Monday, April 27, 2009

Review of Dollhouse "Haunted"

After a break last week, the show returns with the story of a woman who returns from the borrowing Echo's body. It leads to an interesting search for her killer, but the plot may not have been the best way to get more viewers. It borrows from 17 Again, episodes of Star Trek and the Twilight Zone, and a few movies about dysfunctional families.

A rich woman named Margaret Bashford goes out for a ride, while her young husband Jack and a few friends look on. A few minutes later, her horse returns. She doesn't.
Next thing she knows, she looks up at the face of Adelle DeWitt, who tells her she's dead. She also has someone else's body....Echo's.
A new service from the Dollhouse...everlasting life, but only for a limited time. Boyd is shocked when he learns about it from Topher. He wonders "where does that end?" "Same place it begins, death," Topher says. Then again, what is so surprising of people coming back from the dead? It's old hat for Buffy Summers.
Topher also asks Boyd for permission to use an Active for his annual diagnostic test. Sierra is chosen.

Meanwhile, Echo/Margaret and Adelle talk about this new lease on life, but they have a funeral to attend. They also have an engagement to find Margaret's killer. It seems she underwent brain scans for more than a year, just in case this happened.
Cheating death by getting another body is a staple plot in sci-fi, from "The Trade-Ins" and "Uncle Simon" in The Twilight Zone to "Return to Tomorrow" in Star Trek, or even Chucky in Child's Play. The Dollhouse just perfected that wish, but only for a little while. The Actives still have other lives to lead.

Echo/Margaret poses as "Julia", a friend she met while in Morocco. Immediately, her kids, Nicholas and Jocelyn, her brother William, and Jack are very suspicious of her. After all, why would a woman who's as personable as a bulldozer be so friendly to a stranger? Echo/Margaret tries to explain it, but with great difficulty. Then again, she suspects everyone of being her killer, even her "close friends" whose names she can't remember. As she tells Adelle later, "I love these people, but I don't like them."

Meanwhile, Mellie the Doll and Paul Ballard the former FBI agent share dinner, and concerns about their relationship. While she wonders if it's going anywhere, he's careful not to admit he knows she's an Active. Otherwise, the Dollhouse may program her to kill him. He's still trying to figure out who she was. He bags a wine glass she just held, hoping her fingerprints will reveal her. He takes the glass to Loomis, who reluctantly runs the prints through the system. As he points out, Dolls are missing persons who don't know they're missing. He finds out Mellie has had several lives, as Annabelle, Michelle, and even Polly Keller, who was in prison. Then all those files delete themselves. Now two people believe there's a Dollhouse.

Back at the Bashford home, Nicholas talks to "Julia" about his mom, and how she pressed him into a Wall Street career at 12. She says his mom just wanted to make sure he was happy, and really cared about him. At this point, Nicholas kisses "Julia", much to her shock. This makes her Zac Efron and him Michelle Trachtenberg. She leaves quickly, and runs into Jack. He's a bit upset he wound up with the horses. She says Margaret did that to show he wasn't a gold-digger. Thing is, he's afraid everyone thinks that he is, and a killer. However, he has an alibi we have seen.

The next day, Boyd expresses his misgivings to DeWitt about the Dollhouse resurrecting the dead. "You realize, that's the beginning of the end," he says, and that Margaret will have to give up Echo's body. DeWitt says that's his job, and that she's not planning to preside over the end of civilization. She also asks his opinion on why Margaret was killed. He suspects her horses, including one that was a Derby contender, may be connected. Victor is sent as Drew Chilton, a breeder who looks over King's Ransom. When Nicholas sees what's happening, he says the horse is not for sale. He doesn't want Jack to profit from his mom...right?

Echo/Margaret, as "Julia", later talks to Jocelyn, the daughter. She's upset that her mom never supported her photography, or even confided in her. She's more upset she saved her love for "Julia" and Jack, who she calls a "tropical cookie". Speaking of which, she sees Jack planning to leave because he feels he belonged to his wife. She seems to sympathize with him, but he thinks "Julia" is really a spy for someone in the family. He doesn't like this "summer stock seduction" act she's got going. He suggests maybe William is the culprit, since he came a day before she died. William tells her he just decided to make things right with her, and they did. He also mentions that Nicholas has been caught by an addiction.

Back at the Dollhouse, Topher finishes his diagnostic test of Sierra. He sees it's a success...he's turned her into the Best Bud/Video Game Pal of his dreams. No sex. No abuse. He just wanted to make a friend, literally. As Fran Kranz pointed out at the PaleyFest recently, It's very difficult for Topher to relate to anyone who isn't a super-genius. He should have tried with Ivy, who at least claims she can do his job, but he just can't. That's why he does these tests, usually around his birthday. Oh, and DeWitt knows. She understands. Just recall the previous episode.

As for Paul, he comes home and sees Mellie there, talking about smelling some of his shirts. She also says he can have her on his terms. "I will give you what you need," she says, "and let you take it from me. If you want to give back, give back." He then has his way with her, and it is very uncomfortable to watch. He kisses her, holds her, pins her against a wall, and then to bed. She just lies back while he projects his affections, and maybe his frustrations, on her. It's somewhere between what Hearn did to Sierra, and Adelle did to Victor. It's artificial love, the worst kind. It's also the moment Paul Ballard becomes a White Knight with armour heavily corroded on the inside.

Meanwhile, Echo/Margaret rides King's Ransom in the dark, which is symbolic of her situation. Then, she meets someone at the stable. It's Nicholas...who reveals he knows Julia is really his mom. He even knows about the Dollhouse, the NY branch. Believe it or not, she is relieved someone knows the truth. It also leads to a pretty strange scene that also looks like a twisted version of 17 Again. Seeing Echo/Margaret talk to Nicholas as his mom is really weird at so many levels. He does admit he's had a rough time on Wall Street, but she says it will be OK somehow. They also overhear Victor/Drew tell Jack that King's Ransom is loaded with steroids, and would die if he raced again. Jack is very angry, and starts swinging a shovel at everything in sight. He comes close to hitting "Julia", but Nicholas stabs him. She and Nicholas head to her bedroom, where she can write a letter revealing the truth...dated before she died of course. He reminds her to include the fact she died when a steroid masking agent was injected into her....which Jack never knew about because he has an alibi.
Yes, the son did it. Killing Mom will solve his financial problems, and framing Jack will be easy. However, Jack is able to save her by shooting Nicholas and subduing him. Later, Echo/Margaret revises her will with another fake letter, and makes up with Jocelyn and everyone else. She even leaves one more letter for Jack, letting him know he was special to her.

As for Paul, he stands in the shower, realizing what he has just done. He's been condemning what the Dollhouse does for a long time. Now, he's a willing participant. As Mellie asks if Paul will be busy looking for Dollhouse clients, he sadly says he's found one. That client will always be there. He just has to find a mirror.

As Margaret heads back to the Great Beyond, Adelle asks her if she was tempted to run away with Echo's body. That would make a great sequel. Besides, she wouldn't get far, and she's had her time. At least she's made amends. She finally asks if her life will flash before her eyes when Echo's wiped clean. Adelle assures her she will.

The episode was an interesting murder mystery, which proved again you can't fight a ghost, or one that's borrowing an Active's body. It also showed that Paul Ballard, while claiming to be the White Knight, is all too human. However, it seems Paul fell into temptation too quickly. He stopped seeing Mellie as a woman, and more of a Doll who can be anyone if you "dressed her up right". What's more, she told him he could do that. Even so, he should have held back, should have stopped and apologized. We still don't know why he started investigating the Dollhouse, either. Hopefully, we'll find out in the next two weeks, when a storm is coming that will make Katrina look like scattered showers.

Or maybe the storm has already hit. Prison Break has not been the lead-in the show had hoped it would be. This week's numbers are the lowest yet: 1.9/3, and 1.2/4 in the 18-49 demo.
Expect the DVR numbers to be much higher, but it may not be enough. It looks like Paul Ballard will never knock down the Dollhouse. Lincoln and Michael, and their mom, may have beaten him to the punch.

Still, there is hope, even if it's dim. We'll talk about that soon.

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