Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dollhouse, "Belle Chose": Swimming under the Fonz?

Spoilers for Friday night's "Dollhouse" coming up just as soon as I go on a spree...
"And you could do anything to Eliza's personality that you wanted, right? You could make her think she was a guy if you wanted..." -Me
"I suppose. Nobody has come in to request or pitched that story yet. She might be a guy jumping over a shark, I'm not sure." -Joss Whedon
In light of this exchange from an interview I did with Joss before the series premiered, when I heard that this episode would involve Echo and Victor swapping imprints, I briefly wondered if Team "Dollhouse" had just given up and were openly tempting the shark-jumping gods. But "Belle Chose" spent a very small amount of time on the "Freaky Friday" scenario, and in terms of gender-swapping, only tried to play Victor's half for laughs.

Overall, I thought this was an improvement over last week's episode, but still problematic in that usual "Dollhouse" way.

As usual, the LA Dollhouse proves to be grossly incompetent, with the serial killer's uncle(*) somehow being able to get Victor out of the building without anyone noticing or trying to stop him, and with Victor's LoJack being conveniently missing. I'll give them a pass on the remote wipe going wrong and temporarily frying the system, as the point there was that Topher was forced by desperate circumstances to try something he didn't really know how to do. But too many "Dollhouse" episodes have the feel of those "Star Trek: The Next Generation" shows where the holodeck would malfunction and endanger the lives of the crew; at some point, it just makes all the characters seem like idiots for not turning the damn thing off.

(*) Given that he's a bigwig at Rossum, I really hope this isn't the last we see of Michael Hogan, because this episode was a real waste of Saul Mother-Frakking Tigh.

That said, it was good to have an episode set more at the Dollhouse than on Echo's mission, and one that again showed us how versatile Enver Gjokaj is. He can play other characters on the show, he can play serial killers, and he can even play dance-crazy sorority girls named Kiki. The man is good.

And I liked that Echo's gig was a straight-up call girl fantasy job, and how the serial killer was also trying to turn his victims into dolls. Too many episodes of the show try to suggest that there's some good to be gained from this business, when it's rotten to the core, and I tend to prefer episodes that don't run from that. But while I think Tim Minear was very aware of the parallel between the killer and the Dollhouse when he wrote the script, I would have liked for the characters to be more troubled by it. The closest we came was when Ballard told Adele that he was never really able to put himself in the killer's head - the implication being that Paul still can't get comfortable with what the Dollhouse is doing.

Ratings had a slight uptick this week. They're still awful, but at least they didn't drop for the third straight week.

What did everybody else think?


SteveDubs said...

I have nothing to add to your review, Seppy (yeah, that's what me and my friends call you). Spot on as usual. The only observation I have to add is, boy, Arye Gross looks old.

WWWeaves said...

I really liked this one. The dialogue was snappy, the plot contained a few surprises. Did I mention that the dialogue was snappy? I would endure all of the plot issues if the dialogue was that good every week.

Seppi is, I'm told, an iconic Icelandic dog's name, like Lassie.

velvetdewdrop said...

I didn't like this one so much.. Preferred last weeks. I feel like there is a larger picture thing going on, and obviously it is wrong but they try to cover up, and it's interesting to watch the people in charge fake their laughable see-through martyrdom when as the politician from last week put it "they are human trafficking." Yeah, I did notice that he snuck Victor out without anybody noticing.. but I bypassed that because it was just a flaw and why does everything have to be perfectly realistic just because it's a tv episode? Why do we have that standard? Anyway, I'm more interested in the development long-term. Echo's development seems to be headed somewhere, and I want to see that. This one seemed like a fluff piece so I have to say I disagree with your blog opinions. Your first sentence raised something interesting though- if you could make somebody anything you want.. why make them a ditzy girl name Kiki based on a girl from a book? And how could this prof afford Rossum? It seems like some of their clients aren't THAT wealthy. I mean it just seems like plenty of their clients would squeal. That is perhaps (if you want to play "what is realistic what is not" with me.) And the FBI agent being held captive and taking care of Echo? He has plenty of chances to rescue her now. But.. I believe Whedon is doing things for reasons we don't yet understand and that really keeps the show going for me. Plus Eliza is addictive to watch. She glows no matter what role she's playing. I like the idea of her being immune to the wipes except it sort of makes her seem like the only one with a soul around there which reminds me of Buffy.. only one slayer at a time, remember?

Karen said...

Lots of agreement from me, and mainly: man, the Dollhouse is frakking incompetent. But also: man, Arye Gross isn't aging well.

Told my husband that I thought I heard Mo Ryan yell when Hogan's face hit the steering wheel... yeah, hope that's not the last we see of him. Love that man.

Michelle said...

I don't understand how Topher could tell when Victor was getting excited based on his biorhythms or whatever, but yet couldn't track him down. If he had a lock on his pulse, heart rate, etc., he has some connection to him, and therefore could pinpoint his location. That seemed like a plot hole. I also thought it was stupid that Topher took the time to call Boyd to tell him that they were going to to a re-boot of the system. Why would Boyd care? When has Topher ever taken the time to communicate with handlers about what he was doing back in the lab? I assume it was only done to move the plot forward so that Boyd would know that Kiki had turned into Terry. Lame. Sorry for the negativity, but I'm disappointed.

Alan Sepinwall said...

When has Topher ever taken the time to communicate with handlers about what he was doing back in the lab?

In fairness on this one point, while Boyd was acting as Echo's handler here, he's head of security for the LA Dollhouse, so Topher might have felt the need to keep him in the loop.

Emily N. said...

My main takeaway was what a terrific actor Enver Gjokaj (Victor) is. His scenes were captivating. Also, despite never usually liking Ballard, I actually really enjoyed his interrogation of "the serial killer." Couldn't stand Echo's mission at all, but thought the rest of the episode was good.

Karen said...

SO much disappointing in this episode, starting with the staggering incompetence of the Dollhouse. I mean, really? Topher needed to be told to reinstall the GPS in Victor. And how long did it take these folks to figure out that maybe the place where Terry was hit by the car was a good place to start looking for him?

And yeah if they're going to send their most desirable Doll (re which; why? since she glitches on every engagement?) out on some cheesy hooker call for a college prof, then the show really needs to return to the raison d'etre of the Dollhouse. I mean, if the operation[s] is all about laerning how to wipe and manipulate people on a global basis then I suppose they can afford the occasional pro bono (pro boner?) engagement. But if they're an actual profit-making enterprise then there's no way Arye Gross's academic could afford that. I work in a university. I know how much these guys make.

That said, Arye Gross was wonderfully sleazy, Gjokaj was simply marvellous in all his incarnations (but particularly delicious as Kiki), it was a treat to see Michael Hogan even for such a short period, and I loved--LOVED--whoever that was who played the wardrobe guy.

Hyd said...

I don't understand how Topher could tell when Victor was getting excited based on his biorhythms or whatever, but yet couldn't track him down. If he had a lock on his pulse, heart rate, etc., he has some connection to him, and therefore could pinpoint his location.

Being able to receive a signal doesn't give you much information as to its location. There's a reason why you need 4 (or 3) GPS satellites to get a position lock.

I also thought it was stupid that Topher took the time to call Boyd to tell him that they were going to to a re-boot of the system. Why would Boyd care?

Topher explicitly mentioned that the handlers' monitoring systems would be disrupted. Wouldn't that be the kind of thing they'd want to know? Don't want all the handlers running out to retrieve their dolls because of some planned downtime.

The TV-wok said...

This was one of my favorite episodes of Dollhouse and the only reason its not my absolute favorite is that the overall plot wasn't moved much if at all.

I disagree with the holodeck comparison. The "errors" in the Dollhouse were caused by people. A kidnapping and Topher trying to do too much.

Lastly,the reason why Topher contacted Boyd is because Topher was told to conact the handlers so they could retrieve their dolls and keep them "in pocket" since they couldn't monitor the dolls remotely that point. Boyd theb said that he would contact the other handlers so they would know to retrieve their dolls. I never even considered that as a possible plot hole, because it was explained in-episode. But then, what would I know because I usually miss most of them.

jenmoon said...

Vast improvement from the last two shows. Huzzah. I was thoroughly squicked by Echo and the (presumably trust fund baby) prof, but then I thoroughly enjoyed it when she stabbed him in the neck and Victor became the dancing queen. That was awesome.

Btw, when that originally happened I thought somehow every active had been implanted with Terry the killer and thought, "Oooh, show, that's awesome." Okay, so trading with Kiki was awesome in a funny way, but I'm still wondering what happened to the other dolls. Did they all trade implants at random or something?

Loved the fashion guy's commentary. "Of course you are."

Ethical debate: is it showing some vague sense of ethics to have a doll implanted for your squicky Eliza Doolittle fantasies rather than actually boffing a student, or...yeah, still squicky, really.

I vote "no" on Seppy as a nickname, btw.

DarthRazorback said...

This was easily the best episode of the season and an episode that proves, yet again, that not only is Echo the least interesting character, but that Dushku is the least talented.

Unfortunately, Gjokaj is on Dollhouse which means he has no chance of being recognized for his work. But if there ever was an actor who deserved an award for his work...

Rich Cain said...

Although I didn't care too much for this episode, there were some good things within. Paul's interrogation was interesting but I'd have liked to see more of this. The episode showed off Enver's ability. I'd like to see more. I thought Eliza did a very nice job. Possibly her best work on this series. She seems to be improving this season as an actress. I liked seeing Topher out of his cocky comfort zone. He's not perfect.

I think it was lacking in moving the big plot forward. These "stand alone" type of episodes usually are not strong enough without moving the overall plot forward.

Last season I almost gave up on the show until it took on the big arc. Maybe they are front-loading the "stand alones" this season in order to draw in new viewers. I anticipate more big arc storytelling as the season moves on. Hopefully we'll get to see the full season before the show gets canceled.

BigTed said...

This episode really was an actor's showcase, and it worked very well on that level. (Although while I agree that Enver Gjokaj really came through, I never did buy Eliza Dushku as the ditzy college girl. She was actually better portraying the serial killer.)

But there was so much that the episode left unclear, and logic issues beyond what others have pointed out.

What, exactly, was the college professor trying to do with Echo? (Did he ask for her to be educable, or just dumb and sexy? Was he looking to create a modern equivalent of his favorite slutty literary character? Or was it ultimately just a "sex with a student" fantasy? (In which case, having her show up in class and then doing her in his office seems just as risky as if he traded grades for sex with an actual student.)

And while others have asked how this nobody professor could afford the Dollhouse, I'm wondering how he even knew about it in the first place, given that it's this super-secret place that not even the FBI can find.

And last, if doll-boy is a crazy killer just because the "empathy" part of his brain isn't working -- and he happens to be at the only place that can actually add stuff to your brain -- why didn't they do just that? If they turned him into a good guy, he would have let his victims go volunarily, and everyone would be happy. Even if they were afraid of somehow creating another Alpha, it's hard to imagine things going more wrong than they actually did.

KeepingAwake said...


The professor's fantasy was one of power, just as Terry's was. The episode went well out of it's way to explain that to you by intercutting Echo's 'seduction' with Terry's FBI interview. Really didn't think that they could make it more obvious.

The whole GPS thing brings up a huge pothole. If every doll has a GPS, why is is so difficult to find Alpha? Whiskey?

Enver was phenomenal, again, which only underscores how weak Dushku is. Again.

All in all, a better outing than last week's. I did actually finish this one instead of getting bored, hopping on the computer and then realizing I'd missed two thirds of the episode.

May said...

This episode creeped me out because of the Chaucer factor. I studied Chaucer. Yet I think I enjoy the episodes where "Dollhouse" goes all out on the squicky factor and doesn't try to tack on an altruistic angle.
@Karen: I laughed too hard at the Mo Ryan comment.

BigTed said...

Keeping Awake: Yes, the obvious juxtaposition was obvious, thank you. That still doesn't explain the specifics of the professor's fantasy, or what exactly Echo had been programmed to do for him beyond acting sexy and dumb. They left several possibilities open, especially with all the discussions of Chaucer, without ever pinning down what he was paying all that money to get from the encounter.

Anonymous said...

I find it a bit sad that so many people seem so lukewarm about Dollhouse at this point. I found when I rewatched the whole of season 1, even the lame story of the week episodes in the first half were better knowing what everything was building towards.

Now we know even more, and I really like the way the Echo missions are being used to highlight broader thematic questions. Yes, there are weaker episodes, and some easily nit-pickable areas throughout, but I get the feeling that people are more sensitive to them because they expect more from Joss Whedon as showrunner than they do from lesser mortals.

I'd rather sit back and let the fascinatingly twisty story and enjoyable characters drive nagging thoughts about the crap security out of my head. I'll happily hand-wave a little when a show is this intelligent. Overall, the show is thought-provoking, funny and I'm never bored watching it.

when that originally happened I thought somehow every active had been implanted with Terry the killer and thought, "Oooh, show, that's awesome."

Jenmoon, we thought that too! It would have been SO AWESOME.

nerkul said...

Favourite dialogue:

Topher: Victor's loose, doesn't have GPS and apparently he's a serial killer.

Boyd: Ah.

The laconic version of "It must be Friday". Nice hat tip.

Zack Smith said...

When I first saw the word "Sepinwall," I heard it almost like the "Ch-ch-Chaka Khan" at the start of "Feel For You." Go ahead, try it. "Sep-Sep-Sepinwall. Sepinwall. Sepinwall."

...I may not be allowed to post here any more after this.

While I'm still here, quick comments:

-DAMN Michael Hogan was wasted. Such a great actor! Need bigger part!

-Curious about the Rossum Corporation, whose supposed good works are supposed to justify the Dollhouse's existence and Adelle's loyalty. So far, they just feel more like Generic Evil Fat Cats.

-As others have mentioned, how the HELL did the English professor afford Echo? Had he been saving for years for this? That said, having known at least one person who has fallen prey to a similar English professor, the storyline was uncomfortably realistic.

-Eliza Dushku's not bad, but everyone else on the show is acting the pants off of her. True from the beginning, still true here. She's a good tomboy or action hero, but the sheer range the rest of the cast is demonstrating only makes her look bad. In fact, you could lose Echo and a show based around the rest of the supporting cast would still be interesting. Maybe she could just escape and we could follow everyone else? It would certainly save on the budget if it went to DirecTV...

jane said...

I love how it's becoming clearer and clearer that Echo is special in a spiritual way. She's a Savior. She literally will save everyone, even if it means sacrificing herself in the process.

I love how they handled the Heroic Journey of the professor, and it was nice to see Adelle appreciating what makes Paul tick.

Unknown said...

The closest we came was when Ballard told Adele that he was never really able to put himself in the killer's head - the implication being that Paul still can't get comfortable with what the Dollhouse is doing.

I would argue that it was actually during the interrogation when Paul accused Terry of giving up on real people and surrounding himself with copies he could control. Whether it was supposed to be a conscious comparison on Paul's part or not it could certainly apply to Adelle.

Anonymous said...

I went with the Prof mission (figured he'd written a bestseller about Chaucer or had inherited money). I could see him wanting the "Bribe the Prof for an A" fantasy without endangering tenure or being accused of sexual harrassment. So, he would know she was going to be in his class. But how did the TA know who Echo was when he was passing back the graded papers?
That bugs me....


Tom M said...

I like this show, it kills me that it's not doing better in the ratings. Granted, I'm a sci-fi aficionado, but at least it's entertaining and imaginative. Loved the performances by Gjokaj and Penikett in this one. Ballard is my favorite character because you can see he's on a ride that he's not fully in control of, but he has good intentions and a long-term strategy that allow him to score victories along the way.

I read a lot of criticism about "the incompetency of the Dollhouse" and statements to that effect. It doesn't really bother me for a couple of reasons: 1)They don't really try to hide the fact (they do from clients but not one another) that they fancy themselves "experts" in a field none of them truly understand. 2)The Dollhouse is a combination of cutting-edge science and BIG money changing hands. As somebody who's worked for years in and around healthcare and drug companies, there have been individual years where I've seen well over 100 different drug recalls for various chemical or manufacturing reasons. Apply those kinds of screw-ups to a Dollhouse-esque scenario and it's completely conceivable to me that at the intersection of wealth, science, and secrecy this kind of "incompetence" could go on.

Anonymous said...

Alan can we talk about the stuff that happened in this episode that's related to the Epitaph One stuff even though it discusses possible futures?


Anonymous said...

@Karen: I loved--LOVED--whoever that was who played the wardrobe guy.

That would be Matt Winston, also known as Daniels from "Star Trek: Enterprise" (among many other credits). A lovely human being as well as a fine actor.