Dollhouse Episode 9 Review
Monday, April 13, 2009 | Author: Mad Typist
I'm going to say up front that this was hands down the best episode of the season yet. Wow... just a great ride from beginning to end. Now, on to the review...

What was fun about this episode is that it had several great "Holy crap!" moments. And the nice thing was, those moments were crucial in shaping the character and destiny of several major characters in this show, and gave us a real sense of forward momentum. Let's recap those first.

Top "Holy crap!" moments of the episode:
  1. "Miss Lonelyheart" from a previous episode (believed up till now to be some old lady cougar looking to score with Victor) was really Adele! And no one knows that she's dipping her proverbial pen in the company ink, as she has been using a pseudonym (Katherine) for her 10 (!) liaisons with Victor/Roger
  2. Dominic was secretly an NSA mole!
  3. Mellie/November revealed her true nature to Paul!
The structure of this episode was really interesting. It played out in 4 segments, each one following a different Doll's imprint. While there was some overlap (filling in blanks glimpsed in previous segments), each Doll had their own unique roll to play in the overall story.

Let's start with November and Victor first, since both of their plots played on themes of trust, love, need and so on. Both Mellie and Roger (the personas) have similarities - both are fairly well-informed on the actual nature of the Dollhouse, in that both of them have been confided to by their lovers, Paul and Adele. Despite this knowledge, it hasn't occurred to either of them to question whether they're a Doll or not. And, most tragically, both are sincerely in love with a person who knows their true nature and cannot fully love them back in that same, selfless way.

Paul has apparently devolved into a tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy nut in Mellie's absence, so his way of welcoming her home involves shoving a gun in her face and babbling about the Dollhouse, while ignorning the rising look of panic on her face. Mellie speaks for all of us when she suggests that a naked Paul busy using his lips for kissing is better than a clothed and dirty Paul using his lips to blather on about his stupid investigation that is going nowhere because he is the Worst Agent EVER. However, the same mole that programmed Echo with hidden parameters in episode 6 has done the same thing to Mellie, and the kiss fest is rudely interrupt with Paul's world being shattered by the knowledge that he's been sleeping with a Doll. Mole-programmed Mellie tells Paul that it's important that Dollhouse-programmed Mellie not realize that knows about her true identity. To keep up the facade, Paul is forced to do the only thing he's good at, and that is sexing up Dollhouse-programmed Mellie, who is still blissfully unaware of her own nature.

Adele has been a cypher up until now, but this episode did a great job giving the character a lot more range and depth. We now understand that it's lonely for the lady at the top, and she struggles under the burden of secrecy that the Dollhouse demands. We see that she's invented a British lover - Roger - for herself, one who she can speak freely to about the Dollhouse, one who loves her unconditionally, no matter what sins she commits in the Dollhouse's service. We see that Adele is just as trapped by her life as everyone else caught up in the Dollhouse - you see her struggle with Roger's request to run away with him, to give it all up and just spend the rest of their lives sipping mai tais on a beach somewhere. But in the end, Adele knows that she can never be free, and so returns to her post at the Dollhouse, giving up Roger (and by proxy, the dream of love and freedom he represents).

Sierra's plot was fun, but didn't reveal much about her real personality. It was a fun Mission: Impossible style segment, but ultimately was a smoke screen for the final segment. So let's just note that Dichen Lachman kicks lots of ass, and move on.

Last, but not least, we get a lot more detail about Echo's continuing awakening, and we also get a feeling for why various individuals may want to let that evolution continue along. First, I must say that it was absolutely stunning to see Echo climb willingly into the chair, asking to be imprinted. In a nice bookend, we see Echo at the end of the episode, back in the chair but still bending the Dollhouse to her own desires, as she willfully ignores the call-and-response dialogue from her new handler and instead makes it clear that her words of trust are directed at Boyd, and Boyd alone. In any case, it's clear that even in Doll form, Echo is manifesting a level of autonomy that far exceeds what any other Doll (save maybe Alpha) has shown.

Echo's plot is important not only because she ferrets out Dominic as the NSA mole, but also because her investigation does a lot in 3 minutes to establish the feelings and motivations of most of the Dollhouse employees. Up till now, many characters, including Topher, have been difficult to read, because we were never sure how much their words and actions were driven by the situation at hand, versus their true feelings. For example, last episode, when Topher was talking about how the Dollhouse does good in the world sometimes, did he really believe that, or was he just trying to keep Echo from putting a bullet in his brain. In this episode, however, the characters were allowed to speak freely and really reflect on central questions, such as "Why did you choose to work for the Dollhouse?" The best, and I believe most important, line was delivered by Boyd, who cynically remarked, "We're pimps and killers, but in a philanthropic kind of way." This harkens back to Adele's plot, where she laments to Roger that in her previous life (growing organs for people from stem cells), she could talk about her work with pride, and the knowledge that it was truly helpful to people. Now she's the queen of the kingdom of pimps and killers, and she may feel as conflicted as Boyd does about that.

However, at the end, no matter how much we may have learned about Adele's softer side, we also got a great look at her harder side as well. Even after taking a bullet, she barely flinched, and she put off getting medical attention so that she could be sure that she was looking Dominic in the eye as she took away all his memories. And at the end, she rejected both a literal anesthetic (offered by Dr. Claire before stiching her up), and her metaphorical anesthetic Roger, because Adele has chosen to endure the pain of her reality full bore from this point on. I think it's a comment on the fact that anesthetics have a way of putting you to sleep - in this case, her emotional need to suppress her pain with Roger led her to be sloppy when it came to Dominic and sensing the danger that he represented.

Things we learned this episode:
  • Dr. Claire (my favorite "need to see more now!" character) hasn't left the Dollhouse once since the Alpha incident. That was just heart breaking for me, and it showed just how deeply traumatized the good doctor really is.
  • The NSA is well aware of the Dollhouse's existence, but seeks only to help contain it. They have little interest, apparently, in shutting the Dollhouse down. This suggests to me that there's another mole inside the Dollhouse, someone who's a lot cleverer and careful than Dominic was. My money's still on Dr. Claire right now, but we'll see.
  • I felt a real sense of happiness in the way Boyd announced that he wanted to remain Echo's handler because he "needed to take care of her." While Boyd may be conflicted over his role overall, you definitely feel the fatherly love he holds for Echo. He may be a pimp and a killer, but I so *heart* Boyd.
  • Adele is a pretty darn good fencer. She is an ugly crier, though. Still, overall, Olivia Williams is a foxy looking lady for her age.
  • Eliza Dushku can ROCK a dominatrix outfit. Damn, girl.
  • The dominatrix outfit did lead to an interesting exchange between Boyd and Dr. Claire, where we learned that Dolls are only sent out as doms, never as submissives. From what I know of that world, that actually makes a lot of sense. A good dominatrix is always in high demand, so I can see why a client would hire a Doll to serve that purpose. And I can't really see a true dominatrix enjoying a Doll as a submissive, since there would be a layer of artifice to the encounter that would probably be a turn off (after all, can someone truly submit if they're a Doll with pre-programmed responsess?). Lastly, it sets the Dolls up to take physical damage, potentially, if they're sent out as subs, so I can see why the Dollhouse would have a policy against that anyway.
  • Paul may be upset that the Dollhouse used Mellie against him, but that's not going to stop him from using her right back, in a way.
  • Mellie is a special kind of Doll, according the the Dollhouse mole.
Things I still want to know:
  • What about Mellie is special? Is there something about her brain that makes her able to hold a sleeper personality as well? Or is it just "special" in that most Dolls are not programmed with the extra sleeper personality?
  • Why did Mellie activate right before they were going to jump in the shower? It's asking a lot of Paul to switch back and act like everything is okay, after having such a huge bombshell dropped on him. He must have a johnson rod of steel, if he could still manage to get turned on enough to keep Mellie from suspecting the jig was up. It would have made more sense if Mellie had activated while they were sleeping - giving Paul time to think on what he learned before she woke up and expected him to be the loving boyfriend again.
  • Who's the deep mole in the organization? Who are they working for?
  • What would Dr. Claire have said to the question "Do you have any friends outside the Dollhouse?" if she hadn't been interrupted?
  • Is Adele's romance with Victor part of the reason she wanted the Victor/Sierra thing stopped? Did it bother her that in his real state, he'd choose Sierra over her?
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