Here is my review of Dollhouse episode 1.06 “Man on the Street”. As always, I refrain from reading any other reviews or opinions until I have written my review — that way I can give my honest opinion on the episode.
- This episode benefited hugely from better story-telling. By that, I’m referring to the pacing and plotting – it was richer than previous episodes, and much more purposeful. Whilst it could be argued to have been a rather ‘slow’ episode, there’s nothing wrong with that if the story builds momentum, which is what this episode did well. There were a few of these slow moments early on — specifically the long-winded conversations between characters — but this was probably a consequence of earlier episodes not having enough context, meaning “Man on the Street” had to lay down the foundations, character motivations AND propel the story forward. On the whole, I found this to be a well crafted episode, and it gives me reassurance in my opinion about the previous episodes being pretty dire.
- Patton Oswalt was excellent in his guest star appearance as Joel Mynor. Not only did he make the character believable, but Joel’s motivations carried weight. I can see why he would hire an Active in light of what happened to his wife — it was a human reason, one which made more sense than sending an Active in to a religious commune, or acquiring her services to deliver a baby. But crucially for Joel’s character, he doesn’t attempt to justify his reasons as being ‘good’..he doesn’t pretend that he’s not a “predator”, as Ballard put it. Of course, just because I can buy his motivations, it doesn’t mean that I condone them — far from it. He’s one of the many people in this show who treat these Actives like meat – objects that they can pick up and put down whenever and wherever they want. Joel was an important addition to the world of the show — he’s someone who abuses his status (money, power, etc), and yet he has a somewhat sympathetic story. However, my ability to feel sorry for him is short lived due to his amoral attitude, but I feel that he provides a clearer illustration as to the shades of humanity that the show seeks to explore: the fantasy of reality. Joel sought a form of escapism..of comfort, from the harsh reality of his tragic loss. This one conversation (with Ballard) explained more succinctly why someone might hire an Active – in Joel’s case it was out of atonement, bereavement..something to make him feel “better” from the tragic twist of fate that took his wife away from him. I guess everyone has a role to play — we all play out fantasies to some extent; whether they are expectations (of ourselves and others), hopes, dreams, whatever. And I enjoyed how Joel threw this idea back at Ballard, who, after all, wants to be Caroline’s knight in shining armour. That’s a fantasy he’s been chasing for a while..the sudden truth of which, guided him into Mellie’s bed that night. I guess truth hurts, and it can influence our decisions.
- This episode touched on some edgy issues – the Sierra rape aspect was very disturbing, but it provided greater understanding to the vulnerable and completely powerless position that the Actives are in. It illustrated just how much power a handler has over their Active. The handlers are the very people who the Actives are programmed to trust, and this seems to play on the idea of why trust is such a difficult thing to give to another person — in a way, it’s giving away a part of yourself. A loss of empowerment for one person, and total control for the other can lead to disastrous consequences. Imagine not having control over who you give your trust to, it’s unthinkable really, except it happens all around us, maybe not in such overt fashion as shown in this episode, but certainly on other levels. When thinking back to what Sierra’s handler did to her, I was struck by the scene from a few episodes ago, where Langton and Echo had their ceremonial ‘trust building’ whatchamacallit. In that moment, Echo trusted Langton, implicitly, and he responded to that; it made him see some semblance of humanity (or dependency?) in her, it made him want to protect her. It goes to show that trust is a two-way thing, not only does Echo trust Langton, but Langton has to trust Langton. He has to see her as a human-being in spite of the world that he’s working in. Clearly, Sierra wasn’t so lucky with her Active. On the whole, I think that this was a worthwhile story to tell, as it explored the boundaries in an Active/Handler relationship which ended up intersecting into the main story towards the end, with Mellie giving rapist-handler some ‘payback’. Interestingly, this throws Adelle’s morality right into question. There’s no doubt that rapist guy was a nasty piece of work, but Adelle made herself judge and executioner; playing God with people on multiple levels — I’d imagine that there’s an argument which suggests that what she did was no better than what rapist-handler guy did to Sierra. And just like rapist-handler guy, she also abused the power than she has over an Active — Mellie. For me, this is powerful story-telling, and props to the writers for crafting this together.
- Speaking of Langton, I was happy to see him playing a much more relevant part in the show again. I’m reminded of why I marked him down as being the best thing about the show. Not only was he super awesome by punching rapist-handler through the glass (lol), but he addressed one of my concerns about his world-view; I had been worried that he was becoming too accepting of the immoral acts that were taking place all around him, and that he was only invested helping in Echo — but he proved that his care does extend to the other ‘mind-wiped zombies’. The way in which he sneered rapist-handler guy was rather ‘convenient’ (OK, so there’s a ‘blind spot’ in the DH surveillance where an act like this could take place, but the breadcrumbs which led to the light-bulb going off in his head seemed a bit of a leap), but I’m willing to overlook that, as I feel that the Langton/Sierra story was effective. Whilst I’m on the subject of Sierra, I found her mannerisms and facial reactions during her scene with rapist-handler guy to be quite interesting. I don’t think this was Dichen’s Lachman’s best performance, but she portrayed Sierra as knowing that what she was ‘agreeing’ to was wrong. I like the fact that Sierra wasn’t ‘enthusiastic’ or completely willing to to what her handler was making her do. Because they so easily could have gone down that route, and I don’t think it would have had the same impact. Having Sierra show signs of resistance through her facial expressions (you could see her almost fighting against the ‘programme’) not only made this scene all the more terrifying, but also showed that the dolls are not completely blank. There was something beneath the surface that told (or tried to tell) Sierra that this guy didn’t have her best interests at heart. I like when they make multiple points without making it overly obvious.
- Ballard/Mellie. It’s clear that the writers of this episode did a major overhaul of the Mellie/Ballard relationship. Suddenly they are good friends now? Really? The earlier episodes (except maybe 1.05) gave us no indication of this budding relationship. That said, I can overlook this because I like the general direction that Ballard character has now taken. He’s a character who had spirit but lacked a reason to care (at least from my perspective). But now that he’s involved in a relationship with Mellie I can buy into how his investment in bringing down the Dollhouse(s) will become personal. The motivations of his character were a lot better defined in this episode – it’s amazing how a little back-story and one-on-one discussion can layer a character far better than any spliced kick boxing sequence. As for Mellie, I’m not surprised that she is an Active, as I predicted as much weeks ago. However I still enjoyed the reveal as it was well done. The idea of having “sleeper” Actives who can be toggled on/off remotely, expands on the episode where Alpha remote-wiped Echo. It slightly makes the frantic running around in that episode somewhat contrived in retrospect, but as I said, I’ll overlook that on this occasion.
- The suggestion that there are multiple Dollhouses all around the world may finally give the story the ‘grand scale’ that it so badly needs. Whilst I don’t think that the suggestion of global Dollhouses, tied to government interests, suddenly eradicates the difficulty they’ve had in making the show ‘relevant’ to viewers, it certainly provides a platform for the ‘world of the show’ to expand it’s own importance.
- It’s now been two episodes in a row where they have resisted sexualizing Echo. It feels slightly wrong for applauding them for it, but at least they’re beginning to address that rather lazy ploy.
- Less Echo = more win! I’ve always said that making this show more ensemble would be one of the best things that they could do, and this episode went a long way to proving that point. This episode was a lot less Echo focused, and as such the story flowed a lot better. Other characters and actors were finally able to shine – Tahmoh Penniket and Miracle Laurie were among the best performers, and Patton Oswalt gave the best acting performance of the show so far. Enver Gjokaj gave another believable performance as the confused yet horny Victor. Harry Lennix and Fran Kranz were both solid in their respective roles. We got to see more of Claire, and even a couple of the other handlers. Not only that, but finally Olivia William’s had more (and better) material to work with, and I began to see potential in the character again. Eliza Dushku was good as the tough assassin-esque chick, but I still don’t believe that she can carry this show on her own, she just doesn’t have that kind of range — that is evident in almost every scene. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if they water down her role a bit, and spread around the focus. This episode highlighted that the other actors are more than capable of handling larger roles, and if the powers that be have realised this, then the show may have a chance. That said, I’ve just been reminded of the title for the next episode..
- Ballard started the episode very shaky. He sees Caroline in Mynor’s house, is literally stunned that he’s finally found her, but once the fight is over with Mynor’s two body guards, he doesn’t seem to care that she’s gone. Huh!? Sure, WE saw Langton whisk her away, but did Ballard? I expected him to at least scan the room for her presence, or curse his luck for coming so close (yet so far) to finding his ‘damsel in distress’. Instead he laid straight into Mynor. It’s just one of those things that put me out of the show for a moment or two. I fear that things like this are indicative of Dollhouse’s inability to cater for the small details — natural character reactions that would make the world of the show much more believable. I also find it somewhat difficult to believe that one of Mynor’s men would have called the police instead of rushing Ballard from behind. I find it even harder to believe that Ballard didn’t make sure that all three men were tied up or something. He just sat down and ate strawberries with the man? Really Ballard? Are you sure you don’t want some cream with those? Don’t get me wrong, I liked that scene overall, but there were a few questionable aspects to it.
- I wasn’t overly impressed with the Ballard/Echo fight scene, in fact it was a bit of a disappointment considering the hype it received. I saw two people throwing a lot of pots and pans, unconvincing choreography and camera work that didn’t quite conceal the stunt doubles. And why was Echo dressed up like that, what purpose did it serve for this mission? Why engage Ballard in a fight at all if her mission was to make him believe that the DH is willing to work with him? It could be argued that she was programmed to buy rapist-handler dude enough time to attack Mellie, but was fighting him the only way to stall him? Also, the fact that by-standers (including a cop who Echo shot) only appeared once what seemed like an hour long fight was over, was a bit too convenient. In truth, this was only done to keep the suspense — other than that there was no reason whatsoever for Ballard to stop asking questions. I’m sure a lot of effort when into that sequence but it fell wide of the mark in my view.
- Eliza Dushku was wholly unconvincing as Mrs Mynor. It’s now 6 episodes in and each of the characters that she has portrayed have been ‘Eliza Dushku’, same mannerisms, same speech patterns — narrow range. I actually think that this was one of the worst portrayals yet, I just didn’t buy it. This show will fail unless the much-hyped lead-actress can portray people who believe that they are the different imprinted personalities. So far, she has portrayed the different imprints as though they are acting out the role, instead of the imprint believing that they are that person. This goes against one of the core premises of the show..
- The ‘urban legend news report’ interruptions were vastly annoying. One or two news reports would have sufficed, instead it totally took me out of the world of the show. It actually diluted the story, making it look slightly cheap. They tried to inject too much ‘funny’ into those scenes, when this was a very serious episode. Sometimes the two can mix, but not in this way, it just didn’t feel right (i.e. the jokes weren’t funny, and didn’t hold enough weight), and it didn’t ‘look’ right. Perhaps they were gunning for those new viewers, but are they going to do this kind of thing each week? I doubt it, which means that they must surely have better ways of making the show easier to follow for ‘newbies’? Especially since the powers that be told us that the first 5 episodes were meant to all be Pilots. So did we need such an overt form of pandering to new viewers on the sixth episode?..has a series which dumbs down on a weekly basis really reached the level where viewers need to watch each week to understand what’s going on? I doubt it.
- Whilst this was clearly the best DH episode so far, I do have concerns over it’s lack of appeal. It had some very good moments, and touched on some very interesting themes, but even so, I didn’t feel engrossed in the story like I am when I’m watching my favourite shows. There was something not quite dark, but ‘gray‘ about this episode. I think they need to find a way of adding more vibrancy and artistic quality to help define the show. It’s still searching for it’s own identity at the moment, and by the time it finds it, it might be too late.
All in all this was a good episode – the twists and turns were nicely done (if not completely surprising), the story was handled with intelligence and insight (for the most part), and the overall acting was of a good standard. There wasn’t much glaringly “bad” about the episode, other than the usual mid-range problems which a show like this suffers from. I think that my biggest problem with this episode is that despite all of the hype. I’m left feeling somewhat unmoved by the end product. This was not an episode that I will “never forget”, nor was it of the standard that I’m used to with other shows that I watch. It was just ‘good’. That’s taking nothing away from the episode, it’s just my honest appraisal.
If this were the Pilot episode I might continue watching/blogging, but I think that this is the last episode for WatchingDollhouse.com. I think that I’ll make one more post after this one (giving my final thoughts, etc), and then call it a day — as I said last week, I can’t justify spending time blogging about a show that I don’t believe in. I started this blog with the best intentions, and I’ve given it a chance to get better, but I don’t think it’s the show for me. I really do hope that the show proves me wrong — and if that happens then I might start up again, but at least I can say that I bowed at on a good episode, eh?
Episode rating: 8/10. Episode rating in relation to my favourite shows: 5/10