Friday, March 06, 2009

Dollhouse, "Gray Hour": Mind thief

Brief spoilers for tonight's "Dollhouse" coming up just as soon as I get comped for two bottles of champagne...

We're now at the point I reach with shows where I got to see a bunch of episodes in advance: it's been so long since I watched this particular episode, and my overall impressions of the show have so coalesced together, that I don't have very much specific to say here and am just waiting for the next new one. For that matter, I almost feel like I should wait two weeks for this sixth episode that Eliza Dushku promised would change everything.

In brief, I think it was a mistake to do two episodes out of the first four (the pilot being the other) where the imprinting process backfires in some way and nearly ruins the mission, because it creates yet another story hole for a show that can't afford to take on any more plausibility leaks. I don't care that Topher acts like the remote mind-wipe should be nearly impossible; when we see Echo lose it on a mission twice in such short order(*) because of a glitch in the technology, it makes it really hard to accept that anyone would go to the Dollhouse first (or second or third) to meet their needs. Why not just hire an actual safecracker?

(*) Joss Whedon did tell me that the episode order on these first four got reshuffled due to production issues, but it seems like the bow-hunting episode was the one that got moved the most, and that's a case where the client went nuts but the imprint process was fine.

Also, even though it was necessary to the plot, I really didn't want to spend that much time with Echo in her tabula rasa state. Taffy the thief -- both Dushku's version of her and Dichen Lachman's(**) -- was a variation on every other character Dushku plays, but at least she plays that note well.

(**) Given how easily Lachman copied Dushku's mannerisms here, and how convincing she was last week as the nerdy super-fan -- a character I don't think Dushku could have pulled off -- I suspect that we're going to be seeing a lot of "Joss should have built the show around her" chatter on these here Internets.

Anyway, that's all I've got. I may take next week's show off (having so many Friday shows to review all of a sudden is turning out to be a real hassle, what with me wanting to spend the weekend with my family instead of on the laptop), but I'll definitely be back for episode six to see if it lives up to the hype or if the show still seems too flawed to fix.

What did everybody else think?


Zack Smith said...

Yeah, Lachman's a more convincing "doll," like I said last week. She's so unknown in the US that there's something surprising every time she takes on a new persona -- as opposed to Dushku, who just comes off as play-acting.

Still holding out for episode six, as you are. This had better be a game-changer.

Is it wrong that I sort of want Alpha to just take the Dollhouse down? Or at least just Topher?

MCB said...

Yes, please, let's get rid of Topher. Aside from the fact that he's kind of a horrible human being, I'm having a really hard time buying his character as the brains behind this operation. He strikes me as more of an arrogant tech support type -- adept with things others have created, but not able to create anything himself.

I was interested in the premise of this hour, but it really dragged for me -- too much time with Echo the babbling tabula rasa, too much time with the loathsome trio of Topher, Adelle and Security Guy, not enough Boyd. And did anyone understand the logic behind Agent Ballard wanting to get his informant killed? I get that he wants to interpret the manner in which Viktor will be killed, but what information is that supposed to give him about the Dollhouse? I think we're supposed to like this character, but right now I just feel like Agent Ballard is a few fries short of a Happy Meal.

Anthony Strand said...

Topher's awful. During his grocery list bit, I thought to myself, "Congratulations, Joss Whedon. You've officially created one of my all-time favorite TV characters (Giles) and one of my all-time least favorite. Impressive."

Also, about the opening sequence - a midwife?! Who would pay a million for a midwife? What reason could there possibly be for that couple to need a Super Imprinted midwife instead of a regular one? It's like they actually want the show to be as terrible as possible.

Anonymous said...

Wondered the same about the midwife job. I'm assuming the cabin in the sky has limited access to health care, but why not a live in OB/GYN, unless Dad also gets to tryst with midwifey.
At least, she didn't have to deliver the kid in a tub.


Bix said...

I actually thought tonight's ep was really good and got better and better throughout the hour. If they can keep this up, then my faith in Whedon, Craft, and Fain is restored (BTW, was Women's Murder Club any good or are Craft/Fain better at working in someone else's universe than creating their own?).

I'm oddly curious of Victor as Lubov is sincere in his own mind or if he has ulterior motives (if that makes any sense).

And yes, it seems obvious a month in that Dichen Lachman should be the lead doll so this isn't the "Eliza Dushku plays a slightly different variation of Faith/Missy/Sissy each week while Tru makes guest appearances." She's fine at playing her typical character, but she doesn't do much more, and this is totally the wrong role for her, while so far Lachman, who also benefits from being an unknown in the US, has done a good job as an assassin/fixer/whatever she was at the end of pilot, the meek shy superfan, and a somewhat creepy version of the Eliza Dushku stock character, in addition to doing a better job than Dushku with the "blank slate" scenes (though Dushku did a good job with the semi-comic aspects of blank Echo in tonight's ep).

rusty said...

It's weird. Dollhouse has a horror premise (mind-wiped prostitutes!) but comes across as just kind icky. Dollhouse has a hilarious premise (mind-wiped midwives!) but mostly comes across as dour. Dollhouse has a thriller premise (lone agent out to save mind-wiped hostage negotiators!) but seems mostly disinterested in it -- I really thought Ballard was just killed off last week.

And all of the bits about Alpha point towards a genius who wants to bring this organization down -- an organization that didn't even bother to move offices when he escaped -- but of course we know he can't, because the show is called Dollhouse after all.

I'm compelled to watch up to the ballyhooed episode six if only to get a glimpse of what the point of this exercise was supposed to be.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, the midwife thing made no sense. But in general I still don't understand why anyone would ever use the Dollhouse's services over just hiring a real professional. And the little speech a few episodes back about bored rich people wanting something more specific really wasn't enough to justify the Dollhouse's existence.

And I agree it was a mistake to do two episodes upfront where there were issues with the imprinting process. I think it's an interesting idea, but something that should have been saved for further down the line. And in general I think the show is using too many gimmicks that it shouldn't need to use this early on. Besides the imprints gone wrong we've already gotten a flashback to when Echo first signed up and already know her real name. Aren't those things that should have been saved for further down the line to keep some of the mystery going? I also think the show is trying to do too many ongoing storylines. For the most part it's a procedural so I get them wanting to have some sort of big arc too, but it should either be the Alpha storyline or the FBI storyline. Not both. And I don't even really understand the FBI storyline. I get that some of the missions themselves are illegal, but what about the Dollhouse itself is inherently illegal? As long as the people are volunteers I'm not really sure what laws are being broken. Also, if the Dollhouse is SUCH a secret that even the FBI can't find any evidence that it exists then where are they getting all of their clients??

Anonymous said...

I also agree that Dushku isn't a strong enough actress to carry this show. But I never thought she was that great an actress to begin with. I remember when the show was first announced Joss said he came up with the premise to show off Eliza's range and thinking to myself "what range?"

And as much as I was a Buffy fan, the hipper-than-thou language that's a Joss trademark may have worked with teenagers, but it just sounds awful coming out of these characters.

And Fran Kranz seems to be playing Topher as if he's being played by the overacting a-hole character he played in The TV Set. He needs to take it down several notches.

peng said...

Echo did "rewind" on the midwife incident when being wiped, right? Or was that meant as a fakeout introduction to Caroline's pre-Dollhouse life?

dez said...

I remember when the show was first announced Joss said he came up with the premise to show off Eliza's range and thinking to myself "what range?"

The range from A to B?

Chaz said...

Glad I'm not the only one thinking that Dichen Lachman probably would've made a better choice for Echo. I actually like Dushku, but versatility is definitely not one of her strengths.

Oh and I cannot stand Topher, I just find him so annoying and creepy. What's worse is that he's being given snappy lines which might be funny if uttered by a likable character. It gives me the feeling that Whedon doesn't intend Topher to be a bad guy.

BigTed said...

I thought that this week they actually did give a reason why someone would hire a "doll" instead of the actual professional being copied -- the client was assured that no one, including the company's employees, would know what Echo did on her job. The computer just calculated a vague "risk" quotient that raised her price, but supposedly the details would remain a secret.

Except that's not what happened. Boyd obviously knew what Echo was doing as he waited for her in the van. And Topher and the rest could probably have figured most of it out based on the fact that they imprinted her with the persona of a wisecracking super-thief. (Which they, um, happened to have on file? Along with the knowledge of how to break into a fancy safe by touching it and listening really hard?)

I get the feeling that the network is really worried about this show. The preview for next week's episode gave away the entire plot, from beginning to end. That can't be a good sign.

james said...

I think they're right to be concerned because the show is far from great. But, I can't help but wonder how much of this is their fault and how much of it is Whedon's/Eliza's side.

The FBI subplot is there because these people are probably not freely joining the Dollhouse. They're most likely sign up under false pretenses. It'll probably end being something like the concept in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where people don't want to remember and assume that's the operation they're getting instead of becoming a slave of Dollhouse.

Additionally, they're building up a big bad guy which will probably be some government agency. They could introduce other Dollhouses. If they developed this technology there probably is competition.

If the show ends up to be a scenario with Echo on the run while trying to remember who she was - that could only last so long. Maybe they'll switch it up and kill her off. I'm definitely not a fan of the actress.

Alpha will be the misunderstood character. We think he's bad but then turns out to be good. The FBI agent will probably end up as a Doll.

While I didn't doubt the concept of the show before it does seem kind of stupid. If the execution was better I wouldn't mind.

Number Five said...

They're messing up a great premise. The midwife thing made zero sense, unless it was to show not every one of her missions is high-risk (or it was a set-up for something later). And the concept of being a thief, getting trapped, and even being wiped was good but then they totally bungled it. No suspense, too many cut aways to other plots, horrible use of the set, neither fellow thief made any impression, and they all just sat there. Why did we have to wait for the phone to ring?

Excellent Dorothy Parker burn, dez.

The Ballard story is puzzling. Two weeks ago it was, "we can't attract attention by killing a fed." Last week, it was "let's use Victor to lure him into a fatal trap." Now, it's "let's convince him to send Victor to Witness Protection and never see him again so it will be a dead end." I think. And Ballard's tactical moves don't make any sense, either.

Re: Topher. The tech person is always hard to write without cliches, but the problem here is moving so far away from technobabble that all his dialogue is content-free, overwritten metaphors, delivered in Shatnerian fits and pauses. Painful.

I thought Lachman was a bit stiff this week as the "new" thief, but otherwise she's been very compelling so far. Even if this show completely crashes, hopefully it will lead to her getting more work.

Byron said...

I still think this was a fine episode, just like they've all been. I also still think they've got to blow it all up, move characters around, and start the real show soon.

For all you people who say it's a "great" premise: you're wrong. A premise in which the main character is different every week is not a strong premise. A premise that gives its characters no way to interact with each other outside of specific pairs is not a strong premise. But there are interesting pieces on the board, and I'm still hoping and praying they get moved into an alignment that makes any sense at all.

It took 25 episodes for Angelus to show up. That's how many Dollhouse gets before I demand it be awesome.

bill said...

I want to stop watching, but it's becoming as almost an interesting trainwreck as "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."

Karen said...

Oh geez. This show just gets stupider and stupider.

I will never understand how all these clients find the Dollhouse but the FBI has no idea it even exists.

I will also never understand how a guy with Joss Whedon's feminist cred created this show. The endless hooker riffs, the violence towards women, the crack about broad-shouldered baby girls growing up to be lesbians....these are not the moves of a feminist.

I am so disappointed in this show. I wouldn't have thought it could have come from Joss Whedon.

lungfish said...

I'm extremely underwhelmed with all of the episodes so far. Channeling my inner Paula Abdul, instead of saying more negative, I'll just say the Eliza Dushku looked incredible. I stuck around with "Dark Angel" mostly because of Jessica Alba's hotness, but then the show started improving and really grew on me. I'll stick around until episode 6 and hope for a similar turnaround.

Dan said...

I enjoyed this episode. But I'd rather see Echo kicking ass than being completely helpless.

My favorite moment so far in this series, was at the end of the first episode with Dichen Lachman. So yeah, Dichen has my attention.

Stef said...

I'm also going to give it to episode 6 and then reassess from there. The midwife thing really just showed some of the worst holes in the concept of the Dollhouse. Who would trust some imprinted nobody to deliver their baby with no access to other, back up emergency care???

And who'd live up on a mountain like that anyway? For a second I was afraid it was going to be Echo Goes to Tibet or something.

rosseau said...

I wonder whether this show has any traction with pot smokers?

Seriously, how is Echo still employed in this economy? The formula invariably is she gets hired, then either the client turns out to be crazy or she botches the job. Then, the other active has to bail her out. Seems they could save money just by using the other girl.

And why not simply kill the FBI agent? I thought Victor would shoot him the in the back last night but instead there is some grand labyrinthine plan. Victor can kill him, then get wiped so that he won't be able to defend himself and the FBI will think the mobsters did it.

Mary Ann said...

the client was assured that no one, including the company's employees, would know what Echo did on her job. The computer just calculated a vague "risk" quotient that raised her price, but supposedly the details would remain a secret.

I thought that was ridiculous when Adele said it. How, exactly, was the information supposed to get into the computer unless one of the company's employees entered it?

Michael Cowgill said...

And I don't even really understand the FBI storyline. I get that some of the missions themselves are illegal, but what about the Dollhouse itself is inherently illegal? As long as the people are volunteers I'm not really sure what laws are being broken.

In Ballard's mind at least, what they're doing is the equivalent to murder, so for him there's a definite crime. It doesn't seem he knows they volunteer since he's pursuing the trafficking angle. Also, the first scene of the show more than implied that Echo was coerced into volunteering.

The show's still working for me more or less, and actually, seeing tabula rasa Echo worked, too, for the humor but also because she rose to the occasion. I also liked seeing the panic and vulnerability in Olivia Williams' usually unflappable character -- pressure from a mysterious boss, this thing going kablooey, and it seems from things she's said in other episodes a greater interest in Echo than some of the other actives.

Drew Barnes said...

I thought this was a definite flattening of the incremental improvements from episodes 2 and 3.

I am hoping for a game changer to occur in Ep six. I do not think the premise is sustainable as it stands. Whedon gets the benefit of my doubt for 2 reasons:

1. He is always slow out of the gate.

2. He is one of the few creator/show runner types who can pay off long-term plotting in a big way.

A.H. said...

Everyone here has great points about the weakness of the overall premise and this particular episode's premise.

Two things that have been bugging me are the side-lining of the handler character, and the total liability that is the actor playing Topher.

In both this episode and the pop star one, the handlers were already on site and were the logical people to move in and neutralize the threats to the Dolls. Instead, they're just left sitting there, out of the loop, while Adele and crew try out all sorts of ridiculous stop-gap measures? Stupid.

Overall, Topher is terrible. The character is scummy, the writing for him is weak (he panics and runs his mouth to the intern who keeps restocking the damn fridge rather than trying to trace/crack/recreate the remote wipe?), and his acting really, really stinks.

Jon Delfin said...

Representationally, Number Five says, "They're messing up a great premise." I fear that the premise is fatally flawed. Many of these same "why is this necessary" objections were registered for Christian Slater's split personalities last fall. I, too, will stick around a while to see if Joss can sort this out, but I'm not optimistic.

On the other hand, it was worth sitting through Friday's episode, the better to enjoy the HitFix recap:

Anonymous said...

I think the episodes are improving a lot. I even get the midwife thing. Pregnant women are notorious for wanting very VERY specific birthing experiences.

Pamela Jaye said...

I suppose it's a good thing the show was put in a Friday timeslot. That's all I've got. Ballard's story is just confusing.

spiderpig said...

I really hated this episode. As soon as Echo turned up in those hooker boots saying "blue skies" I groaned. Not another episode where she's a high priced whore! I would have even watched an episode where Echo was a midwife instead of this. Boo.

It was really annoying how easy it was for Echo and the injured guy to get out of the locked area after Why didn't the guy with the smoke can just tell the other guy, "hey I got this smoke stuff, just wait until the guards come in, it'll disctract them and then we'll sneak out of here when they can't see us?"

Was the ancient art expert that tried to run off with the Parthenon piece in on the wipe with Alfa? If he hadn't run off with the piece and locked them in Echo never would have used her cell phone to call the handles to stop him would she? Or was Alfa just going to wait around until Echo made a call while she was on a mission in order to do the remote wipe?

Finally, is this the first time they've mentioned that the Dollhouse clients' mission requirements are mostly secret to everyone except for the data that's entered in the computer? So then that privacy would be the reason that the clients wouldn't just hire an actual safecracker, right Alan?

Redsmom said...

I was going to point out more plot holes, but its too depressing.

Oh, and Angelus kind of showed up in the thrid or 4th episode when that actress gave Angel some tranquilizers. (Sorry, Buffy/Angel geek, here.)

Matter-Eater Lad said...

"But in general I still don't understand why anyone would ever use the Dollhouse's services over just hiring a real professional."

More to the point: Why wasn't the entire robbery team made up of actives? Then the issue of someone running off with the object of the mission couldn't happen, and you wouldn't have to worry about the thieves turning up again.

The show is stupid, and not fun stupid, just stupid stupid.

Jeff L said...

Yeah, agree with everyone up-thread that the show is just not working.

Also like others, I'll stick around until the Mythical Episode 6, based solely on Joss's history.

I'm also holding out some hope that somewhere around then Echo switches sides. With the exception of Echo's handler, everyone associated with The Dollhouse is such an evil SOB, I wind up hating them, not rooting for them.

Let Echo go back to whoever she really is & team up with the FBI guy. Then it can be the two of them against the world, never really sure who to trust. That might be something.

Peter D Bakija said...

>>I think the episodes are improving a lot. I even get the midwife thing. Pregnant women are notorious for wanting very VERY specific birthing experiences.>>

I'm gonna side with the poster above who suggested that the opening teaser of "Echo" as the midwife was actually a flashback to Caroline before she was Dollhoused.

And again, I'd like to continue to support the idea that Topher is such a horrific character as he is *evil*. He is one of the bad guys. We aren't supposed to think he is cute/entertaining. He is (and will likely become more obvious as time goes on as) a villain.

Anonymous said...

The character Topher is terrible - get rid of him and the show will improve exponentially. His lines are stupid and do not move the story along, and the actor playing him is annoying.