Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dollhouse, "Stop-Loss" & "The Attic": Caroline's army is here to stay

There are a lot of things to say about last night's "Dollhouse" double feature. But after a long and draining week, I'm not the guy to say those things. (Though I will offer up one thought in the comments, about these episodes' relationship to "Epitaph One.")

So what did you guys think?

47 comments:

Alan Sepinwall said...

Assuming Joss and company assumes that most of us have seen "Epitaph One," it's interesting that they're writing this whole story about Caroline, DeWitt and company coming together to wage what we know is a doomed war against Rossum. The nightmare vision we saw inside The Attic will absolutely come to pass, no matter what the crew at the LA Dollhouse tries. And outside "The Wire," you don't see a lot of stories on TV where the good guys are doomed to failure.

Anonymous said...

Unless Epitaph One all took place in the attic which was my first thought.

ari said...

Will you write down a few thoughts possibly next week? your analysis is usually pretty spot on ;)


I must admit im kind of distraught by how echos ability to be different persons at once is the new "[tech] the [tech]" from star trek, solving every problem the writers couldnt solve in a different fashion...

spacedmuch? said...

A few thoughts on both episodes here: http://divedowntherabbithole.blogspot.com/2009/12/dollhouse-review-2x09-stop-loss-and.html

Alan Sepinwall said...

Unless Epitaph One all took place in the attic which was my first thought.

Joss has said that's the future, and that future can't be changed.

Atomiclemon said...

Joss says a lot of things and takes them back or twists them.

Billiam said...

These episodes really have me excited for the endgame. I hope the ending is good, and I'm so glad they're not doing "engagement of the week" stories anymore.

We apparently don't get to find out what they took from Ballard until at January.

Finn said...

While it is getting more interesting and complicated as it gets closer to the end, I still feel like it is lacking. So many of the characters who play large roles in the series, i.e. Ballard, Boyd and uh....someone called Caroline/Echo/Master Supreme Being, are just not engaging. Sierra, Victor, Adelle, Dominic, Whiskey, November, and even Topher are all just more dynamic. Overall, I admire the show's ambition, but just can't love the show.

Byron Hauck said...

My thing has always been (except for when I forgot about it for three months) that if there be an Epitaph One, there has to be an Epitaph Two, an Epitaph Three, and etcetera. If Mr. Whedon has said something then so be it, but I insist that there are other possible futures. Which, I now realize, was perhaps strengthened by Clyde's discussion of probability scenarios.

suncore598 said...

It's becoming more and more apparent with each passing episode that the Big Bad of Season Two is the Rossum Corporation like Alpha was the Big Bad of Season One. And I'm looking forward with so anticipation to the final three episodes.

Though many have a low opinion about the first season, I think the first season was necessary to lay down the groundwork for what was going to happen in the second season: Echo's rise as a powerful Active with access to multiple imprints, Topher's growing conscience, DeWitt's personal struggles with the dawning reality of what Rossum and her role in Dollhouse really are, etc. Like the first season of Babylon 5. Many not may have liked many of the episodes but without them, the events of the second season would seem sudden and out of nowhere.

I think the Epitaph One future is the future and not a possible future like many would believe. I think the future being set in stone is interesting on a story level that way, giving the show the air of a Shakespearean tragedy.

BigTed said...

While I like this entire season's sci-fi super-battles a lot better than last season's "assignment of the week" plots, I thought these episodes lacked the creativity of the last four. The linked-supersoldiers plot could have come straight from "The X-Files" or "Buffy" (in fact, "Buffy" had a story line very much like it), and I was expecting The Attic to be a lot creepier, instead of a low-budget version of "The Matrix."

On the other hand, there was still a lot of good stuff in these two hours. The Rossum back story made sense, and the characters were as engaging as ever.
And I actually kind of like the fact that they have to fit so much plot into each episode in order to make it to the finish, without worrying whether or not the viewers will be able to follow along.

Mat said...

"And outside "The Wire," you don't see a lot of stories on TV where the good guys are doomed to failure."

Doomed to prevent something that statistically (according to Clyde) was inevitable. However, knowing they are "doomed" to reach a certain inevitable point doesn't prevent them for preparing for what comes after Epitaph 1. As E1 hinted, some plans and contingencies were made for how to deal with what comes next. I think that E2 will establish how our current group prepared for Clyde's future and 'what comes next' will truly be the test of whether or not they've failed.

Jenny said...

No one's mentioned the Borg in this discussion yet? To be honest, I was surprised Topher didn't make a remark like, "Whoa, they've built the Borg!"

I can't complain at all about these burn-off episodes. At the beginning of this season, I was fine with foregone conclusion that the show would be cancelled. Now, I'm not. Now, I'm super into it.

Loved the reference to Buffy dream sequences with the cheese man.

Mo Ryan said...

I thought these episodes were pretty swell -- especially The Attic. Dementedly, head-spinningly cool.

When Victor/Anthony was being turned into a supersoldier, I said, "He's a Cylon!" My husband said, "He's a Borg!" So then we agreed that he was a cy-borg.

Sent from the future to destroy all happiness.

hehehhehh.

Lots to ponder about what happened, but I'm also pretty tired. I'll just say that I thought The Attic was visually quite striking and well-directed.

Tom Galloway said...

While they're definitely packing a lot of stuff into these final eps, there also bits that don't seem internally justified.

For example, sending uberDoll Echo into the Attic at least makes sense; if anyone can break out internally, it'd be her. Still, I'd be thinking a backup plan involving Boyd, Anthony, and guns to physically invade the Attic to get her out would be in order. Sending in Anthony and Piera makes no sense other than giving the actors screen time; they have nothing going for them that any of the other folk who've never been able to get out have. Which also cropped up at the end, when Piera goes about how they also have been changed enough to manage it. Um, don't think so. What change has she been through again?

And DeWitt seems, in the these eps, and last week's, to be suffering from multiple personality disorder. She goes from turning over the game changing tech to Rossum* to sloppy drunk to co-coordinator of Caroline's Army at warp speed. At this point, if I were on either side, I wouldn't trust her for a minute.

*It's possible that she turned over a fake set of blueprints to Rossum, making her actions more consistent as the Cruella DeWitt bits then become a consistent disguise, rather than incompatible with suddenly switching sides for no good reason. But the bits with her being drunk, Boyd thinking they had time due to her being drunk, and the phone call while she's passed out, have me leaning more towards MPD.

meopta said...

I'll agree that DeWitt's MPD is dizzying, but I will argue (wait - am I about to defend Dollhouse?) that it seems a bit more MPD than Holy Plot Twist because of the accelerated nature of the viewing. If her handing over the plans was four weeks ago, more slack might be cut.

I'll argue also that it could be in character because DeWitt is cold enough to decide the plans are going to be developed no matter what - given the resources - so she might as well use them to gain her power back, while the drinking could be despair at seeing no way to stop them, until the Shower Of Clarity gives her a plan.

I find it interesting that even drunk a control freak like DeWitt would have no problem showering on camera for all her underlings, however.

I preferred the Borg episode to the Attic. I felt the Attic sequences were rather tedious and artsy for the sake of it, rather than the most efficient way to move the plot along. (But it did uphold the need of the show to have the dolls under some form of sexual aggression, so there's that. Ok, I semi-snark)

Anonymous said...

I felt the first episode was a little clunky and culled from too many other shows (Star Trek-Borg/Angel- The ninja's which impersonate Wes' father, Wolfram and Hart's original tactical team Buffy-Xander becomes a soldier in the Halloween episode). There was a part where the story elements felt a bit cartoony (I guess the most salient would be army drones flashing into scenes when Victor or Echo saw their strategies. I felt like I was watching cartoon panels. While Joss Whedon is heavily influenced by comics he has said that this show does not lend itself to comic books.) Moreover, I felt like I was watching Faith the Military Industrial Complex Slayer.

The second episode was brillant. An overt reference to Whedon's favorite film The Matrix but an absolutely amazing meditation on the concept of consciousness. The imagery that exists in the attic (The tree specifically) some of the most beautiful I have seen on screen. The attic reminded me of the imagery in the Jennifer Lopez movie The Cell (Whedon obviously did a better job).

Reed Dominic is so the Spike/Cordelia/Jayne of this group. When he approaches Enver's twin brother and he vanishes he has the perfect Spike reaction. Also, Arcane similar to Pavane when Spike is a ghost on Angel?

Anonymous said...

Enver Gjokaj deserves an Emmy for his work on Dollhouse. It has simply been a pleasure to watch.

Tausif Khan said...

Those last two post were also made by me. The last episode left so much to think about.

What is Ivy's role in the future? What did she snap at Topher when she returned from her meeting with Adelle.

The flawed nature of Adelle's character is amazing.

It will also be interesting to see Tahmoh Penikett as Ballard act out how he comprehends the world in his new state of being. This will give him more than just being Echo's love interest.

Tausif Khan said...

If in Whedon's world Vampires vamp then what do Dolls like Echo and Alpha do when they slip through personalities? Do they doll or active?

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling that what they took out was any memory of November.

CJ said...

Even if Epitaph One takes place in the attic (as Whedon as said), it was still the future to us when we saw it, because Echo had not yet been put in the attic. Or maybe they will need to return to the attic in order to bring Rossum down.

Art Fleming said...

I thought the first episode was okay (i thought the borg soldiers were kinda lame) and the second absolutely great. Imdb said it was directed by a first time director who worked on Watchmen(as concept artist), not a bad debut.

Anonymous said...

First, Enver Gjokaj HAS A TWIN BROTHER Demir Gjokaj (who played the terrorist version of himself). Can you imagine if they both acted as good as he did? IT WOULD BE INSANE!

Second, I will be disappointed if Epitaph One is in the attic. I'm also disappointed that Adelle turned good. I wanted to savour her being such a bitch instead of switching sides so soon (though the sped up nature of the show is necessary for a final conclusion). I liked that Josh took a rather likeable character and made her so unlikable.

Third, There's just so much good story to work with that I'd rather see fleshed out. Too bad the stand alone episodes from season 1 were so bad.

I feel bad for Topher.

WWWeaves said...

I saw Enver fighting himself, and immediately thought, 'He must have a twin.' Anyone else?

Anonymous said...

Finally, Dominic was heavily underused. Reed is a great actor.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was just cinema tools but it is indeed a twin

Anonymous said...

I've thought the last few episodes were really great, but I think this is a show that benefited from having an "end date" of obvious cancelation. If the show were successful there's just no way they'd be burning through this much plot this quickly. I don't know that they'd still be doing assignment of the week stories, but their plot to take down Rossum certainly wouldn't be unfolding as quickly or with as much excitement if they were dragging things out indefinitely.

David Hanlon said...

I actually wish they could burn through the plot a little more slowly. Another similarity to the Wire is how in their last seasons they weren't in complete control of the pacing. Still, I'd rather a rapidly accelerated serial plot than a leisurely one-off.

And a tweaking of Alan's "doomed war against Rossum," I think it's entirely possible the war against Rossum will go fairly well; as we saw last week Alpha is likely to be responsible for the chaotic nature of the Epitaph One world, as opposed to the tightly controlled one Rossum would prefer. I keep thinking he's going to team up somehow with Summer Glau's character, since she seems like something of an anarchist at heart as well. The twin villains of totalitarianism and anarchy makes for some potent stuff. It's very Matrix-Agent Smith, but, you know, good.

Peter D Bakija said...

Tausif wrote:
>>What is Ivy's role in the future? What did she snap at Topher when she returned from her meeting with Adelle.>>

Yeah, while I was wildly fond of these last two episodes (well, really all of the show now that it finally moved into the "let's tell the story about trying to take down the Dollhouse instead of setting up for those stories", which I have been hoping for since the first episode), what was going on with Adelle still is knid of the weak part. It probably has a lot to do with the increased pace of the show at this point, but still.

So we have Adelle embracing the evil and giving over the plans to Rossum (I'm assuming for argument's sake that she did, in fact, embrace the evil, rather than it all being a long term ploy) to get back her house. Then she falls apart. At the end of Stop Loss (the title of which makes perfect sense with Adelle's actions, rather than just being a military reference), she has an epiphany and goes good (sending Echo into the Attic as an attack). I'm all ok with this.

But in The Attic, her actions as Darth Adelle really only make sense in so much that they kept *us*, the viewers, in the dark so that the final reveal of the episode would be a surprise. She seems to still be being embracing the Evil, and it seems like all the other characters are still in the dark, until the final reveal. And consequently, what is going on with Ivy seems strange and random (which might pay off later, to be fair). I mean, Darth Adelle there made sense dramatically as a red herring, but in terms of internal story logic, the whole "send Echo into the Attic" would have made more sense if Topher and Boyd were all patently aware of it. Which doesn't seem to have been the case.

Again, a lot of leeway kind of has to be given in the name of getting the story where it needs to go in the time that is left. But Darth Adelle in The Attic seems too much like an illogical red herring, just to maintain the surprise of the end reveal.

Jenny said...

Whedon sure has the best knack for casting actors who have twins. Nicholas Brendon (Xander) has a twin as well, and the two appeared in an episode of Buffy where Xander is split into two people. Great use of the twin factor here, too.

Anonymous said...

Now that the show is cancelled, I'm finally invested in the story. ARGGH!!

Did anyone else think that Clyde 2.0 = Topher? Two-fer?

Simon said...

Your point about Topher being Clyde 2.0 is really interesting; Clyde did design the system they're now using. He also said that they'd likely be onto Clyde 2.1 by now. It could also explain the similarities with Glau's character, if she's a Clyde 2.2, for example. However, we know they aren't dolls as they don't respond to the remote wipe technology, unless someone came up with a way of shielding them.

Anonymous said...

According to Adelle, once she took the shower and switched back the good side, she wanted to leave an impression on the others of what they are up against. Hence, keeping Boyd, Topher, and Paul in the dark was to have them become fully aware of the situation - while she's a bitch, she's nothing compared to Rossum.


We still know Boyd goes on the run some time when Whiskey comes back. Either he takes the heat so the group can continue fighting or someone's a snitch.

Like I mentioned before it's disappointing not to see more of evil Adelle, more of Victor's story, more of Sierra's and Victor's relationship, more of Paul as a doll. That's all the great material we're missing out due to the sped up nature of the show.

meopta said...

What did they take from Ballard -

Assuming it dovetails with what the show is steeped in, I'm going to assume it's his sexuality - the part of the mind that processes and responds to physical attraction.

A memory here or there is too minor for the amount of buildup it was given. I think they (the writers) decided to lock Ballard and Caroline out of the 'happy' aspect of the happy ending they might eventually have.

Tausif Khan said...

@ Jenny don't forget Yan and Raphael the twin middle men in Serenity.

@ Peter D Bakija I meant to write Why did Ivy snap... not What did Ivy snap. I assume you are agreeing with the question?

Joss Whedon has two major character themes

1) the ambiguity of characters and the decisions they make. Adelle is flawed on a romantic level where she can not reconcile her lust for power with her ability to be in a romantic relationship. At the same time she is cold, calculating and has demonstrated caring for the dolls. Both are true to the character but it is in those tough decision moments where we find the true nature of the character as both Shan Yu and Adelle remind us. This isn't bad writing but good character development as it shows complexity. Therefore we can not predict how she is going to react when she is offered more power and is intriguing to watch.

2) Joss also shows how all of his character's are equally flawed. In certain scenes he sets up the expectation that a character is going to be talking to a certain character and reveals that the character is talking to someone else. This shows how some character flaws are interchangeable and represents the flawed nature of humanity. This is evident when Echo is talking to the team about taking down the Dollhouse we assume she is talking to Paul or Boyd but do not assume Adelle will be there. An example of interchangeable character flaw is when Lila offers Angels team a chance to run Wolfram and Hart. No one is expected to want it yet they all show up. Angel is supposed to want it least of all and he is waiting for the rest of them to show up.

Also, it's Joss not Josh.

Tausif Khan said...

@meopta Adelle mentions that Ballard would be a good new "Victor". That means they may have taken away his sex drive. Ballard does not display shock that Sierra, Victor and Echo are sent to the attic. He does not display more shock about Echo which I think he would have done previously. You may be right...

Who are the possible women who could be Clyde's partner? Is Adelle actually playing everyone in the Dollhouse?

Harris said...

Alan:

Did you catch that the director of "The Attic" was "Astonishing X-Men" and "Planetary" artist John Cassaday? It was his directing debut.

Anonymous said...

I cannot get past all the repeating themes/ideas and seemingly identical replaying of plots already seen in all of Joss' work. I've got those on DVD already if I want to see them.

It was enjoyable watching and a nice "team gathering" sort of episode, but I really can't say much about retread material.

A lot of shows are simply refabrications of familiar plotlines and ideas, but we're talking seriously identical here- season 3 Buffy ender, all of Angel season 5, River plotline on Firefly and a few bits and pieces.

This is also why I don't watch Eureka, Buffy always did whatever they try to do better.

EmeraldLiz

Joseph said...

Regarding Mo Ryan's comment about "The Attic" being visually striking - it was directed by acclaimed comic book artist John Cassaday (also Whedon's collaborator on his Astonishing X-Men run). End nerd note for the day!

Joseph said...

Aaaaand someone beat me to it, as I noted just after I posted. Sorry!

meopta said...

@Tausif Khan - I don't think Adele could / would play herself to the extent that she lost control of her house. And I think the Senator's wife (my best guess) is too young to be the partner. My money is that whoever she was, she's off canvas - someone that might have come in a later season but not someone revealed now.

EssPee said...

@meopta It would be awesome if Topher cut off Ballard's balls -- cerebrally speaking, of course. But I suspect that he's actually just lost his limbic system -- i.e., his emotional response. We'll see.

Meanwhile, my favorite line from "The Attic":

"2010, I think. We don't know how long we've been off the air."

Perfect meta-comment on the show's uncertainty. And it's still 2009!

CrazyCris said...

"Joss has said that's the future, and that future can't be changed."

Actually didn't Joss say it was a possible future? And CLyde said there was a 3% probability of a positive outcome so... anything goes! ;o)

In any case I can't wait for the new year!!!

Alan Sepinwall said...

From my story about the TV critics' visit to the set in August:

Whedon promised that the future characters wouldn't be traveling through time to the present, and when asked if that horrible future was preventable, said, "I tend to think not."

Tausif Khan said...

@meopta I could logically see Adelle being the partner. As I mentioned before Whedon does show a lot of character ambiguity. You don't know which character traits displayed in any week will be their defining ones (if indeed people do have defining characteristics as this show questions). Adelle mentions that now that she sees how much power Rossum has accumulated she does not want to be on the other side. While it is revealed later that this was a ruse to get the house back we don't know if it is something she actually feels. She is visibly frustrated about not being in control of the house earlier in the episode, demonstrating she does like power. Although by Epitaph 1 we see she has chosen to stick with the Dolls she is still resentful of Caroline (and her leadership). All this points to a possibility that she could have been the partner in the past.

Furthermore, I know she is too young but it would be cool if Ivy were the partner in some form. I think the same about Bennett (which Simon mentioned as a possibility). However, she is brilliant and vicious which Clyde does mention.

@CrazyCris/Alan I don't think either of you are wrong. We already know that the world is going to be apocalyptic but we don't know how the characters' futures turn out. Alpha creates a place called "safe haven" which the unprinted original people (led by Felicia Day) find exists in their day. So the ending of the series still holds out hope for a bit of happiness. However, knowing Joss Whedon I wouldn't bet on it.

Alf said...

I loved the Angel shoutout: Victor was put up at the Hyperion.