Dollhouse Episode 10 Review
Tuesday, April 28, 2009 | Author: Mad Typist
Shows that have strong network support and creators with a defined vision are able to break away from TV conventions to give their viewers excellent serial drama week after week. Lost is a perfect example - from the very first moment, it was compelling and it demanded that you tune in week after week to follow the on-going stories, because EVERY story was important to the main arc of the show. The people involved with the show, from the higher ups to the show runners to the crew, all believed in the strength of their main story enough to trust that the viewers would keep coming back.

Dollhouse, sadly, is not one of those shows yet. And so, after 3 glorious episodes chock full of meaty, long term story-telling goodness, we're shackling with a MOTW episode ("monster of the week" - internet slang started to describe X-files episodes that were self-contained stories that did not contribute to the overall mytharc).

The main plot involves Echo serving as a host for the reincarnated mind of one of Adelle's close friends, Margaret. Margaret is a former Miss Lonelyhearts client of the Dollhouse herself, and had begun a series of regular "backups" of her brain, for fear that someone would try to murder her. I'm not sure I buy this, since it appears that she adored her husband, had no clue her son or daughter resented her, and hadn't seen her suspicious brother for 13 years, prior to the day before her death (weeks after her last backup session) - so who, exactly, did she suspect would want to off her?

It doesn't really matter, because it sets up an intriguing moral question: is the Dollhouse that close to being able to offer immortality to people? Because it sure seemed like Margaret could have kept Echo's nubile young body, if the Dollhouse would have permitted that. Again, this series teases me, because there's all this fascinating potential power in their stories, but it's easily brushed aside for the more conventional "Who murdered mommy?!" plot.

I'm with Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club, who makes this excellent observation:
Having the conscience of a newly dead woman imprinted on the young, fresh body of an active opens up all kinds of existential possibilities, even before you learn that the woman was murdered. Haven’t we all, in our vainest moments, wondered what the scene would be like at our funeral? Or even more generally, to listen into conversations about what people really think about us? Then again, perhaps we’d pay for our vanity: Maybe the people we thought would be weeping copious tears turn out to be stone-faced and indifferent. And maybe also our perceptions of who we were and how we thought others felt about us were, in fact, completely wrong. Those would be some damned painful revelations. Now that I think about it, the biggest problem with “Haunted” is that there’s any need for a murder mystery at all. Just the drama of Echo as Margaret, the dead heiress, coming back to her life incognito in the body of another woman would be more than enough to sustain an episode.
There's been some complaint about Eliza's questionable acting ability, and this episode didn't do her any favors. I'm personally fine with Eliza - it's just that I often find Echo's solo plots very hit-or-miss, and I find myself more interested in what the other characters are up to. I squeed when Victor popped in, masquerading as a horse buyer, and was far more interested in the B plot, which touched on one of the recurring themes of this show - the need for companionship, to connect with another person, even if it's just for a fleeting moment. To that end, we follow Topher, who uses the excuse of running a diagonostic test to create himself a playmate that would indulge his need for nerdy fun. Sierra gets enlisted to serve as Topher's BFF for the day, and they play videogames, toss the football around and engage in a little laser tag action. This seemingly fluffy plot turns sad and touching by the end, as we realize that Adelle is well aware of what Topher's up to, but permits it once a year, because it's his birthday.

This fits nicely with the other theme the pops up, which is that EVERYONE at the Dollhouse is broken in some way. The Dollhouse permeates every nook and cranny of these people's lives. Dr. Claire hasn't left the building for months (or even years). Topher's existence also seems focused exclusively on work, to the point where he doesn't seem to have a single real world friend to celebrate his birthday with. Meanwhile, Olivia Williams continues to show the other actors how it's done, as just the slightest clench in her jaw communicates volumes about how lonely Adelle herself is, how envious she is that her friend Margaret found a real world Pretty Young Thing who truly loved her.

In the C plot, Paul Ballard continues to be fairly worthless. He is a terrrrrible actor (Paul, not Tahmoh) and can barely contain his contempt and disgust for Mellie, now that he's aware the she's a Doll. He manages to score some fingerprints off a wine glass and sneaks into the FBI (which.. yeah... I doubt that) to get his old friend to help him look up the prints in AFIS. Much to his surprise, he sees a dozen or so aliases pop up, with pictures of Mellie, before the system suddenly deletes everything. I have two problems here. One - if the Dollhouse has that sort of power, why didn't they just delete the records a long time ago, when Mellie was first captured? Two - I dislike having to feel like Paul is an incompetent moron, but it bugs me that at no point does he think, "Gee, if they built in a logic bomb to delete the records the minute someone looked up these prints, shouldn't I be concerned that they know I'm on to them? That maybe the system could have also sent an email to someone letting them know that Mellie's records have been accesses?"

Anyhoo, I will say this: I would LOVE to play poker with one Paul Ballard, because he cannot hide the feelings on his face at all. Paul goes home and has hot hate sex with Mellie, because luckily she's dumber than him when it comes to reading the room. So, long story short: King's Ransom isn't the only stallion that gets mounted this episode.

Things we learned this episode:
  • Mellie has been quite the busy bee in her spare time, even before she was embedded in Paul's life.
  • Apparently, Echo's new handler is the worst handler ever. Because even though everyone knew that the murderer was still at large, there was no backup within miles of Echo when she needed it.
  • Topher has no friends. Even though he's an annoying twerp sometimes, that's still sad. Brings back my own childhood memories, having no one around willing to play D&D with me and so forth... Anyway, it really speaks to his loneliness and his sincere desire just to have someone around who gets him, since he didn't make one sexual crack or look at Sierra the whole time they were playing.
  • Even regular people can get brain scans that create a perfect replica of their thoughts, memories and personality traits.
Things I still want to know:
  • Are people at the Dollhouse aware that Mellie's cover has been blown?
  • What is the real Mellie like? Would the real version of her even be into Paul?
  • What charges, exactly, does Paul plan to bring against the Dollhouse? Is what they're doing even technically illegal? While it is definitely controversial and morally wrong, is it against the law, particularly since they do have legal papers signed by the Dolls stating they agree to be in the state they are?
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On 3:14 PM , Michael said...

What I took away from this episode is the same question that was brought up in the last episode, what other purpose does the Dollhouse have? This is the first time the show brings up the concept of a real person being injected into a doll which says to me that whoever is behind the Dollhouse can definitely have a greater purpose than simply providing premium escorts to the absurdly wealthy. This particular episode reminds me of the Ricard Morgan book Altered Carbon where people upload their consciousness to a computer and can then have it inserted into another body.