Dollhouse, week 7

Thoughts on this week’s episode:

* Topher’s “drawer of inappropriate starches” is a keeper, but otherwise I thought it was awfully early in the series to be doing the Everybody Must Get Stoned episode. I still don’t have a very strong sense of who these people are when they aren’t under the influence. I also thought there was tonal dissonance between the drug-induced goofiness and the more serious elements, particularly Sierra’s rape flashback.

* About that flashback. Beyond seeming like a cheap and ill-advised attempt at emotional manipulation, I thought it was a missed opportunity for… well, not character development exactly, but at least a gesture in that direction. We know nothing about most of the dolls’ real lives. When Victor had his drug-induced meltdown, we got a glimpse of who he used to be (a soldier in Iraq? or Yugoslavia maybe?). With Sierra we got a more graphic version of a scene from last week’s episode. Why waste time telling us what we already know?

* Lisa and I both kept commenting on Echo’s outfit. It was the kind of thing you’d expect her to wear for a date with Red Motorcycle Boy, and it made a good sight gag after she went off program, but again, there was a tonal mismatch once the episode turned to more serious matters. (Echo: I have to save my old boyfriend! Lisa: What the hell is holding those stockings up?)

* In the Things That Do Not Bode Well Department: this was our first extended look at Echo/Caroline’s real persona, and unfortunately I don’t think I like her that much. I don’t hate her, it’s just, she doesn’t strike me as someone I’d want to hang out with, even if it were age-appropriate for me to do so. Contrast first-season Veronica Mars, a high-school student who I’d readily invite to an adult dinner party with the expectation that she’d make a star conversationalist.

Nor would Caroline top my list of people I’d want to sneak into an Evil Corporate Lab with. While her boyfriend has the common sense to be scared about doing this (and the genre savvy to throw out a 28 Days Later reference), Caroline is all, “It’s the right thing to do, how could it possibly result in dire consequences for all concerned?” Once they get inside, it’s the boyfriend who zeroes in on (and starts filming) the human fetuses, while Caroline is distracted by thoughts of bringing a mutant Labrador home as a pet. (“He’s too cute to be a deadly biohazard! Let me open his cage!”) Again, contrast Veronica Mars in this same situation.

* Of course the boyfriend is the one who gets shot, but we don’t see him die, which means he’s destined to turn up again later. I’ve seen speculation on other blogs that he’s Alpha. This seems unlikely to me—if a glimpse of her old campus is enough to trigger a memory glitch, I doubt they’d keep a person she knew in the same dollhouse with her. Also, he doesn’t strike me as someone likely to evolve into a deadly, super-smart killing machine.

* I don’t understand the point of having inductees into the Dollhouse sign contracts, unless it’s a psychological device to help them accept the surrender of their free will. I’m bugged that no one thinks to ask, “How could this agreement to work for your criminal enterprise be legally binding? Why would I trust you to hold up your end of the bargain?”

All in all, a disappointing episode. Too many logic holes and questionable choices.

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Thoughts on Dollhouse, 6 weeks in

In comments, j_lovescoffee asks what I think of Dollhouse now that the show has gotten up to speed?

I think it’s improved a lot since the first episode, enough so that I’m in it for the long haul. My favorite episode so far was #4, the one where Echo became a bank robber. I like the Alpha myth arc a lot.

I thought this week’s episode suffered from overhype—it was fine, but after all the talk about what a game-changer it was going to be, the actual revelations were something of a letdown. OK, so the Dollhouse is a global conspiracy, and there’s someone on the inside trying to help Agent Ballard (if the mole turns out to be Adelle, that would be a cool twist, but my guess is it’s going to be Amy Acker or Topher’s assistant).

My biggest concern about the show is that Joss’s feminist discomfort with his own premise may end up sabotaging the story. The “sex trafficking is evil!” subtext is already tedious. Yes, if the Dollhouse were real, it would be evil. But it’s not real, and if you’re going to go to the trouble of imagining it in fiction, surely there are more interesting dramatic statements than “Wow, what a horrible thing I’ve imagined!”

An example of where this gets to be a problem: One of the things we learned this week is that the Dollhouse has a strict rule against handlers having sex with dolls. Indeed, it’s a death-penalty offense. The question is, why? I could think of some in-story explanations that might make sense, but I suspect that the real reason is that the show’s writers were grossed out by the idea, Did Not Want To Go There, but at the same time recognized that it was weird not to go there, since the kind of people who would work at the Dollhouse probably would have sex with the dolls, a lot. So instead of just not going there, they decided to make a big deal out of not going there, even though that paradoxically draws attention to the weirdness of not going there, and hey! Did you see how she broke that guy’s neck!? Woman power!

Anyway, for now I’m enjoying it enough to let the moral panic slide.

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