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.