode, as Adelle watches Echo walk through the dollhouse, blissfully ignorant of the pain she'd been through earlier that day, we can't help but see a touch of jealousy on Adelle's face.


Benny said...

This was one of the funniest drama-oriented TV episodes I've ever seen.

On top of that, the story itself was great and it really tied some points together, but not the whole story, which will make us pay attention for more.

I just can't seem to shake this idea that Rossum has been part of the Dollhouse idea for some time, especially when Caroline notices the brain diagram on the computer screen, oddly resembling the diagrams used for the actives! That Rossum has the power to hire and 'army' of actives and in turn one of their researchers is being recruited certainly lends to that belief.

On top of the British arguments, a single hilarious moment for me was the first time Boyd tries the trigger on Echo, to which she replies "No, I'm good." Boyd is completely unphased and makes an off-hand comment that he wasn't in control of that situation.

JJ said...

I didn't like this episode as much as "Man on the Street" ("PORN!!") but agree that it was awesome.

Olivia Williams is the loveliest member of the cast -- sorry, Eliza, but we both know it's true -- and this week she FINALLY gets a chance to really shine. I would not have guessed she would do so within the context of broad physical comedy, but I guess that's why I'm not the genius.

Cedar said...

Great episode, I agree. I love Topher's line regarding his "drawer of unnecessary starches." (The line made me like him a little bit for the first time.) I love the repeated climbs over the railing even though the entrance is only inches away. This episode definitely has Whedonesque flair.

A question: Are we sure that Carline's boyfriend died? I was thinking that the company used him and his well-being as the motive for Caroline to agree to become a Doll (in the way they used the mother of the new guy). Or, perhaps the boyfriend is another Doll that we've not seen yet. I don't think Caroline would have agreed without a strong motive (beyond simply wanting to forget the trauma of it all).

JK said...

LOVED Man on the Street (and the "PORN!" moment definitely was a highlight for me - props to Eliza on that one), and Echoes is certainly filling in the backstory and giving more dimension to some of the characters.

I'm still waiting to find out more about the imprints themselves. How do they acquire them? For example, the John that hires Echo in "Man on the Street" knows they have his ex-wife's imprint - how did they get it before she died? Also, if Topher is combining several personality elements of many people, how does the active come away with one cohesive identity? Or when he's moving chunks of brain around on the screen, is he just looking for a profile that meets the criteria he's looking for?

fb said...

i actually preferred last week's episode to this week's, but i do agree that the series has begun to pick up steam and move from mission-of-the-week to a season-long plot. topher is growing on me (i think they're trying too hard to make him xander-like, even down to the name (xander instead of alex, topher instead of chris). he grated on my nerves the first few episodes, but he's become almost endearing.

olivia williams is playing the cliched, frosty british bitch to a T. never been a fan of that type of character, or her as an actress, personally. but it works in this role, i guess.

i like that we're starting to get some sort of back story and cohesiveness to the show now. up until last week, it felt very fragmented and i didn't mind if i missed an episode and would just catch up later. now, i definitely want to know what happens next, so the series has really grown on me!

Anonymous said...

I preferred the previous week. I've seen this episode three times now on different series of Star Trek.

Fain and Craft just don't do it for me. Neither does Eliza.

Olivia Williams rocks, though. But I already knew that. See Rushmore.

The Chapati Kid said...

"On top of the British arguments, a single hilarious moment for me was the first time Boyd tries the trigger on Echo, to which she replies "No, I'm good." Boyd is completely unphased and makes an off-hand comment that he wasn't in control of that situation."

That's because Boyd is affected by the memory drug as well.

I am starting to enjoy the show now, but I still don't think Dushku's got the acting chops needed for the subtleties of character in this show. Also, the plotline was totally implausible, as was the solution (or lack of). But does it really matter, when the show is fun to watch? The structure of the series is so very much like BTVS and Angel.

Benny said...

Chapati: I knew that, it seemed obvious. But it was still hilarious.

redeem: seen Rushmore, LOVE Rushmore!

Nikki Stafford said...

Cedar: I completely forgot to reference Topher's drawer of inappropriate starches!! I'm one of those people who, if you hold out a sugary snack or a salty one, I'll go for the salt, 100% of the time. I was suddenly envious of Topher's drawer. ;)

And Adelle flipping over that railing was hysterical. I think she's a wonderful actress.

redeem and Benny: "These are OR scrubs." "O... R they?"

Rushmore is one of my all-time fave movies. LOVE it.

CK: You know, while I think Eliza is excellent in the show, there are moments where I agree that she's not the most subtle actress. Esp when Olivia Williams shone like she did in this episode, you can see how lacking Eliza is in some ways. Here's hoping she grows into it pretty fast.

Cedar: Good question on the boyfriend! I, of course, immediately fell for him being dead, but at the same time was thinking, "Hm. We now have her back story only a few episodes in... where can they take this now?" If he's still alive, there are LOTS of directions they can take this one in.

In the meantime, Topher's got to figure out how to completely wipe these people, because they must have figured out in this ep that their old memories are coming through. Looks like Victor was in Iraq or something.

Someone mentions in the ep that Caroline has the criteria they're looking for to become a doll. Do you think severe post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the factors? Because it's brought on by something horrific, and one would assume you'd like to forget that.

I pointed out in my write-up that this reminded me of Jasmine on Angel, but Joss explored this issue a lot on Buffy, too. There were several eps where they weren't acting like themselves, or in the case of Tabula Rasa, the show had been really depressing for a few eps and when the spell wears off, Buffy is literally paralyzed with the memories of having died and come back.

Robert Kuang said...

This series is really starting to grow on me. How silly of me to doubt Joss W Read my review

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

TV By the Numbers on Dollhouse's problems...

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

--you have, imho, to establish things before you can play off them. Buffy did this. Firefly did this.

The first four or five episodes of Dollhouse establish the basis for the Dollverse (and contain arc elements if you watch carefully). Man in the Street and Echoes have really kicked the arc into high gear.

--enjoyed the reference to Firefly.

--wasn't particularly found of the druggie stuff. It seemed very much like Angel's Spin the Bottle to me (at least on first impression).

--The Rossum stuff along with Caroline's activist background and what Rossum does with those who get on their bad side is interesting. It will be interesting to see where Whedon and Company take us.

--they aren't likely, by the way, to take us too far. The consensus among Nielsen watchers is that Dollhouse is dead (as is TSCC). People are jumping off the Dollhouse ship week by week (its numbers have declined pretty much since the third or fourth ep). So enjoy it while you can and contemplate whether a lack of patience on the part of "Jossophiles" helped kill the show.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

Numbers for Dollhouse Needs ( Given that quality is defined as quantity on US commercial television...For those of you interested in audience ideologies the significant numbers of individuals who buy into such quantity is quality constructs might be interesting to you.

What does all of this say about Whedon's future on the major US networks?

Anonymous said...

Hi Nikki... just wanted to share. Joss & Co were at the PaleyFest in Hollywood last night discussing "Dollhouse." You've probably already read about it, but here's a good recap of the top items discussed:
And, here's a few of my geeky pics:

The thing that awed me the most: Joss discussed that when he pitched the show to the studio, he had a 6-season story outline prepped! He knows all the story arcs and is ready to run with it. Such a gifted writer!

Anonymous said...

oops... direct pic link here: