Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Recap of Dollhouse: "Echoes"

It would have been almost impossible for this episode to top last week, but it's still a good episode with that Jossian humor people prefer, and proof that the Dollhouse isn't as indestructible as it thinks it is. It can crumble a bit thanks to a drug, and a flash of memory that Echo gets...from her real past.

It opens with the same scene that started the pilot: Adelle DeWitt offering a girl named Caroline some tea, and a new life. However, we get more information. It seems Caroline saw something she shouldn't have, and a big group called the Rossum Corporation is involved. It also looks like the Dollhouse has been trying to "recruit" Caroline for two years. It ends with Adelle's classic line, "Nothing is what it appears to be."

Switch to Freemont College, where two students enter a lab. They see a guy named Owen dressed in boxers, trying to get a fly to escape. The girl touches Owen, but he says grabbing isn't part of the equation. He then tries to break through the window while she laughs. The other guy laughs, too. This all takes place in the Rossum Building.
At the Dollhouse, Clive Ambrose, co-chair of Rossum and a very Big Wig, shows Adelle a vial of an experimental memory drug. He thinks this is what made Owen go nuts. He also says a vial is missing. So, he needs all the Actives she's got. Ambrose points out the drug acts like a narcotic, then removes the impulse blockers in the brain, causing people to do who knows what. They show up at the school, with Victor as Tom the NSA agent, Sierra as CDC Dr. Gawa, and Dominic as campus security. Hey, he's not an Active. Echo, however, has another engagement with Matt from the pilot. She's a new girl, Alice, who's about to help him film amateur porn, with him tied to a bed. When she sees the Rossum building on a TV, she suddenly decides to go there because she has to help someone. Matt is stuck, tied to his bed. For some reason, this reminds me of a scene from St. Elsewhere.

Cut to a few years ago, where Echo was Caroline. She and her boyfriend Leo decide to plan something big, a major protest against a bad guy. Back at the Dollhouse, Topher tests the drug on Mellie, who is really November. Seems earlier that day, she and Paul talked about his search for the Dollhouse, and she actually asked him to drop the case. She also talked about how she suddenly knew how to take out assassins, as she got rid of Hearn last week. Of course, Paul won't quit on his search.
As the drug zips through November's brain, Adelle is actually a little worried over all this. She explains Rossum is the reason the Dollhouse exists, and it believes in the company's work. She also notes the reason Ambrose runs Rossum is because he couldn't run the Dollhouse. Topher is amused by all this. He then tells November her brain rocks, which seems a bit odd. He also high-fives her, which will turn out to be a bad decision. She had the drug on her, and now he does, too.
Echo/Alice shows up, and looks lost. Victor/Tom finds her, thinks she's affected by the drug, and has her sent somewhere else. Boyd, meanwhile, tells Adelle that Echo is at the school, which upsets her. So, she tells him to get her out of there. Before he does, a girl who clearly has the drug sees Boyd, and swears he's got mansions in his eyes. She also touches him, which means he's affected.
When Echo/Alice is in a holding room, Dr. Sierra tries to sedate her. She's distracted by the other victims, though, which allows Echo/Alice to get away with a guy named Sam. He was the one who found Owen going mad. Now, he says the drug is wearing off. He claims he was the victim of an experiment, while she says she has to get inside the Rossum building to save someone. She just can't remember who. If she "listens to herself", maybe she can remember. She finds Boyd, who asks her if she wants a treatment. She says no, and he...lets her go. We can thank Rossum's green goo for that.

Another flashback, as Caroline looks an one of Rossum's evil ads, and its evil slogan, "Because Minds Matter." She, Leo and their friends discuss what the company may be doing at the school. She says she has to do something to protest what they are doing. In the present, the Actives play CSI while Dominic mocks them. He then realises he can't load his gun, then how heavy it is. He's also under the green goo's spell. Not only that, so are Adelle and Topher. They learn from Victor/Tom what is happening, just in time for Topher to infect Adelle. They freak out in a good way. She asks Topher is he thinks she's too unfeeling or...British (which she'll admit to). Then she mentions she'd love to eat words like "indominable", and soon they are headed to Topher's Drawer of Inappropriate Starches. It's great to see Olivia Williams not act like a T-888 or Catherine Weaver. However, it also shows that it wouldn't take much to derail the all-powerful Dollhouse. Topher struggles to get Victor/Tom to understand what the drug is doing to them, since Actives apparently are immune. He also doesn't have his pants, but not one female fan is complaining. Since Boyd is infected, he calls Topher so he can hear him play the piano. It results in the most beautiful music to be played while one is on hold.

As for Sam and Echo/Alice, they try to find a way in the Rossum Building, and how someone named Lily Foundry will help them. Then someone calls her by her old name, Caroline Farrell. It's someone named Professor Janak, and she is also drugged.
Meanwhile, Adelle and Topher are on the floor, surrounded by inappropriate starches. She is still coherent enough to say that people make choices, and they have to live with them...or die with them. She even accuses Echo of going to Freemont to hurt her, or at least the Caroline part wants to hurt Adelle. Then November shows up, and she thinks they're Paul. She admits she thinks Paul's too obsessed with Caroline. Topher figures out November is glitching, living a past memory....such as the one where Hearn tried to kill her until Adelle called and told her the third flower in the vase is green. That made November/ Mellie clobber him. Now, she suddenly thinks Adelle and Topher are Hearn. Yikes!

But first, we flash back to Caroline getting some plans to the Rossum building, and how to get inside through a secret room and entry. She's excited, but Leo is now having second thoughts. He'll still help her, though.
Then we go back to Sam and Echo/Alice, who discover "Lily Foundry" as a grate where they can take an underground route. For some reason, she says it's as if she has been here before, but how is that possible when she's never been here before? Anyway, they do find a way inside. She just hopes she doesn't have to fight because she can't remember how to make a fist.
Dominic spots them, but he's more interested in apologizing to her for trying to kill her two weeks ago. Echo/Alice doesn't know what he means, but appreciates it. Dr. Sierra then finds Dominic, and a few others exposed by the drug. However, she starts glitching too, not only back to what Hearn did to her, but maybe another rape. As she grabs a gun and aims it at Victor/Tom, he is also glitching to a past mission where he's a soldier, and there was an explosion. It looks as if he's shot by Sierra, but it may have been the memory.
Don't worry about Adelle and Topher, though. November didn't finish her mission, but she is sobbing about how her ex-boyfriend Rick had to sell his stocks. Also, Topher figures out the memory drug is also affecting the Actives, making them experience memory glitches. The good news is the drug will wear off. Owen, he figures, must have had an overdose, and Adelle thinks it's murder. Well, not quite....
Sam and Echo/Alice do reach the lab, which she claims is different. She still has this feeling she has to stop something awful. Sam reaches towards a test tube, and it's the missing vial of the memory drug. Seems he hid it all this time. As Echo/Alice figures that out, he gives her some of the drug.

So what happened the first time Echo/Caroline was there? Well, she and Leo (in flashback) discover they are experimenting on animals. Not only that, they also use fetuses and even some humans, As Leo films it all, they are spotted by a security guard.
In the present, we learn Sam and Owen had a plan to steal a vial and sell it to another drug firm for billions. However, Owen had second thoughts, and Sam had to act. Echo/Alice tries to stop him and fight the drug. However, she gets memory flashes of how Leo was shot by one of the guards, and died as they left the building. As her feelings return to her, she mistakes Sam for Leo. Sam decides to leave, but a fist from Boyd ends that. Once again, he had to rescue Echo/Alice when something went wrong, and that ruined the ending in my mind.

One more flashback: Caroline is in a hospital bed, as Adelle mentions that she fits the profile. Caroline gets away, but Adelle says she won't get far. We know that already.
Back to the present, Adelle and Laurence have an awkward moment. They feel stupid over how Rossum's green goo turned then into idiot children, but at least it didn't inspire them to have sex on top of police cars (sound familiar, Buffy fans?). She just wanted to eat big words while he hugged an invisible kitty. But, it's worn off, the Actives are OK, the fake story about Freemont students overdosing on drugs is bought by the press, and things will go on as before. Still, she checks on Echo to see she's still OK. You really wonder why Adelle has a special interest in Echo. Is it because Adelle had to make Echo an Active so she wouldn't reveal Rossum's deep dark evil scientific experiments...and she actually regrets it? How often have Actives been recruited to make sure they don't threaten the most powerful people?

The case also winds up affecting Paul. Mellie decides to move out, and maybe that's part of her program. Or maybe she's right in thinking Paul's too obsessed with Echo/Caroline. In any case, if she needs him, he says she knows where to find him. Would she even be allowed to look?

Back to the "make an Active and hide a secret" theory, we see Adelle preparing to share tea again, this time with Sam. It's Caroline all over again, except what he did was for gain, or at least help her mom because she's about to lose her house, and someone died. So, Adelle is there to calmly make him an offer, the same one she made to Caroline. She promises him his mom will have enough to live on, and after five years, they both will.
Still, you have to wonder. Sam and Caroline had secrets against Rossum. Would they ever be allowed to leave?
Were any previous Actives with dangerous secrets allowed to leave?
Although this episode really played with identity and memory, and had more humor than the entire season, that last point has to be considered. The Dollhouse does provide fantasy, as Echo "told" Paul last week, but do they have another purpose of removing threats to the powerful by taking away a person's true self, including that horrible secret, and reducing that person to a programmable puppet?
If so, is the Active Corporation actually proud of that, or does the fact they get billions to do that make that moral argument moot?

We also learned this week the NCAA could be the Dollhouse's biggest nemesis. The Regional semi-finals for men's basketball won the night. The show got less than three-point-nine million viewers, and also lost a bit in the 18-49 share. Already, some websites are predicting it will be a 13-week wonder. Whether it's the time slot or the premise itself is hard to say. Some are still hoping the DVR ratings, internet hits and iTunes sales will be enough to bring it back in the fall.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Recap of Dollhouse "Man on the Street"

When Joss Whedon talked about putting Dollhouse together, he said the first seven episodes were pilots to get people to understand the concept before the story really begins.
Then he decided five pilots were enough.

Right from the start, "Man on the Street" is a very different story, and not just because Joss is the author. Instead of the traditional "previously on Dollhouse" recap, we get static, then a "slate" showing that this is unedited footage for a TV news story about an urban legend called "dollhouse." The reporter tells us this urban legend has been around for 20 years, and that people have very different ideas about a mysterious group turning people into anything or anyone, except themselves. There's the African-American woman who thinks that these dolls are really slaves, or another woman who thinks being "programmed" to be anyone while hanging around with rich people sounds wonderful.

The reporter says a spokesman for the Governor insists there is no Dollhouse, while the FBI also denies there's someone looking for a Dollhouse. Then we see Paul Ballard, still looking for something that doesn't exist. He's looking over an old case when Tanaka, the FBI guy from a couple of weeks ago, interrupts him. He's upset Paul is snooping into one of his cases, but Paul notices that Crestejo, the guy who used the Dollhouse to save his kidnapped daughter, had given money to the Mayfair Fund, which could really be the Dollhouse. Tanaka thinks Paul is nuts, but also takes a look at Caroline, who is also Echo. He says this conspiracy about a Dollhouse, and Echo, are both dead and a mindless whore. Paul reacts by clobbering Tanaka, who then says he'll tell Paul's boss. He also says he looks forward to the day someone will put Paul down for his crazy theories...that are also true.

At the Dollhouse, Victor (who looks bland without his accent) wonders why Sierra isn't sitting with him and Echo. He approaches Sierra, and she suddenly screams. Dr. Saunders discovers someone has been having sex with Sierra, and suspicion is on Victor when she claims that sometimes they pretend to be married. This surprises Boyd and Hearn, who is Sierra's handler. They also find out from Echo that sometimes Sierra cries when they're resting in their pods.

Paul, meanwhile, does more digging with Loomis about the Mayfair Fund. He finds out someone else contributes to it...an internet mogul called Joel Mynor, played by Patten Oswalt. Apparently he invented "Bouncy the Rat," the biggest thing on the net. With his money, he hires, well, companionship. Paul is certain this is what he needs to find the Dollhouse. Loomis warns him that his actions may also get him fired. He talks over his theories with his neighbor Mellie. She tries to understand, then also talks about an old boyfriend named Rick, or Dick, and how he dumped her like she was Citigroup or AIG stock. That's odd, since he works at a donut shop.

Switch to a very nice house, with Joel Mynor and one of his guards just outside. Apparently they are waiting for someone. Paul is there, too, taking out another guard. We see a woman drive up to the house, and it's Echo. It culminates with Paul entering the kitchen, and pointing a gun at Joel and his wife Rebecca, who is actually Echo.

So much for a cookie-cutter plot, eh? Just ten minutes, and there's more plot twists than the entire season.
Now we see two more "man on the street" reactions to the Dollhouse: an old man who says if there was a Dollhouse in his day, he's have Betty Grable of Ida Lupino every night, while another woman thinks about having the perfect man...but is a little embarrassed about what she'd do with him.
Back to Joel's Dollhouse, he's trying to tell Paul to leave. Echo/Rebecca is very confused, and at one point accuses Joel of making money through porn. Paul tells Echo/Rebecca that she's being used by Joel in ways that are worse then porn. Then he is tasered by another of Joel's men, who is not a porn guy no matter what she says. Paul clobbers the security guys while Boyd takes Echo/Rebecca for her treatment. However, she sees the bedroom, with flower petals everywhere, and declares it porn. Actually, it may be porn that she would like.

Now it's just Joel, who is very calm despite what has happened, and Paul Ballard, who wants answers. Paul asks Joel about the Dollhouse, and Joel says it's pink, and there's tiny furniture, and when you put the boy doll over the girl doll the angry FBI agent tosses a table in anger. Actually, Joel doesn't mention the table-tossing part. We see that. Then it turns into an interesting discussion about fantasies and how everyone needs them. Joel wonders why Paul would be so interested in Echo/Caroline/Rebecca, why he has to save her, and what he expects to get in the end. While serving champagne, Joel tells Paul his fantasy may be sadder than his. That's why Patton was a great choice as a guest star. He has skills that helps Pixar win Oscars.

Victor is questioned about Sierra, and he says she's beautiful. They notice his eyes while he answers their questions. Boyd talks to Bicks, another handler, about the situation. Bicks wonders what Adelle DeWitt about this, and wonders if Sierra is broken. "They're all broken," Boyd says.

Back to Joel's house, he calmly explains there really was a girl named Rebecca. She was his wife, and he did love her while he struggled with coming up with a great internet idea. He was always one step behind until he came up with Bouncy. He says his first check "had more zeroes than the Luftwaffe", but he meant Japan. Anyway, he was all set to show her the house he bought for both of them...until she died in an auto accident just blocks away. So, on the anniversary of that tragedy, he hires someone from the Dollhouse to be Rebecca, so what was supposed to happen really does. This year, it was Echo's turn. The way he explains himself, you can sympathize with Joel. Even Paul does, but buying someone to be Rebecca for one night is still bad. Joel agrees he may deserve "moral spankitude", but Paul isn't qualified to be his rabbi. Joel thinks Paul is really in trouble because he broken into the house for a girl who is now gone. Paul still vows "you might not be punished,and I might not be alive, but this house will fall." Joel just tells Paul to "go live in your real world, if you ever did." That kind of removes some of the sympathy the audience had towards Joel. This is still a wonderful scene pulled off by Patton, Talmoh Penikett and Joss Whedon's words. Yay them!

Now more B-roll: a young blonde "reluctantly" thinks having someone give you the perfect person is OK, while a brunette calls it human trafficking. At the Dollhouse, Boyd looks around for a blind spot in the surveillance cameras where Sierra could have been violated, Once he does, he calls Laurence Dominic. They decide to separate Victor, who is still puzzled, and Bicks. We later find out it was Hearn who has been violating Sierra, and Boyd violates him through a window. Adelle gets word of this. While she doesn't like how Boyd solved the problem, she still gives him a bonus he doesn't want.

As Paul talks about his meeting with Joel Mynor, he and Mellie get more "neighborly", as in sharing a very passionate kiss. He apologizes for it, but she doesn't mind. She is surprised Mynor was the client, since he made Bouncy the rat (which may be a shout-out to Ratatouille). We also find out this scene is being observed by the Dollhouse. Apparently, they think Paul is getting too close, and Adelle should do something or she'll be wiped away like an Active's past. Well, she says she's not ready to have her bags packed. She tells Dominic to send Hearn to her, and prepare Echo for her "second date" with Paul.

More B-roll: a biker admits that the idea of two men getting together, not exactly doing anything "queenie", and one of them forgets about it, might be interesting. This worries the man's wife for many reasons.
While Topher prepares Echo's new imprint, Boyd wonders why he's not part of the engagement. Topher just tells Boyd to have a drink and "beat his chest" over catching Hearn. Speaking of which, he's being interrogated by Adelle. She discovers Hearn had sex with Sierra four times, but he tries to explain this. "You put a bunch of stone foxes with no will power and no memory, running around naked," he says. "Did you think this would never happen?" Adelle admits they are in the business of using people, and getting the best use. She offers him a way out: kill Mellie, who apparently knows too much.
She also is getting more than neighborly with Paul. Yes, Paul has found a friend, with benefits, in Mellie. This usually means she is doomed, since Joss kills those who have found love...like Jenny Calendar or Tara. Paul goes to a nearby Chinese restaurant, where Echo is waiting for him. She gets the jump on him, but he says he doesn't want to hurt her. That suits her fine.

After we see a slightly unkempt guy claiming we're already being controlled, we see Paul and Echo in an incredible fight ensues that starts in the kitchen, and winds up in the alley. He manages to pin her to a car hood, and is about to hit her, but he hesitates. It's long enough to have her head-butt him, and pin him down. At this point, it's expected she'll crush his dreams by saying his quest to find the Dollhouse will end in failure, and probably his death.
So Echo looks down at him and says..."The Dollhouse is real."
Hah! How do like that, you sad.....
Wait, did she just say the Dollhouse is real? SUM..., I mean, TOPHER!!

Actually, it's someone else who implanted that message in Echo...maybe. Anyway, she tells Paul there are 20 Dollhouses worldwide, and they are connected to the powerful. She also can't tell him where they are because he's taking the wrong approach. "The Dollhouse deals in fantasy. That is their business," she says, "but that is not their purpose." What is their purpose, he asks. Well, he has to find out, and he'll get help through other Actives who have a little extra message inside them. Maybe Echo again. Maybe Sierra. Echo tells Paul to pretend to give up, and to trust her. However, she does this just as she shoots a cop with his gun. She says the cop will be fine, because the Dollhouse doesn't want Paul dead. They will go after his friends, like Mellie. Of course, what Echo is saying may be fake, just like what Victor was telling Paul when he was Lubov. She is right, however, on what is happening to Mellie.

So, as Paul tries to save Mellie, Hearn is there to kill her. It looks like he will succeed, as the phone is ringing and picking up an odd message: "There are three flowers in a vase. The third flower is green." It's Adelle's voice, the last one Mellie will hear.....
...before she suddenly remembers she can clobber Hearn to a bloody pulp! Yep, Mellie is a butt-kicking Active, but actually a sleeper agent. After she kills Hearn, Adelle says the third flower is yellow. So, Mellie only remembers that some guy tried to kill her. Paul is there to comfort her, and the audience wonders what just happened (while smiling in relief).

Now we get academia's take on a Dollhouse, and maybe the best response: "If that technology exists, it'll be used. It'll be abused. It'll be global, and we'll be over. As a species, we'll cease to matter." Is this the ultimate goal of the Dollhouses? If so, what kind of creatures, if not humans, would want that?
Well, it looks like the Dollhouse has won. Paul has been suspended from the FBI for his actions. Tanaka is happy, and somehow the Dollhouse knows what happened. I suspect Tanaka is their mole. Anyway, Adelle is happy she played a very bad hand very well, but knows this will not stop Ballard's quest for the truth. Mellie can stay in his life because she loves him. Whether that love is real is another matter. In any case, the Sierra affair is settled, and everything is fine in the world the Dollhouse wants to have. Of course, this will have to be reported to the other houses. Adelle's reputation will be hurt, but it's necessary. She visits Echo, who is painting a house with two people in front. It's the fantasy she's hired to fulfill. Echo looks at Adelle and says "it isn't finished." Adelle wonders if she meant the picture.

The final scene is Joel Mynor getting his fantasy, namely Echo as his wife being surprised that he's now an internet success, and that they now own a beautiful new house.
It's all fake, but the fantasy keeps him alive. Is it so wrong to do this? Some say yes, and some say no. One person thinks it's the first step to the destruction of man.
It just depends on the man on the street.

This was a fantastic episode that discusses fantasy, basic needs, and whether fulfilling those needs are more important than morality. This episode should have gotten all the attention instead of the finale of Battlestar Galactica. Fortunately, at least people can see this episode in other places, from Hulu or their TiVo's. In any case, the show got a 4.1, slightly less than the previous week considering the BSG finale. For creativity alone, this episode is an excellent argument for giving it a second season...and maybe a Monday time slot.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Recap of Dollhouse "True Believer"

This week, the show looks at a group of people with no will of their own, living together. This would describe Echo and her Actives...or a religious cult Echo has to infiltrate.

The cult, called Children of the Temple, live near Pleasant, AZ. They don't bother the outside world, but sometimes people bother them. They wonder why the members sing and smile, and buy weird stuff like duct tape and rope. The Sheriff isn't worried..until they find someone left behind the shopping list, with the words, "Save Me" written on it.

Senator Boxbaum turns to Adelle and her Dollhouse to find out what's going on in that cult. He thinks people living in "unquestioned serenity" with no will of their own is suspicious. Adelle wonders why the Senator is so concerned. Well, it is an election year, and that's reason enough. Besides, he's one of the reasons no one knows about the Dollhouse. I remember Paul Ballard had confronted a senator about the Dollhouse. Maybe it was Boxbaum. Anyway, despite Laurence Dominic's objections, and his accusation that maybe Adelle likes Echo too much, Echo will be sent to the compound to see what is happening. Unofficially, she will be working for Agent Lilly and the ATF, with Boyd helping out as a "private contractor".

Echo will be made blind, but actually made into a human camera. Dr. Saunders says it will be risky, and it could kill her. Still, Adelle has a Senator to please.
She is brought in by Boyd as a blind hitchhiker, who claims God is leading her to the compound, run by a handsome guy named Jonas Sparrow. Agent Lilly thinks the guy may have a lot of guns, looking for a sign to use them. Echo does come in, while the followers are skeptical. Jonas is intrigued when Echo, posing as Esther Carpenter, touches his face. She claims she saw him in a vision, and ordered her to come. That sounds compelling, and it works for now. Jonas tell his lieutenant, Seth, to keep an eye on her. Meanwhile, the gizmos that make Esther/Echo a camera are working like a charm.

Meanwhile, Ballard is still looking for the girl who he knows as Caroline. He asks a computer expert named Loomis to help out, and uses his injuries for sympathy. While Loomis agrees to help, there's no info on who Caroline is. It's possible the Active Corp. erased Caroline's identity when she became an Active.

Back at the Dollhouse, Sierra enters the showers while Victor is still there. They exchange small talk until Victor senses a change...between his legs.
Topher notices it because apparently there's video records of what the Actives do in the shower. Yes, I feel sick, too. Topher talks it over with Dr. Saunders. Believe it or not, she's not surprised. She points out Victor's been imprinted as the ideal boyfriend to lonely women several times, and maybe a side effect is his "man-reaction" to whatever it is. She swears she wrote a report on this, and Topher agrees....except no one read it.

At the compound, Esther/Echo is introduced to the rest of the cult, including Iliya, who was with Jonah in a previous cult. What she doesn't see, but the ATF does, helps them identify some of the members. She is taken to Jonas again, and this time he shines a flashlight at her face. He explains that he's not like an innocent Adam, but someone who is broken and impure. Despite this, it's up to him to protect his innocent followers. After all, they're no more prepared for the outside world than an Active is. The only difference is Jonas isn't programming people to be anyone. They only have to trust him. Now, though, he is trusting Esther/Echo because she insists she's no serpent ready to ruin his garden. However, she is providing the ATF with visual proof that he has way too many guns.

Back at the FBI, Mellie visits with Paul's meds and "leftover manicotti" that looks pretty fresh. She also has another envelope from the guy who gave him the picture of Caroline. It's a DVD of video from her college days, as in the pilot. Loomis admits the two are connected, but Mellie describes the person who had the envelope as someone cute. It's really the mail cart guy from the FBI office, not necessarily the source of the DVD. But was it Alpha, helping out while hiding in plain sight? No matter. The DVD has the clues Paul needs.
Topher and Dr. Saunders are also busy seeing some video...from the showers. They do figure out that Victor is attracted to Sierra. OK, so what's the problem? Well, Actives aren't supposed to be aroused by anyone...even if the Girls Next Door just happen to walk in.

As Esther/Echo is about to be accepted, Agent Lilly and his ATF are ready to pounce. Boyd wants to get her out, but Lilly is more interested in getting Jonas. Seems they have a history together. Lilly remembers Jonas when he had another group of followers, all underage girls. Lilly's upset Jonas got out of jail in only two years because a judge didn't like how the evidence was handled. Now, Lilly wants Jonas behind bars for good...no matter what. Boyd asks Dominic for permission to get Echo out, but Dominic says no. It's almost as if he wants Echo to fail..and worse.
It's too late now. An ATF agent accidentally sets off a tripwire, letting Jonas know he's being invaded. He slaps Esther/Echo's face hard, and ruins her visual connection with the ATF. However, it does something else...it restores her sight. The cult is stunned by what has happened, but all she knows is that she can see now. It's not as if she led the ATF to their place.
Except she did.

Now the plan is coming apart. The press is here. Jonas doesn't know what to do. Lilly just wants to get Jonah, and Boyd has to get Echo out somehow. He does a little detective work, and figures out Lilly was behind the "Save Me" note, and wanted to get Jonas.
Meanwhile, Paul is seeing what is happening at the cult compound on TV...and also sees Caroline as one of the cult members. She is becoming even more real to him.
Jonas, meanwhile, is planning a miracle. He'll set the house on fire, and tells his followers to pray for a miracle. Esther/Echo disagrees, saying that "you can't force a miracle". Jonas tells his people to keep praying for a miracle, and he gets it....Echo smiting him over the head. Seth is stunned by this, but even more by Echo's sermon; "The blind girl is looking at you in the eye. Do you know what that means? God brought me here He has a message for you--and that message is 'move your ass!'".


Iliya, however, doesn't want to go, but a well-placed punch changes that. Jonas is about to shoot Esther/Echo, but someone shoots him. It's Dominic, of all people. Maybe he's changed his mind about Echo...until he knocks her out and leaves her to die.
Boyd, however, is able to find her, and get her out. This, despite the fact, that Lilly has accused Boyd of being with Jonas...only to cover up what Lilly was trying to do.

Ballard finally gets to Arizona, but too late to find Echo. Lilly is shown her picture, but he refuses to help. All of a sudden, he does things by the book, even though he wanted to bend the rules to get Jonas.
Back at the Dollhouse, Adelle is talking abut temptation, and how it can ruin things in the Dollhouse. That's why she tells Topher and Dr. Saunders to "scrub" Victor, and keep him under observation. She also talks to Dominic about his quick trip to Arizona. He says Echo was malfunctioning, and he was just protecting Adelle's interests. She doesn't look convinced. He again tells Adelle Echo should be put in the Attic, because she may "composite" just like Alpha. Adelle gives Dominic a subtle threat, and tells him to take the stairs.

Finally, Echo is finished with her treatment. Dr. Saunders asks her if she can see. Echo takes a nice long look at Dominic, and says, "I can see perfectly".
Fortunately, so can Adelle...but can she protect Echo, and for how long?

It seems the show has settled into a pattern: Echo is sent to do a job, something goes wrong, and she is rescued with some help from Boyd. Meanwhile, the rest of the Dollhouse fear someone named Alpha, or just fear being exposed, while an FBI agent searches for someone named Caroline, but the all-important clues are forever out of his reach. The Dollhouse even seems to taunt him, as it provides some roadblocks so he never finds it. In other words, this will be the basic plot for Dollhouse, told and re-told for years.

Except Joss Whedon invented this show, and he is NOT a procedural guy. That's why he'll bring in Patton Oswalt as an Internet millionaire who needs a wife, and Ballard makes a shocking discovery (unless fans saw Jimmy Kimmel Live last Thursday, because it showed that clip where Ballard gets, well, shocked). On March 20th, Joss is taking back this show, and it may be just in time.

As far as ratings are concerned, it actually got its best numbers since the premiere, although the 18-49 share stayed the same. It has picked up a lot of fans from the non-traditional sources, from iTunes to Hulu and the Fox website. DVR numbers also give it a big boost. Network execs say a second season is possible if it's feasible from a business standpoint. That would be true for any show. Still, Fox, and Neilsen for that matter, should realize there is a fairly sizable audience for Dollhouse, no matter when they decide to see the show, or how. If the ratings jump even more after the all-important episode six, "Man on the Street", then we can look forward to season two of Dollhouse, which may be very different from the show we are seeing now.

One more thing....Sofa Dogs has a special interview with Tim Minear about this episode. It's on mp3, which means you can listen to it while watching the episode on Hulu, iTunes or Fox on Demand. It's like Rifftrax, but more interesting.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Recap of Dollhouse "Gray Hour"

Somewhere in a remote ski lodge, a woman is having a baby. An experienced midwife is helping out...or at least Echo is, programmed as the midwife who has more knowledge than the staff of Private Practice. She's chatty but helpful, and lets the new mom know her baby will be a big one. She reassures her she'll forget the pain once the baby is born. Just as the kid is delivered, we see Echo getting her treatment, and her usual question to Topher about whether she fell asleep.

At the Amnesia Cafeteria, Echo meets Sierra, and wonders if she's the new kid. Echo says she swam 30 laps, but nothing about babies. Sierra says she tries to do her best, and Echo asks her if she really feels that way. Sierra's not sure, but Echo says if you always try, that is your best. Actually, that sounds right out of Power Rangers. Then she asks a third person if he agrees. It's Victor, who doesn't sound Russian because he's not on "humiliate Paul Ballard duty". He does say "every day is a chance to do better."
Boyd and Topher observe this. Topher is more worried because he's concerned the three could be the herd, or the Cool Kids that tease the Uncool Actives. Boyd says they're not bison, but Topher says "they're a little bit bison" rather than a litlle bit country, etc.

DeWitt talks to her new client, a man named Diakos. They don't discuss specifics about the mission this time, but she assures him he'll get results. Then, she gets a call from someone in the "upper level". They talk about how she's trying to keep Ballard away from the Dollhouse. She says everything is under control, although by the tone of the call, her boss isn't so sure. Neither is DeWitt.
Then we see Echo in her new role: a party girl named Taffy who says "blue skies" a lot. She's at a bachelor party at the bar. The hotel security guy asks them to get a room, and throws in some champagne. Then we see that maybe she was sexually assaulted by one of the guys. She's taken by Security Guy, and put into his office. He suggests she take $100,000 and a signed statement, then leave quietly. She instead takes the cash, and knocks out security guy. Yep, this was a ruse. We see the bachelor party is now a "merry band of thieves" out to steal something.
The rest of the crew includes Vitas (the lead crook), Walton (good with explosives) and Cyril (expert at old stuff). They must infiltrate the building next door and break into a vault that has something Diakos wants. They have to do this in a "gray hour", which is the time when the system's is turned off before it's being rebooted. There won't be any guards because they aren't allowed in the vault, which is where they are going. While they get ready, the crew marvel about how cool Echo/Taffy thinks she is. "Bestness means a quiet, head-down kind of life," she explains. She compares that to Bonnie and Clyde, who wanted fame rather than be the best. She points out that got them fame, and eventually death. Anyway, what they need to get according to Cyril is "the Parthanon", or something that's part of it. Turns out it is technically "stolen art".

Switch to Paul Ballard's lonely apartment, which looks a little like where Cordelia Chase used to live. He's still recovering from last week's ambush, watching HSN. He hears someone trying to break in...and it's Victor in Lubov mode. Paul isn't happy about this, but Lubov is frightened for his life. Paul's had enough and wants answers. He shows Lubov a picture of Echo when she was once Caroline. He demands if that's the reason why people are trying to kill him. Lubov tries to explain that he gets a tip from some guy who sounds "Russian Georgian, not sweet home Georgian". He also says the Borodins are using him to get to Paul, which makes more sense....even if it's all a lie. Still, as long as Paul is fooled, DeWitt and her boss will be happy....while fans of Ballard wish he'd turn into Helo and start taking names.

Back at the vault, they find the item, one of the "Elgin Marbles" that was technically stolen centuries ago. As Vitas chats up Echo/Taffy for a drink afterwards, we see Cyril try to grab the item and take it away for himself. He stabs Walton, runs out of the vault, and locks them in. Great. Well, Echo/Taffy calls her backup, Boyd, and tells him what happened, He says he'll find Cyril...then a loud jamming signal is played from somewhere. Then, she is stunned, looks around and asks, "Did I fall asleep?"
Believe it or not, someone wiped Taffy away, and left Echo instead. Since when is this possible?

Topher lecures his new assistant Ivy about how cool he is, while he tells her to pick up some stuff from whatever supermarket is near the Dollhouse, when he figures out what went wrong. DeWitt and Dominic at least know about Cyril's double-cross, but don't know why Echo has forgotten she's Taffy. She is scared out of her mind now, asking again and again, "shall I go now?" Boyd does find Cyril, who says he has a better offer. Boyd still has a gun, who he uses to wound Cyril just enough. Echo's last phone call is replayed, along with the jamming noise. Topher immediately denies what the noise means. DeWitt does know, however, and tells Topher he said no Active could be remotely wiped. He says it was really untested, and that he couldn't do it. So, what now? Well, at least he says they have to help her, because being wiped is just like being born, and being stuck in a vault with thieves will send her into a coma and make her "Carrie at the prom." Oh, and he insists this is not his fault.
Back at the vault, Vitas tries to get Echo back to speed, but no dice. She no longer has any idea what to do, or how to get out. At one point, he slaps her hard.
But help is on the way: Taffy is coming, only this time it's really Sierra. It's always tough to recast. While Taffy 2 is up to speed, Echo looks at all the art. She points to a face that is "broken", but it's really a Picasso-ish portrait.. Walton, who is still bleeding, says that art is really showing people who we are inside. This crisis is also doing the same for the Dollhouse crew, except for the Actives. Sierra/Taffy2 has just as much attitude as Echo's version, and points out she was supposed to do that job before Echo got it. She suspects DeWitt was "running two ponies", but that was what Diakos wanted. Well, Sierra/Taffy2 wants double the fee she won't spend anyway.
Topher, meanwhile, is losing it. He's convinced there's a conspiracy to destroy him because it's still not his fault. He also calls Boyd to let him know what has happened. Sierra/Taffy2, however, tells DeWitt as long as they can contact Echo by phone, she can get her out. At this point, Echo is still looking at all the art with Walton. It includes a painting of some mountains, not unlike the place where she was a midwife. "When I'm there, my name is something else," she says. That proves she remembers something about all the people she was, but not enough to be real. Walton says that if they don't get out, they'll find up in prison. Echo asks what that is, and he says "a place with no sky." He, meanwhile, is about to inject himself into checking out before Vitas stops him. He has a better idea..shooting their way out.

Soon, the Gray Hour ends, but Sierra/Taffy2 says they still have time to get out before the whole security system reboots. They do get Echo on the line, and talks her into making a special hole that will get them out without tripping off the alarm. However, it doesn't work. They will soon be found by the guards, cops, and everyone else.
Topher, meanwhile, tells Ivy some Japanese programmer named Takahashi is really behind this disaster so he could get his job. Ivy's more interested about whether Echo will survive. Topher then figures there is one person who really could have done all this....but he was killed--right?
As Sierra is about to be de-Taffyed, DeWitt tells Dominic to put two men on standby in case they have to put Echo down. She actually feels regret over making such a decision.
Back at the vault, Vitas is ready to start shooting even if Walton prefers to surrender. Echo has another idea: she sticks the hypodermic Walton was about to use on Vitas' neck. He winds up firing at the guards while Walton tosses a smoke bomb to let Echo escape. Boyd finds the entrance to the vault, along with Echo...and Walton. She declares "I'm not broken."
She still needs a treatment, though. As for Cyril, he'll be sent back to Diakos to be dealt with.

So, what about Paul? Well, he tells Lubov he's now under the microscope of everybody now, from the FBI to the Russians. Paul figures if the Borodins do grab Lubov, and his body is recovered, how he's killed will tell Paul if Lubov was with them or not. Lubov is quite stunned by this because this is not how the FBI works. Well, Paul points out "I'm a screw-up" as Lubov mentioned to him last week. Lubov leaves by telling Paul he still cares, and that's his problem. Too bad we'll never know if Lubov is right, because he won't know, either. He's an Active, remember?

Back at the Dollhouse, Topher says Echo is all new again, in his opinion. While fearing sudden death, he asks DeWitt if Alpha really did this. She refuses to answer...until he signs some document that raises his security clearance. Well, he does (the lucky #@&%!), but not before she admits that trying to deal with Alpha, something they created, has been very difficult because, she sadly admits, "we're not all powerful." Topher can help by making sure what just happened never happens again...and don't tell the others, either. Still, I wonder if he'll tell Boyd, since he wouldn't be surprised to learn Alpha's alive.
In any case, Topher admits "I'm scared like a little girl". DeWitt, meanwhile, must be a scared big girl, because now she's trusting Topher.

Echo's not scared. She's busy swimming, while Sia sings a classic Pretenders song. She sees herself in a foggy mirror, and makes a face...just like the "broken face" from the vault.
But Echo's not broken.

This episode was written by Angel vets Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain.

Ratings-wise, another down week. It attracted only three and a half million this week, a far cry from four point eight million in its first week. In the 18-49 demo, it registered 1.5, a slight dip compared to last week. If Fox believes the real numbers are in DVR usage, as in TSCC, this will be good news. There has been some explanation for the dip, such as Watchmen, and predictions of another big dip in viewers when the finale of Battlestar Galactica airs in two weeks. Fans are hopeful all 13 episodes will air, especially because after episode five, we will see the show as Joss Whedon wants it. Throw in Patten Oswalt, and you can't miss.

Also, there will be no episode two days after the Paley Center panel. Fox is devoting April 17th to the return of Prison Break.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Recap of Dollhouse "Stage Fright"

After saving a kidnapped girl, and escaping a crazed hunter, Echo is given an easier job: protecting a pop star from a stalker. However, as Adelle DeWitt as said, nothing is what it seems to be.

This episode was written my Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon, who are also part of Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog.

Reyna Russell is the hottest pop star these days. Yet her tour has been plagued by problems. The latest tragedy is a background dancer getting burned by pyro effects by accident..or is it?
While the crowd is shocked, someone in the crowd seems...unaffected.

At the Dollhouse, Echo and Sierra are running on treadmills, Sierra gets off, then stumbles a bit. Echo helps her, since she is her friend. Meanwhile, Dr. Claire Saunders is patching up Boyd from last week when he had to deal with an evil Middleman. He wants to be cleared for his next assignment. He's worried what may happen if Echo has a handler she doesn't know. Claire says "we're all strangers to them." He is also worried someone out there, that supposedly isn't Alpha wants Echo dead.

Meanwhile, Lubov tries to break into Ballard's apartment when Mellie caches him. Lubov claims Ballard knows him from "Old Navy", which sounds like product placement. He does leave a message for Ballard to meet him somewhere.

Biz, Reyna's manager, meets DeWitt, and asks for an Active who can protect Reyna without realizing it. So, Echo is now Jordan, a struggling singer grateful for getting the chance to be one of Reyna's background singers. Oh, and Echo/Jordan can sing, too. She and Reyna even hit it off when they sing about freedom. We'll soon learn this is musical irony.

Claire is concerned, though. She had instructed that Echo only do romantic jobs or good deeds, not anything dangerous. Topher assures her it will be fine. He's also amused by Claire's interesest in Boyd. "You're gonna get married, and have scowly babies," he smirks. We also see Echo will get backup, in the form of Sierra. She will become Audra, a giggly fan from Australia.

As Reyna prepares for her next gig, Echo/Jordan notices a lot more security, without realizing she is one, too. She also learns that fan mail goes straight to the cops. Reyna is being quite the diva, even throwing a fit because someone is eating a mint. Is she pulling a major J-Lo, or is it Stalker Guy?

Ballard meets Lubov at a party, Lubov insists the Borodins/Russian Mafia has nothing to do with this "Dollhouse" Ballard seeks. In fact, Lubov thinks the Dollhouse is just a myth, like "alligators in the sewers." He also reveals that Ballard can't close cases, which may be why he's got this snipe hunt. Then we get Ballard's latest reason: "We split the atom. We made a bomb. We come up with anything new, the first thing we do is destroy, manipulate, control." Now, if this means the Dollhouse has had some role in preventing him from taking down major cases, that's a good reason to look for this place. Anyway, Lubov wishes there was a Dollhouse to escape his stressful life. In fact, "I want to start over, I'd be Doris freaking Day." What's wrong with Rock Hudson?

Echo/Jordan snoops around and alerts Biz to a security hole at the freight elevator. Boyd is not too far off, and he and Topher talk about the mission. Then, they talk about Reyna. Boyd thinks she isn't so down-to-earth, and Topher pretends to be crushed by this. Actually, we see he's processing another Active. Of course, it's Lubov, who's really Victor. He's part of DeWitt's way of dealing with Ballard.

Stalker Guy gets to the concert, and so does giggly SierrAudra. He's busy planning to shoot Reyna on stage. At the pre-party, SierrAudra is so star-struck, and maybe a bit annoying. She was cooler in "Ghost". Jordan is impressed by Reyna's power, and asks SierrAudra if she'd take off her clothes and run down the street if Reyna told her to. As she asks if she gets to keep her underwear on, Echo/Jordan sees a suspcious guy approaching them and reaching under his coat. She clobbers the guy, to everyone's surprise. He was just trying to get a picture of Reyna. Echo/Jordan just says, "I'm a Southie."

Lubov/Victor calls Ballard and tells him there could be proof of the Dollhouse at the basement of an abandoned hotel. Of course, we know it's a lie. Ballard's being set up. He finds some old mattresses, and two guys about to kill him. Although he gets shot, he takes them out, and confronts one of the shooters about the Dollhouse. The shooter doesn't know what he's talking about, and Ballard says "no one ever does." It would be nice to get some idea of why he thinks this way. He then calls for an ambulance for himself.

Meanwhile, Boyd and Joe (Sierra's handler) discuss the case. Boyd notes Sierra is new, and wonders what happened to her predecessor. Joe just says "she got the job done."

Echo/Jordan talks to Reyna in her dressing room. She also finds new fan mail from Stalker Guy, and guesses Reyna is a bit too close to Stalker Guy. She also finds out he plans to kill her on stage. Yet Reyna is almost looking forward to it. "I'm not crazy," she says. "I just want to be free." Didn't we have this last week?

We did, only this time she wants the hunter to kill her. She even sings a song that's more like a dare for Stalker Guy to kill her. She even brings SierrAudra on stage, and calls her "her #1 fan". Echo/Jordan tries to stop the concert, but is able to stop Stalker Guy, but not before he fires two shots. This is followed by Paul in an ambulance, apparently neutralized by the Dollhouse.

After the concert, Reyna is actually upset by what Echo/Jordan did. She claims the fans were disappointed in not seeing Reyna die on stage. Echo/Jordan doesn't understand, especially when Reyna calls herself "everybody's fantasy" It's almost as if she was a musical Active, and she just wants out..permanently. As she puts it, "God put this voice in me, and forgot to make it mine." Some viewers may suspect there's not much difference between how Actives create anyone, to American Idol or reality shows creating singers. Hmmmm...

In any case, Stalker Guy is now jealous, and kidnaps SierrAudra. He sends a video message to Reyna to come to him, or he kills the "#1 fan". He's clearly jealous because he liked the current relationship, where he kills for her and she dies for him. Oh, and she has his phone number. Whaa?
Biz slaps her, but Echo/Jordan pushes him, since she's programmed to protect her. That's reason enough to help her, no matter what.

At the Dollhouse, DeWitt is told by Dominic what has happened, but isn't too worried. They'll just fish Sierra out of there. DeWitt then asks if Dominic was a fan of Reyna's music, which seems like an odd question.

Still, it's sane compared to what's happening: Stalker Guy forces SierrAudra to sing just like Reyna, while Reyna rehearses her routines as if nothing is wrong. Echo/Jordan tells Reyna she will feel somthing if she helps SierrAudra. If not, maybe hitting her with a folding chair will.

As Dominic's army comes to save SierrAudra, and Reyna, they find a phone message from Echo/Jordan to Stalker Guy. Dominic then slams Topher against a wall, saying "your little brain child just backfired." Actives don't improvise..or do they? Topher grows a spine by yelling "you're in my house, Laurence...Of the two people here, one of us is a genius and the other is a security guard in a very lovely suit." So, the guy in the suit asks why it's OK that Echo/Jordan has grabbed Reyna to give her to Stalker Guy. Topher's not sure about that one.

Actually, it's because Echo/Jordan is improvising. She proposes a trade to Stalker Guy, Reyna for SierrAudra. That way, everyine gets what they want, except for SierrAudra. Stalker Guy goes nuts over what's happening, but Boyd is there to take him out. DeWitt tells him to hold off, figuring Echo/Jordan is somehow giving Reyna therapy to cure her of her death wish. She winds up pushing Reyna over the catwalk, but she was tied to a rope, and is left hanging. Stalker Guy is dispatched, and Echo/Jordan saves the day, This calls for a treatment.

Dominic calls Echo an increasing threat who should be put into "The Attic", whatever that is. DeWitt, meanwhile, thinks Echo's resourcefulness saved the day, and straightened Reyna out. That's very generous of DeWitt, and makes me wonder if Dominic may attempt a coup. Boyd and Claire are also impressed with what Echo did. She is also worried that Echo may wind up being too special, as in Alpha-special. "Sometimes the best thing to hope for is good enough", she says.

As the episode wraps up, Reyna is singing that song about freedom, Ballard is alive, but is about to get a visitor...Mellie (who may or may not be an Active). Sierra and Echo see each other, but Echo shakes her head, as if she's telling Sierra not to say anything about what happened...as if they remembered any part of it.
Wait, they're not supposed to. Sierra didn't, but maybe Echo did.

As for Ballard, he's becoming the American version of Zenigata, the cop that could never catch Lupin the Third (anime reference). This can'r continue, and I suspect it won't. Joss is too smart to let this get old too quickly. At least, I hope not.