by: Adela P
I loved this episode. It's interesting, because out of the reviews that I read before the series premiered (from those lucky people who got to watch a few episodes way back in 2008), many people seemed to really dislike this episode. Well, I personally am hoping that the tone the writers established in this episode will be consistent throughout the rest of the season -- I was delighted by the plot, felt sympathy for Echo and her handler, and laughed out loud quite a few times. All in all, I was thoroughly entertained.
The episode begins quite cleverly. Adelle is explaining the way the Dollhouse works to a potential client, and her monologue is accompanied by eerie music and flashes to scenes of Echo on various exploits. She says:
"In their resting state, our actives are as innocent and vulnerable as children. We call it the tabula rasa, the blank slate. Now imagine the imprint process filling it, creating a new personality, a friend, a lover, a confidant in a sea of enemies. Your heart's desire made flesh. And, when the engagement has been completed all memory of you and your time together will be wiped clean."
I hope we continue to be privy to these client intakes in the future, as I expect they will be both informative and entertaining.
We learned much more about the Dollhouse and the characters in this episode via flashbacks. Flashbacks are a tricky business -- they must be used carefully so that they do not completely overtake the story and become boring. The writers implemented them quite successfully in this episode. The only problem I had with them was that I don't think they quite distinguished themselves enough from "real time." I can understand why one would want to refrain from those "three months earlier" overlays every time the scene flashes back, but I think something other than making the scene brighter needs to be done in order to establish it as not-happening-right-this-very-minute.
From the flashbacks we learn that Boyd came on board right after a doll, Alpha, went on a crazy killing spree. Three important things to take note of: 1) Alpha is the conglomeration of a bunch of personalities that were meant to be erased; 2) for some reason, Alpha didn't kill Echo; and 3) Alpha has fab assassination skills. Boyd is hired because, in Adelle's words, "In the light of recent events we've decided to engage individuals with a more, shall we say, intensive background. If you are amenable to the terms of your contract you will be assigned to Echo, one of our most requested actives." Apparently there's always been something different about Echo and it makes clients like her more -- perhaps she's always displayed more of a "personality" than the rest? The way Adelle spoke it seems that clients will request her more than once. Another question that Adelle's comment brings to mind -- what exactly are the terms of Boyd's contract?
The morally ambiguous Topher, who describes himself to Boyd as "the man behind the grey matter curtain," is my favorite character thus far. In one of the flashbacks to the Alpha Incident, the Dollhouse is invaded with big men toting guns, and Topher says, "Guns! Can I have one." They don't respond. He tells them what happened, they disperse, and he says, "Seriously? Gun?" Delivery on this line? Perfect.
When he's talking to Topher during Echo's excursion, Boyd expresses concern that Echo is "elevating toward redline." Topher tells Boyd she's fine, and that he's "been reading the squigglies long enough to discern the diff between excitement and Sweet-Mother-I'm-Gonna-Die." When Boyd mentions that his signal is bad, Topher responds, "You're in the middle of Why-Would-Anyone-Wanna-Be-There, what'd you expect, HBO?" Upon Boyd's insistence, Topher returns to the computer, but rather than using the stairs he instead prefers to climb over the railing. He tells Boyd, "Anything for you. Because I love you. Deep, deep man love."
Yes, Topher is most definitely my favorite character -- I love that he's hilarious and awkward and geeky and sort of evil all at the same time.
I like how Echo wasn't the absolute central part of the episode, because, as we know, she's not the absolute central part of the show. If she were, the show would have been named "Echo" instead of Dollhouse, right? That being said, I thought Echo's adventure in this episode was pretty amazing. I'm not ashamed to say that when it became clear Echo was her client's "prey," I burst into delighted laughter. I love psychopaths, I really do. Perhaps I should have been more disturbed or something, but I can't always help that I love me a good slasher movie. Richard seemed a little bit "off" from the get-go with some of his comments -- "If you can bring something down bigger than you with just this, you prove you deserve to eat it. It gets way, you prove it deserved to live, and you go hungry. Dad thought we all take too much for granted." As soon as it was clear he had Daddy Issues I was wondering when the big fall-out was going to happen, but I really wasn't expecting him to go all Battle Royale on her. Especially after all that "you're the perfect woman" business. Or maybe I just should have known. I loved Richard's delivery on this line: "You need to stop talking now. And start running. I'll give you a five minute head start. And then I'm coming after you."
I believed Eliza's acting moreso this week than last. I was sucked into this plot much more than I was the "kidnapped daughter" plot, and I felt that Echo's childlike persona was more believable. And Eliza definitely played the "happy girlfriend" turned "scared rabbit" turned "sexy badass" quite well -- I'm likely to expect a lot more greatness from Eliza in the coming weeks.
I was a little bit disappointed that Echo took time out of her precious five minutes to put on ALL of her clothing, though. Only because I think if I found myself in that situation, clothing would be the least of my worries. I probably would've taken the boots and the pants--only to prevent tree branch chafing, you understand. I certainly wouldn't have taken the time to put on both of those shirts. And for the record? Whoever's personality the Dollhouse imprinted Echo with definitely wouldn't have survived a horror movie. Drinking out of a random canteen instead of a tap? Haphazardly moving papers and objects around on the desk? Not too bright, although who knows what kind of neurological damage constantly imprinting and washing away personalities causes.
This brings to mind the question of the hour -- was it the stuff Richard put in the canteen that caused Echo to start remembering her past? It's clear that whatever happened is going to have some lasting repercussions, as Echo seems to still remember her past at the end of the episode. It also seems like she's able to pick up and retain some of the traits of the people around her.
I loved the process that binds Boyd to Echo as her handler:
Boyd: Everything's going to be alright.
Echo: Now that you're here.
Boyd: Do you trust me?
Echo: With my life.
It's obvious from Boyd's expression that he finds the whole exchange horribly trite, but in a way, it's the expression of love and devotion that every human longs to hear. In that way, it's sort of eerily beautiful. And it makes it all the more interesting later, when Echo's response to Boyd's "everything's going to be alright" is, "No, it isn't."
Throughout the episode, Boyd seems uncomfortable with the whole concept of "dolls," which makes me all the more curious about why he decided to join the Dollhouse in the first place. What part of his past could have been so horrible that he'd have to work for them? Despite his intentions to remain aloof, it's clear that Boyd begins to care for Echo. I anticipate that Boyd is going to be okay with Echo beginning to remember things, and may in fact be tempted to aid her in her desire to figure things out.
Dialogue I could have done without:
Boyd: She's just an empty hat until you stuff a rabbit in her.
Other than that minor glitch, I didn't have any other significant problems with the dialogue.
The only other thing I'll mention is that I love the Hulu marketing. Check out this ad if you didn't catch it last week: