Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dollhouse, "Haunted": Mostly dead

Quick, incomplete spoilers for last night's "Dollhouse" coming up just as soon as I let my pasta boil just a little longer to spare my teeth...

Confession time up front: about a third of the way into the episode (right after Jordan Bridges kissed Echo), I lost all patience in the A-story and started fast-forwarding through all of the scenes with Echo, Victor and the dead client's family.

Earlier this week, Mo Ryan published an interview with Joss Whedon where he had this to say about "Haunted":
The next episode, "Haunted," is a standalone. It's a quirky little piece with a lot of guest stars. I'm a little nervous about it. I think Eliza's great in it. But I'm wondering, are people going to go, "Now wait a minute, [where's the mythology]?" But it was my decision in the middle of all this [i.e., ongoing stories] to say, "Wait a minute, we can't just be about our own mythology. Let's try this other thing."
I agree with Whedon's point that the show needs to be about more than its mythology. But the problem is, so far, the mythology is the only part of the show that's interesting. Eliza Dushku isn't a versatile enough actress to disappear into these roles the way the script demands, particularly on an episode like "Haunted" where the character is so far outside her usual range of characters. And an episode like this requires us to care about a whole bunch of characters we've never seen before and will never see again, and in the short period before I gave up on it, the script was just dumping tons of exposition on me.

Maybe it got better as it went along. But once it became clear that this story was going to have little to no connection to the larger Dollhouse world -- that, in fact, we wouldn't even see Echo herself at any point -- it became way too easy for me to take advantage of the DVR buffer and just skip ahead to scenes featuring the rest of the cast.

And even there, it was really only the increasingly dark Paul/Mellie scenes that grabbed me. Paul having an actual doll living across the hall and playing at being his girlfriend is both a great situation for him, in that he's finally getting some evidence and support at work that the Dollhouse exists, and awful, in that he has to act like everything's normal in a situation that disgusts him. Paul taking Mellie up on her offer to “give you what you need and let you take it from me” and having some angry sex was about the ugliest scene of the series so far, and well played by Tahmoh Penikett.

Topher turning Sierra into his ideal birthday playmate wasn't as amusing as I think it was intended to be, because I find Topher such a repugnant, annoying character. (Though I did at least appreciate that it seemed to be an entirely platonic thing, and that he wasn't taking sexual advantage of Sierra in the way so many other men do.) And the Adelle material didn't really work because the early expository scenes undermined the idea that this woman was a close friend whose death really upset her.

We're back to the mythology next week, so hopefully the season's final two episodes will be more along the lines of the batch we got before this one. But if the show's going to come back next year, either the paradigm needs to dramatically shift, or the execution of these standalone stories needs to be more interesting.

What did everybody else think?


Unknown said...

I normally don't like to comment when you say everything I was thinking about this episode, but yet here I am commenting.

All along I was holding out merely because of the interesting premise and the Whedon name being at the head of the credits. Then, during the mythology episodes, the quality really had an uptick. But if they're going to keep stupid standalone episodes like last night's in the overall package of the show, I'm done.

This show would have make a really awesome 12 episode miniseries. I realize the business situation of US television requires they try to make every idea into a long running series, but I wish they would be more willing to make miniseries. Maybe not sink so much money into them and then the DVD sales alone would be good return? Who knows, I'm not a businessman.

Also, Topher was wearing at the beginning of the episode that new Boba Fett hoodie from Ecko ( and it made me mad. That guy's a douche/scumbag/sociopath. Boo hoo, he doesn't have friends and has to make them.

Has Joss Whedon ever spoken regarding Topher's intended place on the amusing spectrum? I like they don't try to pull punches on his creepiness but they also seem to give him the lines that scream "amusing clever quips!"

Sorry about the long post.

saalon said...

I actually enjoyed the standalone episode this week, though all of your complaints are pretty much true. It didn't connect to anything and Eliza Dushku isn't quite the actress she needs to be, but I thought it was enjoyable and showed a better command of the standalone format then the show displayed earlier on.

Here's the thing about the Topher scenes: They got across something that I think the show's been building steadily over the past few episodes, which is that there is something deeply sad about these people who run the Dollhouse.

Last week's Dewitt plot showed a woman who doesn't like what she's doing, but has to deny herself everything to keep up the strength not to fail. This week we see that Topher has to make himself a friend, which is especially ironic because if he could treat Ivy with some respect he'd probably have a real one.

I agree that the people in the Dollhouse are all kind of awful for what they do, but I appreciate that they've spent time allowing them to be so human. None of these people woke up and said "Slave trade for me!"

I get the feeling that Topher is the classic young scientist. Too smart too quickly, and unable to connect morality to what he's doing. I hated the character at first, but as they've taken him from Mr. Snark to a something more of genius man-child, I'm starting to feel him.

I think one of the conceits of this show is that for it to work we need to empathize with people who should be the villains. I can see that this makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but I find it rather compelling.

Anyway it was truly just an OK episode, but I did enjoy it.

Karen said...

Alan, your post was right on the money - not much to add, just my agreement that the scenes with Paul and Mellie are incredibly disturbing. And about Topher. And when he was told that Sierra was the one who hadn't been used in a while, all I could think was, "Oh, great, it's Let's Abuse Sierra Time again." And while she wasn't being abused in the same way as usual, it was still icky - in this scenario, the word "doll" felt more apt than ever - a plaything, a toy. Sad, yes, but I find it hard to feel for Topher when there is Sierra to feel sadder about.

I like Gregg Henry, but they didn't give him much to do (and yeah, no real reason to care).

Anonymous said...

The whole point of the episode was

(A) the scene where Dichen Lachman talks about making the sleepies fight each other; and

(B) the shower scene.

Re. A, it's clear at this point that one or more of the main characters more or less has to be a doll. Either Topher is a doll, or he and Amy Acker are the only ones who aren't dolls.

Re. B, the problem with the series is that it's got great built in opportunities for plot and character development at all levels, but the story may be too disturbing for the format. I like that Whedon isn't really pulling (many) punches, and it's interesting to watch him try to be true to this dark material while not completely alienating us. But it's not still not clear whether it's going to work.

Also, and this goes to the points above, the story just doesn't lend itself to stand alone episodes, which are a necessary part of the format. I've never been a big fan of Joss's stand alones, frankly, but in this series they're seriously discordant.

maura said...

I liked the entire episode, although I agree the Ballard/Mellie scenes were the best part. Also, pretty creepy.

I wasn't feeling too sorry for Topher until I saw him through Adele's eyes. Watching him look so happy, while not hearing anything, suddenly made him more sympathetic to me. When Adele said it only happens once a year, it kind of broke my heart. And a big thanks to the writers for not writing Sierra as Topher's sex toy. That might have been a deal breaker for me.

Chip said...

I think the actress who plays Sierra always does a much better job of disappearing into her roles than Eliza.

Chip said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chip said...

Also... I wonder if Topher lost a sibling/best friend whose personality is taken out once a year on his birthday.

Boricua in Texas said...

I think the actress who plays Sierra always does a much better job of disappearing into her roles than Eliza.
I agree. This was also said before in one of Alan's earlier columns on Dollhouse. The actress who plays Sierra would have been a better lead for this series than Eliza is.

I liked last week's episode and felt like finally my wait had paid off. Last night I was annoyed and bored again, except for the Ballard/Mellie subplot. The whole Topher once-a-year birthday playdate thing was supposed to humanize him, but it did not. His Dr. Frankenstein shtick is still creepy and incredibly annoying.

everythingszen said...

I gave this series a try because of it's Whedon pedigree. It defines itself too much on Echo. Maybe that'll work but ED just can't carry it off. Plus, I have ethical/moral blockage with the premise.

I will not miss this show if it were canceled as I would "Life" and "Pushing Daisies" - both brilliant, underrated and underappreciated shows.

James said...

I'm glad to see that other people are thinking along the same lines as me: That Dollhouse would have worked a LOT better if Sierra was the main character. I've been impressed with the range that the actress has shown.

Frankly, this entire episode squicked me out. The whole A-plot, I couldn't help but think how twisted it is that Caroline, or Echo, or whatever was completely sublimated for this other person. And then they keep touching on the idea of Margaret running away and keeping the body.

I know it'its kind of the whole point of the Dollhouse, but taking it to a level where you're "stealing" somebody else's body just seems to be taking it too far. Because at least when they're an imprint or whatever I could see them as a distinct person (even if they weren't). In this case, it felt like Echo was just dark.

I do wonder if this whole eternal life thing is the greater purpose that they keep hinting at in the mytharc, though.

This episode also really made me despise Topher. He really does just see the Dolls as his toys, doesn't he?

For some strange reason, this episode just really shined a harsh light on the extremely distasteful nature of the Dollhouse for me. Moreso than at any other time, except maybe the revelation that Sierra is there involuntarily.

Stef said...

I agree with Alan's whole take on this ep. It felt a lot like a Murder, She Wrote episode to me.

Two things were interesting, and I don't know how I feel about them yet: Boyd's definitely going to be a different kind of head of security, already questioning Adele, but what's he really in this for? And I was confused by the quick flash of Mellie's past identitites - were those all aliases she'd had as a "real" person? Cuz that didn't seem to fit with the sad grieving mother from a few weeks ago, but maybe. Or were those doll identitites?

Ashley said...

Maybe I'm just a sucker, but I very much enjoy Topher. I think it's too soon to just write him off as an asshole. He is a Whedon character, after all, and those are not always what they seem. Anyway, I found his playdate with Sierra . . . disturbingly charming.

As for the Paul/Mellie scenes, it was clear to me that Paul was disgusted with himself for taking advantage of Mellie, despite the toughness of his situation. I think at the end when he told her he'd found a Dollhouse client, he was speaking about himself.

Luke said...

Alan, the one potentially interesting tidbit coming out of the A-plot was that the dead woman's son had used the Manhattan Dollhouse in the past, and therefore was able to recognize a doll when he saw one.

Also, the mechanics of the A-plot (live persons implanting memories for potential resurrections) made me wonder if the person Topher's created is Topher himself, only different because this one doesn't have to work at the Dollhouse.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of Echo in her vapid victim form or when she's used as a plaything for paying Johns. I do find her interesting in an ep like Ghost where the story is elevated above some man gettin' some from her. I've always liked Jane Espenson's writing, so after weeks of coming away annoyed with the show this was an ep I liked -- for the most part. Sure I rolled my eyes when Dushku's acting wobbled; a society lady is a bit of a stretch for a Southie. But I agree that the Mellie/Ballard scene was the most hard hitting this week, and the FBI B story got to move a bit further. Though why have Topher in the ep at all when Ballard is getting closer to the D-House and has a ton of new evidence to process? Victor wasn't really needed either in this episode; if this woman meant to solve her murder why not just have her investigate on her own so that Dushku would have more to do? The worlds of the Dollhouse, the FBI and Real World are a lot to juggle, and giving scenes to a large supporting cast and guest actors takes away from pages that could be used for the show leads. We got a long fight scene between a bratty rich boy and a trophy husband who went at it like extras in a Jason Statham movie; who knew the rich were so good at hand to hand combat? I wonder if all the extra padding comes from not wanting Eliza to do more,as if they worry she doesn't have the chops to carry the whole show? At any rate my fav character is still November, and I like Boyd, Sierra and Ballard more than Echo/Caroline. I was always a huge Faith fan but week to week Dushku seems lost in this Show, never quite convincing as Echo, Caroline or any other of her multiple personalities.

Tyro.k.y said...

Whedon has won me over for this show. I hope its renewed.

Yes, Topher is despicable but dare I say humans are complicated creatures with folds of personality? Is it wrong for Whedon to peel back the flesh and reveal Topher's dimensions, his insecurities? Yes, he's a prick but he doesn't have any one. The Dollhouse is his only connection to Humanity.

I bought Eliza this week. I do agree that Sierra adopts more naturally into the roles (and is a finer actress) but perhaps that's always been the point.

Ballard/Melli thing was disturbing.

This was the first stand alone episode I enjoyed. I hope FOX stands by for another season.

Anonymous said...

Plot A was just "Murder She Wrote" with perky breasts ... boring and not anything to make a non-Whedon fan want to continue watching.

David said...

This was also said before in one of Alan's earlier columns on Dollhouse. The actress who plays Sierra would have been a better lead for this series than Eliza is.That was me. I think its two-fold, that she has much more range and seems to effortlessly slip into characters, but also that Dichen is a virtual unknown. She has no "baggage", and since we don't really know who she is, we're less likely to see her as anything but the character she's playing.

Really, that would've been ideal with all the dolls. Put the star power in the non-doll/supporting roles and hire relatively unknowns to play ALL the dolls.

rosseau said...

Ooh, a locked room mystery. Somebody's reading their A. Christie. Congratulations. it took three people to write a cliche.

Dee said...

I did find the idea of continuing life after death with the dolls to be an intriguing idea, if only the actual plot of that storyline went anywhere (interesting).

I think the lack of characterizations of the non doll characters (I can understand why it would - and should - take longer for us to know the dolls) - mostly, the motivations behind WHY they're working at the Dollhouse, be they good or bad - makes the standalone episodes, where there's no intriguing mythology to watch unfold, really dull to watch. Why would I give a rat's ass about Adele's (never seen before) friend's murder, if I don't even understand why Adele works at the Dollhouse? (that goes for pretty much everyone who's not a doll who works there.) Similarly, it's difficult to sympathize with Topher's loneliness when all we've seen him do is to give very little regard to the dolls who he treats as his own personal lab rats, all for the sake of his scientific curiosity. And, we're ten episodes in, and we know pretty much NOTHING about Echo's ex handler.
It's not that I need everything to be revealed, but I just feel a lack of layers when it comes to the supporting cast.

Half the cast are the dolls, which are difficult as it is to really root for because of their everchanging personalities/blank states. Need the other characters be equally difficult to get a feel for?

Zack Smith said...

Darn it, most things I wanted to say have been said already...

-Pop-Cultural Reference #1: Echo's alias, "Julia," MIGHT have been a hommage to a novel/TV-movie called "Who is Julia?", where a wealthy woman's brain is transplanted into a brain-dead housewife. I only know about this because a paperback with a very creepy "Eyes Without a Face"-type cover was a local used shop recently; it had nothing to with the main story.

-Casting Note #1 -- As someone else noted, Gregg Henry, who played the brother, is awesome, but didn't have much to do. Loved him in PAYBACK.

-My Dichen Lachman love was off the charts, as she was freakin' adorable as Topher-Friend. Once again, a better "Doll" for the series, though part of the point might be that Caroline is just under the surface for every personality (not this time, anyway).

-The thing with Topher, based on various episodes and the unaired pilot, seems to be that he doesn't believe in ANY sincere emotions, and has this disconnect from programming people. So his doing something more innocent with Sierra is in character, but still fits his creepy-profile.

-Topher was actually less creepy than Ballard this time out. Ballard is MESSED up from dealing with the Dollhouse's manipulations. And Mellie/November is clearly straining in her "Love Ballard" persona. Many of her reactions tonight indicated that she was uncomfortable with the situation, but was programmed in a way to justify/enjoy his attitude. The profound WRONGNESS of the Dollhosue was on full display there, and Ballard gave into it. Theory: He might be pushed to a point where he'd volunteer to become a Doll himself.

-Dushku was flat again in this episode, though she seemed more likable as Margaret than Echo OR Caroline -- at least she got a sense of humor. That leads to...

-Pop-Cultural Reference #2: I realize the "Dead Person in Younger Body" thing has been done many times, such as SECONDS, but seeing this on a Friday night reminded me of CBS' great NOW AND AGAIN with Eric Close, Dennis Haysbert and Margaret Colin. Anyone remember this? Anyone? I still like to believe Michael escaped with his family in the last episode.

-Casting Note #2 -- Rhea Seehorn, the photographer-daughter, has been cast as the lead in Fox's telenovela remake EVA ADAMS, about an alpha male magically transformed into a woman. The pilot script by JOURNEYMAN's Kevin Falls was kind of weak, and the premise feels thin, though they've ast the likes of David Denman from THE OFFICE as supporting players.

Looking forward to how the last couple eps play out, but I'm not chomping at the bit for Season 2...

Michael Cowgill said...

The main story certainly didn't wow me, but it had a couple interesting things: Margaret being able to right a few wrongs she wasn't aware of with her loved ones was nice and again raises the point that the Dollhouse does do some altruistic things, despite its inherent creepiness; the idea of clients becoming immortal through the Dollhouse and the bodies of the Dolls -- they didn't explore it all the way, but they planted the seed, and it's a nice allusion to the novel Never Let Me Go, which Whedon and others have mentioned as a touchstone for the show.

As for Topher, I don't think he's supposed to be funny, or if he is, it's at his expense -- his humor is so off, we laugh at him. He's a little like the evil nerds from Buffy, but the question remains will he end up like Warren or Andrew. Each episode reveals a little more about how fragile he is, and at some point, he's going to have face that fragility and his seeming lack of morality.

tony libido said...

The painful incoherence of the whole series just makes me want to jump out of my skin. Why am I still watching? I guess cause I've been rewatching BUFFY season 3-5 and I keep hoping but each week is , for me, a kick in the nuts.

They're all loathsome except, I guess, for Echo's handler. What's his name was a spy for the government so why was he so hot to kill Echo.Makes no sense.

We finally seem to be past the glitch of the week string of episodes and firmly into the everyone is tempted and/or corrupted by the lure of the Doll series.

We're told Echo is in for 5 years. I presume she''s somewhere into that period when we began. I'm not sure why I should even care then about her.

I know this reads as a negative rant but I just gotta get it off my chest. The show is a mess and I'll be happy to see it sent to the attic.

Eric said...

I think I enjoyed the episode more than most here, although there were definitely some weaknesses. The implications of the A story for the Doll technology were too serious to push the somewhat lame rich-folks murder mystery to 11 a-la Dynasty or a Telenovela, and really have fun with it.

Other than that, a few general notes on the series:

1) My pet theory, which I have zero evidence for, is that Helo is a former Doll, whose 5-year commitment is up. It explains why we've gotten absolutely no backstory on him - he may not have many true memories going back more than a few years.

2) My grand conclusion on the series as a whole is that it means that Joss needs to quit TV, and possibly Hollywood altogether. The Dollhouse is an allegory for Hollywood, and given the amount of queasiness and disgust it produces, also a cry for help.

The dolls are actors, living lives of heightened, though fake experience, and downtime of body-focused luxury. Topher is the writer, and therefore the Joss standin, turning the dolls into whatever is required for the mission/story without any regard as to how it affects their psyche, their soul their humanity.

Adele is the producer, trying to hold it all together, appease the people with the money (both customers and corporate) while keeping the whole thing running. If she has to be a ruthless bitch to get it done, so be it.

And I think the whole set-up just shows how conflicted Joss is about what he's doing. He loves telling stories, but he can't stand being a cog in the dream factory any longer.

Does this make sense to anyone else?

Todd said...


Whedon bristled at Topher criticism at the PaleyFest panel on the show (so did Kranz) and suggested that Topher is based heavily on him, like Xander was on Buffy. I sort of get it. There's a lot of writer identifiers in this show (building personalities out of parts of other people is very similar to how fiction writers build characters; Topher regarding the dolls as little things he can play with is VERY like a writer's relationship to his characters, particularly a very poor writer), but since they're working with REAL PEOPLE in the show's fiction, it's a lot squickier than it would be if, somehow, all of the Dolls were characters in Topher's novel or something.

Eldritch said...

Though why have Topher in the ep at all ...[and] Victor wasn't really needed either in this episode.

When actors are listed as regular in a series, I believe the show is contractually obligated to have them perform in each episode, unless both sides mutually agree. I think it's not only a matter of getting paid, but screen time helps an actor get other roles.

nutmeag said...

I've never really understood everyone's hate for Topher. I don't love him or anything, but don't see him as being any better or worse than any of the others working the Dollhouse.

I've spent a good majority of time with very smart science people, and they tend to be more arrogant and morally ambiguous than the general population. So Topher's attitude is no surprise.

What surprises me is that fans adored Dr. McKay on Stargate, but abhor Topher . . . they seem like similar characters to me.

Thus, I enjoyed the Topher plot. I was glad to see him treat Sierra's character as a person rather than a plaything, like most Dollhouse clients do. He seemed genuinely happy and treated her better than he treats most people.

Eldritch said...

About half way through this episode, I found myself so bored that I came here to this blog for spoilers.

I've been a blindly loyal Whedon fan, defending all the bad episodes of this series until now. But I think my patience ran out during this episode.

With the end of the season so close, I'll probably continue watching, but for once, I won't be disappointed when the show's canceled.

Recently, I caught up with "Drive," a quickly canceled series (after 4 episodes) written by Whedon alums. Its premise seemed as uninteresting as possible, a cross country race. But they quickly made that show fascinating. How could the same writers fail with "Dollhouse?"

Tyro.k.y said...

Eric, I totally dig your analysis of Dollhouse. I myself never tried to reflect on it from that perspective. Instead I bought into the obvious premise that is presented. In a sense, I am a customer of the Dolls. But, that's a great way to view the show. Haha! I think I'm in love with it now because of you.

It doesn't matter to me if Eric's analysis is accurate or not.

Wilder said...

Hmmmm. Maybe this actually IS more of a mythology episode after all....

What is the purpose of the Dollhouse?
Beta testing of downloading.

Whoda thunk it ... all along this show was the true prequel to Battlestar Galactica.

But no metal. All organic.

Corvus Imbrifer said...

I've never really understood everyone's hate for Topher. For me, nutmeg, it's not about his science geekiness, it's about his sociopathy. It would be one thing if he were a science genius, but the conceit of the show is that the Doll technology is failing. He didn't develop it, did he? Not seeing any redeeming qualities in the character. He apparently knows quite a bit about the human psyche (to be able to construct the imprints) but if that makes less connected, then why the looooong goofball scenes with Sierra? (And anyway that makes him more interesting than Echo.) As it is, I'm more interested in Adele. Apparently Whedon and Kranz view Topher as an amoral, but as a child is amoral. Well, children aren't amoral (selfish, amoral no) and Topher isn't a child, so he's just amoral.

I'm was initially not surprised he has to use a doll for a birthday buddy, on the theory that they can't let him out of the Dollhouse. Ever. Too risky to security, he's too valuable. But since they can just make any number of him whenever they need, that can't be right.

I dearly love Ms Espenson, and clearly they were trying for something more thoughtful in this episode, but yeesh. Immortality this is not, it's merely duplication. Even so, the most horrible element to me (even beyond slimy Topher and tormented Ballard) is Adele's pulling of the plug on her friend. Why can't that continue? Even if they intend to honor the five year agreement with Caroline (sure) they can just swap over. Dollhouse = Cylon Resurrection ship.

@Eric: Fascinating theory! Though it's not Whedon's first day at the rodeo. The weaknesses in this very episode were entirely the responsibility of the writers.

This was also said before in one of Alan's earlier columns on Dollhouse. The actress who plays Sierra would have been a better lead for this series than Eliza is. That was me. So say we all, David.

I want this show to be renewed. I demand Whedon keep at it till he gets it right.

Rachel said...

I found the A-plot boring as hell and the Ballard-plot disturbing and creepy, but I really liked Topher and Sierra. There was a lightness and a sense of fun to it that's rarely seen in the Dollhouse.

I really disliked the A-plot, but that might have been an aversion to the form. Also, it seemed like really lazy, exposition-y writing. Eliza's character was written very inconsistently - as though it was supposed to be funnier than it was. It didn't work for me.

Karen said...

@Zack Smith: I remember NOW AND AGAIN with great fondness. I LOVED that show.

As for this episode, all the usual criticisms apply: Dushku can't handle what she's given; Topher is too creepy for words; the only parts worth watching were Ballard/Mellie, but they still squicked me out.

But here's my question, which was niggling at me as I watched. Ballard shows up at the FBI offices to get his old colleague to run Mellie's prints through the lab. How did he get in? Isn't he off the job? Don't you need to have, like, ID to walk around FBI headquarters?

Or am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of the comments above (Eric, your theory really wowed me) with one small exception.

This episode didn't remind me of a Murder, She Wrote as much as a storyline on a Fantasy Island.

Perhaps they are in essence one and the same and it is only my age that makes me disagree with you younger folks.

Number Five said...

I wish they had flipped the stories. The Topher/Sierra story was fascinating, and I would have liked to see that fleshed out more, like where her personality came from and ultimately how hollow the whole thing would be. It was very well done, though, and it did make me sympathetic for Topher and how screwed up he is as DeWitt and the other Dollhouse employees (I like saalon's phrase "deeply sad"). He's still monstrous since he's the most amoral and the key to the Dollhouse working, but it still added to his character in a way I wouldn't have guessed from before.

I agree that the main story was almost superfluous. The concept of duplicating yourself like that is mind-blowing, and I like how they're going down a lot of the dark paths that the Dollhouse technology implies. But turning it into Clue was as pointless as most of the early stand-alone episodes.

Wilder is right...they're preparing for the point when they can download a consciousness into another body, versus recreating a duplicate consciousness. Except unlike the Cylons, they can't make bodies from scratch, so they need the Dolls. Now that is really terrifying.

tony libido, in a nice twist, Dominic and the NSA didn't mind the technology, they just thought it needed to be kept under more control. He was keeping tabs on it, not trying to take it down like Ballard. He wanted to kill Echo because he knew her glitches would turn her into another Alpha and she'd destroy the Dollhouse.

Eric, I disagree that Ballard is a former Doll (I hope we can rule him, DeWitt, Boyd, Topher, and Saunders out at this point), but I like the Hollywood metaphor. I also think they're making larger allusions to our increasing inability to differentiate between reality and illusion as our technology continues to advance.

Everything's already been said about the Ballard/Mellie scenes, but they were great...dark, twisted, and very compelling.

Eric said...

Number 5 - The Dollhouse may not be able to create human bodies, but you can be sure Rossum is working on it -"Why would they need embryos?"

Also was it pointed out when they first appeared the origin of the name Rossum?

Anonymous said...

Sheesh, Mellie said multiple times how what she and Ballard did was something they shouldn't do very often, like her body was seriously in pain. [shudder]

Number Five said...

Eric - *slaps head* Of course. I was going to say that's less morally repugnant than taking someone and replacing their consciousness with an imprint, but if you manufacture a human that would have developed a consciousness had you not replaced it with an imprint...isn't that essentially the same thing? Would it be better if you can manufacture an entire body without the consciousness (it would still be wrong, but less wrong?)

One item that doesn't seem realistic but that we have to accept as part of the premise is that these nefarious organizations have made a lot more progress on the software vs. the hardware aspects of creating new people.

Anonymous, I read it similarly but slightly differently, that the Mellie persona's programmed attraction to Ballard plus their screwed up situation (even before Ballard knew the truth, "Mellie" knew there was a sexual component to his desire to save Caroline) made her willing to have the hate sex, but deep down it was so disturbing to not just him but her that she went against her programming enough to comment on how it was something they shouldn't do often. Which is the story of their relationship now - the disconnect between Mellie's programmed attraction and the reality that Ballard is clearly disgusted with her manifests itself in that willingness to be emotionally (and if you're right, physically as well...yikes) abused.

Anonymous said...

I gave up on this show after the 7th episode (the campus one). The good will Whedon had earned from his other series mitigated my serious concerns about the plot and forced me to give him the benefit of the doubt until the hyped sixth episode. But this program is just so awful compared to Whedon's other shows, and the premise is so utterly ridiculous, that I can't believe it bears Whedon's imprimatur. I hope the show is canceled soon so that Whedon can go back to the drawing board and start anew. I just hope that he doesn't become embittered at the network (as is in his character) because this time the fault is his: the show is just terrible.

Taleena said...

I got the feeling that Ballard was waiting for November to say "stop" wanted to see how far her programming would push her and then was disgusted at himself for following through on what was essentially a rape.

The four characters I care at all about are November, Sierra, Victor and Ballard. I think the interesting dynamic will come when November when she is who she really is, confronts Ballard about using her to end the dollhouse. It is one thing to be unwitting, such as when their physical relationship began, it is another to continue a physical relationship after.

As for Victor/Sierra I want righteous justice to be visited on Sierra's betrayers more than the previous episode.

Eldritch said...

Taleena said...
I got the feeling that Ballard was waiting for November to say "stop" wanted to see how far her programming would push her and then was disgusted at himself for following through on what was essentially a rape
I agree that Ballard is disgusted at himself, but I think I feel some sympathy for him, because he's caught in a trap.

He learned Mellie/November is is spying on him after he began a sexual relationship with her. He's likely to need November's help to find the Dollhouse and rescue the dolls/victims. But if he refuses Mellie's sexual advances, he risks alerting the Dollhouse that someone on the inside is trying to help him. He hates succumbing to her advances, but feels it's necessary to do so for the mission.

He's disgusted with himself because he feels he has to rape Mellie to save November and the others. Ends justify the means? Or greatest good for the greatest number?

Dan said...

Can't believe nobody's mentioned that the real Margaret was played by Brenda Bakke (the hottie in Hot Shots 2 and American Gothic.) A thankless role, but she was almsot unrecognisable now as a 45-year-old. God, 45. Where has the time gone?

Anonymous said...

Alan--This is the most recent of several reviews (of different series) of yours that have said something to the effect of "I didn't really watch the whole episode," or "I fast-forwarded through the parts that bored me," or "No time to watch, here's some links to some other reviewers," or "I didn't really like it, but then, I didn't see the whole thing." Part of providing a complete review of a film, book, tv show, whatever, is being willing to slog through the crappy (or simply less well-executed) parts. To those of us who care about this series (or even American Idol) - that's important. Are you getting too busy? Or trying to do too much at once? I'd rather read a couple of great reviews from you a week, than 10 phone-ins, you know?

oheyhowdyo said...

My thoughts:
- Yes, the A plot felt like Murder, She Wrote. And I found that I didn't really care who had killed her or why.
- Mellie and Ballard was, to me, even creepier than Sierra's rape. I don't think Sierra's handler felt guilt, and in fact, rationalized that this was what the dolls were for, anyway. Ballard subsequently loathes his decision to give into his darker instincts, punishing the Dollhouse by punishing Mellie. He fully understands that he's victimizing her even as he's trying to save all the dolls, and feels guilt even as he acknowledges that he's become a "client."
- I wasn't really bothered by Topher and Sierra. The action was in keeping with his behavior of the past, and I didn't find it any more or less reprehensible than anything else he's done. I also wondered if he had programmed her with his own personality.
- I did wonder for a moment if eternal life is the ultimate goal of the Dollhouse, which led me to another question. Where do they get the personalities that they use to program their dolls? Adele mentioned that her friend had been going through painful procedures for 18 months. Who would volunteer to have an imprint done if they weren't expecting to come back and solve their own murder? Are all of the personalities from current and former dolls? Is the Dollhouse paying broke college students for personality imprints? Can they get them from people before they die (allowing Echo to play the dead wife in Man on the Street)? It seems like the Dollhouse would need to have quite the library to custom-make all the different kinds of dolls that are implied from that massive warehouse of clothing.

Somehow, I don't think the show is going to be given the time to satisfy my curiosity on this - there's really just enough episodes left to answer questions about Alpha. Sigh. Even if future seasons had just as many shaky episodes as this one, I'd like to see Dollhouse continue. I'm just not holding out too much hope.

Kenneth said...

The company is really missing out on the money potential this technology actually offers, as revealed by this horrid episode.

Instead of catering to a handful of uber rich sex fiends, you can market to entire humanity the ability to return from the dead. They've essentially got a Cylon-style resurrection system in the making.

Stop being ridiculously unethical and give the people the chance to return from the dead. Although, I suppose this raises the question of whether or not a "copy" of one's memories and personality and self is truly actually you.

7s Tim said...

Was is it just me, or when Adele was talking about topher and we were watching him play best friends, did our point of view change to we were watching Alpha watching tohper and sierra play? wanted to see if anyone else caught that. And would that portend bad things for everyone's least favorite creep (i don't have such hate for him, but i get it)? Only a coupla episodes left or so, and this could be where we're going. Weird, since previously he's been so intent upon Echo. Would he have been watching sierra or topher?
or am i just crazy?

Unknown said...

I thought it was pretty clear Topher had programmed Sierra with his own personality - hence the equal scores in the games, the same jokes, etc. Makes the whole situation even creepier, I thought that was a nice touch.

I still think Ballard is probably Alpha - that explains why he hasn't been neutralized by the Dollhouse, and why he is so deeply obsessed with the Dollhouse.

Unknown said...

Edd, actors have to be available for shows but the producers don't have to use them. For example, on House Cameron has been entirely missing in 40% of the episodes and unimportant in another 8 in spite of the fact that Jennifer Morrison is one of the six characters in the opening credits. (A year age David Shore said in an interview that he wanted to have Cameron significant in every episode this season. Nobody lies like David Shore.)

nutmeag, Topher is nothing like Rodney McKay, who although an arrogant geek is at heart a good guy. Topher is a sociopath. He doesn't care if he hurts someone or who it may be. He's missing the moral chip. He's so creepy, he ruined the Topher/Sierra plot for me.

I'm still watching but the only parts that interested me were Ballard/Mellie. The self-loathing in the shower was great. It's also nice to see a woman on screen who isn't the requisite 95 pounds.

Anonymous said...
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Alan Sepinwall said...

Okey-dokey. No attacking other posters. Period.

DR said...

Honest, brief opinions:

- Shame on Joss for running a filler episode this late in the season. By now we should know the season's major source of antagonism (I'm pretty sure Alpha isn't going to be resolved this season, so it has to be something else they haven't gotten into yet) and we should be being hit over the head with how bad this antagonist is. I fear that this show might suffer from the Smallville problem of introducing the season plot way too late in the season and then sweeping the consequences of said season plot away in the early part of the next season. With 13 episodes you must write a very condensed three acts, and it needs to end with opportunities that entice your audience into wanting another season... but in episode 10 we're spinning our wheels just as much as we were in episode 5.

- The only plot point this episode offers is that through memory extraction we can have characters that functionally are immortal -- can be uploaded and downloaded into a new body pretty much at will, meaning that the upper echelons of the Dollhouse could be corrupt 70 year olds running around in 20 something year old bodies, along with downloaded skill sets which could grant them generations worth of combat training and expertise at intrigue. I find that kind of neat, if they explore the "Bring down the Dollhouse" avenue. I'd find it even neater if Alpha took a face turn and became an asset of the local dollhouse, rather than public enemy #1.

As far as I'm concerned this show is on life support. It wants to break out and be cool, it has some interesting ideas... but the lack of character in the uhm... central character, combined with the fact that most of us don't like who the character used to be makes me just shrug my shoulders and want to move on to the next series. At present I'd rather see the Sarah Connor Chronicles renewed over this.