Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dollhouse, "A Spy in the House of Love": Four stories

Spoilers for last night's "Dollhouse" coming up just as soon as I point out that Roger's comment about DeWitt not using "ironic" correctly was, itself, ironic...
"You make people different. You can make me help." -Echo
When Joss Whedon, Eliza Dushku and everyone else associated with "Dollhouse" were busy talking up episode six as The Greatest Story Ever Told, why couldn't they have slipped in a mention that episode nine would be pretty awesome, too? If anything, this is the episode that feels like it could cure my lumbago, pay my mortgage and cook me a Spanish omelet, it was that good.

Part of what made it strong was its density, the way the structure of Andrew Chambliss' script made it feel like we were getting four episodes instead of one. I complained earlier this season when Terminator did a similarly-designed episode, noting that the constant back and forth of the plot felt like an unnecessary stylistic flourish, since telling the story from different perspectives didn't tell us anything new each time the POV shifted. "A Spy in the House of Love" did offer us new insight as it went along -- notably why DeWitt was crying and why she would choose to end her affair with "Roger" -- but the format also worked because each segment could function as its own self-contained story about the Dollhouse, each in its own genre. Mellie's return to Ballard's apartment was a '70s-style paranoid thriller (ala "The Conversation"), Sierra's trip into NSA headquarters was a spy movie (and/or the show's most blatant hat-tip so far to "Alias"), the revelation of DeWitt as Miss Lonelyhearts was a romance novel, and Echo's internal investigation was a mix of Sherlock Holmes and kung fu fighting.

Along the way, we got new insight into most of the Dollhouse staff (except Topher, who's still the same disgusting jerk he's always been), our first look at how horrifying it is for someone to be "sent to The Attic," and the strongest sign yet that Echo is growing and learning as a character -- no matter how many times Topher tries to clean her slate, she can still see what was there before. The development I found particularly interesting was when Dominic pointed out to Echo-as-spy-hunter that she was a doll. With so many dolls imprinted with knowledge of the Dollhouse this week, I was wondering when one of them was going to put two and two together and freak out over the revelation that they aren't real and will cease to exist soon. Instead, Echo took it in stride, not only because there was a larger problem to solve, but no doubt because somewhere under the imprint, in a place in her mind that Topher can never get to, she understood this already, and understood that when the engagement was over, she'd still retain some memory of who she was and what she had just done.

There were some complaints after the last two episodes that Caroline's real personality is annoying, and not someone you might want to watch if the show ever shifts into a Caroline Vs. The Dollhouse format. But what if the point of all this isn't to bring back Caroline, but to turn Echo into her own personality, with echoes (pun semi-intended) of both Caroline and all her past imprints?

Terrific episode.

Also, in case you missed the Twitter-driven non-controversy earlier in the week, Fox won't air the 13th episode of this season, because it's technically the 14th episode from a network contract perspective, and the Fox studio only made it because they needed a 13th episode to fulfill their own DVD deals. I have no idea if Fox might renew the show (which does poorly in the traditional ratings but better once you factor in DVRs, streaming and downloads), but this issue won't play into that choice at all.

What did everybody else think?


David B said...

Wow. Outstanding work. Prior to this, I watched because even lesser Wheedon is worth my attention. Now, for the first time, I'm invested in the series, just in time for the inevitable cancellation. Great.
Tangent: Both Tahmoh Penikett and Reed Diamond had big scenes where they needed to convey their characters' emotions under intense stress. Only one really delivered. I'm going to miss Mr. Diamond, an underappreciated actor.

Karen said...

Very surprised at the reveal of November to Paul - thought that would be coming much, much later in the show. They keep surprising me with the plot this way, which I like. Now that Sarah Connor is gone (not to come back?) and Life on Mars and Pushing Daisies as well, the number of shows we're watching is being whittled down - hope Dollhouse stays around, which I wasn't saying when it started.

Did spend Sierra's bit thinking Alias, Alias, Alias.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

Would it be rude to note that in each of the "very much better episodes" -- six, eight, and this one -- Echo/Dushku plays a much less prominent role than she did at the start of the series? Yes, she was the lead in the fourth segment tonight, but only in that segment. The rest of the ensemble is much, mush stronger than she is and the show seems to have figured it out.

Grunt said...

I've often thought that it was a shame that they had a "star" in a lead role, Dollhouse is better when it's ensemble like it was tonight.

And I just adored the Mellie/Ballard interaction. Really wasn't expecting that.

Karen said...

I have to agree that the fact that Dushku was in it less was a plus. I like her, but it's despite her acting, so small doses work better for me. (And that dom suit? Yikes...)

Alan Sepinwall said...

And that dom suit? Yikes...

Totally forgot to point that out. At this point, I can't decide if all the fetish outfits are there as a joke, or at the request of the network.

Stef said...

I thought this was really nice work by both Olivia Williams and Reed Diamond. And I vote we never see that dom suit again... yeesh.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Oh, and one other question: is there more than one mole? Dominic doesn't seem tech-smart enough to reprogram Echo or November, nor does his stated intention (to protect the Dollhouse, but to keep it going) match what Ballard is being told.

Karen said...

Jesus, the dominatrix outfit? Really?

And what exactly does Mellie--or any repeat-imprint Active--think the Dollhouse IS when she comes to in the chair? That whole weird conversation she had about not taking the red-eye again only made me wonder how the Dollhouse explains to her what part of the airport she's in.

How did Sierra know all Ms. Sato's codes?

DeWitt said no one saw it coming, but hasn't Dominic been a suspicious character--within the parameters of the Dollhouse--since the first episode?

Victor's British accent isn't nearly as good as his Russian one. How does DeWitt afford him, anyway? Is she cooking the books?

And why was the NSA, via Dominic, altering imprints anyway?

That being said, I really liked the construction of the episode. I love shows that tell a story from multiple angles. I felt bad for Boyd, who's clearly bonded with Echo, but it will be interesting to see what that is going to mean for him.

I guess I didn't love this episode as much as everyone else did--clearly--but I did think it was a more compelling episode than any of the previous attempts. It had my attention throughout.

David B said...

>> "...I can't decide if all the fetish outfits
>> are there as a joke, or at the request of the network....

Honestly, who cares? Just keep 'em coming. I mean, Dahyum!!

N+'ing the comments on strenth of the ensemble vs. Dushku.

Karen said...

The Husband and I finished the episode pretty convinced that Dominic was not the mole who's feeding information to Ballard.

Ashley said...

Oh, and one other question: is there more than one mole? Dominic doesn't seem tech-smart enough to reprogram Echo or November, nor does his stated intention (to protect the Dollhouse, but to keep it going) match what Ballard is being told.

I think that Dominic was only caught because they found the "real" mole's chip in the chair. If we are to believe him, Dominic's purpose in being at the Dollhouse was not to bring it down, but to make sure it didn't fall down around them. Whoever programmed Echo and November to spill secrets to Ballard has a very different agenda.

Karen said...

One last thing - after last night's episode, the only non-Doll I'm left with any sympathy for is Helo, uh, I mean Paul. Unless I'm remembering wrong, everyone else was there when they did whatever they did to Dominic to get him ready for the attic, including Boyd, who up until last night I had some hope for. Unless someone in that group has some long-term plan against the Dollhouse (which he or she does, I suppose, if he or she is the other mole), but still, the willingness to go along with the wiping... horrible all around.

Anonymous said...

I think there were two moles in the Dollhouse organization: Dominic and Topher. As a NSA spy, Dominic's mission was to keep the Dollhouse running long enough for the NSA to explore the potential uses of the technology and how they could use for their own purposes. That was the reason why Dominic plant the chip on the mind-altering chair. Put that to the test. I don't Topher works for any government organization. I think he's on his own. When Echo ask him why he joined the Dollhouse organization, Topher kind of hesitated before saying because he thinks he's smart and so on. I think Topher's reason for joining the Dollhouse has to do with Alpha. I think Topher knew Alpha before he became Alpha, back when he was a human with a normally functioning brain. Then one day he went missing. Topher searches for him with no luck until he found out something that connects his friend or brother (whatever Alpha's relationship with Topher was) to the Dollhouse. So Topher does everything he can to get into the organization, get close to Alpha, and put in a position to help him. And what better position than to be the Dollhouse's programmer. When Alpha was in the chair, Topher used a radical approach to make Alpha regain his memories. But something went horribly wrong. Alpha went psychotic and started killing people. Topher felt guilty for those deaths and for his failure to save his friend. As time went on from that incident, Topher came up with a idea to do the same thing again but differently. This time, he'll be using the Dollhouse technology to help a handful of Dolls (Echo, Victor, Sierra, Millie) regain their memories. And instead of using the approach he used for Alpha, he'll be using something small, that gradually build up over time. The glitches. He creates the glitches in their programming that could rekindle the lost spark in their memories. Topher waited for some time before he could saw any significant progress like Victor, Sierra, and Echo sitting at the same table for lunch. He finally sees that what he is doing is effective and that his chance at redeeming himself for the things he's done a possibility. Some of his amoral, jerk personality could just be a front to make the others in the Dollhouse to think that he is a team player with no moral qualms about what's he doing. Because if he acted more like Boyd or Saunders, Dewitt would have questioned his motives and loyalties and Topher doesn't want that. Topher's also the one behind the messages implanted in Mellie and Echo. He feels that if he could help the Dolls regain their memories and bring the organization, it could make up for the mess he made with Alpha. Then Saunders came up with the need fulfillment exercise and Topher feared this may underdo the progress he made with the Dolls. But he couldn't do anything beyond making it sound like the exercise wouldn't do any good. When Echo confronted him, he couldn't risk telling her his plan in fear that she may shoot him anyway and someone may overhear him and tell Dewitt. When the exercise was done, Topher feared he was back on the drawing board with the glitches but still found hope in the implanting of the messages in the Dolls that could help bring down the Dollhouse. Topher continues with his plan until he found the chip on his chair. He guessed that there was another mole in the organization and feared that this mole may have knowledge of what's he doing or, if not discovered, may soon learn about it. He couldn't have that so he tells Dominic about it and programs Sierra to help find the mole as soon as possible. The sooner the mole is caught, the sooner he could continue his work. When Echo came forward to help, Topher realizes that the work he did with the Dolls may not be all gone and that by programming Echo to find the spy too, it could speed up the hunt and get rid of his fear of being found out. It's because of that fear he altered Echo's ability to refuse deceit in body language when she interviewed him. So he get through the interview clean and wouldn't be blamed for the chip on the chair. Afterwards, Topher told Dewitt about Echo because he knows that she'll find out about the change in Echo sooner or later and wants to personally hear what she may do to her. When Dewitt decides to let Echo go, Topher is secretly relieved.
In the next episode, I think we're going to find out this next side of Topher and his role in Alpha's development either in that episode or the episodes after that one.
I believe Joss put so much effort into making Topher seem like an one-dimensional, amoral jerk to fool us into thinking he's just that before the big impending reveal. Mark my words.

Brett said...

"this issue won't play into that choice at all."

Just about everyone keeps saying that not airing the 13th/14th episode doesn't have anything to do with whether or not the show gets picked up for a second season. Of course it does. If the network isn't willing to pay for one more episode, what makes anyone think they are going to pay for 22, or even 13 more? Not airing the episode speaks volumes about where the show stands with the network.

I'm also firmly on board with the idea that there is another mole. The chip did lead them to Dominic, but not all the things being done with the chip match up with his motivations.

Anonymous said...

It's not that the ensemble is more fun to be with than Eliza, it's that the better episodes are about the dollhouse, and the weaker episodes are standalone stories about Echo's tricks. It's effect, not cause.

Anonymous said...

I apologizes for the errors in my last comment about Topher being the mole. Like Topher altering Echo's ability to "refuse deceit in body language" while in fact, it was so suppose to "detect deceit in body language". But you know what I mean. Topher may not be very moral but I think deep down he's one of the good guys here who's doing whatever it takes to maintain his cover like watching Dominic to be wiped out of his mind and being sent off to the Attic. I also think he didn't really mean so much since, if you look at the past episodes, Dominic always treated Topher like crap and not with one ounce of respect.

Paul Allor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pirate Alice said...

I also believe that Mr. Dominic isn't the only mole in the Dollhouse. Although I don't think Topher is the other mole. He's much too selfish to play a double agent. I think the Doctor is the other mole.

Michael Cowgill said...

Great episode, full of moments that combined character and suspense at the same time, especially Mellie/November revealing herself to Ballard. Now in his own way Ballard will be a "doll" with her.

I like seeing the other dolls become more prominent, not because I have a problem with Dushku but because they're engaging, as well.

Alan, I agree with your idea about it being Echo "becoming" Echo, a new person beyond Caroline.

Hate to see Reed Diamond go, but it made for a great episode, and The Attic was more unsettling than I'd imagined -- the line about putting him back in his box created creepy, Minority Report images of warehoused people.

On the issue of the "villains" of the show, two things come to mind. One, we learn some things about DeWitt that might not make her entirely sympathetic but do make her more human. We see that she has become this person and that it has had an effect on her (another "doll" in a way). Just as last week we got a sense that Saunders wasn't as good as she seemed, this week we get more hints that Boyd isn't either. Finally, Whedon has quite a track record of turning seemingly irredeemable characters into heroes (Angel, Spike). Topher's still a weasel, but he seems to be hanging onto his weasel act as a persona to cover his growing fear of everything that's going wrong. Something's in store for him.

Paul Allor said...

Oh, and one other question: is there more than one mole?

I had a longer post about this, but then I realized I was repeating earlier comments (which I know Alan dislikes).

But the one piece of "there's another mole" evidence that I don't think has been mentioned yet:

The show has very thoroughly established that Dom is deeply concerned about Echo's instability, and her constant glitching. So given that, why in Hades would he have used her as his messenger girl?

Not buying it. There's another mole.

Another thing I questioned -- if Topher clearly did not know that DeWitt was the real Miss Lonely Hearts, then who programmed Victor to leave the old lady's house and drive to DeWitt's place? I don't think they've established that DeWitt has any programming prowess, so there must be someone else who knows her secret. Maybe Topher's assistant? (who's name I can't recall right now).

And, one last thing: Alan, the November/Ballard storyline reminded me of The Conversation so much, I half expected the camera to pan over to a shot of ripped-up floorboards or busted walls. Alas, it was not to be

Brett said...

who programmed Victor to leave the old lady's house and drive to DeWitt's place?

It could still have been Topher. The whole thing can be explained away as Miss Lonely Heart wanting Roger to stop and give her 'mother' flowers before getting the car and meeting her. It stands to reason that in engagements like this, the handler doesn't need to meet the client. And given that DeWitt was both the client, and the person who set up the engagement, there were probably instructions for Ramirez to keep a distance.

Holly Martins said...

I thought this was an excellent episode, too, and I'm finally starting to get invested in this show -- but I have to say it's become incredibly uncomfortable to watch, given that at this point literally EVERY character is basically either getting raped, raping, or enabling rape. (I mean, since I don't see how mindwiped dolls can ever truly give consent).

Now, I think the show is aware of this... I don't mean that they're condoning it (though they only made the horror of the situation really explicit with Sierra's character). But still - for me the issue is hanging over the show and making it hard to find any episode just plain fun, and not on some level massively creepy.

Maybe that's the point? I'm not sure; and again, I'm liking aspects of the show and plan to stick with it. I'm a Whedon fan and I mostly trust that he knows what he's doing with this stuff... but man, some weeks I feel like I'm watching "Rape Hour with Eliza Dushku".

blinda said...

I cannot agree more. This is the first time I found Echo to be a potentially awesome and intriguing character, and it IS about the fact that she's possible of being not just Caroline.

And of course, now that I actually feel like I'm hooked on this show for the first time (and not just watching because it's Whedon), it seems like there'd be a hiatus and Prison Break comes back; And, after that, possibly the end of the series. I can understand if Fox does cut the show, but now I really wish that they don't.

Josh said...

I agree that Topher's the secret mole, though I think he's working for someone else rather than on his own. It'd explain (from an artistic point of view) why the writers made Topher so annoying.

I also agree that the standalone episodes are bad and the mythology episodes are good. I don't think this is especially Dushku's fault; I just think the premise of the show (for standalone episodes) doesn't really work, since (1) the doll-of-the-week episodes really can't do much interesting/don't have any resonance with the viewers' experiences and (2) I think it's incredibly difficult for both the writers and the actress to create a convincing and differentiated new character every week on a TV show schedule.

Tracey said...

Re Domenic being the only mole: Let's keep in mind that he works for the NSA. He doesn't have to be a techie; he's got a stable of techies to back him up. The way I read it was that the NSA doesn't believe that the Dollhouse is merely an expensive whorehouse, they want to know what the Dollhouse is really up to and they're setting up Ballard to do their dirty work. Note that both reprogrammed Echo and November urged Ballard to find out what the Dollhouse is really up to.

If there is a second mole, then it has to be Boyd, doesn't it? Echo's programmed trust of him would prevent her from seeing that he was the mole; she would have seen it in anybody else.

Anonymous said...

I, too, was creeped out when I realized that Ballard was going to sleep with Mellie even after knowing who she really was. But it's clear that this is supposed to be as disturbing as it is. Watch Ballard's face as he's kissing her after the imprint wears off - he's creeped out by the situation too.

Tracey said...

People keep justifying things in this show by pointing out that it's "supposed to be creepy," it's "meant to be disturbing," etc. Perhaps, but so what? Pornography is smutty, but that doesn't mean I want to watch it.

Holly Martins said...

Well, I DO think that it's supposed to be disturbing... and my issue is not so much moral as practical. I mean, I don't think the show is condoning rape. But if they treated the issue as seriously as it probably ought to be treated, the show would be totally unwatchable and grim; and when they gloss over it a bit, as they have been, it becomes (for me - not speaking for anyone else, obviously) a very awkward elephant in the room.

Again, I think there's a lot to like about the last few episodes of Dollhouse. I'm not planning to ditch it, but I do hope they can find some appropriate way of dealing with the incredibly dark sexual stuff they keep bringing up.

Anonymous said...

What I don't get is the threat of the Attic against the dolls. If dolls go perma-blinky, why don't they just re-people them and let them go? Or are those "five year contracts" a fantasy?

Jack said...

Give the dolls their personalities back and then use the imprinting to enhance their skills for missions. Ater the mission you can erase the imprint. This will allow for all sorts of emotional/behavioral imprinting issues--who am I, what have I done, etc. The current "blank" doll approach is not workable long term--there is no personality for the viewer to latch on to. This is needed because the staff of the dollhouse are just ridiculous. There is no Vic Mackey "love to hate" bond. Except for Amy Acker and Harry Lennix. They are terrific and I'd like to see them on a better show...

Jack said...

I just said give them their personalities back--but--you could try even another direction. Suppose they choose to hide their original personality--one's a murderer who has paid her/his time but wants to forget; one is dying; one is addicted to drugs, etc. Here you could imprint "improved" personalities, use them for missions, but watch the conflicts emerge. I mean, it's so easy!!

Toby O'B said...

Where are they getting the personalities and memories that they upload into their computers? Do certain types of people volunteer or get paid to donate the essence of their minds?

When Topher mentioned that Echo's "spy-hunter" persona was an expert in reading body language, I wondered if somebody from "Lie To Me" had their personality uploaded.....

BigTed said...

I found this episode a step above the rest as well, but there was still a lot that didn't make sense. For instance: If the Dollhouse is part of a worldwide conspiracy among the rich and powerful (and is valued by the NSA to boot), how is it possible that no one's keeping an eye on the head of this particular location? The first thing whoever's in power would do is make sure employees aren't using Dolls for their own ends. And it's not as if DeWitt was being particularly careful as she hung out on her beachside balcony or had her Doll drive around town in a classic convertible. The idea that she's been getting away with it all this time is just silly.

For that matter, even if Sierra was turned into the greatest secret agent who ever lived, it's a little hard to swallow that someone who just woke up that way would already have an intimate, up-to-the-minute understanding of every detail of how things operate inside the NSA. Where, exactly, did this information come from?

But what I really had to wonder was if turning a male doll into a sex slave -- along with forcing good-guy Ballard to become a doll-user himself, and having Echo request her own imprint -- were all ways of mitigating the criticism of the way this show finds entertainment value in the subjugation of powerless women. (Even if the Dolls do end up fighting to regain a sense of power and dignity, halfway through what may be the only season we've already been shown an awful lot of sex-slave T&A.)

I appreciated the complexity of this episode, and the fact that the story seems to be going in an interesting direction, but I still have doubts about whether the whole concept can work in the end.

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

I thought it was kind of strange when Echo suggested she be "changed" to help the investigation. That seems to imply that, even in her "doll" state, she understands they're imprinting and wiping personalties. Isn't that rather complex thinking for those mellowed-out dolls?

It also implies even more complex thinking on her part when it was suggested a) she did it to protect the dollhouse, or b) she did it because she had an agenda against Dominick, since he'd tried to kill her before. I realize the show's telling us that the memory wipes are somewhat incomplete, but this goes beyond a little memory leakage.

As for the spy, Dominick didn't strike me as a likely suspect. Could he have the technical savvy or the physical access to do time consuming reprogramming?

Perhaps this is too obvious, but I thought Ivy, Topher's assistant, was the most likely candidate. She has the technical knowledge and physical access to the programming equipment. Spending time in the lab to do the programming wouldn't be suspicious. More, the NSA report identified her as the mole. She seemed cleared when Dominick proved guilty, but maybe that was a red herring. You know how TV mysteries work, the most likely guilty parties are always innocent; the least likely are usually guilty. Now that she's been "cleared," she's got to be guilty! ;-)

maura said...

Where are they getting the personalities and memories that they upload into their computers? Do certain types of people volunteer or get paid to donate the essence of their minds?

I've thought for a while that they might use the original personalities of the dolls, although I assume they must have access to others too. (How many kick ass spies and martial arts experts could they have recruited to donate their memories and abilities?) After they sent Dominic to the attic, Topher produced a disc that contained everything about him, and DeWitt said to put it in the archive.

Loved this episode, although I am definitely going to miss Reed Diamond. I've liked him in everything I've seen him do, even the thankless job of being Amy Grey's boyfriend on "Judging Amy".

Yikes, the mind wiping scene was brutal. Some very dark stuff, that.

I was sad for DeWitt that her life is so lacking she has to use her own agency for some affection and love (if you want to call it that).

Like most of Echo's outfits, the dominatrix get-up cracked me up. I don't know, maybe I should be offended. But it just made me laugh.

The show has finally hit its peak and now I have to assume we won't see more than a few more episodes. Too bad. It's gotten better and better almost every week.

bakija said...

So that one was fantastic--I always love a good use of different perspectives to a given story, and this used it very well; while I don't need to see anymore stories about the actives in active adventures, this worked well as all the active personalities served the larger plot. Excellent, excellent episode.

This next point isn't real relevant to this episode in particular (just more geek reference), but for whatever reason, I just remembered it. In Neuromancer (William Gibson's important "invention of cyberpunk" novel), one of the main characters, Molly, was a cybernetic assassin who got money to pay for her cybernetics by volunteering for a 5(?) year stint as a mind wiped, programable prostitute. Homage, or rip off?

Trish said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your comment regarding the density of this episode. It felt like this episode was much longer than it actually was, not because it was dragging or the pace was too slow, but because so damn much was happening. I smiled so many times while watching this because this is why I think Joss Whedon is so great. He creates this show that you think is going to be about one thing, and then sure enough, there's SO much more going on.

I'm also going to miss Reed Diamond, a favorite of mine since Homicide: Life on the Streets.

BigTed said...

Joss Whedon received an award at Harvard yesterday, and apparently during the Q&A session he was extremely pessimistic about "Dollhouse"'s chances of renewal.

Let's hope he's already working on something else, and it'll be great, and it'll end up on a network that's willing to give it a good time slot and a chance to succeed. (Personally, I vote for the CW -- they don't need really high ratings, they like science fiction/fantasy, and they'll air just about anything as long as the actors are pretty.)

james said...

After Firefly's treatment I don't understand why Whedon would work with FOX again; especially on another sci-fi show that will take a full season to develop a loyal following. Sci-Fi shows take time to get fans; require unique marketing; and if you throwing it on Fridays is tough enough. If the X-Files came out today it wouldn't have lasted. Whedon has always been a long term stock investment.

I'm happy with the show, it keeps getting better. I agree that episodes about the Dolhouse and with the ensembled cast are better then standalone mission based Echo episodes.

There is most likely another mole. It seems unlikely the NSA would contact Ballard. They could have easily recruited him. Additionally, the purpose of the Mole and the NSA are different - one is seeking power to control the Dollhouse the other seems to seek its destruction.

The attic seems to be comparable to the Halo in Minority Report just not as pleasant.

I would like to see another full 23 episode season.

james said...

Also, here's a summary of his event at Harvard - spoilerish?

The more I hear about his original ideas for Dollhouse and FOX's control dictating the direction the more I believe this show would've been a smash (in quality) from the get go if Whedon had his way.


Hobbs said...

For that matter, even if Sierra was turned into the greatest secret agent who ever lived, it's a little hard to swallow that someone who just woke up that way would already have an intimate, up-to-the-minute understanding of every detail of how things operate inside the NSA. Where, exactly, did this information come from?

Since this was all a ruse from Dom, can't we assume that he passed on some of the necessary info to Sierra? Of course, we would also have to assume that he was able to influence the imprint process, which introduces a few plot holes and begs a whole lot of questions...

The idea of a second mole seems *really* obvious to me. Otherwise, what would the viewers be left with now that Dom has been eliminated? If he were the only mole, we'd be back to square one - more episodes of Echo and her engagements until another something else surfaced? I highly doubt that.

I thought Dewitt was pretty badass in this episode even when she they portrayed her as vulnerable. She seems to be an intriguing and complex character - more than the others - that keeps me the guessing most. (But please don't confuse this with necessarily being likable). The others seems more one-dimensional (Topher jerk, Saunders conflicted/timid, Ballard hotheaded/determined, etc).

I wonder, too, how Dewitt pulled off the Roger engagement. Someone other than herself had to program her address onto his imprint. Perhaps, they rendesvouz'ed somewhere else?

In TV-land many things seem to be pointed and deliberate - too often to throw one off or foreshadow something else. I felt that way when Dewitt asked Topher to archive Dom's memories. I won't be surprised if they bring him back later.

Lastly, I'm wondering how red roses are so hard to find "this time of year."

Boricua in Texas said...

I agree with you, Alan. This was a terrific episode. I felt like the wait was over, like enduring the early episodes had finally paid off. I hope they keep more episodes like this one coming.

EssPee said...

"We're pimps and killers... but in a philanthropic way." --Boyd Langton

I know it was immediately overshadowed by Echo's heavy-handed reiteration of how much she "trusts" Boyd, but has anyone associated with the Dollhouse ever summed up what it's all about in such a succinct, self-aware and -- dare I say -- ironic fashion?

This episode was really firing on all cylinders, but the interesting thing to me was how little I really cared about the plot per se. I mean, sure, it was very cool to learn that Dominic was an NSA mole, that Echo retains enough self-awareness to ask for her own imprinting, that Ballard has been rudely and involuntarily inducted into the ranks of doll users and that DeWitt hasn't been able to keep her own hands off the forbidden fruit. In fact, all of those were pretty terrific narrative lines -- and scenes -- in their own right.

But the real meat of the episode to me lay in its surprisingly deep and layered exploration of the effect this mind-programming technology has on everyone who comes in contact with it -- not just the dolls -- and how the natural temptation to abuse that power warps basic human notions of trust, desire and authenticity.

What made me rewind the episode partway through to watch again from the beginning was a dawning realization that everything connected. Even Echo's seemingly outre dominatrix "mission" played an important role in establishing the episode's emotional resonance. Discussing her S&M role in the van, she tells Boyd that there's nothing "more beautiful" than "handing yourself over fully and completely to another human being." Later, while examining Echo, Saunders talks about the "debilitating" effects of unexpressed or unacknowledged desire -- noting in passing, btw, that homosexual use of the dolls remains quite popular, which makes perfect sense but wasn't something I expected the show to acknowledge. In any event, it was a subtle and unexpected foreshadowing of DeWitt's story -- and Ballard's, which served as both parallel and foil (no pun intended) to DeWitt's own. (Both are using -- and lying to -- dolls who are aware of the Dollhouse, although for completely different reasons. Plus, one can give it up, and one can't -- again for almost diametrically opposed reasons.)

I don't want to belabor this -- there's probably a good essay in this stuff somewhere, but a comment definitely isn't the place for it. I'll just say that for the first time, this episode gave me a glimpse of the deeper, more nuanced and far more interesting show I suspect Whedon wanted to make in the first place. It was impossible to read the io9 post that James referenced earlier without thinking that Fox really screwed the pooch on this one... not that this should come as much of a surprise to anyone, least of all Whedon himself.

Shao said...

I thought this was a great episode, maybe this is what the Dollhouse can be when it has good writing that takes advantage of its ensemble (though for now sadly missing Reed Diamond).

Yet, I'm also nervous of investing too much in the show given that it may get Foxed like Firefly did.

I came across a sci-fi reference to another Rossum which makes me wonder about the deeper premise of the show.

Czech playwright Karel ńĆapek premiered a 1921 play entitled R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots). It apparently popularised the term "robot". Its plot is somewhat like that of the first Cylon rebellion in Battlestar Galactica: robots are created to serve humans (robota is Czech for 'labour'), and they eventually rebel and annihilate the human race.

I wonder if Whedon's Rossum Corporation is simply taking an alternative route to robot servants by eschewing development of a mechanical form and mind (android) in favour of effectively converting humans into robots. Motor ability and reasoning are already there, the challenge is therefore eliminating free will and introducing customisability to fit their masters' needs.

Of course, as we've seen, free will and autonomy are surfacing in these organic robots. Are there more parallels between Dollhouse and BSG besides Tahmoh Penikett? Is fullscale rebellion far off? Isn't Alpha the Cylon come to revenge himself on his former masters?

Anonymous said...

Is this show still on?

Anonymous said...

I thought this episode sucked as usual. All style, no substance.

Number Five said...

Wow, definitely the best episode yet.

When you think about it, the only difference in being a Doll and being in the Attic is a matter of degree, but because going to the Attic takes the Doll idea to its horrific conclusion, we find it so repugnant. At least the Dolls have art class!

In fact, going to the Attic is pretty much identical to being boxed in BSG, which is why DeWitt's line about "putting you back in your box" felt like a BSG nod.

I like Shao's comments about the human/robot dichotomy. Dolls (at least in their idealized state) really are like the opposite of the Cylons...human souls in mechanical bodies versus human bodies with soulless minds. I don't know which idea induces more existential dread. I like how Dollhouse's take is actually somewhat optimistic in that there's no such thing as a true wipe...until the perfect technology is invented?

This is a minor note, but within the context of being a television show, I liked the realistic treatment of Sierra's spy jaunt, from the mention of RSA encryption to showing the building as a regular workplace, just with super security (although how did she know the woman's private keycode?).

If the NSA is really trying to figure out the secrets of the Dollhouse, Dominic is just the tip of the iceberg...but since the Dollhouse has so many powerful friends, they can use them to put the kibosh on a lot of the NSA's efforts. I'm a bit confused about DeWitt now though. Does she honestly believe they're there to fulfill client's needs? Previously she seemed to be aware of larger forces, but she had to realize Dominic was right that it's not going to stop at "philanthropic" pimping and killing.

Also, how evil is the Dollhouse that, for all his faults, we were kind of rooting for Dominic to win the fight so they wouldn't keep flying under the radar? I guess it's better he lost, since he was just working another angle while Ballard/the mole are seeking justice and Echo is clearly going to get involved.

I haven't even gotten to the specific character implications and the episode's other philosophical themes, but I agree with most of what's been written, especially EssPee's comment about the technology destroying basic aspects of the human condition, even for the people who aren't Dolls.

The io9 link was fascinating (the only thing it really spoils is the general subject of the 13th/14th episode) and depressing (more confirmation that Fox screwed the show, and that Whedon doesn't expect renewal).

Zack Smith said...

Belated commnets after a few days without TV and Internet (surprisingly awesome)...

-My Sierra-obsessive mindset noted how this episode put DeWitt's reaction to Victor's attraction to Sierra in a new light. There might be a certain jealousy there. Also, great ALIAS-type action.

-R.I.P. (sort of) Reed Diamond. At least you lasted longer than on THE SHIELD...

-Speaking of putting previous scenes in a new light, note the change in context to why Dominic hated Echo. His worries about her becoming "another Alpha" are legit security concerns, though it's quite disturbing to think that the NSA *wants* the Dollhouse to succeed. Boy, the NSA doesn't come off well on TV, huh? Even John Casey has orders to kill Chuck.

-Ballard being forced to continue romancing Mellie is really, really going to mess him up. More so. They really went all-out with the hommage to THE CONVERSATION, huh/

-Topher had better be a second mole, because if he really is this sleazy and annoying,nothing short of a horrible death or imprisonment is going to pacify me.

-DeWitt, on the other hand, is kind of awesome. There seems to be some deeper reason why she believes in the Dollhouse, or its goals. But there are some really excellent layers to her character, as opposed to, say, Topher.

-Dushku only works as Echo inasmuch as Echo is supposed to have some sort of consistent Caroline-esque personality under the surface of all her imprints. So in a way, she's always the same person. This is as opposed to Victor and Sierra, who truly seem like new people with each imprint.

-Annoyed the last episode might not air, but at least it'll finish out the basic storyline. But it seems really up-and-down with reports on this show. It'd be better if it were a limited series, but it has gotten more enjoyable the last few weeks.

Christy said...

I'm late to the party, having just watched, but I wanted to ask: Anyone else think "Roger" is the download of DeWitt's dead, atticked, or otherwise absent true love? The accent suggests someone of DeWitt's natal home, he knows about the dollhouse, they share an interest in a sport that demands more than a little devotion of time and training. And I like those costumes for fencing much better than the ones I saw at the olympics last year.

oheyhowdyo said...

I keep thinking... could Echo be the other mole? Mabye Caroline isn't even her real personality. Assume some other agency/group has access to similar technology. They imprint their own doll with "Caroline" over a deeper imprint designed to take down the Dollhouse. "Caroline" is put in a position where the Dollhouse will make her an offer she can't refuse. The Dollhouse wipes "Caroline" and the deeper imprint does the real work of sabatoging the Dollhouse from within. Echo isn't even aware of what she's doing, much as November isn't aware that she's spying on Ballard when she's being "Mellie". Would be an interesting twist!

Alan Sepinwall said...

oheyhowdyo, I think that'd be one twist too many, along the same lines of what Joss has said about not wanting to reveal any of the Dollhouse staff to be dolls. At a certain point with a show like this, you have to stop with the shocking identity reveals or people won't believe in or care about anything or anyone.

The idea that Miss Lonelyhearts was really DeWitt is the kind of reveal that doesn't make us question anything we've seen before, but revealing that Caroline isn't really Caroline would be too far over the line.

oheyhowdyo said...

I keep thinking... could Echo be the other mole? Mabye Caroline isn't even her real personality. Assume some other agency/group has access to similar technology. They imprint their own doll with "Caroline" over a deeper imprint designed to take down the Dollhouse. "Caroline" is put in a position where the Dollhouse will make her an offer she can't refuse. The Dollhouse wipes "Caroline" and the deeper imprint does the real work of sabatoging the Dollhouse from within. Echo isn't even aware of what she's doing, much as November isn't aware that she's spying on Ballard when she's being "Mellie". Would be an interesting twist!

Anonymous said...

As an asian-american, I was amused that Sierra's success was due to her exploiting the "asians all look the same to white people" stereotype.

Eldritch said...


I think this reflects a common misunderstanding about the nature and purpose of television networks. Programs are often so good that viewers come to believe that television is supposed to bring us entertainment.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Television is designed to bring high quality, effective commercials before the eyes of millions of viewers.

All that stuff between the commercials is merely flypaper to get you to watch the commercials!

Once you keep this principal in perspective, then the decisions the network executives make become much more understandable. . . even if you disagree with them. Business decisions these days tend to be made with short term profits in mind, rather than long term.

Unknown said...

I'm starting to wonder how far fetched the idea of the Dollhouse is after reading this article:

dez said...

At a certain point with a show like this, you have to stop with the shocking identity reveals or people won't believe in or care about anything or anyone.
Boy, I wish someone had explained that to the writers of "24" before last night's ep! :-D

I guess I'm firmly in the minority here because this last ep made me hate almost every character on the show (except Victor and Sierra), and really, there's so many other cool things to watch on TV without spending an hour wasting time with people I hate. What a reprehensible group of people in the Dollhouse. Plus the "rape" aspect of it bothers me far too much to enable me to enjoy the show (also, how do they keep the Dolls from getting any number of STDs? ICK!). Joss needs to abandon this concept and move on to something else.

Chip said...

I agree, terrific episode. Until this week i would've been alright with the a cancellation, episodes 6 and 8 were very good but not enough to get me attached. This was. Damn that Joss Whedon

Anonymous said...

The scene in the back of the van between Topher (Fran Kranz) and Echo (Eliza) when Topher is being carted off to the attic, that's a classic. Fran delivers a flawless performance! A memorable scene!

Anonymous said...

Judging from the complaints about the show's earlier episodes make me wonder if TV audiences have come to expect shows to start off with a bang, ever since "LOST", "HEROES" and "DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES" first aired.

I'm rather glad that "DOLLHOUSE" didn't start off with a bang. Because I have also noticed that those above mentioned shows have had great difficulty in maintaining any kind of quality over the past several seasons. They have started off on a high note and have failed to maintain that same quality ever since. "DOLLHOUSE", on the other hand, has no where to go but up. It's building up a story. And as this particular episode - "A Spy in the House" has shown - it might have finally started to increase in quality.