'Dollhouse': In need of more than a cult following
As a Whedonverse fanatic, I jumped for joy upon learning that Tim Minear wrote tonight's outing of "Dollhouse." That man usually brings the awesome. So imagine my disappointment while watching this week's fairly pedestrian episode. Nothing was really wrong, but very little was right, either. While it was thematically interesting to link the mindset of a cult member to that of a wiped doll, the episode meandered through a series of "been there, seen that" scenes that served mostly to get Agent Ballard one step closer to coming face to face with Caroline.
While it's well-established that being a doll is the furthest thing from being empowered, the show went above and beyond the call this week. It literally handicapped Echo in order to provide her the perfect cover to unwittingly infiltrate a potentially malevolent cult. Now, I'm no fan of cults, in that they involve a certain amount of mind control/manipulation. And this homey don't play that. I don't like cults for the same reason I don't like hypnotism, the Borg, or Claymaniacs. So, a certain level of displeasure with this week's outing undoubtedly stems from that.
But besides that, we didn't see any twists on the typical cult tropes that permeate pop culture. Charismatic leader with a violent agenda? Check. Followers who are actually good, but simply mislead? Uh huh. A huge honkin' arsenal of guns adjacent to their communal prayer room? You betcha. Because the show didn't subvert our conditioned expectations, nothing inside its gated walls really offered any surprise. The only real question: how would Echo "malfunction" this week?
After all, that's the basic gist of every episode: Echo gets programmed, goes on mission, and then adapts to her surroundings after some form of brain bug that occurs. Normally said bug handicaps her, but hey, she was handicapped already thanks to a handy surgery that diverted visual information past her brain and directly into the ATF crew waiting nearby. Like Courtney Love would warble, Echo was doll eyes this week. But a few slaps from cult leader Jonas managed to reset her neural connections, giving eyesight to the blind and leaving the government agents in the dark.
At this point, Echo's persona of Esther once again figured out a way to achieve solutions within her preprogrammed parameter. Although still imprinted with a stout (and devout) religious upbringing, she nevertheless shook the cult from its slavish stupor, wean itself off of Jonas' kool aid, and leave the fiery compound. Esther didn't figure playing "What's stronger, my faith or these flames?" was in keeping with God's spirit, choosing basic morality over extreme dogma to fulfill His will.
Such improvisation probably earned her the eternal gratitude from the now bereft cult, but it also earned her a sharp shot to the face from the butt of Dominic's gun. Looks like Adele's #2 doesn't like Echo's unpredictability, and took it upon himself to fly a company jet to Arizona, infiltrate the ATF squad, and attempt to free up Echo's space in the Dollhouse Vinyasa yoga class. He sees her as Alpha II: Electric Boogaloo, and he just might be right.
However, thanks to Boyd's detective work, quick thinking, and all-around bad assitude, he managed to be Echo's "angel" and rescue her from both Dominic's attack and the underhanded techniques used by the ATF's lead agent. Seems the "Save me" note that started Echo's mission derived from Agent Lilly, a former cop that once put away Jonas (then known as Nathan) using shady evidence. He wrote the note in order to provide a brief legal window to end his vendetta against Jonas. Once Boyd discovered this deception, Lilly sought to eliminate both him and Echo to cover his tracks. But rather than burning all evidence, he looks to be facing a little bit of jail time himself.
He seemed resigned to that plight by the time Agent Ballard arrived at the charred scene. He spied Echo thanks to a local news program capturing her on-camera. Ballard saw quite a bit of video of Echo this week, as Alpha managed to send him yet another package: this time, of the college yearbook footage seen in the pilot episode. This video came hand delivered by his neighbor Mellie, who also brought pain medication, Italian food, and a ridiculous amount of cleavage. Good. Gravy. The jury's out on whether Mellie's a doll, or just really whipped. You be the judge!
Joking aside, I'm glad Ballard's plot had a bit of forward momentum. Too often his scenes consist of repetitive conversation with Lubov. However, Lubov was too busy having what Topher called "man reactions" to Sierra in the communal shower. Topher and Claire spent a lot of this week's episode looking through old shower footage to see similar...events. By episode's end, they located the source, much to Adele's shock. She ordered Lubov wiped, but she might want to pay closer attention to Echo: looks like our girl remembers Dominic's love tap in Arizona perfectly well.
Looks like next week's episode is going to be mythology overload, so hopefully we'll get a host of answers to questions that have nagged us all season. Tonight's episode furthered Echo's improvisation, pushed Ballard's investigation along a bit further, and showed the seams in the programming cracks inside the Dollhouse. Hopefully next week's episode can not merely move the plot along a bit, but in fact blow the roof off the joint. It's only five weeks in, but we could all use a shakeup.
Is your patience with the show wearing thin, or are you still on board? Did the compound offer any surprises, or was it same ol' same ol'? Is Ballard's plot finally interesting or still too disconnected from the rest of the action? Leave your thoughts below!
Ryan runs his own cult of personality over at Boob Tube Dude.