Saturday, May 02, 2009

Dollhouse, "Briar Rose": Fairy tale ending

Spoilers for last night's "Dollhouse" coming up just as soon as I find the house inside my house...
"This is a bad place." -Paul
"Bad people, maybe. Good place." -Stephen Kepler
People ask me sometimes why I'm so paranoid about spoilers, and/or why I scold people so often about the No Spoilers rule. An episode like "Briar Rose" is why.

Through the course of my travels across this series of tubes we call the internet, I inadvertently found out that "Firefly" alum Alan Tudyk had been cast to play the mysterious Alpha, and around the same time, commenters on the blog tried talking about the Tudyk casting whenever someone would ask if another character (usually Ballard) was really Alpha. I shut all that down, but I couldn't un-learn the fact itself, and I spent a good portion of "Briar Rose" saying to myself, "I wish I didn't know that Tudyk is really playing Alpha." As the word suggests, it spoiled me of the pleasure of experiencing the episode in general, and the surprise twist in particular, the way Joss Whedon, writer Jane Espenson and company intended.

Even with that reveal ruined, "Briar Rose" was still one of the stronger "Dollhouse" episodes to date. Tudyk was terrific in both his personas(*), the Ballard/Boyd fight was as viscerally exciting as every previous fight involving Tahmoh Penikett, and the final moments -- both Ballard coming face-to-face with DeWitt, and Alpha casually executing his plan -- have me very eager to see next week's finale.

(*) I really wish, though, that we had gotten to see him switch from one character to the other. I know it's a performance either way, but I always love that moment in movies like "Primal Fear" where Edward Norton will switch back and forth on a dime.

Beyond that, there were some nice smaller flourishes, like how well Enver Gjokaj was able to evoke Reed Diamond when Victor got imprinted with Dominic's personality, or the obvious despair in Mellie when she realized she couldn't fulfill the mission (to make Ballard love her) she'd been programmed for.

I'm glad we only spent enough time with the abused girl to set up the climactic moment. As discussed last week, Echo on a mission just isn't inherently interesting, both because Eliza Dushku's a limited actress (though this played to her strengths more than most) and because they're asking us to invest in a brand-new character (or many characters) each week, without enough time to make that work. I am, however, confused about two things: 1)Who's paying for that mission? Does the Dollhouse do pro bono work? 2)How exactly did Topher get a map of this girl's brain? The previous episode established that you have to go in for a bunch of painful brain scans over a period of months to create a proper imprint template. How/why would they do that with this girl in the foster care system, particularly someone who's been through enough pain already?

Whatever problems "Dollhouse" has had over this season, Joss always gives good finale, so I'm very excited to see next week's episode, especially since I have no idea what'll be happening in it.

What did everybody else think?

78 comments:

Stiff Shots Photography said...

I too was aware of the Tudyk-as-Alpha rumors, but I was just happy to see him on screen doing his usual charming-smartass stuff. And when the switch did come, it was a definite "whoa" moment.

LeeZy said...

I knew Alan Tudyk was guest starring.

Had NOOOO idea he was Alpha... that reveal took my head clean off. I spent a few seconds kicking myself for not realizing he was Alpha.

But then again, it showed that Alan Tudyk is a marvelous actor and not just the pirate guy from Dodgeball...

[golf clap] Bravo.... Brah - voh [/golf clap]

Shan said...

I, too, tried to avoid the spoilers but wound up learning about the casting. Despite not being "shocked" by the reveal, as I wish I had been, Tudyk was so good in both roles that I just enjoyed the ride. This ep was everything the show could be: mysterious, creepy, scary, intriguing, and importantly, for a Whedon show, funny.

Gjokaj, Acker, Williams and Tudyk deserve special note for their acting. Can't wait until next week, and hopefully, next season.

max_h said...

Really glad I stayed away from the spoilers, as the Alpha reveal was definitely a "Wow!" moment. Loved the episode and looking forward to next week's finale.

MCB said...

I had no clue -- I'd only read the episode teaser, describing Tudyk as the Dollhouse creator. I started to wonder right around the time he was demolishing the Dollhouse's entire security system with such intense glee, but the slashing of poor Victor still took me by surprise. Whoa.

The Briar Rose stuff was a bit heavy-handed in my opinion, but otherwise this was an intense, enjoyable episode. And major props to the actor playing Victor for his dead-on Mr. Dominic!

Michael Cowgill said...

I'm in the spoiled crowd, but Tudyk was so good in the other role, he almost had me thinking that we'd been tricked and he was just this stoner guy. I liked Victor as Dominic/Reed Diamond, but if only they'd let him out of the chair so he could have close-talked someone. That would have sealed the deal.

Anonymous said...

This episode made the series for me. I'm glad I stayed through the rocky start.

Kza said...

Here's what happened to me: I had heard mention of Tudyk playing Alpha (here? somewhere else?) but once we met Kepler, and Tudyk's typically hilarious performance, I was all, "well the Internet was wrong again. Clearly this guy isn't Alpha". I think I was also prejudiced against the idea of Tudyk as a genius psycho killer, since he always seems to play funny sidekicks (like Kepler!).

So that shot of Alpha slashing Victor kicked me in the gut. Scariest thing I've seen in a TV show in quite a while.

So Tudyk's jumped up into my list of "Actors I'll Watch in Anything". Hella talented guy who deserves more fame and fortune, imo.

Jennifer said...

Very good point on the "how did Original Susan get scanned" thing. I wasn't too thrilled with it as a setup and yet it was still kind of interesting. Heck, Topher even seemed to be having an altruistic moment! Btw, I think it was mentioned that for the sake of the doll's psyches, they do the periodic "good deed" run.

Screw the Alpha surprise, I was surprised that *Saunders* is apparently a doll. Did not see that one coming, though I guess I should have since she doesn't leave the Dollhouse and she wasn't around for the mushroom samba episode. Sneaky writers! Have a big reveal and then sneak another in under the wire!

Yeah, it is a shame that Alpha got spoiled so very early and fast on this show. On the other hand, there's no way the rabid Whedonites wouldn't notice if one of their favorites got a role somewhere, so...yeah, what can you do.

I just got around to watching In Plain Sight right before turning on Dollhouse and I was amused that Tudyk was apparently playing the same stoner character. And then him slashing Victor (well, that was a shipper noooooooooooo there) and the scene with Saunders was chilling. Though somehow I am not surprised that Echo and Alpha had some kind of Bonnie and Clyde relationship...

Wow, Ballard is a dick to Mellie/November, big time. I love how his prince rescuer fantasy went so very very wrong, he kinda deserved that.

Screw the arguments about Eliza and Dichen, Victor does a darned good job on this show of playing the various roles.

Adam said...

Does this have any prayer of being renewed? I will be very upset if it's not.

Antid Oto said...

Thanks for keeping your comments clean. I was unspoiled and loved it. I was a little annoyed through most of the first park that Tudyk's scientist had all the same tics as Topher (albeit different obsessions), but after the reveal that made perfect sense.

Antid Oto said...

Wait, how did we learn that Saunders is a doll?

Art Fleming said...

Wait, Saunders is a doll? I missed that, can somebody explain that?

Shan said...

Dominic (inside Victor) called Saunders "Whisky", which is part of the NATO alphabet, and a naming convention for dolls. Alpha also hinted at it while he was threatening Saunders with a knife (mocking the fact that she always wanted to be a doctor).

Alan Sepinwall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Sepinwall said...

Dominic was asking for a drink of whiskey.

rosseau said...

Loquacious, nervous environmental systems guy saves Dollhouse-- Alpha, not so much. By the way, totally called it! I thought while high strung guy was playing with the computers that it would be cool if they would pull a Henry Gale on us, and they did. Given how well done the reveal, the producers can steal from Lost anytime. I do wish Alpha retains some of the guy's personality quirks like his accidental humor; "I went to grade school with Jenna Elfman" was the line of the night. This episode was well paced, had surprises, and even the case of the week was interesting. I wish Alpha had worked on Topher instead of Victor, but baby steps. The second good episode of this show.

Anonymous said...

The reveal was subtle, but it was there. Note that Dominic (in Victor's body) looks towards Adelle and Topher and pleadingly says their names, then looks towards Dr. Saunders and (in the same tone of voice) says "Whiskey." Saunders thinks he's asking for a drink, but obviously if she's a Doll, she wouldn't be aware of being one (or what her Active name was). Adelle plays along.

Later on, Alpha asks Saunders: "You always wanted to be a doctor?" When she replies yes, he says "That's a lie." If she wasn't an Active, why would Alpha have asked this and then been so sure she was untruthful?

the2scoops said...

With Adam Baldwin ("Chuck) and Nathan Fillion ("Castle") hopefully set for another season on their respective shows, let's hope Alan Tudyk is the next of our band of Firefly actors to get some more prominent exposure.

Jewel Staite - was on that last season of "Stargare Atlantis"
Summer Glau - turned some heads in "Terminator"
Morena Baccarin - cast as the lead alieness in the new "V"

slutty Bratz doll said...

Poor Victor. First he's drugged as Mr. Dominic, and then his pretty face is cut up. While dealing with a disfigured doll could be interesting, I don't want to lose the versatility that a unscarred Victor allows. Enver Gjokaj does a nice job inhabiting these different characters.

This is probably wishful thinking on behalf of Victor, and I'm probably reading into to things that aren't there, but I find Alpha's comment that Dr. Saunders "kept [his] gifts" a bit curioQus.

And I could swear I've seen Alan Tudyk playing a psychopath like this before. Was it a CSI or Law & Order episode? Maybe I'm imagining things.

Anonymous said...

I felt that the episode was horribly contrived. Why exactly did Alpha need Ballard? He already knew where the Dollhouse was, and he had all of Kepler's environmental plans. Was it just to distract Boyd? Seems like Alpha could take out Boyd (and for that matter the rest of Dollhouse security) in his sleep.

I don't really think I'll miss this show when it's gone. Better, I think, that all the talent involved move on to a better premise.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Later on, Alpha asks Saunders: "You always wanted to be a doctor?" When she replies yes, he says "That's a lie." If she wasn't an Active, why would Alpha have asked this and then been so sure she was untruthful?

Hmmm...

Sparkx said...

I also wondered about how they got the scan of the little girl, but I'm not convinced that they have established that a good copy requires a series of scans. For one, the single scan seemed to be enough for Dominic. Instead, I think Margaret underwent the series of scans so she could keep updating her backup. She thought someone was going to kill her, but she didn't know when. And when she came back, she wanted the most up to date information in the new body.

Kensington said...

Count me in with the people whose alarms went off when Victor/Dominic said "Whiskey." I, too, think he was doing more than asking for a drink.

What a great episode! Alan, thank you for the spoiler policing, because I had no idea that Tudyk was Alpha. I did think maybe there was something up with the guy, but I thought we were going to learn that Topher was a doll based on him or something like that.

The moment when Alpha slashed up Victor was horrifying. Enver is such a good actor, too. His versatility is right up there with Dichen's, and it was impossible not to feel very sorry for him as his body took several blows this episode, from the stress of hosting Dominic to having Boyd and Ballard land on top of him in his cell to then having his face slashed apart.

I'm horrified that Adele might throw him into the attic now. What good will he be to Dollhouse johns with a scarred up face?

Last thing that I don't think anyone has commented on yet: what are we to make of Boyd now? Didn't he basically offer Ballard a chance to escape without any repercussions? Doesn't this pretty much mean that Boyd, too, is probably a spy? Why else would he want to let Ballard go?

And, lastly, I disagree that Ballard is a dick toward Mellie. The Dollhouse has put him in an impossible situation with regard to her, and I think he's been admirably sensitive toward the fact that he can't trust her but knows that she's completely innocent. What can the man do?

james said...

I've given up trying to grasp the elements of the show like how they got the little girl's brain imprint. It really doesn't matter to me. Sure, they can say some random explanation to satisfy the fans but I don't find it necessary. I tell myself not to think too hard and enjoy the ride.

Besides it's clear the entire point of having the little girl subplot is for audience to compare it against the Dollhouse.

Jennifer, great eye on the subtle aspect of character and plot development. We already know or are lead to believe Alpha flipped out and attacked several Dolls, only leaving Echo behind. Perhaps, the good Doctor Saunders was killed and a doll survived or some variation of this. Though, I must admit the scenes lead me to believe that Saunders abused Alpha - perhaps, sexually.

I'm looking forward to this new character inside of Caroline. I think it's clearly not Echo or the girl she used to be.

I have a feeling Ballard is going to end up working for the Dollhouse. At the very least to stop Alpha and whoever Duszku is now playing.

Great episode and like I said last week I'm totally hooked. Hopefully, another season will be around.

Kensington said...

Whedon's never really been big on cliff-hanger finales, has he? The major stories of each season of Buffy and Angel came to some conclusion so that, with some notable exceptions, most season finales could just as well have been series finales, right?

If that's right, then I'm assuming the Alpha story will be more or less concluded by the end of next week's episode, and that, whatever the plan might be for season two, it won't be directly continued from what we saw last night.

Jenny said...

Re: Saunders as Whiskey, it's a theory that's making more and more sense to me. I've read speculation that the original Saunders was killed in Alpha's attack, but her (or even his, I suppose) imprint was put into the body of a Doll who was scarred phsically in that event (who would be less-than-useful otherwise in her disfigured state.

I, too, was spoiled by the casting news, and I wasn't looking for it -- I actually saw it on the Twitter search page for Dollhouse, and I was royally pissed at the time, and now I know justifiably so.

joshjs said...

FWIW, Alan, I guessed that Tudyk was alpha after about five minutes. And I'm really not very smart, generally.

Art Fleming said...

Im still not convinced about the Saunders=Whiskey thing, but here would be a theory: Whiskey was a Doll who was attacked and scarred in the Alpha attack and they simply imprinted her with an useful personality to not waste that body.

Wendy said...

As intrigued as I am by the possibilities, I'm not sure I want Dr. Saunders to be an imprint. "Whiskey" is a dumb name, and I like the idea that those scars were given to someone who's lived with that face their whole life. I'm obviously treating the self as the imprint rather than the body in this case, but wouldn't Saunders recognize whose body she's inhabiting? Mr. Dominic did.

Girl Detective said...

Alan, thanks for keeping such a good lid on the spoilers. I loved the reveals.

@ Kensington's "What good will [Victor] be to Dollhouse johns with a scarred up face?"

Perhaps as much as Dr. Saunders, who I think is def. a doll. All of the Dollhouse staff--Adele, Boyd, Topher, Saunders--seem like possible dolls. Adele esp. was hinted at in "Spy in the House".

Re: Whedon's finales. This one, like others, is more likely to tie things up since he and we still don't know if it's coming back, thus a cliffhanger would be cruel.

Also, I checked. Tudyk and Elfman didn't actually go to the same high school. I thought that would ahve been a good throway meta joke.

Anonymous said...

I'm with sparkx -- the girl would only have needed a single scan. Since the Dollhouse is part of a much larger corporation that does research and development on mind altering drugs, it doesn't seem to be even a tiny stretch for me to imagine how "Susan" could have been scanned. The group therapy she's involved in could be another phase of research on brains that is the Dollhouse's bread and butter.

I loved this episode, can't wait for the next one, and wish the series didn't look about finished in the ratings. I'll keep fingers crossed for a season 2.

christy said...

I was neither spoiled nor surprised. The only thing I'd seen, I think from Ausiello, was that we'd meet Alpha before we knew it was Alpha (which is to be expected anyway. When Tudyk became the zillionth blond-haired blue-eyed guy to pop up on this series, I figured, OK, this has to be the guy finally.

Still, it was executed well, and I enjoyed his weirdo character once I got over the repetition of another twitchy scientist type and he broke out with the Jenna Elfman line and the "it's that way...wait!...oh yeah, that's right."

And I could swear I've seen Alan Tudyk playing a psychopath like this before. Was it a CSI or Law & Order episode? Maybe I'm imagining things.ME TOO! It felt very familiar. But I scanned his imdb page and didn't see anything familiar. And I don't watch CSI or any of those procedurals. Weird.

I think the Whiskey people are right, though it didn't occur to me at the time. That part just felt like such a non sequitor. Why would he ask for a drink in that moment? It made no sense, but I moved on. Saying a doll's name makes much more sense. I like the idea that the real Saunders was killed in the first attacked and Whiskey was just scarred and so permanently took on her personality. Interesting.

Stephen said...

Does the Dollhouse do pro bono work?I feel like they've mentioned this on screen before, and anyway in interviews they've said definitely that they *do* do pro-bono work. We've even seen some examples before I think -- e.g. the midwifing gig (still silly, of course).

Dennis said...

I also suspect that the "real" Dr. Saunders was killed in Alpha's breakout rampage, and that her personality was then imprinted in Whiskey, in order to preserve her skill set. Kinda casts a new light on the fact that Dr. Saunders hasn't left the dollhouse since that attack, doesn't it? At the time that fact was revealed, I just chalked it up to PTSD...

Jim said...

Count me among those who knew Tudyk was guesting but didn't figure until the reveal that he was Alpha.

I think the biggest clue, looking back, was how muscular he was in a tight doll T-shirt. I chuckled at the time, chalking it up to Hollywood convention that even a nerdy scientist type has to look sexy, but of course, it makes perfect sense that Alpha would look great in one of those shirts.

Finally, the case for Saunders as Whiskey sounds pretty logical to me. It's too bad in a sense, because as Whedon has acknowledged, you can't ask viewers to identify with these characters and then reveal them all as dolls. But I suppose one more won't kill us.

trom said...

What do folks make of Dominic's narrative explanation for the Greek-letter alpha's being the password?

Chris said...

Jim -

The shirt did it for me too. When Ballard made him put on the doll's clothes, I thought "those clothes are going to look ridiculous on a pot-growing agoraphobe".

When he came out of the room, pulling the shirt down, I was stunned and thought "that guy's definitely a doll". I don't think I thought he was Alpha, but definitely a doll of some sort at that time.

belinda said...

Oh, wow, I didn't even pick up on that whole Whiskey thing. Very interesting...

I wasn't aware of any spoilers, but because it was Alan Tudyk in that particular role, I was pretty sure he was Alpha as soon as Ballard made him wear the doll uniform, just because it was WASH!, and it made no sense why 'Stephen' needed to change into doll gear (given how lax the security was in Dollhouse).

Though, the reveal was pretty cool, and I can't fault the casting of such a wonderful actor.

I liked the banter between Ballard and Alpha, though I hate seeing Ballard reduced to nothing more than a guy who's obsessed with saving Caroline...well, at least for now.

Great acting by the actor who plays Viktor, though that scene kind of annoyed me because it seemed very unnecessary to the people involved. They could have drugged him from the get-go and avoided the whole 'Holy Crap! I'm in a doll!' bit, if they were only looking to find the password.

Overall, while I'm interested to find out more about the whole Alpha/Echo story, I didn't like this episode as much as the gamechanger ones earlier.

Shan said...

I think the procedural most folks remember Tudyk from was a guest stint on CSI: Original Recipe, when he played a registered sex offender implicated in the deaths of two kids. He had a long interrogation scene with Grissom (and was great, as usual).

Also, I don't know that the show has specifically addressed this, but I seemed to remember something about Saunders scars not being completely "fixed" (i.e. plastic surgery) by choice. The only thing I could find on that was this http://tinyurl.com/cut295 which is an interview with Acker where she talked about the scars, and "why she kept them." First, that's interesting (if true), and second, opens up the possibilities that Victor could be utilized in the future for assignments without his face permanently altered (though Alpha did make a point to say he cut Victor deeper than Claire).

Zack Smith said...

This epsisode was a good one for speculatin'.

The show got good after Fabled Episode Six, but I still feel like I'd rather watch this as a BBC-type miniseries than as something ongoing.

What's been most intriguing to me is the revelations and how they might play out, as opposed to it being an ongoing storyline that could run for years.

Alan, re: Pro Bono missions -- in the original pilot script that's been floating around, Saunders has a scene where she has a discussion with Topher, discussing these cases. He thinks it's stupid; she thinks it helps them feel good. Topher retorts that he PROGRAMS them so it feels good, revealing that he doesn't believe in sincere emotions. So this was always part of the show, it just wasn't followed up on in the revised series.

Of course, the "Dollhouse breeding ground" orphanage is quite a good and creepy theory in itself...

Enver Gjokaj -- such an awesome Reed Diamond, and so good again when Victor's in his childlike state! Great find by Whedon for this.

Anyone remember an episode of RED DWARF that had similar peronality uploads? You know, Rimmer took over Lister's body and ate himself stupid? Anyone?

Alpha-as-Kepler was very over-the-top, but wouldn't Alan Tudyk have made a better Topher than Fran Kranz? Well, it might just be the writing.

Also, Wash is CUT. Laughed when I read a post-show interview with Tudyck about how the tight shirt was a clue.

In agreement on Saunders-as-a-doll theory. It would be intriguing if Victor is similarly retired because of his injuries.

But who did Alpha turn Echo into at the end? She seemed different from Caroline. Either Caroline became a particularly bad person between college and the Dollhouse who hooked up with Alpha's original version, or he had a girlfriend who died, but was recreated through a scan. I still cling to the idea that he's some sort of Dollhouse recreation of Caroline's boyfriend, in a new body, but terribly corrupted...we'll see next week.

Ballard is an ass. So determined to be the hero of his own story that he tries to cast the uglier parts aside. His justification for not saving Mellie/November didn't make a lot of sense. More likely, she just reminded him of how disgusted he was with himself. She wasn't the idealized, wonderful Caroline, and saving her would remind him of how he'd compromised in his quest.

The narration was a bit too on-the-nose, though. Luckily the climactic stuff made it good.

Looking forward to the finale, but still up in the air as to whether I'd want a second season of this...

James said...

I agree with the person who said this episode seemed contrived. I tried to explain it away, but it doesn't really work out very well: you could say that Alpha was using Ballard as a sort of trojan horse to gain access. It's true that Boyd (for some reason!) was lenient when he saw that Ballard was infiltrating the complex, and that that would be a good cover for gaining entry. Question is, how could Alpha possibly preidct that Boyd would lay off Ballard, when pesumably any other infiltrator would be routinely disposed. One would think that Boyd would be something of an unknown to Alpha, so I can't see why he should so easily be able to predict the lapse in security. People often seem to say "well, Alpha's a genius", and tha may be the case, but even the smartest of people would need some basis for their predictions, and I don't see how Alpha would have that.

It does make me think that Boyd is quite possibly an inside man, that is the only way I could reconcile it all. That would imply collaboration with Alpha, probably, or at the very least if Alpha was aware Boyd was not completely loyal to the Dollhouse, he would have some motivation for believing the Ballard infiltration plan was feasible. So that at least is possible, but we'll just have to wait and see I suppose. Even allowing for that possibility, it still doesn't make sense to me that Alpha could know that exactly X days after being told Mellie is a doll, he would decide to follow her to see her being picked up by her handler, find the location of the Dollhouse, and pursue the designer of the underground self sustaining portion. Knowing that he would follow that reasoning maybe isn't too improbably, but he clearly had to predict when he would do it to take the place of the designer! Not to mention somehow inserting himself into the FBI database, etc. So even if the motivation for the plan is explicable, it still seems all seems very unlikely.

On the other hand, that they had a scan of the childs brain did not bother me as much, that''s the kind of thing that can and doesn't need to explicitly be explained away. I think.

I also think Ballard's attitude towards Mellie is understandable. When he came across her in the chamber, he did apologise. I am pretty sure he wants to save her and cares about her, but that's also what irritates him so much, since she's an intrustion into his life by the Dollhouse, a monitor, a safeguard, someone he fell for hook line and sinker. He's scared and repulsed by being so easily manipulated, and still probably feeling something towards her, which no doubt bothers him even more. In any case, I could understand why he would want to distance himself from her, and even why he might be so brutal about it.

Another thing is that I in some ways hope Ballard ahs some sort of prior connection to the Dollhouse. Perhaps not as a doll, but I am not sure what other sort of connection there could be. It would seem obvious that he isn't since he surely would be recognised by someone in the Dollhouse. But in the absence of that, or some other sort of connection that he is seemingly unaware of, the guy really is something of a lunatic for doggedly pursuing the entire issue. He is judged as a lunatic by most of his peers in the FBI, and I would have to assume they have a good basis for thinking that. One or two people I could accept, but almost everyone? It would lead one to believe that the evidence for the Dollhouse is extremely tenuous, and that would make sense given their MO. But his obsession is almost fanatical, in that scene in an earlier episode where had all of the evidence arrayed around his living room, I couldn't help but wonder what distinguished Ballard from any real life crackpot who believes in 9/11 or NWO conspiracies. Some explanation for his mania, be it something to do with the Dollhouse itself or something lacking in his own life (and I seem to recall that there have been mentions of something along those lines in earlier episodes?) would be desireable. But I think that whatever it is needs to be fleshed out for the character to make some more sense to me.

For that reason I found DeWitt's "fortunate for us both" comment interesting. I also found Boyd's "you can't help her" comment when he encountered Ballard at the sleeping pods somewhat telling. I agree that the whole Whiskey thing seems indicative of Dr. Saunders being a doll.

On the other hand, it would also suck if everyone turned out to be either a doll or a spy. But there's probably a lot of stuff I have missed in that, that was just some stuff that came to mind. On the whole enjoyed the episode quite a bit, all of that notwithstanding. Wasn't spoiled but did see the twist coming after a while. ;]

BigTed said...

"I am, however, confused about two things: 1)Who's paying for that mission? Does the Dollhouse do pro bono work? 2)How exactly did Topher get a map of this girl's brain?"

Since the show never bothered answering these questions (and now may not have a chance to), I'll take a crack at it:

1. It's pretty well established at this point that the Dollhouse technology is meant for far bigger and better things than the torrid "missions" the dolls go on, one that probably involves infiltrating governments and industries (either by having dolls seduce people in power, giving them the skills to rise in power themselves, or by reimplanting actual powerful people with doll personalities). So everything we see these dolls do could be seen as practice and research. The well-paid prostitution missions could be part of that (as well as a way of learning personal secrets about the wealthy individuals who hire them), but wouldn't be that useful in terms of gaining other skills. So they also take on these lower-paid or pro bono jobs in order to increase their facility at getting the dolls to handle a wide variety of different situations.

2. Doll personalities are created by "mapping" real people's brains, but there are also a lot of fictional elements as well. (If all that was in their brains was the original person's personality, they wouldn't be loyal to the Dollhouse or focused on the mission at hand -- or be caused to fall in love with whomever the Dollhouse feels like, for that matter.) Topher's genius is in blending one or more personalities with these fictional elements to make a coherent whole personality that does exactly what he wants. So instead of taking the abused girl's brain and "growing her up" into a functional adult version, maybe he took a brilliant child psychologist and inserted a past that included all the horrors that they knew the girl went through. It wouldn't be a perfect match, but it would be enough to allow Echo to bond with the girl and seem to know what she was thinking.

And that's more brainpower than I ever intended to devote to this show.

Anonymous said...

If her face can be repaired, and Victor's scars went deeper, perhaps they could make him the Dr. Whatever, and make Whisky an Active again. Not that I think it will happen, but I already feel a bit cheated about Dr. Saunders, especially after what Joss had said before. If Victor's face is too sliced up to mend, at least we could have Amy Acker in some cool adventures.

Edd said...

Please count my vote for "whisky" being a name, not a drink.

I'm wondering how "Dr. Saunders" will feel, when her 5-year contract is up, to find her face all slashed up.

Doesn't fixing scars like that need to be done shortly after the injury?

Edd said...

I'm also wondering why Alpha needed Ballard to enter the Dollhouse. He seems more than capable enough on his own.

Further, the logistics of Alpha's plan has me confused.

It seemed like a very short amount of time (minutes or hours?) from when Ballard discovered the Dollhouse's location to the time he knocked on Alpha's door. Yet it seems like Alpha got quite a bit done in that time.

He found the original environmental engineer. Killed him. Transported the dead body to Tuscon. (Can you air freight dead bodies or would it be better to drive them?) Return from Tucson. Send the USB drive to the Dollhouse in time for them to puzzle over it for a while. And then get back in time for Ballard's knock.

How did Alpha even know Ballard was looking for the environmental engineer? Other than Ballard himself, wasn't the lady FBI agent the only other who knew? Did she spy for Alpha?

None of this fits together very well for me.

Then at the end, after he awakens Echo, she sure didn't seem like the animal rights, test-animal liberating Caroline we'd met before. Did he program her into someone else?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the Kepler persona was an imprint, rather than an act. He may have genuinely been Kepler up until he triggered. In that case, maybe Ballard was not part of the original plan, and it was just a lucky accident. Which makes me wonder what kind of doll Alpha really is. Right now it looks like Mellie-style sleeper with a little Tara Gregson-meets-Chuck Bartowski.

Michael said...

Of course, now it makes sense why you were censoring mentions of Tudyk here in the comments a few weeks ago. I had no idea why you were doing it at the time, and I completely managed to avoid all spoilers about the big reveal here. It was a huge "did not see THAT coming!" moment.

As soon as Victor said "whiskey" I knew he was referring to another Doll and not a drink (he had never been shown to ask for whiskey before, at least not as far as it was memorable), though I wasn't sure exactly who. We've got Alpha, Echo, November, Sierra, and Victor so far, all names in the phonetic alphabet. Whiskey is another one.

(That implies at least 23 Dolls at this location, the others being Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliet, Kilo, Lima, Mike, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Tango, Uniform, X-ray, Yankee, and Zulu, for those who were curious.)

Jim said...

Just because Alpha played along as Ballard's unwilling sidekick, does that mean the show is claiming he actually needed Ballard's help? Maybe Ballard basically interrupted Alpha at the designer's apartment and he improvised from there?

I don't know. I just find it tiresome when viewers have the automatic assumption that they're so much smarter than the writers and producers -- even someone as demonstrably capable as Whedon. People act like this about "Lost" and practically every other mythology show, too. Give them a minute to explain the darn thing before you start complaining.

Carmichael Harold said...

I thought the reason Alpha needed Ballard was, basically, to run interference for him. He needed alone time with a computer to upload Caroline's personality and to shut down the systems (allowing him and Caroline to leave). Were it not for Ballard attracting attention, I don't see how he would have done it.

Anonymous said...

Just don't think too hard ;)

enjoy the ride

Edd said...

I just find it tiresome when viewers have the automatic assumption that they're so much smarter than the writers and producers .... Give them a minute to explain the darn thing before you start complaining..

.
I'm not smarter than Whedon. I'm in awe of the twists and unexpected turns he and his journeymen writers have produced in so many series. Not just Whedon's but on other shows they gone on to. E.g., Battlestar Galactica, 24 and others.

Speculating and good naturedly complaining about a show can be a way for a fan to enjoy a show a little more between episodes. I think that's most of what you're reading here.

If you know enough about a show to complain about it, it means you're watching it! That's what fans do.

And sometimes that can even help improve a show! These days writers often read discussion boards for feedback on their shows for what viewers feel is working or not.

Anonymous said...

"If you know enough about a show to complain about it, it means you're watching it! That's what fans do."

I agree. And a little implausibility can go along way in helping an already unsettling show become more unsettling.

Personally, the only part I found too contrived was the poor security. That Alpha could manipulate Ballard into coming to him didn't need exact timing so much as knowing how Ballard thinks, planting the right clues, and keeping the actual dollhosue guessing as to Alpha's exact location. But that they could make as much noise as they did, and that only Boyd is around to deal with these kinds of threats seemed very odd.

Jim said...

I'm all for speculation and perhaps some good-natured complaining; I just wonder if some viewers should at times give show-runners -- when they've earned it -- the benefit of the doubt and accept a little week-to-week confusion. Sometimes we're supposed to be confused or left wanting.

Of course, ask me about this weeks ago, when Echo was busting up a cult, and I'd champion your right to bitch all you want :)

Edd said...

I just wonder if some viewers should ... accept a little week-to-week confusion. Sometimes we're supposed to be confused or left wanting.

I'm good with that. But isn't that when viewers need to discuss and speculate the most?

Derek Powazek said...

Alan Tudyk played the evil baddie "Pepe" in a movie called Rx. It's the only other time I've seen him play the bad guy. Of course, in the Dolhouse universe, I'm pretty convinced Alpha is actually the good guy.

Kensington said...

Alpha can't be the good guy in the Dollverse. How can anyone justify his abuse of the dolls, the way he slashed up Victor and Whiskey (yeah, I'm just going with Saunders is Whiskey)?

I guess it's possible we'll learn that Whiskey and Victor were baby-eating serial killers or something before they became dolls, but I hope not.

On an unrelated note, I really hope FOX reconsiders and airs the Felicia Day episode.

Annie T. said...

I'm surprised after reading the comments that no one mentioned that Topher said, "Frak".

maura said...

Tudyk has long been an actor I always want to see. I wasn't spoiled, even for him being in the episode, so what a treat it was to see his name in the credits. I wish he were playing Topher. He'd be a completely different character. Maybe just as nuts, but not even half as irritating.

What a great reveal re: Alpha. It happened so fast it took a few seconds to register.

But then again, it showed that Alan Tudyk is a marvelous actor and not just the pirate guy from Dodgeball...He was the best pirate guy ever.

Gjokaj was exceptional this week. Even as Victor, he's instilled the character with something extra, certainly enough to make me care about him. "They were fighting on me." So sad.
And he was amazing as Dominic.

I loved this episode, even with the question of how Susan's personality was captured. I might think about it a little, but I don't really care much about that kind of thing. Suspension of disbelief works very well for me.

I'm all for speculation and perhaps some good-natured complaining; I just wonder if some viewers should at times give show-runners -- when they've earned it -- the benefit of the doubt and accept a little week-to-week confusion. Sometimes we're supposed to be confused or left wanting.I agree, Jim. I don't mind being left hanging for a while. There's definitely a point at which it feels like things are being dragged out just for the sake of it, but I'm very patient. I learned that from watching Mad Men. :)

Adam said...

I wish we had seen Tudyk in earlier episodes, playing the environmental guy. It would have established him as a quirky character we would not suspect as Alpha. The second I saw him in this episode, even though I didn't read any spoilers, I had a feeling he'd turn out to be alpha. If we had seen him in earlier episodes, established as a harmless character, the reveal that the real environmental guy was dead would have had that much more impact.

It was a good episode overall though, and while the premise still doesn't make any sense, I'm enough of a sci-fi and Joss Whedon fan to want another season.

But I'd like to see the plot holes and "make-it-up-as-they-go" stuff disappear.

Rachel said...

I actually think that, Alan Tudyk's character aside, this episode had some of the worst writing yet in the series. Okay, there's a metaphor here. WE GET IT. YOU DO NOT NEED TO KEEP HAMMERING. WE KNOW THIS ALREADY.

The reason why Echo's scenes were so bad in this ep is because they kept hammering in METAPHOR. There was no purpose for those scenes, except to set up the idea of Echo as princess-going-to-rescue-herself. But it wasn't well done.

Whiskey was an obvious reference to a doll. I hadn't thought it was Saunders, though - that would be interesting.

I'm interested in everything about Dollhouse except the actual plot. There's a lot of interesting things here - but rarely have they even been scratched. Ballard and Echo bore me. The acting is fantastic, but the writing varies from good to downright bad, sometimes in the same episode.

Michael Cowgill said...

The Whiskey thing blew right past me when I watched the episode, but I rewatched that scene, and it sounds like a plea, not a request.

Anonymous said...

It seemed obvious to me that he was talking to Saunders when he said Whiskey. The way it was phrased made it clear - in fact, the interpretation of it as a request for a drink seemed jarred. and pulled me out of the scene a little.

Steve Steve the Steve said...

I think the biggest problem with the series is that the main character isn't even a character, she's just a blank slate with a different artificial personality every week. There's nobody to sympathize with, there's no character development, there's no arc. Her story, almost always the A Story, are almost always boring.

The only character I care about is Ballard. That's why this episode was better than most. Maybe they should re-work this concept and just make Ballard the main character.

Tracey said...

Back around the time of the much-hyped Episode 6, I saw in several online sources that Tudyk would be appearing in Episode 6 as Alpha. At the same time, Tudyk's IMDB profile showed him as playing Alpha in Dollhouse, and the Dollhouse page on IMDB showed Tudyk as Alpha. I'm not sure if that was deliberate misinformation or if the sources just got it wrong. When Tudyk showed up on this one, I tried to convince myself that it was all a fake-out, that Ballard was Alpha and Tudyk was merely in the episode where Ballard's identity was revealed, and the misinformation was spread about Tudyk to preserve the surprise. Ah well...

There were a number of things in this one that felt contrived. This whole business of Alpha sending encrypted information to Domenic about Tucson? Why? And how did Alpha know to kill and take over the environment guy's identity at exactly the same time that Ballard figured that all out? Why does Alpha have to put on doll clothes when Ballard is strutting around in street clothes? Certainly, if one needs a disguise then both do. Lucky they just happened to pick a doll who wears the same size clothes as Alpha. Clearly, the disguise was useful: they got caught by Topher seconds later.

The best part for me was the bit where Victor is imprinted with Domenic's memories, "Domenic's" realization that he in the attic, that his memories are being imprinted on a doll, and his horror at that realization. Great work from the guy who plays Victor, and a great job of assuming the mannerisms of a character we've all seen before.

I confess, I didn't put together the "whiskey" reference in that scene, but I went back and rewatched it... yeah, he's using it as a name. Although even that doesn't make much sense: Domenic knew that Whiskey had been imprinted long-term as Dr. Saunders, he had been calling her Dr. Saunders for a long time, so why would he suddenly call her Whiskey?

I'm not sure how I feel about all this... it feels like they're working toward a big resolution of Alpha, as if Alpha were what the whole show was about... except that Alpha was really just mentioned in passing most of the way through the series, and never felt like much of an ongoing theme. I'm not sure how satisfying that will be as a resolution.

Grunt said...

I had heard the Alpha/Alan Tudyk spoilers but I put so little faith into spoilers that when he showed up as a different character I just assumed the spoilers were wrong. The reveal completely surprised me.

Stef said...

I had seen the Tudyk/Alpha spoilers - here, actually, before you had a chance to rein them in - but I still found it fun trying to guess if Kepler was Alpha's real personality, or if he might've been imprinted with something new. I actually didn't guess that he'd been faking the Kepler personality until he started talking to Ballard about people just being cells, that's when his voice started to change and I thought "he's been Alpha all along!"

I totally missed the Whiskey-Saunders thing, but you have all convinced me completely. And I think Alpha's vicious slashing of both Whiskey and Victor is to ensure that they CAN'T be used out in public again as dolls. It's cruel, but it's another way to try to bring down the Dollhouse.

I really hope they don't make Ballard a doll. And I'm very curious to see if Echo's new personality is a variation of Caroline or if it's an entirely new personality that has developed as an amalgam of the imprints and her inner rage. This could be fun!

Anonymous said...

- We already met Mike and Tango in the "resolve something" issue

- I'm more inclined to say Topher is the doll in the house because of how similiar Alpha is to Topher in mannerisms

- SOOO much satisfaction in Topher getting tased

- SOO much sadness in seeing Viktor getting slashed

- SOOO much hawtness in seeing Alan/Alpha with that psychotic look and half smile playing on his face

- Echo who?

- I had HEARD Alan would be Alpha, but didn't fully believe it, I knew he wasn't a hippie pot dude, but the transformation still rocked for me

- I'm sure Alpha sprinkled the breadcrumbs for Ballard to be used just as the pawn he as

-Ballard is an SOB for using November like that. Why on earth does he care about Echo? Echo is nothing compared to the whole Dollhouse picture he knows now.

- I believe in consensual slavery, but only if it's fully informed free consent

-EmeraldLiz

Kevin said...

"Why does Alpha have to put on doll clothes when Ballard is strutting around in street clothes? Certainly, if one needs a disguise then both do."

That part was explained- Ballard would lay low while Alpha went out in the open to find a computer he could access to shutdown security cameras. Once the cameras were shut down, Ballard would be able to act more freely.

JustJoan said...

I buy that Saunders is a doll, and all the signs do lead to that, but it is the part about her being a doll imprinted with the "real" Saunders' personality that bothers me. How exactly could that happen, unless "real" Dr. Saunders submitted to a scan before being sliced and diced by Alpha? Do all staff have scans done, just in case? Because otherwise how on earth did poor scarred Whiskey suddenly acquire all of Saunders' expertise? Color me confused.

Edd said...

I buy that Saunders is a doll...imprinted with the "real" Saunders' personality... How exactly could that happen, unless "real" Dr. Saunders submitted to a scan before being sliced and diced by Alpha?.

I'm not sure there had to be an actual "Dr. Saunders" who was scanned in the first place.

In the movie "Dark City," memories from different people were combined or separated -- mixed and matched, so to speak -- to form new personalities.

I think that's what Topher does. He has a bank of memories and skill sets which he can combine to form the personalities needed for each doll's assignment. They may have scanned the appropriate medical skills from someone and combined those with the questionable ethics from someone else who would work in a morally bankrupt organization. Add a dash of sympathy and concern for patients, and presto, you have "Dr. Saunders." Perhaps they've manufactured a "Dr. Saunders" in the other 19 Dollhouse's around the country.

In other words, there never was an original Dr. Saunders, just a doll who given the skills and false memories to believe she was a doctor. Then she was lucky enough to survive Alpha's attack.

Or: The original Dr. Saunders was killed and when Topher programmed Whiskey to be the replacement Dr. Saunders, he was able to program false memories in her to give her the illusion that she remembers the attack. After all, she must think she remembers going to medical school and having a childhood.

Jon K said...

I keep seeing questions about the girl and her getting a scan. If I'm not mistaken, when someone does the things she does, and has been through the things she has, they need to take some kind test to determine her mental state and ability. So, if they had done that, and this foster home is somehow connected with the Dollhouse (funding them perchance) it makes sense that way. I'm saying that it's not impossible that Topher got some kind of MRI that was done on her and worked on it that way.

Another thing I kept reading was Boyd being an inside man. If anything, he's proved he's loyal to the organization. Or more so protecting Echo. He was even saying it when Ballard was fighting him that they would hunt both of them down and kill them. He doesn't want Echo hurt; he has that fatherly protection thing with her. And as far as him being an actual spy, that's not the case at all. Why would he bring down the man abusing a doll, risk his life to save a doll and become so attached to a doll? As we saw with Dominic, you don't need those things to be a convincing member of the Dollhouse team. He's not a spy, he's a guy who got too attached to his Active and he just wants to see her in good conditions.

And Alpha leading Ballard around was done so that when he would finally get to the house he would cause a scene and keep it all open for himself to get the girl. Which he does. Alpha knew that the security would come down hard on him and that it would distract everyone from him. He didn't want to do a whole new confrontation with these people, he wanted in and out. Yeah, he knew where it was and could have done it himself, but they have guns and numbers on their side so he needed the distraction. Alpha is a really smart man and he thought about it all the way through.

Saunders as a Doll is pretty revealing. . . and it's something to look out for in the finale because I think we are going to see Alpha going on his rampage. If we see her getting messed up, then it's a safe bet she isn't a doll. If we don't, fuel to the fire. It makes sense as well as to why they would use a doll instead of going to find one. It's a moral problem and I find it hard to believe that all of those people believe/know in what they are actually doing. So it makes perfect sense.

The real question to ask is what is going to happen with Ballard now. Undoubtedly he helps Boyd and the house stop Alpha, but what happens next? I've seen some pictures from Epitah One and Ballard is in them standing next to Echo in the one. Could he be turned into a Doll? Does Boyd get killed (Joss loves to kill the main characters) and Ballard gets the security job as a way to keep him quiet about the whole thing and in the end save the girl? Does he trade himself in to save Caroline? That last one seems something like what Boyd would do because he's protective of her, but they are questions that need to be asked.

And as far as the series continuing, there are still plenty of things that are unanswered for us. Exploring all of the backstories of the characters, particularly the backstories and reasons why the main dolls are there, answering the questions if Echo will become self-aware and become another Alpha. What is the main motivation for the Rossom Corporation and the Dollhouse? How can they take down all of the Dollhouses around the globe? Sierra came face to face with the man that forcefully put her in the house, will she ever get her full revenge? How will the Dollhouse be brought down if they have so many connections to political and police forces? Would (and has) someone used the process to make their life go on, like in the episode Haunted? And finally, what exactly is the attic and how do Actives end up there? So many questions to ask and so many storylines that can be looked at. It has a massive potential to be an amazing show if given the chance. If nothing else, Joss has proved that all of his shows have had some kind of connecting storyline at first thought pointless later to be revealed as something that deserved a second look.

I hope the show is brought back, I'd be just as excited as I was when I first started watching it. Sorry for the long comment, I just really love this show.

Anonymous said...

I was so shocked that Victor was slashed by Alpha. Does this means that Enver Gjokaj is off the show?

Anonymous said...

DOLLHOUSE IS SO COOL !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Eldritch said...

Anonymous said...
I was so shocked that Victor was slashed by Alpha. Does this means that Enver Gjokaj is off the show
?

I doubt it. Dr. Saunders is still on the show. Heck, dying isn't even a reason to leave a show. Things can be worked out!!

Dils said...

I'm the type of person who read a spoiler and completely forgot about it. So that was surprising!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Saunders is doctor that stays inside the dollhouse. Well as, Victor is a doll and doll need to be pretty and slash-free. So maybe Victor is leaving after all.

Enver Gjokaj is an amzaing actor and I will be sad if he does leave

Valerie said...

Loved the Alpha reveal. I did not have a clue! Tudyk was so great. He really showed a huge range in such a short period of time. Bravo!

Plus, the Whiskey portions were great. Not my fav actress but the twist was sweet!