1.04 “Gray Hour” Review – The Good & The Bad

by admin on March 7, 2009 · 25 comments

1.04 Dollhouse "GRAY HOUR" Review

Here is my ‘good and bad’ review for Dollhouse episode 1.04 “Gray Hour”.

The Good

  • The deconstruction of Echo – Dollhouse delved into some interesting themes in this episode, as Echo’s remote-wipe raised questions about human perspective and how identity is built through the experience of the senses.  Echo began the robbery as confident, sexy and an expert in her field – she was the best. Those around her perceived her as such. It was interesting to see how attitudes towards her changed once she was remote wiped. She went from being sexualized (and worth a drink) to being abused (and worth only a slap) all in the space of a few minutes. However, her ‘change’ allowed the nice-robber-dude to respond to her in a more human way – her deconstruction allowed another person to reach her, to connect with her inner-self through a device that is common to us all – Art. This was the most interesting theme in the entire episode – the idea that whilst some people portray the world as they see it (perspective), others reflect the world as it is (truth). Whilst perspective and truth is relative, it’s a notion that works on many levels, even on this very blog. To my mind, the painting reflected the truth of Echo – that she was very broken, “on the inside”. Her pieces, her memories, her current identity didn’t quite fit with her perception of this world that she had suddenly been exposed to. This in itself illustrates her awareness, because for Echo to understand that she didn’t feel quite right..that things didn’t fit, she must have retained some innate impression of expected norms from past experiences. After all, she is not a new-born child, she can never be a true ‘Tabula Rasa’ again. This was contextualised by Topher’s description of Echo, Victor and Sierra as being “groupies”, and “a little bit Bison” – members of a herd, instinctively following the path of what makes them feel more complete. Of course, for many people it is their interactions with others that make them feel whole. Therefore other people, to some degree, shape our identity, each sliding piece influencing our perception of the world. In other words, for better or worse, we are everybody. If you look deep enough, I think Whitney said it best.

  • Whilst I feel that they’re making too much of an effort to make Echo ‘good’, the decision to have her CHOOSE not to kill those security guards was, to some degree, an interesting one. This hints at an instinctive moral core. Of knowing the difference between right and wrong. This is made interesting by the Tabula Rasa reference which is made in the episode – Tabula Rasa being the philosopher John Locke‘s definition of a blank slate, the idea that all of us are born into the world with a blank slate, one that is conditioned and shaped by our experiences. With that in mind, along with the Echo/midwife scene at the beginning of the episode, I found it interesting that in actual fact, this deconstructed and child-like Echo wasn’t quite Tabula Rasa. She still had an innate concept of morality – which nicely ties in with Adelle’s reference to Michelangelo‘s belief that inside every piece of marble, a sculpture already existed, trapped and waiting to be set free (“Lost” used this reference to great effect in season 1). Which in turn leads me back to the original concept of the series, one that probably inspired me start this blog – you can erase memory..but can you erase the soul? That is the question that I was glad to see touched on in this episode, and it’s a conflict (mind vs soul) that I look forward to seeing explored further. My hunch is that whilst John Locke may be right – that the human mind is complete at birth, and is shaped through experiences. I also speculate that we are all born with a something innate..something that cannot be destroyed – the soul. As an aside, I think it’s obvious that Alpha is the one “doing the breaking” – putting Echo offline so that he can test her, build her, save her..empower her? This could make him Topher 2.0..just another guy who wants to shape Echo. Maybe her soul can win through in the end though?
  • Topher. At the beginning of the series I was worried that he’d be too cliche. But so far, so good. The guy who portrays him does a good job at making the character funny with his little quips – particularly in this episode. But what I also appreciated was seeing his reaction to yet another Echo error (if you will) – “There’s no way I could have seen this coming” (paraphrased). I like his reasoning because it shows him for what he is – he’s fiercely proud of his art, but he’s totally blind to the human consequence. The weaknesses of his creations link right into his ego – he strikes me as a flawed genius who lives and dies on the merit (or otherwise) of his creations. He is a god amongst dolls; he has mastered how to populate a mind with new identities, but somewhat tragically, he has vastly underestimated the human soul – maybe even his own. In many respects, he is as much an Active as his creations. He’s not in control of his ‘art’, he’s a victim of his obsession, he’s a sliding piece too.
  • Sierra. I like the actress who portrays her. She’s very natural, she’s very easy to watch. Compare the two “Taffy’s” and I think it’s clear to see which one was more believable. When all is said and done I think she could end up being the star of this show.
  • I think that Eliza Dushku did a good job at portraying the remote-wipe. Perhaps for the first time, I found her somewhat believable. I really liked how she portrayed the ingrained “did I fall asleep” script; she was like a broken record with the needle desperately searching for the right part of a song. Seeing her almost in the fetal position as she tried to ‘find herself’ was really quite disturbing. Good stuff. That said, if DH is a showcase for her talents (and sadly that looks like being the case), then from a professional standpoint the worst thing she could have done is to allow Dichen Lachman to portray the exact same Taffy imprint. Still, credit where’s it’s due for those moments when Echo was remote-wiped.
  • The Sia “I go to sleep” song at the end. A tragic, yet beautiful song, it’s one that I really like. It went well with the montage, and the final shot of Echo drawing a face in the streamed up mirror as she searched for a hint of..something, before wiping it away to see “what was on it before”..well, that was more like it. It can be interpreted in many ways, but even without analysing the scene, it was powerful.

THE BAD

  • I’m still waiting for the first episode where Eliza Dushku/Echo isn’t sexualized. It’s becoming old now, and I find it rather sad that an ‘intelligent’ show has to use this tactic to lure in viewers. I don’t want to see Echo going ‘down’ on a vault door. Seriously, WTF?
  • Lack of communication. I find it amazing that no-one informed Boyd that Echo had been remote-wiped until very late in the game. Seriously, all that technology and no-one even talks to each other? Boyd is an integral part of Echo’s engagement, he was one of the few people who could actually do something about her predicament, and yet he’s kept in the dark? It just seems so amateurish – I don’t buy the idea that DH could operate in the real world, and that’s one of the things they must address ASAP!
  • I don’t get Adelle. I really don’t get her. Her and Dominic are living in a little bubble. They make these decisions almost on a whim – last week she kept Echo in play on a hunch, this week she was ready to leave  the girl out to dry. She then goes and gives Topher higher security clearance without questioning the liability of his science, before finally coming clean on Alpha. Seriously, whoever her boss is they should fire her ass today. My other complaint is that we rarely see any urgency in the woman. Nor do we see her leave that damned office (maybe once in this episode)!:) Is there a reason for this? Also, we only see her ‘warm’ up when she’s greeting sleazy men in her office, at which time she almost becomes their subject. As I said, I don’t get her – who is she? ..why is she?
  • There’s a lack of importance in these engagements. Sure, they’re no doubt important to the sleazebags (hey, that’s what they’ve been so far) who hire out the dolls, but there’s no reason for me to care about whether or not Echo and Co. succeed in their missions. I find it difficult to give a damn for Echo, so how in the world am I supposed to care for the clients or their ‘assignments’, especially when they involve immoral acts. Funnily enough, that’s one of the magic aspects of my favourite show, “Lost”. Where even the most questionable of actions still allow the viewers to relate to it’s characters (and yes, even after it’s fourth episode). With Dollhouse this isn’t the case, as the missions have no grand consequence. Everything seems so unimportant in the grand scheme of things. If they get caught, Echo goes to jail and she gets replaced (assuming that the DH isn’t shut down first, not by Ballard though, he’s too busy angsting). If the writers want DH to be taken seriously then they will have to find a way to make this show matter on a broader scale. Yes, I appreciate some of the underlying concepts, but they’re rendered pointless if the world that the show operates is not at stake. “Lost” has the island (which is a reflection of the real world and so much more), “Fringe” has “the Pattern” and the Multiverse angle..what does DH have?..what resonating factor do they have to make the show relevant? Of course, this may change, but so far I don’t detect anything that elevates the show above random assignments that are mostly just illegal.
  • I still see ‘Eliza Dushku’ when she’s portraying an imprinted character. Safe-cracker girl shares the same mannerisms and style as all the others before her. Dushku was better when Echo was remotely wiped, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
  • This is perhaps the most damning aspect of the episode, one that simply cannot be overlooked by anyone with half a brain. How in the blue sky did Echo and nice-robber-dude escape past those guards? I find it rather insulting that the writers just skirt around the fact that Echo had multiple guards with guns to get past. Yet she turns up in the security room virtually carrying nice-robber-dude and that’s it? Like, what happened – I want to know how she made it to safety? This was a major bum note – they basically expect us to believe that the smoke canister was enough to blind those multiple guards so that Echo could not only escape, but she could escape WITH an injured person? I overlooked the fact that he should have bled out after getting stabbed, but having Echo magically make it out of the vault with him on her arm, is just too much. Once again: really, writers?? I understand that they want to keep Echo ‘morally good’, hence why they didn’t show Echo killing any of those guards, even though she probably would have had to in order to make it out if the vault! But this isn’t the way to do it – you can’t expect to keep the central character morally clean simply by not showing a crucial scene. Sure, it’s a bind for the writers, because they’re struggling to make Echo likable. But the audience isn’t stupid, you had her kill maniac guy in the bow hunting episode, so why not in this one? Can’t be the imprint. If they don’t want to show Echo killing people each week, then have her pop a cap in someones leg – that’s what Olivia Dunham would do. Seriously, this aspect undid so much of the good work that was done earlier in the episode. What a shame.
  • Ballard. Man, he’s just not working it is he!? He’s just..there – disconnected from the main story. Sure, Victor makes him somewhat relevant, but for the most part he’s just a rather sad man with far too much obsession in his stomach, when he could at least have some lasagna. To be honest I’d rather see sweet, disturbed Mellie than Ballard and his angst at this point. Seriously, why is he chasing after the DH anyway, what’s his deal? Do I care? I’m beginning not to.
  • Okay, let me get this straight. Adelle and company are in a race against time to get Echo out of the vault and rescue the mission? Then why did they waste time going through the details of the mission with Taffy 2.0 (Sierra), and the whole time-wasting exercise of showing her the money, etc. They could simply imprint her with all of that stuff. Surely they can imprint a person to be compliant WITHOUT having the see the money (etc) first? The whole back and forth seemed like a self inflicted contrivance. Furthermore, did they know that she was going to talk to Echo over the phone, instead of go to the scene herself? I’m really confused as to what they thought Sierra would do – because they, like, got her all dressed up and everything (which would have added another 10-20 minutes onto their ‘race against time’, btw). Why get her dressed up in leather pants and heels (work them, though she does) if she’s only going to walk Echo through the escape process via the phone? This makes absolutely no sense. There was no need to go through this little game with Sierra when they could have given her a more compliant imprint. They only had a limited amount of time – it’s called “gray hour”, not “gray day”. I was happy to see Sierra, but there’s was really no need for her. Especially since Echo, once again, saved herself..
  • Which brings me to this point – Echo always saves herself. I enjoyed seeing the deconstruction and the rebuilding of Echo (although the latter wasn’t quite as well done), but making her out to be this ‘superhero’ week after week is getting silly. Why, Adelle could just put her feet up whenever the “reputation” of her company hangs in the balance because, it’s Okay, Echo will sort it! The fact that Echo breaks down (or whatever term you want to give her repeated ‘issues’) every week is becoming predictable. How can we buy into the credibility of the DH when something crazy happens to her on every assignment! As I mentioned above, there does need to be a conflict to drive the story, but the problem is, these conflicts lack a grand purpose. And for some inexplicable reason, Echo hasn’t been terminated or sent to the “attic” yet? So, not only am I struggling to buy into Echo, but I’m also having great difficulty in seeing the DH has being a believable outfit.
  • Some of the mechanics of this episode are still too transparent. As I’ve already mentioned, I do appreciate the underlying themes from this episode, but I can see the man behind the curtain and the strings on Pinocchio. For example, in trying to make the point about the Tabula Rasa, they showed footage of Echo on midwife assignment at the beginning of the episode. This felt too forced. Who would hire an active for this purpose? They say that you can’t put a price on a child’s life, but paying millions of dollars, in the current economic climate, for a midwife, when you could simply go to a hospital, or, just not go to a remote location whilst pregnant..really, Dollhouse..really? 😀 Just one of many examples of how they are still trying too hard to make the pieces fit, rather than the allowing the magic to be a consequence of great story-telling.

Overall I found this a much better episode. I enjoyed some of the underlying themes,  and it was refreshing to enjoy Echo for 5 or 10 minutes. Sierra was good, and Topher stole the show. But so much of the promise was undone by sloppy writing and corners which were cut. You can’t just cut corners like that and expect people to buy it. I find it quite surprising really, because the writers obviously have some deep things to say about identity and humanity, yet they continue to stumble when it comes to mapping it together into the arc of an episode. It’s like they enter some kind of ‘gray hour’ whenever they pull the lens back a bit. The Echo deconstruction was good, but it’s like they just gave up after that. They can’t complain about having a lack of time to tell the story, because the Remote Free TV thing gives them extra minutes – so why did they skirt over several key moments?

As an aside, I’m thinking that Echo/Caroline is Adelle’s actual daughter – this may explain why she’s so invested in this glitch-ridden doll. I know that we’ve already seen Caroline in that first scene of episode 1.01..but did we really see ‘Caroline’ volunteer, or had she already been imprinted at this stage – a scripted event to help ease Adelle’s conscience, perhaps? And when did that meeting really take place? Hmm. As for Topher’s assistant chick, she’s probably helping Alpha. A double agent right under Topher’s nose?

Anyway, this was a decent effort in comparison to the first 3 episodes. I just want the show to do it’s own premise justice. This episode offers hope, but the clock is ticking and I’m not sure if 9 more episodes are enough.

Overall rating: 7.8/10 (based on the season so far). Episode rating relative to my favourite shows: 4/10

tmess March 7, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Pretty good review. There are some things I disagree with of course : ). Unless they had a more compliant version of Taffy already made, I think they made the most time effective decision. I don’t know how long it takes Topher to make a new personality, but I would guess it would take longer than just playing along with Taffy 2.0.

Also, I don’t think the midwife scene was trying to make a statement about Tabula Rasa, but rather the process of how women forget about painful childbirth. The name of the chemical escapes me, but women have evolved to forget about the pains of childbirth in order to increase reproduction. So when Echo tells the woman she will forget all of this, she is not lying. As to why Echo is actually a midwife, my memory might be misleading me, but don’t the actives do altruistic engagements because it actually helps them physiologically. So maybe the Dollhouse sets up these types of engagements free of charge.

Oh, I was also starting to suspect that Adelle and Caroline are mother and daughter. Just the way Adelle looked when Dominic told her he was sorry about the situation with Echo.

Finally, was the revelation that Alpha was alive supposed to shock us? Because if so that was a major failure.

Just my two cents…

Roco March 8, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Unless they had a more compliant version of Taffy already made, I think they made the most time effective decision. I don’t know how long it takes Topher to make a new personality, but I would guess it would take longer than just playing along with Taffy 2.0.

Let’s say that’s the case, and they didn’t have time to create a more compliant taffy – where did they get the time to prep any Active? They only had about 30 minutes but it took them what seemed like ages before they even got Sierra (Taffy 2.0) ready. The would have had to get her out of her chamber (or wherever she was), get her dressed/make-up and hair, imprinting her..all after they sat around discussion how drastic the situation was..

Also, I don’t think the midwife scene was trying to make a statement about Tabula Rasa, but rather the process of how women forget about painful childbirth. The name of the chemical escapes me, but women have evolved to forget about the pains of childbirth in order to increase reproduction. So when Echo tells the woman she will forget all of this, she is not lying. As to why Echo is actually a midwife, my memory might be misleading me, but don’t the actives do altruistic engagements because it actually helps them physiologically. So maybe the Dollhouse sets up these types of engagements free of charge.

Hmm, you could be right. But if they were making a statement about woman forgetting child birth, what did it have to do with this episode?

You’re probably right about the engagements helping the dolls physiologically..well, some of the engagements anyway. But who would hire a doll for this purpose, even if it were free of charge? How would the DH explain it if the clients weren’t actively looking for a doll for that purpose? And how would they get Echo back to wipe her at the end of each day – it looked like they were in a remote location, and the DH dont do remote-wipes themselves. Too many plot-holes.

To me this scene just felt tacked on – even moreso if it has nothing to do with Tabula Rasa/Echo’s remote-wipe..

Finally, was the revelation that Alpha was alive supposed to shock us? Because if so that was a major failure.

I don’t think it was (least I hope not!). I would agree with bekki, in that it was supposed to shock Topher. In turn, we were probably supposed to be scared by his reaction. I think it failed on that account.

bekki March 7, 2009 at 6:10 pm

@tmess –

I don’t think Alpha being alive is supposed to shock us, but since Topher obviously didn’t know, it was necessary to have the scene so the story can advance. Will he slip and tell the Doc or Ballard? I’m interested to see where that goes.

Hey Roco-

I really enjoyed this episode and I really enjoyed your review. On a whole I agree with your positives, with the exception of Dichen and Topher. Topher is great, but he’s kind of starting to annoy me. Same with Sierra. I don’t think she was as convincing as Taffy, to be honest. I felt Eliza was more comfortable in the roll. Maybe because she plays that kind of character often, but meh. Sierra just kind of…irks me.

I thought Eliza did an AWESOME job as mind wiped. She does verging-on-hysterical very well which is interesting because she’s so good as over-confident-badass chick. So she’s good at extremes. That’s interesting. I’d just like to see a little more subtlety from her in the future when she’s on a more regular mission.

I actually didn’t mind the over-sexualizing this time becuase, well, they spun the idea on its head. Like, we were all going ‘Oh no, not again. Another prostitute-esque setup with bad, bad men’ but ‘bing!’ it was all part of the setup. So I didn’t mind it.

I am relieved that the show is indicating – albeit in a very subtle manner – that Adele isn’t just letting Echo slide. There HAS to be a connection between her and Caroline. I don’t buy that Caroline is her daughter, but I could buy that she’s her niece or god daughter or something that gives them an emotional attachment. After all, she didn’t seem quite as emotionally shaken when Sierra was in danger last episode.

I also really liked the fact that this episode showed a lot more of the storyline we’d all been hoping for. Its like after the first 3 episodes were pushed out of the way, the writers/Joss could finally get permission/feel comfortable enough to dig their fingers into the meat of the idea. It was VERY refreshing. I’m much more positive about the series as a whole now. As you mentioned, the art theme was a wonderful way of bringing the idea of perception and soul to the forefront without being preachy or taking away from the ‘action’ for those – ahem *fox* cough – who value that.

Anyways, I’m glad you seem to be more satisfied with your viewing experience, Roco. I’m glad to hear you actually sound a bit positive about it. 🙂 Anyways, this is only the fourth episode. If it keeps increasing as steadily as it has been, I have a lot of hope for it. Especially since the next episode will finally tie Ballard to the Dollhouse itself. I love how he just HAPPENS to spot Caroline amongst the crowd. That’s a really nice way to tie them together.

Roco March 9, 2009 at 7:35 am

I actually didn’t mind the over-sexualizing this time becuase, well, they spun the idea on its head. Like, we were all going ‘Oh no, not again. Another prostitute-esque setup with bad, bad men’ but ‘bing!’ it was all part of the setup. So I didn’t mind it.

Hey bekki,

I agree with you to an extent – the fact that they flipped it was good. But I’m not sure that this is enough to take away from the fact that they still sexualized Echo yet again for a good portion of the episode?

I’d just like to see them have a go at showing us the different fibres of the brush, otherwise the value of Echo’s journey becomes less appealing, imo.

You’re right though, this was a more positive episode on the whole.

Page 48 March 7, 2009 at 9:34 pm

1.4 is easily the best effort so far. The remote mind-wipe and Topher making the Alpha connection and getting his security clearance upped all hint at more interesting things to come.

Still, in spite of the superiority of this episode, I’m disappointed that Echo’s engagement was not an exercise in public service, but a felony robbery. Hero as villain? Sydney Bristow was an excellent (and daring) thief, but she had a higher purpose than the simple generating of commissions for the firm. Meaningless missions mean that something else absolutely has to carry the show. With themes like global domination or deadly terrorist ambition out of the equation, that only leaves things like the Alpha angle, or Topher’s glitchy science, or the Langdon/Saunders relationship.

What to make of Langdon. I can see him turning a blind eye to the wildly expensive call-girl activities. After all, if the rich boys can afford it… But for the ex-cop to actually participate in art theft is not a glowing testament to his character, even if he did it to get his Active out of a jam.

I enjoyed the tension and danger in this episode. It kept me awake for 60 minutes, unlike last week’s diva nonsense. I’d like to see more of that kind of scary tension in “Fringe”, come to think of it. At the end of the day, though, the activities of the dolls don’t matter to anyone, unless you’re the victim of their theft or the beneficiary of their great tongue work. I’d like to see their engagements have a MUCH wider impact, maybe even affecting a whole city block, so that I might even be persuaded to care if they succeed or not.

Regarding the ratings situation, I won’t be a member of that 18-49 demographic for much longer, but as long as I am a member in some kind of standing, I have to question what the hell my peers are thinking when they turn out in such numbers to watch a predictable, repetitive Canadian procedural like “Flashpoint”, instead of a show with such (as yet unrealized) potential as DH. And to those out there who think that “Wife Swap” is a better choice at 8:00 on a Friday night than the unfairly maligned T:SCC, I have but one question…does your Mommy know you watch that crap? Well, does she?

Roco March 9, 2009 at 12:23 pm

What to make of Langdon. I can see him turning a blind eye to the wildly expensive call-girl activities. After all, if the rich boys can afford it… But for the ex-cop to actually participate in art theft is not a glowing testament to his character, even if he did it to get his Active out of a jam.

I like your thinking here. Langton has been presented (or at least perceived) as the “moral core” of the show, yet he still participates in some dubious acts (stealing art doesn’t exactly serve some ‘grand purpose’, yet he was more than willing). There’s potential here for some interesting character development – it’s a shame he’s been nothing more than a background character for the past two episodes.

I want to know what drives him — what made him turn his back on the law in favour of an illegal operation like the DH. A couple of episodes ago I felt we were getting a handle on his character, but the past couple of eps. have taken the focus elsewhere.

Nacho March 11, 2009 at 11:51 am

In response to Page 48’s comments about Flashpoint’s “predictable” and “repetitive” qualities – if DH had managed to provide similar levels of tension, tight plotting, characterization, and attention to detail in its first episodes, instead of relying mostly on Names (specifically Whedon and Dushku) and an admittedly intriguing philosophical approach, I’ve no doubt that DH’s ratings would be much higher. Ever since BSG (new), the bar has been much set much higher for sci-fi’s appeal to mainstream folks – and let’s face it, proven quality in any genre will often win over pure novelty…

And in case somebody is wondering, I’m a big fan of Whedon’s work. If Fox has indeed tampered with the early episodes, then I am looking forward to seeing what is really in store for the Dolls.

Phoenix March 7, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Another great review, Rocco, but I’m going to start disagreeing with you on principle on your actress admiration scales — I’m just not warming up to Dichen Lachmen and I’ve already been a fan of Eliza Dushku in the past. I don’t particularly believe that her Taffy was better than Dushku’s. The only reason that I’m understanding your dislike is because, again, FOX’s interference with DOLLHOUSE. They’re insisting that the first six episodes are both action-packed and sexed-up, and consequently Dushku is playing a different version of the same character over and over and OVER.

In any case, I was intrigued by most of this episode — the deconstruction of Echo, the seeming switch of the personalities of the two thieves. The overlapping of art themes contained in the episode may have been a little obvious with all the allusions to the human soul and character, but ultimately it may have worked for the better on a storytelling level; this humanized Echo and helped us connect with her in a way that we haven’t been allowed to yet.

I didn’t have much criticism for Boyd being left out of it because Adelle is a cold bitch and it was her primary objective to complete the mission, which is why Boyd was sent after the work of art in the first place. Her concern for Echo would naturally take a backseat, but then be brought to the forefront as a secondary objective. Three things are obvious about Adelle, which I find intriguing enough for me to be interested with her: 1) The Actives are expensive as crap and she must always be in control of them to ensure her job, 2) She is genuinely frightened of her employers and becomes more megalomaniacal in the Dollhouse to vent her frustrations, and 3) There is clearly something going on between Caroline and Adelle that would make her want to stick some of her own limbs out to keep Echo safe.

Topher may provide some comic relief now and again (I personally found his rantings of conspiracies comfortably amusing) but personally he creeps me out. I think that his character is the most well-developed of those we’ve seen in DOLLHOUSE; his experiences as “Lord of the Dolls,” if you will, has given him a God Complex that makes him suitably creepy. He may not be deliberately evil but he seems to be power-hungry and somewhat lacking in morals. His absolute refusal to believe that “someone” (cough, Alpha, cough) could actually interfere with HIS Actives greatly weakened him and lowered his response time, which put Echo in greater danger. Topher may actually become a villain in his own right by the end of the series (of course, if FOX allows it to become a series and not just a failed pilot arc).

I do understand the idea that Echo’s engagements need to have more of an impact on a broader arena, but I’m going to apologize in advance and say I fail to see LOST’s impact on a bigger world; all of the adventures were confined to the island and its mysteries, and how each character got there. It’s a fascinating show, to be sure, but…anyways, back to my point — it’s the six-pilot BS striking again. We see at the end of each episode, “To delve deeper into the mysteries of DOLLHOUSE, visit rprimelab.com.” But we don’t know what R. Prime Lab IS, or its impact on the Dollverse. My bet is, we’re not going to get even an inkling of it until FOX’s interference ends, which won’t be for another two episodes — of course, DOLLHOUSE has already lost its audience judging by ratings, so that just goes to show why network execs should never interfere with creative license.

I’m still willing to wait for DOLLHOUSE, but I’m genuinely afraid that I’m one of an increasing few, and that by the time DOLLHOUSE catches up to its potential it’ll be wiped off the face of the earth, and I’ll be screwed just like with TRU CALLING and ANGEL.

Sally March 7, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Nice review. This was definitely my favorite episode of the bunch. I’m growing to like Sierra and Topher increasingly. Unfortunately, I’m still seeing way too much similarity between all of Echo’s non-wiped personalities, but I’m still hoping she’ll get past that.

I have to say that, unlike Roco, I do buy the explanation the show gives for why actives have to retain some of the less convenient characteristics of the actives (within TV suspension of disbelief anyhow). “Taffy II” couldn’t be completely predictable to the staff of the dollhouse in terms of whether or not she was going to accept the job at once. If she was, she probably wouldn’t be all that useful as a master thief. Although the point about using ten minutes to dress her up in leather is very well taken. The whole thread about actives needing to retain some drawbacks for balance reminds me strongly of the “magic has consequences” theme that Joss Whedon liked to hammer at in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But it is not a bad theme to hammer at.

On an unrelated note, was I the only one who thought that the artsy tech guy who got stabbed was quite good for a one-week part? I’d be interested to see him as a recurring character.

Roco March 9, 2009 at 6:04 pm

“Taffy II” couldn’t be completely predictable to the staff of the dollhouse in terms of whether or not she was going to accept the job at once. If she was, she probably wouldn’t be all that useful as a master thief.

Hi Sally,

I’m not sure..I mean, isn’t the purpose of the Dollhouse to provide Actives that can be “anything you want them to be”? Surely with all the ‘red-alerts’ going on recently, they’d imprint Actives with more ‘accurate’ personality traits? I can understand Echo breaking-down (well, within the context of the premise), but under this set or rules it seems like the clients are being short changed if the DH can’t imprint an Active to simply get on and do a job without this pandering around?

I do understand your underlying point though – a master thief shoudn’t be “predicatable”. I just think that some aspects of the show are too much of a stretch to accept on a credibility level.

I do agree though, nice-robber-dude was pretty good once he got stabbed.

OOS March 8, 2009 at 12:27 am

I really think that Ballard should, at some point, be fired, and then become some kind of insane, obsessed person who starts bending the law in a desperate attempt to find the dollhouse. It would add an interesting twist to the character.

In any case, I really liked this episode, and I loved the ending with her drawing in the steam.

Roco March 9, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Hasn’t that happened? Well, pretty much..he just needs to get fired. Or has he been fired already? I can’t recall 🙂

bekki March 10, 2009 at 8:22 am

he hasn’t been fired yet.

i’m wondering if the show will eventually become boyd, ballard and a newly awakened caroline on the run with alpha pulling the strings to keep them safe with adele, dominic, and topher using victor and sierra to hunt them down. maybe the second season (should we get there) will involve caroline trying to awaken sierra and victor so we can begin to discover who they used to be. maybe boyd would use the doc to keep tabs on the goings-on at the dollhouse because they seem to have a connection.

that would solve three major issues: 1) we would finally have an empowered female lead that we could relate to because she wouldn’t be changing episode to episode 2) ballard wouldn’t be so disconnected and all over the place and 3) boyd could find his true ethical center and not be acting against his obvious moral feelings.

Phoenix March 10, 2009 at 10:22 am

Seeing as how the penultimate episode of the first season is called “Omega” I’m speculating that Caroline IS going to “wake up,” so to speak. I’m seeing a big ol’ showdown between Echo and Alpha that could lead to a situation in the second season like what you’re saying — which sounds really interesting.

I’ll save my opinions of what Ballard’s going to do about the Dollhouse after the “Man on the Street” episode where he comes face-to-face with Echo. But I think you’re really right: I think Adelle is going to be a baddie in the long run. If they give us a second season! Which I hope they will.

bekki March 10, 2009 at 10:52 am

Adelle might be a mixed baddie, though. I think Dominic would end up being the ultimate, ruthless baddie. The one who just wants to wipe anyone out who gets in their/his way. Adelle seems to have distinct feelings for Echo. This could make her a really fascinating character – not totally evil, but nothing that could be called ‘good’. I wonder if Dominic and the shadowy owners or bosses will eventually take Adelle out if she gets in their way.

Anyway, this is the only way I can really see the show growing. It could completely surpise us all and it could be cancelled, but who knows?

LeParisianFrog March 14, 2009 at 4:55 pm

@Bekki and Phoenix> i think i like your ‘vision’ of the future 😉 To me Alpha is linked to Omega in a very metaphorical way. In the Apocalypse, St John describes the Christ as being the Alpha and the Omega (first and last letters of the greek alphabet…and not the radio alphabet where Oscar stands for O and the last letter is of course Zulu). Lots of traditions and not only the christian one have related to a linear vision of the world with a beginning and an end. This said, i don’t think Whedon & Co. had this in mind. Yet it would be interesting to have Alpha being the principle and the end. The first of all dolls and the one who will bring down the system.

I think Dominic could turn into a credible baddie. Yet i fear the whole The Pretender/Jarod scenario. I think Boyd will continue working for the DH while Caroline/Echo is on the run (at this point i can only see her running from the Organisation). She needs someone ‘inside’ and once everyone discovers Alpha is pulling the string, the DH dojo is going to turn into Fort Knox.

Anyway, this could go into many directions. Are there others DH in the world? What happens and who decides that you could make a good Active? (sorry maybe i missed an episode here) And once you join the DH do you become like the tragically infamous ‘desaparicidos’? Who is then looking for you apart from a loose-canon cop?

And last, what is the real use of the DH? So at least we know what Echo/Caroline will be up against…

We indeed need a second season. Let’s hope we get it.

Phoenix March 15, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Well, DOLLHOUSE certainly has all sorts of places that it could go, but as you say, it needs a second season. Let’s face it — first seasons are not Whedon’s strong point. Look at BUFFY, his most celebrated work — episodes like “Teacher’s Pet” and “I Robot…You Jane.” Really? But, look at the second season — “Passion” and “Becoming,” two of the best episodes of the entire series. I’m praying they give DOLLHOUSE another shot.

But, as to the Alpha and Omega thing, I’m thinking that Alpha might believe that Echo is his Omega, so to speak. Whedon is purportedly a huge atheist, but BUFFY, ANGEL and even FIREFLY seemed pretty riddled with metaphysical themes to me. It’s interesting to hear your views on the possible religious metaphors; that was an area I hadn’t thought of yet.

Justin March 8, 2009 at 12:57 am

Good review. I agree with most of it, especially the Topher portions. I know alot of people have had problems with his character from the beginning however I have been a fan from day one, I could say the same of Echo. These two were the most criticized in the beginning, yet have been my favorite all along. I actually see many differences between the characters Eliza has portrayed, especially with the latest, Taffy. While I do agree their needs to be someone completely different from the tough girl, I also think this has alot to do with FOX. They have definately re-arranged the episodes to fit what they want the show to be in the beginning. The only big difference in our opinions are the portrayals of Taffy. I felt completely disconnected from Sierra. I don’t think the actress plays the crazed, sexy, kick ass chick well. Her performance felt uneasy and forced, almost cheesy. This is nothing against the actress, as I liked her portrayal of the geeky fan in ep. 3. I just felt her Taffy performance was very weak, while Dushku’s was excellent. I felt she connected with this character most of all the imprinted personalities she has portrayed. She also did a great job with wiped echo, she is always great inside the dollhouse. So all in all great review, although very dissappointed with Sierras portrayal of Taffy.

Roco March 9, 2009 at 6:15 pm

I felt completely disconnected from Sierra. I don’t think the actress plays the crazed, sexy, kick ass chick well. Her performance felt uneasy and forced, almost cheesy. This is nothing against the actress, as I liked her portrayal of the geeky fan in ep. 3. I just felt her Taffy performance was very weak, while Dushku’s was excellent.

That’s interesting, I find Lachman to be more of a natural actor than Dushku (admittedly, it’s early days). I think that she slips into characters with greater ease, and therefore connects better with the persona she’s portraying. That said, I agree that Lachman has had better moments in the series, and Dushku’s remote-wipe was by far my favourite moment from her.

Bad Mouth March 8, 2009 at 1:27 am

Moments of brilliance overshadowed by plodding story, poor dialog and the increasingly annoying Eliza. Feels like I have already seen this episode already when watching it. Wheel out sexy Echo for another encounter. Poor Sierra, her talents are being completely wasted by her handlers (again).
Poor Echo, confounded by circumstances outside her control (again).
The DollHouse managers in crisis mode over Echo (again).
However, Echo triumphs (again) and saves a person in doing so (again).
The whole scene about drilling a hole in the door was so over the top dramatic and of course came to nothing…
Suggesting that the Greek government was contracting the DollHouse to steal back the Elgin Marbles back was brilliant.
These are the cloak and dagger missions that you would expect a shadow agency to perform.
However, once this gig stops being a vehicle for Eliza I reckon it really has potential.
There really needed to be some debate about countermeasures to remote wipe-
otherwise Echo is certainly useless in the field and it could affect other dolls too. But the rules governing imprinting are so opaque that the Dollhouse characters themselves haven’t a clue. The writers relying on various deux-ex-machina to get Echo out of tight spots is wearing a little thin.
But I get the feeling that gaps in logic are the least of this series’s problems…

Paumu March 8, 2009 at 10:04 am

Great review! I have been reading and tend to agree with most of your points. For this episode, some of the failures you picked out from the show seemed like natural choices to me. So, maybe this perspective might help? Make sense? Be totally crazy and hated? In any case, here it is:

I thought that the Midwife sequence was, in fact, pretty self explanatory.
You see the beautiful secluded mountain mansion.
You see an active involved.
First thoughts: Filthy rich. Possibly foreign.
Why would you want someone who will forget the whole thing to deliver a baby?
Illegitimate child of someone trying to hide it and who can afford it.
Personally, it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to go there. Less tabloids, less inheritance, less trouble.

As for the Imprint personalities, I would venture that the personalities take days to make, or at least hours. It wouldn’t be easy to just find a Master Thief personality and just tweak it. I was under the impression the DH had a bunch of imprints pre-made for situations. A Master Thief, a Midwife, an Assassin, a Perfect Date, etc… Or they make a new one for each engagement. Which would explain why TaffyII was a bit aggravated about not getting the job. The imprint was made FOR the job.
Either way, it would take too long to either tweak the one personality or make a whole new one for Sierra. So, they had to keep the same one.
As for the clothing issue, if the imprint wakes up in something they wouldn’t wear, it might throw them off. Imagine Taffy activating up ready for her job and wearing the earthy DH pjs. She might wonder why is she wearing that, what’s going on…
Its the same reason they dress them back into those clothes after the engagements. So the Tabula Rasa Dolls are in a softer world, detached from any personalities they had.

To me, those bits were non issues.
I do wish Dushku were as good an actress as Lachman. It is a bit upsetting when the supporting cast is so much better than the star, IMHO.

Lally March 10, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Great review! I haven’t actually watched this episode yet but you make some very good points about problems with the show; writing and storyline. I expect more from something when it’s got the Whedon label, and soe far with the show I’m not sure. Parts I like, and I want to see what happens next week, but I’m not hooked. I’m not convinced by Dushku’s acting and I’m not sympathetic to Echo because shes either a different person every week or the no free will doll who doesn’t have much going for her (besides the glimpse of self awareness everynow and then).
Overall the premise of the show makes me uncomfortable, because even if these people did sign up for it, once they are wiped they are at the hands of the highest bidder. I found her having sex with whats-his-face in episode 2 creepy. No free will, no choice over who they sleep with or what dangerous situations they get into.

Anyways, one of my main plotholes that I see is if all these rich people can find the dollhouse (enough to sustain a new story every week…) and walk in and pick up a lovely doll for the weekend why the hell can’t Ballard find ANYTHING? Hes a cop with all these resources available but all he can do is have the wool pulled over his eyes by the Dollhouse? How do the clients find it if its so secret? How does it function when no one is supposed to know about it? Its really bothering me.

Page 48 March 11, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Lally, it’s all about being in the loop. Horny frat boys with birthday sex cravings are in the loop. That’s how they know about the DH.

Ballard…not in the loop. Or perhaps not horny. Ballard is in the lasagna loop, he can find the lasagna with his eyes closes. Let’s see how good the horny frat boys are at finding the lasagna. Then we’ll have ourselves a show.

That’s how I read the situation.

LeParisianFrog March 14, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Excellent review and comments! Bravo to all, it’s toujours a pleasure to read you guys!
I’ve just finished watching this episode (don’t ask, work is my partner) and all i can say is AT LAST! Ok so it wasn’t as great as we all expected but at least it was far better than the last three (<– duh!). There was something in the rhythmus of this episode, something about using the cgi that made me connect a bit more with the dolls. This said, the show still relies on ‘tricks’ and hasn’t yet been capable of engaging with its watchers. We get it, Dushku is hot in leather playing dark lady in a revisitation of Topkapi but as someone underlined, the assignements are a bit popoish at this stage and the feeling i get from the DH is that of a wannabe secretive organisation that gives the impeccable feeling that it doesn’t know what it’s doing.

What is the DH afterall? A place where villains turn to when the mafia can’t do it? A special caterer for hungry horny millionaires? A harem of zombies who are at their best when they’re everything but who they are? A company that doesn’t care about right or wrong but indulges itself in the gray areas?

DH is certainly all of the above as well as a terrific scientific experience in the hands of a genius who only cares about his ‘baby’ so fuck the lab rats. I don’t think Adele or Dominic could handle the whole shabam if Topher wasn’t around. And i don’t think that Topher was alone in creating the Dollmaker machina… My feeling is that Alpha is more than a revengeful ex-doll. He probably co-created the whole complex and its ramifications. Making him the Omega of all this (if we want to stick with metaphors!).

How could he know how to desactivate Echo? It is actually super funny to think that the object we use the most nowadays and which embodies our society of media/communication is, in that case, a powerful weapon of ‘destruction’. Seems the Achilles’ heel of the DH has been found through it’s very own mean of control.
Having said this, i wonder if the cellphone larsen will work on every doll or if Echo’s frequency is the only one known to the mysterious desactivator… (or maybe i skipped some of Topher’s hilarious faux science explanations, my english is not at his best lately)

As Bekky and others said, Dushku is actually good playing the extremes and this episode was like honey to me for that matter. When a doll is left with no imprints but the inconscious leftovers of her real self she is an empty shell who will behave instinctively in extreme conditions (like we all would). Yet the ‘tabula rasa’ is so strong that dolls seem to go back to a pre-anal stage which also means one where instincts take control. This is something i’d like to see developed in the next episodes. The fabricated versus the intuitive. In short Culture versus Nature. This was somehow underlined (quite strongly unfortunately) by the little dialogue between bleeding robber dude and Echo. Roco i totally agree with you pointing out the Michel-Angelo reference. It was actually re-used also by Rodin when he discovered the work of Camille Claudel: her sculptures were filled with an inner power, a life of their own so to speak. The comparison with the dolls is very accurate in that sense.

Alas! We haven’t got the time in the world and i have the strange impression that the show’s situation is similar to the three trapped in a cell filled with works of art. DH could be a gem. Yet it is imprisoned in a repetitive motion that is starting to be boring. And boring is dangerous in today’s TV world. Time is something that was given to Whedon and co. I don’t need to feel as if they had spoiled it, no matter how under pressure they were. This show could have been much better and we cannot always blame Fox (ummmm…). Nor can we behave like stupid fans and await the magical opus 7 of the series to finally get a glimpse of Joss’ talent.

My hopes are that the show will start to be a little more complex and ‘play’ more astutely with the various levels of mind shaping. Clearly what we’ve witnessed for the moment is a total lack of perspective. I know i am being harsh but i am a realistic person and as much as i like Eliza, as much as i am a big fan of science-fictive tales and as much as i believe Whedon can do better than that, i think DH is wasting my time. The promises of GRAY MATTER cannot totally erase the drafty aspect of the show so far.

We are probably not aware of the real making of DH. Of the needs and wills of everyone involved. And not to sound catastrophic but i also rewatched LOST IN LA MANCHA this w-e. Honestly, DH feels the same. On paper it felt a hit. On screen it now feels (sh)it. This can change. Maybe i am overly pessimistic. Or not.

(Re)inject seriousness and humour. Bring Sierra to the front stage. Eliza needs support, she has always been better with a ping-pong partner. Stop with the nonsense, this show is taking place in the real world not some god-knows-what hidden galaxy.

I am ready to spend time (again) for DH. I know going back to Buffy, season 1 was terrible and i wonder if i would have lasted 7 years watching it should i have been as critical as i am now. But i cannot compare the two shows even if they come from the same creator. Buffy had a something that DH is still looking for. GRAY MATTER pointed to it: balance.

LeParisianFrog March 15, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Sheeesh! I have kept calling this fourth episode GRAY MATTER when in fact it i GRAY HOUR, color me dyslexic or maybe it’s a lapsus that will teach more than i thought 😉

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