Monday, February 23, 2009

Dollhouse 1x02: "The Target"

The episode opens with an emergency at the Dollhouse three months earlier. The Actives are sent to their beds, while one them wonders why they haven't showered yet.
Head of Security Laurence Dominic comes in with a small army behind him. He calls out for Topher. "Guns. Can I have one?", he asks. Dominic really wants answers. He learns someone cut Dr. Saunders like a jigsaw puzzle, and a guy named Samuelson got it worse. We learn it was one of the Actives...Alpha, as in the problem from last week. DeWitt says Alpha has had a composite event, even though Dominic says that's not possible. It is, though. Alpha has killed a lot of people, including some Actives who were showering.
Except for a scared little Active, looking up and saying "They won't wake up." She, of course, is Echo.

Advance to DeWitt giving her pitch on hiring an Active. She says they are in a state of Tabula Rasa, which doesn't mean they think they're in a sixth season episode of Buffy. It means after they are imprinted, they can be "your heart's desire, made flesh." That interests Richard Connell, played by Matt Keeslar, former Middleman. What he's going to do, Wendy Watson won't like.
He hires Echo for something that will be a "moderate risk", and that means an extra fee. He's also advised to bring her back safe and sound, or there will be "additional costs." Actually, it doesn't look so bad. She's there as his whitewater and rock-climbing buddy. She claims if she does get hurt, her four brothers will get him.
At least three are observing her every move: Boyd and a friend at a van, and Topher from headquarters. Topher advises Boyd to soak up some nature, and just relax. Boyd just wants a better signal because the one he has is breaking up.

Switch to the aftermath of last week's kidnapping rescue. A bunch of cops are already at the abandoned house where Echo rescued a little girl. Paul Ballard is there, too. He's met by a guy who looks like Badger, because it is Mark A. Sheppard. He is known as Tanaka for some reason. Anyway, they talk about what happened, and it looks like a "fifth person" took the ransom money and killed the kidnappers. Paul, of course, doesn't think so. So, Tanaka teases him about this Dollhouse that can't exist. He theorizes that Crestejo must have hired someone from this Dollhouse to "groove his move", or maybe to rescue his kid. Paul does know the girl said some "pretty lady" did save her, while her dad denies everything. No proof, of course, until Paul finds the specs that Echo was wearing as Eleanor Penn.

Back in the forest, Echo is fascinated by Richard's long shaft...of an arrow. The bow is impressive, too. He gives her some tips on bow hunting, and talks about "shoulder to the wheel", complete with salute. He also says that if you kill anything bigger than you, you have a right to eat it. If an animal gets away, it proves its right to live. Echo asks if he's brought more girls into the woods. He has, but she's not a disappointment. They're about to kiss, but he spots a deer. She's about to shoot an arrow at the deer when we see, in one very suggestive jump cut, she's hit the target--in bed. So far, a fun camping trip. Now the "moderate risk" begins.
He tells her to get going while it's still light out. He'll give her a five-minute head start...because he's now the hunter and she's the deer.

As she is running away, wondering what kind of date she's been put into, we get another flashback (symbolized by washed-out colors) of when Boyd first joins the Active Corporation. He is surprised the rumours of "programmable people" are true, although DeWitt says it's more complicated than that. He is now Echo's handler, because the old one is dead. In fact, Dr. Saunders says Boys is stepping on the old handler's blood. We see her face, still with fresh wounds. DeWitt claims the doc is still recovering, although it's obvious she'll be recovering for the rest of her life. Boyd asks to see Samuelson's body, and we see he's been sliced and diced very quickly. It's Alpha's handiwork, and he's quick. Dominic says Alpha apparently accessed several personalities, including one where he can be Jack the Ripper. Boyd asks how that's possible, but Dominic says it's not his department.
We switch back to Richard still tracking Echo, who is now trapped on top of a cliff.

Meanwhile, Lubov is driving down the street, with a blond kissing him. Paul calls him, demanding info on the Dollhouse. Lubov says he knows nothing, but Paul demands results. As he gets to his desk, a fellow agent tells him two kids called to say they found a house in the woods made of candy and gingerbread. Man, does anyone believe in Paul? I bet he wishes he were back on the Galactica. Anyway, he also finds the envelope that a creepy naked guy sealed last week. Inside is a picture of Echo, and her real name, Caroline, on the back.
Speaking of her, she's climbing down the cliff, but Richard isn't too far off. He's fired two arrows at her, and one has grazed her. Topher and Boyd are still unaware, while a ranger apparently has found Boyd's van. He and his friend immediately pretend to be lost TV reporters. That works, until the ranger kills Boyd's friend.

Time for another flashback, this time with Boyd meeting Topher, who calls himself "the man behind the grey matter curtain." They talk abut Alpha, but Topher insists that was an anomaly. Boyd wonders why the Actives don't have a default mode that includes Ninja self-defense. Topher says they tried that, but it was a disaster. Boyd looks at Echo, and calls her an "empty hat", until someone stuffs a rabbit in her.
Topher finally sees Echo's vitals going wonky. Boyd tells him everying is fine, except for the guy pointing a gun to his head. Boyd overpowers him after a long struggle.

At DeWitt's office, she and Dominic discuss....Paul Ballard! They do know people are trying to find the Dollhouse, but Paul's too dumb to find it. At least that's DeWitt's attitude towards him. She ought to be in the FBI. Dominic suggests "neutralizing him," but DeWitt says she has things under control. Topher enters the office to say they have a situation, "the kind you need to shoot at."

Echo tries to get to the raft, but it's been slashed. So, she finds a Cabin in the Woods. She looks for help, but finds a canteen. After taking a sip, she finds a dead ranger in the closet. She grabs the walkie-talkie, and begs for help. She gets...Richard. He says this is all to see if she deserves to live, and that she's not just an Echo. She vows to kill him, until she starts coughing. Apparently he's drugged the canteen,

Flashback three: Topher and Boyd give Echo a treatment where she will completely trust Boyd as her handler. Topher gets tempermental, because this is art, not an oil change. It involves a script and holding Echo's hand.
Back to the hunt, Richard gets to the cabin, but Echo's not there. She sees a girl with a green shirt, and it's her, or rather Caroline. Echo stumbles and falls into the river. Meanwhile, Boyd shoots fake ranger in the thighs, and learns he was hired by Richard, or someone, over the phone.
Echo wakes up, and it turns out to be the showers where the Actives were killed. She sees a man over her, with a bloody knife..then really wakes up to see she's on a riverbank. She hears Richard telling her to wake up.
Back to Paul, who's about to get into his apartment when a cute neighbor named Mellie tries to offer him some leftover lasagna. It's really brand-new lasagna, but he'll pass. Mellie spots the photo, but he says she's no one, but he's going to keep looking for her. A lot of people suspect that Lubov and Mellie are really Actives who serve as DeWitt's surveillance team, and keep Paul off the scent without neutralizing him. Since the actors playing these roles were listed as Actives at first, that may be the case. Or not. We'll see.
As Richard gets closer, Echo grabs a big branch and is about to use it...just as Boyd shows up. She doesn't recognize him, until he says the magic words "Everything is going to be all right". That's disproven when Richard shoots an arrow into Boyd.

Flashback four: Echo comes back from another date. Unlike the one from last week, Jason apparently is a fat guy who wanted a date. She does admit that she found him irresistible, but that's because of the imprint. You know how it ends.
So we go back to the woods, where Echo talks about what has happened to her ,and how the spiked water has made her see hallucinations, or maybe memories. He keeps saying everything will be all right, but she disagrees. She says they have to fight back, and asks him to trust her. That is a switch, and maybe a hint that Actives can learn stuff that's not in their programming. Boyd gives her a gun, and asks if she can handle it. She says, "four brothers, none of them Democrats." He also has a spare gun.
Echo uses Richard's tricks against him, bue she still sees the hallucinations, like her saying she wanted to make a difference. She still wings Richard, but finds herself in a confrontation: she pulls a gun at him while he aims an arrow at her. His response: "Is this the best date ever or what?"
He suggests that they both back off, and call it a draw. But they can't. He fires the arrow. She shoots. He's hit in the shoulder. She just gets out of the way. He does manage to overpower her, and stangles the life out of her. As she is fading, she sees the three faces of herself: idealistic Caroline, pre-Echo and Echo. She is all these things, programming or not.
The third face says "I try to do my best, " just as Echo sees an arrow, and jabs it in Richard's neck. As he bleeds to death, he's actually impressed by her.
You see, the real Richard Connell is a man who wrote a story about a hunter tracking down a man as if he were an animal. It's called The Most Dangerous Game, and that's what we have seen. Actually, this may also be about Echo trying to prove that she deserves to live as a real person, not a plaything bought by someone. The Active Corporation may disagree, fearing she may be even worse than Alpha.

Echo and Boyd are found by Dominic's army. The problem's been contained. She gets wiped. It's OK.
Except it isn't. DeWitt asks Dominic why he didn't figure out Richard was nuts. Turns out Richard was a fake, and a convincing one. As for fake ranger, he is dead, because he's been sliced and diced, just like Samuelson. Boyd suspects it was Alpha, but Dr. Saunders says Alpha is dead. That's what the company says. No matter what, Boyd says all that has happened centers around Echo.
As she walks through the grounds, she nearly bumps into Dominic. She says "sorry", but he asks, "Are you?" He then taunts her by pointing out a lot of people get killed around her, and whatever she thinks is up to the imprint they give her. She just wants a swim, but he says he wishes he could put her in the attic...or the ground. He can freely say these things to her, because nothing is inside her. She's the empty hat he'd like to throw away.
Except there is something in Echo...Richard's "shoulder to the wheel" salute that no machine can wipe away. What else could still be there?

You know, Dominic's attitude towards Echo reminds me of a Watcher towards his Slayer in half of all cases. The Buffy/Giles partnership was different and much better. However, we can see that The Active Corproation has very little respect to labor, namely the Actives, How many corporations secretly wish they had workers who did their jobs, but never complain or make demands? Is the Active Corporation a magnate's dream? Never mind the fact some may also look at it as a very dark brothel. This is a better story than last week because we learned more about the Dollhouse, and we also got hope Echo can be her own woman, no matter what. Paul Ballard is still seen as Barney Fife by everyone. The only thing left is what happens when Paul and Echo meet.
By the way, preliminary Neilsen numbers say the show dipped from 4.7 to 4.2, which may be bad news for the show. Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles also lost viewership compared to the previous week. Let's hope Dollhouse will survive long enough to stay on the Paley Festival. We don't need two panels that are funerals for both shows (Pushing Daisies being the other one).

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