This week, on Dollhouse …
RECAP DETAILS AHEAD (don’t read if you haven’t watched it yet) …
For me, the premise of this episode — Echo’s mind gets wiped while in the middle of a mission in which she’s helping to rob a bank — ended up being far more intriguing than the execution. The bravada of her safe-cracking “Taffy” personality was actually fun to watch, and while the contrast between that and Blank Slate Echo was interesting at first, the wipe happened too soon for me, and Blank Slate Echo got kind of one-note and boring by the end of the episode. Likewise, watching Sierra pick up the Taffy reins was cool, but ended up being kind of a waste of time when her doing so didn’t actually fix the problem at hand. All in all, I feel as if I learned a bit more about the capabilities of Blank Slate Echo, but was un-sold on the overall effectiveness of the Dollhouse Agency as a viable business. If the handler keeps getting used as back-up, then how valuable are the Actives, really?
Anyway, it turns out Alpha is behind Echo’s dilemma. To use a Buffy-ism, Alpha has clearly been established as the “Big Bad” for this season. At least for the agency, which doesn’t seem to know what to do about him at this point. It’s bad enough news for them that one of their science experiments — and a lethal one at that — should be running around loose (and alive) in the first place. But now it turns out Alpha also has as much, if not more, technical knowledge about how Actives work than Topher himself does. As witnessed by Alpha sending Echo the remote signal via her cell phone that wipes her Taffy persona.
If I had to guess, I’d say this is Alpha’s way of teaching Echo to fly by kicking her out of the nest … or teaching her to swim by pushing her into the deep end of the pool. Whichever metaphor you choose, it’s clear by now that Alpha is obsessed/protective of Echo. He kept her alive when he escaped from the Dollhouse, and he killed somebody who was a threat to her. And since he’s freed himself from the Dollhouse, it stands to reason that he might want to help her free herself as well. One way to go about this is to help the non-imprinted Echo become stronger and more self-reliant … and the only way to do that is to force her to survive and adapt without a programmed persona in her head.
Meanwhile, Agent Ballard is out of the hospital, a bit worse for the wear. And Victor the Active is all up in his grill, trying to sell a story that he’s not safe any more and that (presumably) the mob wants him dead. He appeals to Ballard to put him into some kind of a Witness Protection Program, but instead, Ballard puts out an All Points Bulletin on him that will effectively keep him from leaving town. It’s unclear what either Victor’s or Ballard’s motivations are here. From a Dollhouse perspective, what does Victor stand to gain by being in witness protection? Or is this Victor’s way of trying to escape the Dollhouse? And from a Dollhouse-hunting perspective, what does Ballard stand to gain by making it more likely that Victor will get killed, along with any information or contacts he might have? Is this just Ballard acting out of spite, because he thinks Victor set him up? Or does he suspect Victor’s true nature?
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I’m interested to know how much of a shelf life you think this series has. Thinking about the premise, it stands to reason she will become aware of what’s going on eventually, and then what? Will she take down Dollhouse, then start running it with volunteers instead? It just seems like what’s going on now can’t go on for much longer than one season before it gets old you know?
Based on the fact that Joss Whedon had a game plan for both Buffy and Angel that extended well beyond when the series was cancelled, my guess is that he wouldn’t have gone into this series without at least a 5 year game plan, with dramatic changes at the end of each season. Now whether A) the show has good enough ratings to stay on the air that long or B) his ideas for those other seasons are any good … that would remain to be seen. But to be honest, I’m hoping that even what he has planned for the second half of this season has a bit more cohesion than what’s come so far.
Some story possibilities:
1) Somebody stronger and/or more evil than the current Boss Lady starts running the place, and sets up a whole new way of doing things.
2) Echo liberates herself from Dollhouse, and maybe even helps shut it down (with Ballard’s help?) … but it turns out there are Dollhouses all over the world.
3) It turns out Topher is the only person in Dollhouse who isn’t an Active, and that he’s been manipulating everybody into thinking they control things. (Probably too crazy.)
That’s all I can think of off the top of my head. But basically, I could see this show doing what Lost did — changing everything every season simply by changing what we know and revising assumptions based on that. But I agree, the format as it’s presented now can’t really last more than a season.