1.05 “True Believer” Review – The Good & The Bad

by admin on March 15, 2009 · 26 comments

True Believer Review

Here is my honest opinion of the good and bad aspects from Dollhouse episode 1.05 “True Believer”:

The Good

  • Although making Echo blind for this mission was very transparent (rather than being natural and subtle), the underlying debate over happiness, and what that means in relation to freewill was quite interesting. We had the fanatical faith group serve as a metaphor for the Actives themselves, both groups depicted in the story were believers, but as we saw, both sides had their belief system compromised. Particularly Echo, as she ‘found her sight’, and saw the world for the first time..since the last time. I found this interesting, particularly because the story curved back in on itself — despite the seeming wrongs that were being committed in the commune (though we never actually got to see that aspect play out) no-one there actually asked to be “saved”. That was SWAT guy’s doing, by planting the “Save me” message. So, I’m wondering whether the idea (or question) that the writers are giving us, is that none of the Actives are asking to be saved either. Is it our human nature to assume that we owe it to others to save them, or are we in actual fact do we reach out to ourselves from our own ghosts? Is this what SWAT guy was doing? Is this what Langton is doing? Hmm.. Of course, we have the Alpha story-line, Echo’s burgeoning awareness and all of the ethical and moral implications that go with a set-up like the DH. But if you step back from all that (as hard as it is) — how can you save someone who doesn’t want to be saved? How can you rescue a person who is not aware that they need rescuing? As such, how can the viewers care about Echo and the Actives when they are stripped of their awareness? The writers probably didn’t want that interpretation to come to the surface, but sometimes there is truth in writing even if the writer isn’t aware of it. At any rate, ‘right and wrong’ is often contextualized by freewill — Is it right to take away someones ‘happyness’, someones ‘freewill’ even if it’s in their own interests? I guess it’s a question which ‘suggests’ that a persons own truth is based on lies that they themselves cannot see. Ironic, considering Echo’s role in all of this.

  • Topher is funny, I have to admit. It’s strange though, I keep expecting myself to dislike him because he treads an incredibly fine line between funny and douche-baggery, but he just about gets away with it. His uncomfortableness with sexuality (or discussing it) is quite bizarre for someone so loud and cheeky. He’s almost like a little child in many ways — a little doll, even *shudders*. I liked his “sneezure” gag, that was an unexpected moment of levity, I must say.
  • Mellie. This girl makes me laugh — she’s constantly making lasagna! πŸ™‚ She really shouldn’t be so high on my list, but there’s something so odd and creepy about her that it makes the show abundantly more interesting whenever she appears on screen. She also made Ballard seem a bit more human in this episode, so good for her. Whether she’s an Active or not (I still think she is), she is far easier to watch than half of the characters on this show. You go Mellie, you crazy chick, you!
  • Echo’s mind-wipes becoming more aggressive, and leaving a greater impression on her. I do think that they made it a little too obvious too quickly at the end there. That said, I’ve been keeping an eye on Echo’s immediate reaction to the mind-wipes, and they are certainly becoming more and more traumatic, specifically in the moments immediately after she wakes up. It matters because it shows that Echo is indeed retaining memories from the persona’s and missions she experiences. It’s actually very interesting, because Echo is going through trauma — it’s not just muscle memory (although that is there too), but it’s actual ‘mental marking’, leaving a signature on her mind, almost akin to scar tissue (that’s how I visualise it anyway). I am surprised that Topher is not noticing this, or maybe he does but doesn’t want to say anything? Adelle is certainly aware of Echo’s ‘retention’, but she puts it down to her “adaptability”. These are clearly the signs that Echo is going down a similar road to Alpha; holding on to the imprints and memories, and forging them into an ‘indentity’ of sorts. As I suggested in last week’s review — identity is could be argued to be a composition of the pieces of other people. So on the one hand we have those who want to push Echo further, perhaps allowing her to become ‘like’ Alpha (Adelle and possibly Claire), then we have those who fear what she could become, so they try to sabotage her (Dominic), whilst in the middle of all that we have the “nature vs nurture” conflict between Langton and Topher. Quite interesting.

The Bad

  • Dominic attempting to sabotage Echo. Not that I care about Echo, butΒ  they went for the surprise factor and ended up with a damp squid. How did Dominic know exactly where Echo was (like how did he find her exact location before the fire crew)? How did he get to her before anyone else? Why not just shoot her if he wanted her dead? It’s just too contrived, and I’m not enjoying the way they are deploying his character. His reaction to Adelle making him use the stairs at the end of the episode shows how much Adelle (of all people) can’t stand him, so yeah, he’s not exactly my favourite either.
  • Eliza Dushku has to work on her inflection and mannerisms. She also seems far too aware of herself. This (along with a lack of range) prevents her from delivering convincing performances, and really holds the series back.
  • The Sierra/Victor B-story. I see why they did this; to show that Victor is specifically attracted to Sierra despite being imprinted. But I can’t help but feel there was a better way to waste the services of Topher and Claire for an entire episode. Like, don’t they have assistants who should spend their time re-watching old shower footage? Where’s that stocking chick from last week who fetched Topher his beverages — couldn’t she have a shower re-watch? It’s ridiculous to think that whilst Echo (and other Actives?) were out on a dangerous missions, two of the top DH people were wasting their time shipping. Also, why did they need to re-watch old video footage, when they have computerised records/analytics of past imprints? Wouldn’t that have been the logical and efficient place to start, before delving into a marathon re-watch? Don’t get me wrong, the “man-reaction” thing was quite funny, but they need to learn how to prioritise and delegate.
  • Dominic. As I touched on above, he just seems to be there for no apparent reason than his dislike of Echo. In some respects it’s understandable because Echo is showing traits of Alpha before he went beserko. In turn Dominic helps to bring Adelle’s motivations to the surface, and the evident split in the middle-management is useful to see. However, he is such a lifeless soul. He could be replaced in the next episode and it wouldn’t matter a jot to the story – just like that SWAT guy said about Caroline – Dominic could be anyone. This show needs characters who we care enough about to want to see again, or who are divisive enough that we want to see again. Dominic, and Adelle tick neither of those two boxes as far as I’m concerned. They are extremely bland and soulless. Almost as if they were dolls themselves. Oh no, I didn’t just ruin the season finale did I? Spoiler alert, spoiler alert!
  • The fanatical faith group scenes were really bad and pretty pointless. They had no weight to them — It was like the writers thought it would be “kool” to drop Echo in a situation like that..and make her blind to ram home the metaphor. But in truth it gave us very little story-line or progression– there was no arc or journey. Once Echo got ‘accepted’ nothing really happened; the SWAT team saw the arsenal through Echo’s camera-eyes, got the evidence they needed, sent troops into the commune, Langton got mad, and the rest was a mess (both in terms of the SWAT team’s decision and the way it played out on screen). One contrivance after another. It’s like they tried to shock us with twists and turns (such as the CCTV camera not being checked, d’oh!..and the SWAT guy turning out to have planted the note – wow, really?) but they felt really flat. Also, what was the deal with Langton saving Echo? The news crew were filming the burning building and SWAT guy was pronouncing everyone dead, but why didn’t they try put the flames out before doing that (lol!)? And why did no-one see Langton enter the house? And why didn’t the film crew see Dominic scuttle in and out of there? Think about it, he must have been in there for 20-30 seconds, and he must have entered the same way that he came out..so by all rights the film crew (etc) should have seen him go into the house, whilst SWAT guy was tolling the death knoll. It makes no sense, other than the fact that the writers want to force us to accept that it makes sense. But it makes no sense, sorry.
  • Why was an Active hired for this mission again? Here’s the problem; people are hiring Actives for missions where Actives are not required. Why hire an Active for millions of dollars, when there are people who are trained for undercover work? Would you hire a robot to cut your hair or would you go to a hairdresser? This is one of the fundamental problems with this show right now. The clients either lack intelligence or have more money than sense. Also, once again the mission seems so unimportant, so detached from anything that viewers can really invest themselves in. The faith elements were interesting, but I had to dig really deep to get anything from that (most of it probably wasn’t even intended by the writers, heh). The show lacks a grand purpose; the stakes are really small and mundane — we didn’t even bear witness to any wrong doing in that compound, so I’m not exactly sure what to make of all that. How am I supposed to care for this show and the characters in it? As I’ve always said, I appreciate the underlying themes about humanity and all that — but unless these concepts can be brought to the fore in a way that makes it relevant to the viewers, then I think the show will struggle to voice it’s own identity. It’s difficult to know what they can do at this stage, but making Echo represent humanity would be a good start. Think about it, she can be all of these different people, yet she is so difficult to connect with..even her growing awareness lacks a relevance. And that’s not all down to the actress.
  • Echo broke again. Really? Never saw that coming! You know, it wouldn’t matter so much if the rest of the episode was filled with goodness to distract from the repetition of Echo being a liability for the DH. I would really like to know whether they have insurance on that girl. Also, how many times are people going to get slapped in this show? Every week someone is getting slapped around the face. Is there an underlying reason for this?

Overall, I’d rank this as the 2nd best DH offering so far, although I think it was a slight step backwards from last week (which was no work of art itself). There were some nice moments of levity and some decent underlying issues worth looking at, but overall the show is not improving enough for me, week to week. As such, I think that the next episode could be my last. I said that I’d give it to episode 6, and that’s what I’ll do. At the end of the day there are just some productions that don’t live up to their premise, and that looks like being the case for DH. It just hasn’t given me enough of what I’m looking for in an entertaining and intelligent show. If it were then I’d stick it out, but its getting difficult for me to justify the amount of time that I put into blogging about a show that has yet to give me much reason to believe that it will get better.

That said, who knows, next week’s episode might blow me away. I do hope so, as it would be a shame give up on nearly a year of blogging DH, and I would like for the show to find itself.

Episode rating: 7.5/10. Rating in relation to my favourite shows: 3.7/10.

Bad Mouth March 15, 2009 at 7:45 am

I guess this series is a bit like a supertanker. The steering wheel has been moved in the right direction but the rest will take a while to follow. I think Roco was a little hard on this week's episode (it was not gawd-damn awful for a change) and it had the truly sublime Amy Acker in it again-but will she be killed off next week-only contracted to star until then? Lots of delightful little ironies in this episode but again the main story arc was a bit of a wet fish. Laced with mile-wide plot holes (like how about the ATF using a zoom lens on their cameras to photograph the cult-folk rather than using Echo-vision (where was the video transmitter stored in Echo???) Pacing and camera work/editing was really excellent, so at least someone is starting to love this show. Does Eliza have something written into her contract about malfunctioning and saving someone each week? Maybe the echo of the Tru Calling role remains embedded in her brain. Anyway, as a nod for the fans, this episode should have been called "Blind Faith"…

Roco March 15, 2009 at 8:00 pm

I like your “supertanker” description. The series does seem to be on a better path than it was a few weeks ago, but the curve (if it does turn out to be an upward curve) is too flat for my liking.

Ranessa October 4, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Kick the tires and light the fires, problem oficfillay solved!

omelsiqjkmk October 7, 2011 at 11:04 am

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Phoenix March 15, 2009 at 11:59 am

I certainly hope that you keep blogging, because you give really excellent reviews; it’s not often you find someone who completely deconstructs an episode like you do, so I hope that “Man on the Street” is good enough to keep you going.

Maybe it was just that they finally had Echo becoming a character who WASN’T a sexed-up version of Faith that had me particularly intrigued by this episode, but I actually genuinely enjoyed it. Maybe the related metaphors of the religious cult vs. the Dollhouse were a little obvious, but for me it really hammered home some of the themes that keep me coming back for this show — the loss of free will, the relations to human trafficking, what’s morally right and wrong about the Dollhouse, etc.

Also, just on an acting scale, I thought Eliza Dushku did as good a job on this episode as she did on “Grey Hour” when she did the mind-wiped Echo bid; the blindness was actually much more believable from her than some of the other “blind” actors I’ve seen (so maybe it’s that I just don’t have high standards for “blind” actors anymore?).

One area where I REALLY disagreed with you was your confusion of Dominic’s attempted sabotage of Echo: of course he didn’t shoot her! Adelle already knew that he’d taken the helicopter for a quick fly out to Arizona; had Echo ended up riddled with bullets with no police force taking credit or liability for the “accidental” kill, it wouldn’t exactly have been hard for the Dollhouse’s reigning Ice Queen to connect the dots and come down on him. Leaving her knocked out to burn in the church could have been chalked up to so much of an accident, so that made perfect sense to me.

Also, I find the Sierra/Viktor B-story intriguing in a slightly horrifying sort of way — it really hammers home the moral near-blackness of the Dollhouse; purportedly, all the Actives signed up for the engagement, but considering Viktor’s impending “scrubbing” and all the mentions of an “Attic,” who exactly is expecting them to ever be released from the Dollhouse? Also, as Ballard digs deeper into Caroline’s mystery, clearly Caroline has been completely elliminated from NCIC, her family’s been silenced, and no one can find her anywhere. If, hypothetically, Caroline WAS released from her years of indentured slavery to the Dollhouse, how would she go home? What would people say to her just appearing out of nowhere with, presumably, no memory of where she’d been?

Also, I would think that Dr. Saunders would personally look for “man-reactions” because she doesn’t trust anyone other than herself to do it; for instance, Topher’s lackadaisical response to her doctor’s reports and warnings would probably have motivated her to do the job herself, especially after Adelle so casually brushed off her warnings about doing the ocular surgery. Topher she would have used as an assistant because she doesn’t like. I think their moral views in regards to the Dollhouse are providing some interesting friction.

On a final note — why the Dollhouse? Personally, it’s because I can see the attractiveness of the existence of it. To quote (sadly) the HORRIBLE episode “Stage Fright,” would you want to pay someone to protect you or have someone who completely believes that they WANT to protect you, no matter what? It’s the difference between a date with a whore and a date with a Doll — with the Doll, you can ignore the price check because the Doll is actually in love with you. It makes the whole thing more real, intense, exciting. Sure, the Senator could have had someone trained with skills to get the job done…OR, he could have had someone who’s only purpose in life at the time was to get inside the compound. With the Dollhouse’s stellar record (obviously, according to Adelle, every engagement is completed no matter the obstacles), I can see why a rich Senator would prefer a Doll over a spy.

Not to mention, of course, you can pay people to be quiet, but where’s the guarantee? Of course you can kill them, but that could lead back to you with plenty of repercussions. OR…you could hire someone who’s memory would be completely erased, and you can sleep in perfect security at night.

Sure, “True Believer” had its faults, but I actually found it a bigger step up than “Grey Hour” towards where DOLLHOUSE needs to be. Of course, I’m waiting eagerly for “Man on the Street,” but aren’t we all?

Roco March 15, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Thanks Phoenix. I hope that the next episode gives me enough to keep going with this site, but I can’t see it improving to the level I’d like.

Good point re: the detour from sexualizing Echo, it’s something that I didn’t mention in my review (as Bekki noted) as I’d like to see this happen for a couple of episodes in a row before I take it as too much of a positive. I don’t think they could have used a sexed-up Echo and got away with it, with the religious themes and such, in this episode though. Not taking anything away from the refreshing change but it will be interesting to see what happens in the next ep. regarding Echo’s portrayal.

I felt that Dushku started the episode quite well, but I found her portrayal unconvincing as the episode went. As you suggest, it’s probably not easy to depict.

Hmm, I disagree with your Dominic assessment — He could have shot her, just like the spiritual leader guy was going to shoot her before he intervened. Or, at the very least, he could have just let that guy kill her anyway, instead of ‘saving’ her only to knock her out with the butt of his gun. As you said, he already took the chopper, so Adelle would have been suspecting him whatever happened — I don’t think it would have made his case any worse if he had allowed fanatic guy to kill Echo, or if he had shot her himself. After all, he made all that effort (and hardly discreet) to do a job, only to ‘hope’ that she would burn in the building? I mean, he can’t have known that someone would try to burn the house down before he set off on his mission, so he must have set out with the intention of killing her (shooting her, or something fatal), so knocking her out and hoping that she died, feels like a bit of a cop out story-wise. His actions just didn’t make sense to me, and only seemed to serve the point of showing us that he really really hates Echo. We’ll probably have to agree to disagree on that one though.

You’re asking all of the right questions regarding the bleakness of the DH and what happens to the dolls after their term is over. I can only hope that the show explores these questions in a satisfactory way. There’s some potential goodness there (although I suspect it should be handled with the ‘truth’ that the topic deserves).

OK, I can maybe accept that Claire would research the “man reactions” due to the points you highlighted, but did Topher really need to be there, and did they really need to watch video footage in a fashion which suggested that they had days to kill? It just seemed so laid back, not something that I expect from such a high profile and supposedly dynamic company.

I can’t buy into the idea that so many people would use the DH over normal channels. You make good points, but when I consider that the DH has so many glitch-ridden dolls, it seems surprising to me that the DH would have any sort of reputation with which to market their services. Every time they go out on a mission, something bad happens. How does the DH remain in business, when they must largely deal in word of mouth? I mean, how has none of their clients heard about Alpha? Also, if the missions were some truely outrageous tasks that only Active’s could do, then I could accept it more. But so far these missions have been rather tepid and mundane — the lastest didn’t really require a ‘true believer’ to infiltrate the commune, just someone who was good at wearing a mask. Personally, I didn’t even find Echo that convincing (in terms of how she came across to spiritual-leader guy, but that may have been because I knew she wasn’t who she ‘believed’ she was). I just don’t see any unique qualities or attributes that the dolls have brought to these missions.

Anyway, interesting thoughts again Phoenix, we might not agree but I appreciate what you bring to the table.

Phoenix March 17, 2009 at 4:30 pm

I don’t know what it is about certain shows, but “Dollhouse” just captured me with the plot and the universe it’s established thus far. True, I don’t think it’s a stellar show, but so far I don’t have huge complaints. The only real concern I have is the one that you and other viewers keep bringing up — there’s no real impact on larger situations. With “Buffy” and “Angel” that was relatively easy because there was always an apocalypse going on, and with “Firefly” you had River’s story, but for “Dollhouse” the only danger seems to be Paul Ballard’s quest for Caroline.

One point where I can accept a screwup is how Topher is involved — as has been established, FOX has interfered somewhat with “Dollhouse.” Granted, this doesn’t immediately say that all the badness in the show is entirely FOX’s fault, because SOME blame needs to be laid at the writers’ feet, but I think one area that FOX was obviously focusing on was making an ensemble cast. Why should we care if an underling is doing the researching? They want Topher to crack his “man-reaction” jokes because Topher is a regular cast member; they want to give Topher screen time so they gave him a weak opportunity to share it with Claire. That’s one of the reasons I think Topher was included in the “research” party.

To be honest, I was somewhat taken aback that you weren’t more interested in that B-plot; you tend to like Sierra and Viktor more than Echo, anyway, and it’s a very interesting step in “Dollhouse” mythology that Viktor could even get a “man-reaction” in the first place. What is this sinister scrubbing that Adelle is referring to? Considering the teaser for next week, I’m intrigued as to what’s going to happen to Sierra and Viktor — which is a big step for me, as I tend to like Echo better than Sierra.

But, going back to a point I made on an earlier comment, I wish the pilot had introduced us to Caroline, and exactly what she was fighting for that landed her in the Dollhouse to begin with. What is the R. Prime Lab and what the hell has it got to do with regular human beings? I can accept your comments that Echo’s little “self-aware” moments are too rushed if I can also say, why can’t they be spending some time each episode to shift some of the attention towards what impact the Dollhouse and its owners is having on a broader scale.

In any case, I’m hoping that “Man on the Street” really picks up — it’s supposed to expand the mythology and all of that, but it also features Patton Oswalt, so I’m hoping we get a bit of a return of the Whedon sardonic humor there (although, as Whedon himself pointed out, “Dollhouse” is a far less ridiculous show than “Buffy” so it lends itself to a lot less humor). But, even if you (sadly) discontinue your reviews, there’s always the new season of “Lost” for you to be excited about — not to mention “Fringe” is FINALLY coming back next month.

LeParisianFrog March 15, 2009 at 12:33 pm

I second Phoenix on this one: do keep blogging about the episodes, you are doing a very good job! Havent yet seen 1.05 but i like reading your comments, feels like a Colombo thing: you know who the killer is and you just sit and watch as Colombo unfolds the mystery πŸ˜‰

@Phoenix: i will pay close attention to the similarities between the sect and the Dollhouse, this is something that sort of ties with the β€˜religious’ metaphors pointed out already… afterall, a urban myth is still a myth and we need to learn more (gradually speaking) about the whole ethos and mythology of the DH.

Roco March 15, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Thanks LPF. Colombo, now that was a good show back in the day! πŸ™‚

I hope 1.05 is to your liking.

knitcrit March 15, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I want to like Dollhouse. Maybe I do – but there is no love yet. I kind of love your reviews, though, Roco.

I knew the cult would be innocent, and that this would be the “twist.” I got the parallels being set up between the bliss of the dolls and the bliss of the cult. Yeah, we do need will/self awareness for true happiness – but did we need to hear that as an explicit statement in the script? Got the “preservation of innocence (Eden, the garden) is fundamentally violent” message on the level of the dolls’ lives and on the level of the lives of the cult members. Got that Echo continues to remember stuff and is clearly headed for some type of breakout/down.

And yet, with all this thematic and suspense-based potential, I am not feeling challenged or intrigued. I think this is because the messages and themes are embodied in situations rather than characters, and that makes them seem kind of trite and obvious.

Dollhouse continues to have some problems that have been stated many, many times by myself and others – the show needs a true ensemble feel (see: Firefly) to thrive; it’s not possible to identify with or like any of the dolls because they are non-characters; it is possible that Dushku can’t carry the show; Whedon can’t build his mythology soon enough or well enough because most viewers are dumb and impatient and need regular infusions of cleavage and shoot-em-ups to stay interested; etc, etc.

Let’s see what happens next.

Roco March 15, 2009 at 8:03 pm

Hey knitcrit,

I couldn’t agree more with your analysis that some the themes/plot points being too overt at times. I really didn’t expect this to be the case with Whedon and DH. Hopefully they will stop hitting over the heads with these things as they find their rhythm!

Page 48 March 15, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Echo should sue Adelle for wasting her time. Another pointless engagement in the books this week. The head of the Podunk PD has a beef with a cult leader as a result of their previous history and this calls for Echo (at the risk of permanent damage to her sight) and Langton to drop what they’re doing and intervene? Whatever happened to blasting loud music at the compound day and night, Noriega-style, freeing Echo up to get a massage, because that would be relaxing. And how does any of this matter, whether it works out favourably or even if everybody dies in the cult inferno? As Roco says, “the show lacks a grand purpose”. It sure does.

Can anyone imagine if DH makes it to Season 6 and we’re still watching episodes like maybe Echo entering “Dancing With The Stars” with some wealthy frat boy, and she glitches in the middle of a Jitterbug or something and Langton calls for an extraction and life goes on and nobody cares because none of it means anything? Or maybe Adelle catches Topher having a man-reaction of his own in the executive washroom?

The 6-eppie-pilot scheme expires next week, so 1.6 better absolutely rock. This show can’t amount to anything until Echo goes off the reservation and all hell breaks loose back at the DH. The weekly engagements are a snoooooozefest.

Roco March 15, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Well, if I do stop blogging DH, I will miss your commentary Page, always on point and often hilarious πŸ™‚

The 6 episode Pilot scheme is plain annoying. I mean, was this really the plan or did they just look back at what they had and decide to ‘spin’ it this way? Hmm..

bekki March 15, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Topher and Claire looking for man-reactions didn’t bother me because I assumed they took this as something that’s gone wrong and didn’t trust other people to know about it. The Dollhouse seems a pretty cutthroat place. I’m sure they were saving their own asses by finding out all the info themselves before taking it any further.

As for Echo malfunctioning, I didn’t see her malfunction this week. Yes, shades of Caroline came through – the ‘move your ass’ line. But Esther stayed pretty true to exactly what all the other cult members did. I mean, even super-happy chick with curly hair was the first one to try and bail. Esther convincing them to run wasn’t that odd in my mind. Her ultimate goal was to get inside. Once she did that, she was able to…well, adapt, I guess. Having a doll that just let itself get killed in a dangerous situation isn’t very good practice for the DH. So, IMO, she didn’t malfunction. And once she could see, well, it isn’t like she grabbed the guns and took the cult out herself. She remained pretty true to Esther.

I really don’t mind the Victor/Sierra thing. It’s VERY creepy, but a twist I totally didn’t see coming. It makes perfect sense in terms of coming to awareness. Sexuality is such a base human emotion. I would imagine it would be very hard to erase.

I AM surprised that you didn’t point out that Eliza wasn’t over-sexualized this episode. For something that’s irked you SO MUCH all series, you fail to even mention it when it doesn’t happen. Did it just not cross your mind or did you intentionally not mention it? Just curious. πŸ™‚

I really don’t have a hard time understanding why a doll was hired for this. In fact, I think this is one of the most believable reasons to hire a doll. I mean, yeah, people spend their whole lives training to be undercover officers, but, um, why would you use one when you could have a doll that wouldn’t forget her cover or crack under pressure and who could be wired internally without objection? Undercover work is the perfect job for a doll – to infiltrate a drug cartel, the mob, etc. They wouldn’t have a past to betray them and they wouldn’t have another life that they’re trying to hide. Perfect operative.

Still, I enjoyed your review this week. I did really enjoy this episode. Is it the best TV ever? No. But I’m satisfied with it. I never was a huge Joss fan before. I never got into Firefly (please, don’t beat me) and I joined the Buffy party late and, I’m sorry, but I don’t totally dig Dr. Horrible. Its funny and it is …cute, but I like darker things. So, I guess I don’t have the expectations many folks have for a Joss show.

Roco March 15, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Always interesting to read your perspective, bekki!

Re: this week’s glitch. I took Echo suddenly finding her sight after being slapped by spiritual-leader guy to be a glitch, as it was something that wasn’t intended to happen on the part of Topher or Echo’s imprint. It wasn’t as bad as in previous episodes, but it could have lead to total disaster..again πŸ™‚

You’re right, maybe I should have mentioned the under sexualization of Echo this week, but I didn’t feel right giving props for something that they have only departed from doing just once in 5 episodes. That said, I am glad that we got to see Dushku in another character ‘type’, even though the mannerisms/inflection still reminded me of Dushku, Penn, etc.

Hmm, I can’t agree with you on the reason for hiring a doll. I mean, we’ve seen Echo crack (glitch) under pressure on several occasions. We’ve seen her make mistakes and override her ‘parameters’. Word of Alpha has also got out, surely? I don’t think hiring dolls is a more viable or reliable option than using non-imprinted people who have trained in secret ops, or what have you. I just think that the writers *need* us to buy into the practicality of the dolls, but personally I don’t think they have given us enough of a hook to make it believable. This will hopefully come once Echo and Co. are employed for some truely high risk and unique missions.

That said, I am glad that you enjoyed the episode. We all see value in different things, and at the end of the day I’d like the show to find it’s audience, and hopefully grow and improve across the board from there. If it can do that then who knows..

Matt March 16, 2009 at 7:32 pm

The thing about the malfunctioning dolls is that there is a good chance that no one knows about the glitches. I mean, the Dollhouse doesn’t give their clients play-by-play’s of the mission, they just say “it’s completed”. So, any word of mouth would have said that they had gotten the job done.

Also, bekki brings up a good point for this episode in that no one else would be willing to undergo that risky operation to get the camera implanted in them.

The one problem that I had with the story is that the blindness thing makes no sense. See, there is actually a camera that has been invented that takes images from your visual cortex. So, basically, you can see whatever the person is seeing. It requires that you see, though, so that the images can be processed and picked up by the camera. Perhaps the writers didn’t know that this technology existed, but that would be pretty coincidental.

Also, I think that they’re running out of ways to show that Echo is retaining memory. Yeah, we get it. She remembers stuff. But it’s not like she’s remembering more each episode or anything, she just randomly remembers one detail of her assignment at the end of each episode. And this one was pretty stupid because her line (“I see perfectly”) could have just been a normal reaction to the question, yet they built it up like it was some big revelation (OH MY GOSH SHE KNOWS THAT SHE HAS GOOD VISION?!). It just seemed awkward to me.

In any case, I think that they’re on the right track, and i’m interested to see what happens with episode 6. Also, Roco, I really hope that you don’t quit. I LOVE this blog, you always bring up great point that, a lot of times, I haven’t thought about, and your replies to posts are always well-written and interesting. Hopefully ep. 6 is good enough to keep you around.

Roco March 17, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Hey Matt,

Hmm, I hear what you’re saying but it doesn’t tally with me. I mean, the DH is supposed to be a secret organization, surely a lot of their clientel would come through word of mouth and grapevine chatter (or at least, they would be swayed by word of mouth, much in the way that any company is). Similar to how pirate DVD merchants sell their wares. Or, we can even use the show as an example — if a positive word spreads, then more people are likely to invest their time give the show a try (and vice versa). How can the DH remain in business when their products malfunction..when so many things go wrong on each mission? This news would get back to their pool of customers, many of whom are surely repeat clients. The law of averages would also suggest that at the rate Echo’s going, she’s due for a major fall which would put the DH’s credibility at stake. And she’s supposed to be their ‘most requested’ Active. Hmm..

Regarding no-one else being willing to undergo surgery to hav a camera impanted in their eye, that may be the case, but was the ‘eye camera’ scenario the best idea that the DH could have come up with? I’m sure Topher is proud of his creation, but he seemed to come up with the idea on a whim, and surely the DH is not a company who (by the very nature of their secrecy) should be engaging in ‘experiments’ like this, on a whim (not on their No.1 doll). It just reeks of a convenient way for the writers to service the story in line with the faith/religious themes — and that’s fine, but at the same time other areas of the story lose credibility, imo. I just don’t believe that the ‘eye camera’ was the best, or easiest, option that the DH could have come up with. If all they needed was evidence that there was something shady going on in the commune, why did the client hire an Active? ..why not do it the normal way — like how the FBI (or other govt. agencies) normally deal with drug busts, hostage situations, or other humanitarian/crisis issues? Did the client even try liaising with spiritual leader guy before hiring Echo?

I agree with you on the point of Echo’s awareness. I think this goes back to the ‘shock value’ approach that they’re trying. For me there doesn’t seem to be any arc to Echo’s awareness — as you say, it’s just there at convenient moments in the story, rather than feeling natural or ‘earned’. Another example, for me, would be when she punches that guy and says something like “God said to move your ass”. I mean, where did that come from? Is that supposed to be Caroline, the ‘ghost in the machine’? Was it supposed to be cool? Are we supposed to like this person?

Going back to what you said about Echo’s “I see perfectly”, the more I think about it, the worse that scene becomes. You make a good point. For her to say that line in such loaded fashion (at least from the viewers pespective), it requires a journey that Echo hasn’t gone through yet. We haven’t seen enough ‘texture’ in her journey for her to be so aware, in this one isolated moment. It’s not just what she said, but how she said it – almost with vengeful contempt. How is this possible, especially immediately after a mind-wipe? Especially when, in the next episode, Echo will no doubt start off the episode oblivious to this emotion. There’s just too much ‘disconnect’..I think that’s how I’d describe it. Some may argue that this is the point, but I would disagree — I don’t think that the writers are in-tune with the emotion behind Echo the character. The wipes are becoming more traumatic for Echo (which I find interesting), but for me the pacing and consistency of her awarness doesn’t feel right.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback Matt! I don’t hold out much hope for eppy 6, I will review it, but the way it’s playing out I don’t think this show is for me.

Kit March 16, 2009 at 9:05 pm

I spoke with a friend about dollhouse this weekend, and he’s loving it. One of the things that I mentioned to him was the issue you’ve brought up of Dushku’s active “personalities” seeming the same, and he spun it in a way that made sense to me – perhaps that’s Echo shining through underneath, and that’s who Caroline once was – the personality that cannot be erased.

So I think I’m going to look at it from that point of view.

I also think this week’s episode was very good. I disagree about the malfunction being too terribly bad, because as Joss mentioned when the show began – something has to go wrong in order for them to have stories (I forget the interview where he said that).

I also agree with the others who’ve said that hiring an active in this instance made sense – how many operatives are likely to be willing to undergo such surgery and possibly lose their eyesight? How many of those people would also be able to stay completely cool under pressure and not blow their cover?

Roco March 17, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Hey Kit,

See, the problem I have with that approach, is that it contradicts the very essense of the show. The Actives, as expressed on numerous occassions by Whedon and Co., truely believe that they are the people they are imprinted with. For Echo’s unchanging manerisms to be down to Caroline ‘shining through underneath’, means that at no point have we seen Echo as a proper Active..

Echo’s awareness is supposed to have a journey, but under this approach it means that the train had already left the station long ago by the time that we joined for the ride — and that goes against how the creators have described Echo’s state of awareness.

I don’t mean this in a derogatory way to the actress, but I think that, with the best of intentions, you might be placing too much faith in range of Dushku. Because Caroline is not supposed to exist in, say, the Pilot episode (barring those ‘flashback’ scenes that we see of her)..yet under your friend’s approach, it means that Caroline either wasn’t wiped properly to begin with, or Topher and the rest of the DH crew are simply blind to the fact that their prize doll clearly lacks the tabula rasa that their imprint chair is supposed to provide.

So I think it’s pretty much down to the actress’s mannerisms ‘shining through’ (and poor pacing) rather than any core personality of Caroline, imo.

I understand that their has to be conflict or drama in each episode to move it forward, but this is the problem with the show — the conflict’s are less important to the nation, or the world, than the results of the last 13 of “Idol”. There is no sweeping resonance to the story (or stories) that they are showing us. In fact, the show, for me, was at it’s most interesting, it’s most important , it’s most relevant, before it started. Since then, we’ve seen Echo play hide and seek in the woods, become a backup singer on America’s Next Top Deranged Diva, and join a religious cult. If it didn’t actually happen, I’d be laughing. These things don’t matter to the audience because they don’t matter to Echo, and they have little or no consequence on the DH (no matter how many times she malfunctions, it ends up hunky dorey), and they have no relevance to the world at large. There interesting themes are becoming lost as a result.

It wouldn’t solve the fundemental problems, but they wasted a great opportunity at the beginning of the series by not making Caroline likeable, or at least, giving us more reason to invest in her before she became a shell of a person.

Anyway, sorry for the vent, but what I was saying in relation to Echo’s latest malfunction (or hiccup, call it what you want πŸ™‚ ), is that it was yet another indication that the writers not only need us to suspend disbelief, but that they need us to suspend all thoughts entirely. Because I don’t see how this doll can get into so many scrapes and yet come out of it without any consequence to her life, or the reputation of the DH. The drama surrounding Echo seems very forced. For me, this contributes to the story failing to resonate.

I should add that I love scifi, and I don’t have a problem buying into high concept stories, but the world of the show has to tally with the kind of things that are happening. Echo is a person..some might even argue that she’s less of a person..but she’s certainly not superwoman. Likewise, the DH is a company who we are supposed to believe operate in the real world, yet everything about the company (including the laid back attitude of their employees) screams out ‘massage parlour’, or some other generic depiction of a back-street operation.

Re: your last point, I touched on this in my reply to Matt, so you probably know what my response will be here: you ask how many operatives would be willing to possibly lose their eyesight, well I say, how many of the volunteers were willing to lose their eyesight – how many of them signed up for that? Did Caroline sign the dotted line for invasive surgery to be done on her eyes? Or was this something that the DH did because it was a cool idea, and the writers had a story that they needed shifting from ‘A’ to ‘B’? At the end of the day, Echo could have lost HER sight..she’s still a human-being, who presumably wasn’t aware that this was being done on her. But that’s an ethical debate for another time, because there’s just so much that we could get into there.

I guess my underlying frustration (I guess I can use that word, although ‘disbelief’ might be more appropriate) is that the DH management felt that this was the best option available to them – they just happened to have this little eye gizmo lying around and they decided that now would be the best time to use it — not like it wouldn’t have come in handy in ANY of the other engagements..

Maybe Topher should spend more precious time on upping his speed when it comes to aligning satellite signals, or ensuring that his imprint chair is working properly (or kicking Dominic’s ass..please!), instead of creating fancy gizmo’s that are more flimsy than contact lenses πŸ˜€

I just don’t believe that the eye surgery thing was necessary, especially when all they needed was evidence of something untoward going on in the commune. It certainly wasn’t worth risking Echo’s eyesight over an engagement that wasn’t for the very existense of humanity, or something actually important like that.

Whatsmore, it turned out that the spiritual-leader guy wasn’t actually doing much wrong (unless I missed that revelation), which means that the whole thing was even more pointless: just another excuse for Echo to act tough (AKA show ‘awareness’) and for Boyd to come to her aid.

But I guess it’s reasons like this why I’m just not feeling this show as I hoped I would. Not trying to disuade you from liking what you like about it, just explaining my opinion in greater detail. πŸ™‚

Bad Mouth March 18, 2009 at 12:48 am

There are many problems to this show which seriously undermine its credibility. Over the first few episodes the viewer simple hasn’t being given supplied with enough evidence to validate the need for the Dollhouse. The writers have sabotaged their own creation too by malfunctioning dolls this early in the series. We needed to see the whole concept run like clockwork before it broke down. As far as we know (and if you think about the whole Alpha business), the Dollhouse has been dysfunctional from the start. The rules of the imprinting technology are just too fuzzy to be taken seriously. As a viewer and despite wanting to, there is very little to invest in. The technology, characters and especially plot have just not been woven out properly. As I watch each episode and see Echo in a tight spot there is always the knowledge that by the end of the show she will be OK and back doing Yoga in the Dollhouse-so there is no tension. There is a huge hunger and expectation for an engaging sci-fi show but there is only so much abuse of the rules a viewer can take before feeling betrayed by the writers. Since the rules are so arbitrary with Dollhouse the viewer is just left apathetic about the whole show. It is a real pity, because the premise of identity shifting is so outstandingly good and if properly executed could be fascinating as a show.

Page 48 March 16, 2009 at 11:34 pm

The whole engagement was ridiculous. To think that Adele and Co. would risk Echo’s vision, (not to mention her life and thereby billions of dollars of potential future earnings for the firm) for this kind of field trip to RR1 Nowhere, without at least sending someone ahead to investigate (i.e. check the surveillance video at the fillin’ station and maybe even do a little poking around a la Jessica Fletcher to assess the risk/reward of such an operation) is nutty.

Dollhouse science has a gruesome track record and to think that invasive surgery on a coveted, top-earning sex slave would be considered for the purpose of busting up a group of hymn-singers who may or may not be holding one of the brothers against his will stretches the old imagination beyond repair. Anyone wishing to be ‘saved’ could just declare refugee status at the fillin’ station. What’s the worst that would happen to them, the school bus driver might say “I’m not leaving till you get back on the bus”?

What does it say about the local law enforcement that they can’t deal with this motley crew of Waltons lookalikes? These dudes are peaceniks. They get pushed around at the fillin’ station and what do they do? Pull a nine-inch pearl-handled knife like the one your 15 year old nephew brings to his Grade 8 home room? No, they turn the other cheek and sing a little acapella Kumbaya. These folks are mellow. Love is their drug and they’re high as a kite. They’re a smoke grenade away from the back of a paddy-wagon.

If you’re going to imprint an active and send them into a ‘situation’ without sight and a camera in their eye, why not make it a far more serious situation, one with much higher stakes and far more danger to all concerned (you know, for the benefit of the home viewer, that sort of thing)? How about a terrorist hostage situation? How about sending in a whole team of actives instead of just Echo? Why not throw in a race against time just to see if you can get just one single viewer (between the ages of 18 and 49) to use the edge of his or her seat?

Remember the terrorists that stormed a Russian theater a few years ago and far too many innocent people were killed by a Russian ‘tactical squad’ that couldn’t wait to use up their surplus poison gas? Wouldn’t a rescue on that scale be far more interesting than trying to smoke John-Boy and Mary-Ellen out of their Depression-era schoolhouse?

Tim Minear wrote this episode. Anyone who has watched “Firefly” knows that Minear is capable of better work. Just what the heck is he saving it for?

Roco March 20, 2009 at 7:10 pm

That’s the thing that also crossed my mind – what DOES it say about the local law enforcement officers? Did we really need a million dollar baby to have her sight risked just so that she could gather some evidence of wrong-doing? What other avenues were tried before we got to the stage where the DH had to be involved? Even Batman had to pick and choose his fights. The DH should know better..

Troy March 19, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Wow…I don’t agree with hardly anyone here.

First off, I’d like to say that I hope you keep blogging Roco. Even though I don’t agree with them very often, I really do enjoy reading your reviews.

Anyway, I think that most people need to let Dollhouse find itself. WE ARE ONLY 5 EPISODES IN! Does anyone here remember Buffy or Angel? Episodes such as “I Robot, You Jane” were way worse than anything Dollhouse has produced so far. It took those shows a season or so to find their stride and after that, they took off! So give the show time.

I kind of find all this criticism humorous. People complain each week that again, Echo is malfunctioning. Well this week she didn’t! Her vision was restored not because of a Caroline-induced-malfunction, but rather because of “Cult-Crazy-Fists”. When he hit her, her cameras were cut off from her neural system, resulting in her sight gain. Which means, Caroline didn’t come into play during this episode. As for the “move your ass line”, spoken by Esther, it didn’t seem out of character for me. She was in an extreme situation and needed people to listen to her. I’ve heard even the most religious of people cursing before, so it didn’t shock me and I’m surprised that most of you made such a big deal out of it.

Anyways, love the reviews Roco, but, give the show time.

Roco March 20, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Hey Troy,

I agree that the show needs time to grow, we are all very impatient these days. But I wish the show would give us (or me) more reason to believe in it’s future direction. πŸ™

I see what you’re saying, but for me Echo did malfunction – her sight wasn’t supposed to return until she got back to the DH. This is another example of ‘something’ going wrong to facilitate a story element. They’ve used this technique in each of the 5 episodes so far. Sure, it wasn’t a ‘glitch’ in the sense of the previous episodes, but it was still a glitch in the sense of something conveniently going wrong with their top-requested Active. I’d like to have seen her resolve the conflict in this episode without Echo conveniently having her sight restored.

Lally March 19, 2009 at 7:06 pm

I too, hope you don’t stop watching the show or writing reviews. At least give it 10 episodes before you completely write it off…

I did find this episode rather lacklustre. The only parts I enjoyed were Topher (I may be developing a crush) and Ballard. I found the cult and Ester scenes rather boring. Like you, so far I have found little to relate to in the show and it doesn’t have an overall sense of going anywhere. So far its not really about anything, its just the writers trying to find ways to write different scenarios and characters every week. I see the arc of Alpha coming out, and Echo becomming self aware, but each episode needs to be able to stand alone as interesting and gripping on its own. Which so far I haven’t seen a lot of.

Also, I like Eliza in Buffy, I think she’s great as Faith, but unfortunately I find this show only highlights her shortcommings as an actor. She’s really not that great. I think part may be because so far she doesn’t have a lot to work with in terms of developing one character, and being able to spend time working on that one person, as she’s someone new every week. So the characters themselves feel empty and 2D. So it’s not just her fault, its the writers also.

I’m still not feeling Joss in this at all.

I like the show, but being a Joss creation I expect more from it and so far I’m not getting a lot. Though I will continue to watch, and the new promo pics look really exciting…

Roco March 20, 2009 at 6:58 pm

Hi Lally,

I really wish I could give the show 10 episodes, it wont be easy to stop blogging about this show after so many months, but I guess this 6th episode hype has made it easier for me to make a decision.

I think that you use a good word – “relate”. The series has been extremely difficult for me to relate to so far. With all of the people that Echo has ‘been’, I haven’t felt a connection, or even sympathy, with any of them. I hate to say it, but in some ways I’m finding myself siding more with Dominic than Echo. And for me, that is quite something.

I really do agree with your assessment there — the show hasn’t really been about anything. As I’ve always said, I can appreciate the underlying themes, but the show itself is like a blank canvass with the brush (the audience) doing all of the work. I like to be challenged, but there doesn’t seem to be any reassurance that the show knows what it is, or where it’s going.

I also agree re: Dushku. She seems like a decent enough actress, and there’s room to expand her skills, but I don’t think this, of all shows, is best suited to facilitating that expansion.

Anyway, thanks for your thoughts, let’s hope this next episode gives us more reason to be hopeful!

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