Dollhouse Episode 2 Review
Monday, February 23, 2009 | Author: Mad Typist
Now THAT'S what I'm talking about. This week's episode was a vast improvement over the pilot episode of Dollhouse. I give it a solid A-. I hope that those of you out there who didn't like the pilot give this show a few more chances before you abandon it completely.

A lot of the questions that popped up in the first episode got answered, plus several of the things that annoyed me in the pilot were somewhat fixed as well.

This episode explored the relationship between Echo and her handler Boyd Langton. Watching the pilot, it was clear that Boyd was uneasy with the sinister nature of the Dollhouse, and that the former ex-cop was still very much ruled by his conscience. However, it was unclear why this seemingly moral man would consent to work for such an organization. Episode 2 answered that, as we saw just how deep the handler/doll bond goes. It's obvious that Boyd loves Echo, that he perhaps even sees her as a daughter-figure in his life.

The cruelest part is that this bond is what prevents him from leaving the Dollhouse, since to do so would require abandoning this woman to the wolves that clearly prowl the Dollhouse (particularly the cruel head of security, seen taunting Echo at the end of the episode). The other thing I found really affecting is the fact that while Echo can forget all the details of her engagements, Boyd does not have that luxury, and so must live with the knowledge of all the loves lost by Echo, all the terrible things she has done or had done to her, all the people she's been programmed to desire, and so forth. When she looks at him with those trusting eyes in her Doll-state, he knows that while he is in some ways her protector, he is also a part of the machine that holds her captive.

This week's episode had Echo on the run, as a client hired her under false pretenses, in order to trick her into being his prey in a recreation of "The Deadliest Game of All". Intercut with this plot are scenes from 3 months prior, where Alpha freaks out and slaughters a whole bunch of people on his way out of the Dollhouse. We learned the term for when a doll begins to retain elements of an imprint ("compositing"), and at the end of the episode we see that Echo may be on her way to a composite event of her own. The two stories dove-tailed nicely at the end, as it's revealed that Alpha had a hand in setting Echo up for this encounter (helping the client fake his way through the Dollhouse's background check and hiring a killer to hold up the rescue team). I liked the suggestion of the reviewer over at i09.com that Alpha may be intentionally trying to provoke Echo into retaining memories via trauma, in order to get her to freak out much like he did.

The scene of the week goes to whoever played the male doll at the beginning of the episode. He did a great job communicating the sheer terror the dolls were experiencing, as their child-like minds struggled to process the Very Bad Thing they knew was happening.

Things we learned this episode:
  • While the dialogue between Topher and Echo felt stilted and weak in the first episode, this episode helps clarify that it's intentionally awkward, as the dialogue is part of a "call and response" pattern that allows the imprint to fully take in the doll's mind. This lead to a great, totally creepy scene where we see Boyd reading a script to Echo designed to imprint her with an undying trust in him.
  • Alpha is the one who gave Amy Acker's character, Claire, those nasty facial scars. Claire also believes that Alpha was shot dead while trying to escape, so look for future trauma for this character when she finds out that the man who made mincemeat out of her pretty face is still on the loose.
  • Alpha also murdered a bunch of dolls on his way out the doll, but specifically spared Echo's life (we see a disturbing scene of her coated in blood in the shower, surrounded by cut up dead bodies).
  • In their default state, dolls are completely helpless and cannot defend themselves. Boyd asks the obvious question, "Why not just imprint them with ninja personalities?" only to learn that the Dollhouse tried that, and it resulted in violence and death as the dolls apparently turned on each other.
  • Agent Paul Ballard continues to be dreamy this week. He has a next door neighbor that clearly appreciates said dreaminess, though he shoots down her invitation to sample her lasagna (and no, that's not a euphemism... except maybe it is, if the look on the neighbor's face was any indication). Tragically, Tahmoh Penikett's shirt stayed on this week, but thankfully there were no more awkwardly staged kickboxing scenes. I'm hoping Ballard will have more to do in the coming weeks. Since he now has Alpha feeding him information (the picture of Caroline appeared on his desk this week), plus a follow up session with the goofy Russian mobster scheduled as well, I suspect he'll be getting much closer to the truth soon enough.
Things I want to know moving forward:
  • More background on Boyd please. What is his family situation? For example, does he have real daughters of his own? What in his past drives his bond with Echo in the present?
  • Just how many dolls are there at the Dollhouse? How many have been killed in the field? How many did Alpha kill?
  • Why did Alpha choose to spare Echo? Did he know her prior to them becoming dolls?
  • Is Alpha packing one particular imprint, or an amalgam of imprints?
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