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Dollhouse watch : Season 1

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  • #16
    The first thing I did before sitting down to write anything was to look up The Most Dangerous Game on Wikipedia. I’d never read the 1924 short story, but I was aware of the title as being the source material for so many episodes which use the same trope as “Target”. I remember a big game hunter pursuing the hapless Gilligan in an episode of Gilligan’s Island. I remember Chancellor Goth chasing the Doctor through the fantasy landscape of the Matrix in the 1977 Doctor Who story “The Deadly Assassin”. Looking at the Wikipedia entry I saw lists of other homage episodes that I’ve seen. Hunting humans is almost as common a trope as boy meets girl. The reason it gets used so often is that it is engaging and exciting. And these borrowed plot elements work in “Target” too, although I think other elements let it down.

    But the thing that really surprised me when looking up the original 1924 story was the name of its author -- Richard Connell. I know from reading Stoney’s rewatch that Connell is name of the client in “The Target”. Well, at least the writers of Dollhouse were acknowledging their sources.

    I say I learned it from Stoney’s rewatch, because after two episodes I don’t remember the names of any of the characters. Well, I know Echo and Alpha – but those aren’t names, just the international alphabet. And I guess I know Echo’s original personality is Caroline. But the other characters are either ciphers or stock characters,

    There’s the evil boss woman, the handler, the good cop, Amy Acker and the callous hipster scientist. If he is a scientist. I mean the guy who feels like he’d be a part of Buffy’s Trio of Geeks if he had the charm of a Danny Strong or Tom Lenk. He’s actually probably what Buffy’s Andrew Wells would have been like if they had cast a less quirky actor. But I’m being unfair to the Dollhouse actor. I just don’t think he has a great character to play – not yet anyway. Of course, Eliza Dushku is the star – so we see much more of her acting talents, but the others? I can tell there are good actors in that cast, but they don’t have the chance to shine yet. I hope that changes soon.

    I know that this cipher quality works thematically for a show that’s about identity, about characters whose very essence is a mere fantasy. But the lack of true personality makes it hard for me to emotionally engage with the show. Dollhouse engages on a drier, intellectual level. And yet, I think it needs a soul. I suppose that soul is coming in a few episodes, but it seems like a crazy strategy to spend several episodes before we can truly care. And caring doesn’t mean the characters have to be good. There are many shows where the leads are anti-heroes, people we care about even though they don’t have the moral fibre of the Scooby Gang.

    I thought the flashback was a bit out of place. It seems unusual to flashback to things that should probably have been told in the present -- in the first episode. I wonder if this is footage recycled from the unaired pilot.

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    • #17
      Hey Guys. Just a quick note to say I'm intending to watch Stage Fright tonight. Fair to say it hasn't gone to the planned pace early doors.

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      • #18
        Response to Dollhouse, Episode Three - Stage Fright

        Well, I have to say - the show isn't really improving so far. This episode has to be the rock bottom (hopefully for the series) of the three episodes I've seen so far. Some interesting reveals - Victor isn't all that he seems. But it's not really enough so far. If it weren't for the last few minutes of the script, the entire episode would have been a severe disappointment.

        To be honest, this particular story line reminded me of one of the old plots from Charlie's Angels. "The girls find themselves hunting down a serial killer who's taking out beauty pageant contestants - and they have to go undercover by participating in the wet bikini contest!"

        And the backdrop of a Brandy-esque pop singer made zero sense to me in this episode - why not hire a slew of professionals to protect her rather than a pre-programmed robot? It's not as if pop singers aren't surrounded by massive security all the time - why the need to have an undercover bodyguard? It feels as if the only reason is to get our lead into as many skimpy outfits as possible and pander to a much younger demographic who would never evince much interest in a pushing-30 lead anyway.

        And yet, at the same time we have ham-fisted dialogue that is trying to be "oh, so, feminist" with songs about freedom and lines that were thumpingly accurate as to the themes of the episode/show. The ideas are good - but the execution is terrible and simplistic. We now know that the Dollhouse functions somewhat like a whorehouse where the executives can have a little hanky-panky with their clients - but wouldn't they be far too valuable for that? Everything feels so scattered and unrealistic - fantasy worlds need some coherency - the world building here isn't really up to snuff.

        The show feels stuck between two worlds here - corporate network pandering to young girls - and a far darker show underneath. And that tension doesn't really benefit the show. In fact, it diminishes the message - the brew of questioning stardom and its subsequent abuse and exploitation of actors doesn't go down very well when the actors in the show are directed to flaunt their naughty bits all over the place for titillation. And to be frank, some of the acting is VERY shaky. And the art direction is awful - Reyna's supposed to be this big pop star and it looks like she's playing in underground clubs. The "fans" watching her are even worse - they look like extras paid to be there - not a good move in a show that should be highlighting the back-and-forth of exploitation between viewer and actor. I think that adding a "real" fan rather than a plant (which makes no sense - she's there to help Echo and throw the bad guy off the target?) could have subtly worked in a few of the thematic points that were bluntly laid bare to the viewer with little dramatic payoff.

        Putting that aside, in almost every scene I kept questioning the plot - why does the FBI guy go alone without backup to a dangerous place? He's such a loner and so loathed at the bureau that he can't find ONE GUY to flank him? Why does Reyna want to die? Saying that it's the pressure of her life is so incredibly cliched and cheesy that I actually laughed out loud at her very important reveal - and the idea that the finale on the catwalk shook her out of her death wish is utterly preposterous. This plotline obviously only exists to mirror the situation of the people in the Dollhouse - and this blatant parallelism pokes the viewer through the eye with a sharp stick.

        The scenes themselves felt really off - characters acting shocked at developments that the viewer could spot a mile way like the pop singer's secret relationship with her number one fan. This kind of writing is simply telegraphing that the writers thought that they were saying something really profound and edgy - which always inevitably comes off as eye-rollingly silly in practice.

        Even the campy elements of the situation - the bodyguard protecting the star who wants to die - didn't materialize - I was waiting for both women to go at each other with claws extended and that didn't even happen. At least it would have been a jolt of low entertainment energy. But the show is too high-minded for that even as it exploits our female heroine who suffers exploitation in jiggly tit outfits.

        I still like Eliza Dushku a lot - she manages to rise above the "undercover bikini" meme and give Echo a shot of something special. I do like the idea in theory that Echo is "special" in the sense that she maintains some measure of autonomy that allows her to override programming and come up with brilliant ways to achieve the expected goal. I'm just not a fan of the poor execution of this idea.

        The show still seems to be a house of mirrors - with no one quite certain who is a doll and who isn't. Of course, the people who are creating the dolls could be using this technique on themselves, I guess - it would be a great way to master a golf game or write a symphony or whatever. I still don't understand why the male sexed up serial killer of the week isn't expected at this point since it seems to happen EVERY SINGLE TIME they send her out. If they have to send her handler week after week to save her, why not just make the handler a doll? Or perhaps they are. But if so, why send out Echo at all?

        For all I know, robots killed all the actual people long ago and imprinted every single character with who they are supposed to be - thus it is a house of dolls selling a house of dolls. But a bigger problem is that Echo does seem to actually have a personality - she's not THAT dissimilar in each episode so far. I think the show might have been stronger if she had really varied characteristics from one character to the next - but it feels more like she's dressing up in various outfits than changing her personality. Much of that is the fault of the writing - her dialogue doesn't really change from episode to episode - shouldn't her locutions, her syntax, her vocabulary be wildly different from the last?

        The fight between Topher and Lawrence sets up some interesting future dynamics - but the best part of the episode was the very end in which Sierra and Echo obviously recognize each other as evil incarnate watches them from the side but fails to catch their signal. So does that mean that Echo already knows who she is? Is this just a game? Are they really undercover agents working from within to destroy Dollhouse? And why are they cognizant and no one else? Is someone helping them from the inside?

        To be honest, I laughed out loud when the executive cartoonishly suggested that Echo go to "the attic" - this hilarious thumbprint of the title of the show struck me as ridiculous. Maybe they'll send her down to "the porch" for a needed timeout or make her "walk the stairs" to reach another level of enlightenment.

        That's an example of the stretched metaphors of this show - and I hate to keep harping on all the negatives. But from what I understand, the show becomes much better as it goes on. So I'm going to keep an open mind and consider this episode to be another Teacher's Pet or I Robot...You Jane and look onward to better things.
        Last edited by American Aurora; 25-11-16, 04:13 AM.

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        • #19
          If it helps, I love the show and yes I think this episode is pretty terrible. There is probably a defense to be mounted but I won't do it, at least not unless I rewatch and something jumps out at me that I forgot.

          What I will say in defense of some of the basic assumptions in the show, the thing that I think clients are paying for when they pay lots of money for engagements that are essentially prostitution is authenticity. Obviously there's the paradox in that they're getting programmed authenticity. And part of the joke (and it is a joke, IMO) is that a lot of the scenarios that people pay for, the ones that form the background stuff more so than the main focus, are really quite boring and unimaginative -- and usually something that it should be possible, with a minimal amount of empathy and effort, to get to some degree without paying huge amounts of money for a brainwashed slave...unless one has so much money that the cost of paying for a fantasy is orders of magnitude less than the emotional and time cost of building a relationship with another person that would provide an equivalent experience, while constantly assuming that the other person is lying. It's about control, yes, but it's also about shortcuts to having someone with whom one can share an illusion of a truly authentic human experience which rests on the other person genuinely feeling all the things they are trying to rather than a well-acted facsimile. And I think the issue is that human drives for love and authentic human connection -- as well as sex and other drives, obviously -- are overwhelming and basically can never be fully met. The moral objections aside -- because those are quickly rationalized away in the clients -- the difference between a great actor prostitute and someone who genuinely feels each thing, even if those feelings are programmed, is probably much more emotionally apparent, at least the first time, than the difference between a one hundred dollar bottle of wine and a five thousand dollar one. Insert something about human economic behaviour not being rational in the idealized economics model sense.

          ETA: Sorry I realize I misread some of what you (AA) was saying when you said "Wouldn't they be too valuable for that?" I think here there is also the related tendency of all human activity to be somewhat directed toward what makes money and satisfies drives. And there are other reasons, which are somewhat talked about in the future. But I think part of the thing is that the idea of the absolute richest of the rich being able to benefit directly from the doll program is one part of how the Dollhouse gets a) funded, b) supported, and c) not revealed to the public. I think this is a pretty common tactic for large organizations -- provide people with something they want, "bribe" them, and (usually) then also have something to threaten them with afterward. Sex is not the primary reason for the doll program to exist, but it is one reason to appeal to people who are in a position to fund it and who might be in a position to oppose it.
          Last edited by Local Maximum; 25-11-16, 06:39 AM.

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          • #20
            1.03 Stage Fright

            This episode was pretty predictable and I'd agree with Aurora that it was the worst so far. Again we saw Echo being sent into a scenario where she didn't operate within the boundaries of what they tried to programme her to do. This time even supposedly setting up for her to unconsciously respond in specific ways. The awareness seems to be increasing though and it was unsurprising when the earlier line about helping a friend came back up, although it is unclear how consciously aware she may be becoming. She may well have not meant Rayna any harm but she could have been prioritising Sierra as her friend in the rescue operation she pulled off at the end. The slight shake of her head at Sierra to not talk/approach at the end showed an awareness of how much they were being watched and implied that they may have been communicating outside of their 'holding programme' parameters.

            The lack of behind the stage control is something that was heavily evidenced in the episode. Obviously there was the failure of Rayna's security/management to stop the threat to her or see her involvement. For Dollhouse, the scientist's arrogance at his own genius was directly challenged by Echo's uncontrolled/unpredicted behaviour. But their willingness to see her actions as still getting the job done possibly wasn't surprising as they wouldn't want to lose an active unnecessarily. But as they have history with an active going rogue this not bothering the head woman is somewhat odd. AA's comment that just being 'good enough' is sometimes better obviously referenced the increasing dissatisfaction from some quarters that Echo is seeming to think outside the box. Boyd's admiration is contrasted by the suggestion that Echo gets 'sent to the attic'. Clearly this doesn't sound like a friendly place but a dusty place full of boxes, darkness and broken/forgotten 'toys'. EDIT: As Aurora points out, it is a comment designed to make us go .

            Boyd's concern over Echo's stage performance was sweet perhaps but pretty hammy in the acting if I'm honest. And it does still somewhat fall into that same investment that Rayna experiences from fans. Her manager's successful manipulation of her in hiring Echo and his anger at her also is greatly affected by his expectations and wants of her. The great difference is probably whether the concerns and motivations are primarily for the person themselves. But even then, it can still come with structured aims of how someone should behave and respond and it is hard to see the line always of when it is forcing, pressing or even just contributing to making someone look to conform and perform. Self-awareness and choice has of course to be key. The whole mirroring with the stage performer who feels like fans expect to have ownership of her and 'be' their fantasies, meet their perceptions and expectations, was just lacking in subtlety. It led to some pretty clichéd links where the characters were, sometimes unwittingly, describing the Actives' situation and reality, and references showing (probable) lack of self-awareness such as Sierra wanting to be able to remember every detail of meeting Rayna. I wonder if it is intended to be a little uncomfortable for the audience, making the 'humour' clearly lacking in a situation where this mirroring isn't understood by all the players. Where actives are being treated like dress up dolls that can be adjusted and posed at will, and made to willingly engage in 'assignments' to help someone who needs to wind down (yuk) or can put them in situations where they are risking their lives. I find it hard to apportion a high degree of choice to the situation that got them into this role without knowing how much they really knew of what could come. The whole tie through of what is real and what is the urban myth, where the person starts and finishes, how the object of people's focus also invests into the creation of their 'stage' persona, does remain the most interesting and engaging aspect of this for me.

            I raised in the last episode how interesting I find the fan investment/ownership angle of fandom, the expectations and the pandering to those expectations which happens. It is fascinating to see how people respond and interact, especially where they are being provided with what they want, or what they think they want. And the fact that there are the two sides of this which are active is something that is warped slightly by Dollhouse as the 'Actives' aren't aware. I found the conversation between the scientist guy (I'm still not getting these names into my head without looking them up) and AA interesting. AA was objecting to Echo being put in there and not knowing that she was being programmed to act as a bodyguard. But every inch of her persona was intended to be programmed and controlled, that aspect being hidden from her didn't change the fact that it was all intending to be a provided person who was 'lab grown'.

            I expected everything that this episode threw at me aside from the snitch being an active too, that was a neat way of showing them trying to stay ahead of the cop. But it is also providing him with the possibility of real breadcrumbs to follow, so it is also a bit daft. The attempt to kill him failed and will probably just lead to him being even more determined, if that is at all possible. This episode continued to do what the previous episodes have done and it is still an interesting topic, but I am starting to feel that lack of investment in Echo a little too now. Overall, although it was effective for raising some of the main points of the series, using the direct comparison between the entertainment industry and Dollhouse felt a little disappointingly blatant, if that makes sense. EDIT: I'm guessing it does having read Aurora's post after writing this and I agree with her criticisms in the writing of this episode. I'm still holding some hope that the exploitation of ED in these parading roles is part of the examination of the problem rather than them not seeing they are doing it.


            - - - Updated - - -

            EDIT: I keep hesitating over saying I enjoyed watching this episode as it is more that the idea of what the series is looking at still has my interest, but the execution at the moment is certainly ropey and there are a lot of questions over hows/whys (which Aurora raised and noticed far more than I). As has been commented on, the expectation that it will continue to improve helps, but I think even without that I'd still keep watching at this point.
            Last edited by Stoney; 25-11-16, 07:11 AM.

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            • #21
              I love the Charlie’s Angels reference in American Aurora’s review. This seems exactly the sort of assignment that Charlie would send his “girls” on. So, does that make Echo’s handler “Bosley”?

              I’ve seen the plot of Stage Fright somewhere before. Maybe I’m thinking of the Angel season one episode “Eternity”. Maybe I’ve got a mishmash of some Forever Knight episodes stuck in my head. Who knows – maybe a rerun of Charlie’s Angels is rattling around in my brain. Whatever the case, the singer’s motivation seems phony. It’s like a comment on society rather than genuine feeling. And so far, Dollhouse just doesn’t have the wit to work as true social satire. If we’re going to be this detached from the characters, then the show needs to be much wittier.

              I agree that Dushku’s Echo seems far more consistent than the plot would dictate. It would be interesting to see changes more akin to how Tatiana Maslany plays the different clones on Orphan Black. Seeing a core true personality be lurking underneath more outwardly dissimilar characters would be interesting. It would make the growing awareness more intriguing.

              I just don’t buy the world building either. Would millionaires pay through the nose for a good fantasy? Maybe. But that would require an awful lot of investment on Dollhouse’s part -- to maintain the Actives, program them, bribe the politicians to keep secrets. It seems like a lot of expense eating into their profits. And really, I don’t understand why they were so shocked at the violent and sick fantasy in “The Target”. It seems to me that psychos like that would be the most likely to pay top-dollar for an Active. It’s the only mission so far where the expense would have been justified. I just can’t see getting these Actives as bodyguards or hostage negotiators. The Actives seem less capable than the less expense real thing would be.

              Also, aside from the hints towards Alpha, most of the menaces on this show seem pretty small time. That works in Firefly, where the heroes are a ragtag band just trying to survive. But I think Dollhouse needs greater stakes in the assignments. Right now, the incompetent cops on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit could handle these cases.

              Maybe Dollhouse mainly specializes in tough Black Ops assignments, and we’re just seeing the boring assignments they do on the side to make an extra buck while waiting for someone to hire them to destabilize a foreign government, conquer a nation or whatever. Maybe all of these assignments are just beta-testing for some kind of master plan.

              As it stands now, they don’t really seem to be making a lot of money or gaining a lot of power. Nor are they working for mankind’s benefit. Maybe a clever twist is coming, but if so, that twist would be far cleverer if the world we’re presented with now made some kind of sense.

              That last bit where Echo cuts off Sierra’s attempt to show recognition is most promising thing I’ve seen in the show so far. I hope the plot kicks into gear soon. Right now, everything I’ve seen feels like it could be compressed into a pilot episode.

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              • #22
                I think Stage Fright is the weakest episode of the series but these first 5 episodes are... a slog. Actually, I rather like The Target, but overall these episodes were mandated by FOX who were having difficulty with the show's premise. FOX were uncomfortable with the show's darker themes despite Whedon and Eliza being very upfront about what they wanted to explore when pitching the show. It wasn't until FOX saw the original pilot that they got sheepish and then demanded the engagement-of-the-week stories instead. The little glimpses of promise that you keep seeing will start to take shape, but the series doesn't really begin to kick into gear until the sixth episode. Try and stay with it if you can! Episode 6 is a major turning point for the series and it was when a lot of viewers seemed to legitimately become fans rather than just watching out of some sense of obligation.

                I do dimly recall that there was some major backstage drama in regards to this episode in particular. It's possible I'm making that up but I do vaguely remember that somebody, maybe Eliza, called this episode out specifically as being really poor and pleaded with fans to stick with the show. You really can't underestimate just how messy the early days of Dollhouse were. The network and the writers were really at war over this series and it was made very public.

                This episode is just terribly written, though. It's heavy-handed, generic, cliched, boring, badly acted and unmemorable. FOX really is to blame for a lot of this show's problems early on (and to some extent the entire series) but the writers also failed pretty miserably here.

                It's funny that a few of you have mentioned that you can't even recall most of the character's names and are still referring to Topher as "the science guy" etc. I had forgotten this until I read your reviews but I had that exact same problem at this point in the show. That will change for all of you, I think, as it certainly did for me and everybody else who was watching the show at the time, but there is really nothing memorable about any of the characters besides Echo yet.
                "The earth is doomed!" - Banner by Nina

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                • #23
                  Hey, why has this thread been inactive for a month? I hope you haven't given up, Stoney! The good stuff is still to come! I've finally caught up in the meantime, after having been bogged down in work for about a month and a half, and rewatched the first 4 episodes. I don't have much to say that you haven't covered already, although I found that I liked these episodes more than I did originally, at least the first 2, which tends to be the case when you rewatch a show after you've already become invested in characters and story. I was mildly surprised that these early episodes contain more arc stuff than I remembered.

                  American Aurora, it's interesting that you see Fran Kranz (Topher) as an actor with less charm than Tom Lenk, because I would say the exact opposite. I'm not one of those who dislike Andrew, but I wouldn't exactly call Lenk an actor brimming with charisma, and his bizarre acting choices that have been mentioned upthread can be rather annoying at times. And I can't really compare Kranz and Danny Strong, since the characters of Jonathan and Topher are too different. Jonathan is a put-upon, insecure and victimized guy we feel protective of. Topher, on the other hand, is very confident and arrogant.

                  In fact, while there are similarities with Topher and members of the Trio in the "amoral nerd/scientific genius" aspect, in other ways he's very unlike them. I've said it before that I see Billy/Dr Horrible as a mix of Warren and Andrew but with a far more charismatic actor and in a protagonist role. But what separates Topher from all of the above (other than a much higher degree of snark) is the lack of the self-pitying Nice Guy nerd insecurity/inferiority complex. Which doesn't mean that Topher doesn't have huge issues about himself - something that we haven't seen in these episodes, but will in the future - but his issues are of a completely different kind. He's a nerd who is an unabashed arrogant a$$hole and knows it.

                  BTW, disregarding the whole amoral/evil thing, I think that Kranz (at least in Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods - I'm still to see Much Ado!) is perhaps, out of all Whedonverse actors, the one whose outward persona, way of speaking and appearance remind me the most of Joss himself.
                  Last edited by TimeTravellingBunny; 26-12-16, 04:07 AM.
                  You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize it; the dust is your life going on. If happy comes along - that weird unbearable delight that's actual happy - I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get, 'cause it's here, and then...gone.

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                  • #24
                    Still here! I'm hoping to watch ep4 in the next couple of days, great to have you join us.

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                    • #25
                      Gray Hour

                      I thought this episode was OK. I suspect that it works better in hindsight when you can more accurately pull out the hints of where things are going, but doubt that it drastically strengthens it. I wondered if we'll see more of Walton as he started to get to know Echo without an imprinted personality in place. But his character wasn't really given individual time or expansion in the episode, so possibly not.

                      Seeing the brief clip of the midwifery assignment was a nice touch to expand on the assignments Echo performs, the 'life' she leads, so to speak. But I was a touch disappointed that the main assignment of the episode had ED's sex appeal woven in the plot yet again. And it wasn't just in the fake out role Taffy played to get access to the security room, but was also in the safe cracking scene too through innuendo. The fake out (and I really liked that this was a planned part of the heist) did at least deliberately use the viewer assumption that it was yet another sex assignment to emphasise that, especially following the midwifery clip, that isn't all that she is called to do. But with the following sexual vibe later and the obvious eye candy that the fake scene plays on and so still provides of the actress, it continues to feel problematic. It is possibly just because we have been discussing this as an element of the show that I'm becoming increasingly sensitive to it and how the character/actress is used in this way. I'm still hoping it is a deliberate part of it.

                      I actually quite liked Taffy's character and I enjoyed the touch of seeing another active playing the same role too when Sierra was activated. The different responses to Echo from Walton and Vitas when her imprint was wiped, was interesting. I liked the touch of insight it gave to their personalities from the contrast to the dynamic with her beforehand. It's why I hope Walton comes back. Although thinking on this further, I suspect he would possibly map too closely to Boyd's character really.

                      The open acknowledgement Boyd isn't as indifferent to Echo as he should be was stated by Adelle but is hardly news as he doesn't even try to hide it (I'm still having to look up some of these character's names). I found his acknowledgement to Topher that they don't know that everyone agreed to this, that they are just told they did, interestingly frank. He doesn't really fit into the organisation smoothly at all, or make any effort to try and appear to do so either. It makes his future hard to second-guess I suppose when he isn't trying to hide his concern for Echo, his disapproval or his disquiet, and yet also chooses to continue to work there and they choose to keep him too.

                      The little time we got to see of Echo making sense of the world, of exploring the vault and talking to Walton and Vitas was interesting. She was likened to a newborn but there was some continuity in her wish to be her best and alongside the flocking that Topher was talking about, the true limitations of this blank state is being pressed and questioned again. I can't remember (my head is too fuzzy at the moment!) if there has been a previous link for the sky comments she was making too, but they felt pointed. Drawing the lines in the steam over herself again showed these blurs of continuity cross the lines, showing her behind it throughout. They are building and she simply isn't erased each time.

                      The repeated references to being broken in the episode linked to what was happening with Echo, but I feel like I was supposed to see her as having saved herself when Sierra wasn't able to get them out. That they are looking to also build a continuity to the character emerging of having an innate capability in varying situations and that this is something Boyd is witnessing in her. His statement then of seeing her as 'not broken' when she emerges is intended to confirm this with us. But I have to say, she didn't really get herself out of this scenario as the smoke that Walton threw and his instructions were what got them moving out of that room. Not that she didn't show emerging character and make her own choices (such as stabbing the syringe into Vitas and rescuing Walton), it's just that their escape wasn't from her individual success.

                      Alpha breaking in on the assignment and wiping Echo expanded on those little slivers of other experiences coming back to her that we've had. It is interesting to wonder why he is fixating on Echo. It could be from something he has found out about her past, before or after he stormed the organisation, but it is strange to have not killed her then and yet put her in the situation now where she may be executed to protect the organisation. I still find it difficult to think that Alpha is the only other solid previous example they have of the system failing.

                      I am becoming more interested in Topher's character. His arrogance and paranoia are a great mix to watch. He is more concerned with the possibility of being bested than what could be happening to Echo. The reason for Adelle increasing his security clearance and updating him on the truth about Alpha will I presume be because of the additional measures he may need to apply to manage the threat to the security system from Alpha. Clearly the reliance and belief in the technology in this business are a weakness that has, and can further, be exploited.

                      I'm still finding the cop a little difficult to get interested in. His interactions with Victor when he is activated as Lubov just don't grab me. I like the idea of his dogged determination, but he still feels like a two-dimensional cliché cop character at the moment for me. The biggest plus from this episode was that I was more interested in Topher as an individual character and I cared more about Echo by the end. A little more anyway.

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                      • #26
                        The most important thing in this episode is obviously the existence of the remote wipe. I think it's not really a spoiler to tell you that this is going to be pretty important in the show, though obviously I can't go into details.

                        The show straight up trolled the audience in the beginning of this episode, first with the opening scene, then by making us think that Echo is on yet another, very sleezy and skeevy sex assignment, before revealing she and the guys are actually just acting as a part of the ruse. I had forgotten everything else about this episode except that there's a heist that goes wrong and that Echo's imprint 'malfunctions', so the ruse worked for me again.

                        The episode expands the range of assignments we've seen so far. I have to say my first reaction to the midwife assignment was "but why would they need to pay for a doll for this". But on second thought, whether any of the clients objectively need to pay for a doll to perform a task, as opposed to finding a regular person, is not really the point, the point is that the clients think this is something they need (and have enough money to spend on it). In case of romance/sex assignments, clients are rich people who looking for authenticity, or what they see as authenticity: they are rich people who are probably used to thinking that they can buy friends and lovers, but may also be suspicious of the authenticity of feelings of real people who get romantically involved with them (are they really just pretending for material gain?), or are looking for very specific embodiment of their fantasies but don't want to invest time and energy in finding a person like that, and don't want to hire a prostitute because it would just be pretense/acting. But in cases of people looking for people of specific skills to perform a task, authenticity is not of utmost importance - so, in those cases, the Dollhouses must have been able to really convince their clients that their imprinted dolls can offer top and perfected skills in a certain area, that they are the best of the best, beyond what a regular midwife or hostage negotiator would be able to perform.

                        This would also obviously be the case with a heist of valuable art, especially since it was of utmost importance not just to hire a highly skilled thief, but one that would be completely dedicated to the task and would not be tempted to steal the valuable objects for himself/herself. There was talk upthread of how most of the assignments so far have been pretty mundane. This may be, so far, the only assignment big and important enough to justify the expense of hiring a doll. And also a rare case where the client looks a lot more sympathetic/nobler once we find out what it's about (though, ironically, we also find out it's a crime). What/who was the old rich Greek man referring to when he said "it's not for me, it's a gift"? He doesn't want to keep the pieces of the Parthenon in his own collection, so I would assume his main motive is to get them back to his country, but what/who will he give it as a gift? He cannot give them openly to a museum or another public institution, or if he does they won't be able to display them, since they have been obtained by illegal means.

                        The fake-out "sex assignment" which was really a ruse to get into the hotel was a Russian doll-type situation: we are watching Eliza Dushku playing Echo, who is being used/abused as a brainwashed slave for the Dollhouse playing the role of Taffy without knowing about it, while Taffy!Echo is also consciously playing the role of an abused prostitute in order to complete her assignment.

                        I don't think that "blue skies" was a reference to anything outside the Taffy imprint? It seemed to be a part of it, since Sierra, IIRC, also talked about 'blue skies' when she was imprinted with Taffy.

                        Regarding the "childlike" state of wiped dolls, which was mentioned previously, and whether it is plausible that they could really be wiped to such a state that they would not even know to defend themselves against Alpha, in spite of the "fight or flight" instincts. I don't know if that's really so implausible? Yes, people and animals have those instincts, but in order for those instincts to kick into gear, you first have to recognize the situation as dangerous. Would a newborn baby defend himself/herself, if he/she was physically able to? Would a newborn baby have any idea that a person wants to hurt him/her? I don't know, but I think it's more likely that fear is something you mostly learn, based on your experiences. For instance, I have two dogs and a cat, and the older of my two dogs was an adult when I adopted him, who had been living in the streets for some time and had been, reportedly, abused by people, and hit by a car at one point, before he got saved by the association for saving dogs and cats and finding them a home. He was extremely traumatized and at first, scared of everything. With time he became more confident, more trusting and happier, but he is not very social with other dogs, hates children and is sometimes unexpectedly scared of some people. My other dog was abandoned in a park as a 2 months old puppy, and I found him and brought him home - probably shortly after he was abandoned (because I walked my dog every day in that park) and I don't think he had the time and chance to really get through a life of insecurity and abuse, fighting for survival - and he's generally much, much more social and eager to play with every other dog and every human he sees (that's an understatement - he runs to them and literally jumps on them ). And I've also noticed that my cat used to be pretty fearless and curious as a tiny kitten, but grew into a much more cautious adult cat - which is probably a change that happens to many cats (and humans). Wouldn't a fully childlike/babylike state include a lack of fear of many things we have learned to be afraid of as adults, because of our experiences and knowledge?

                        Obviously, dolls aren't exactly like newborn babies, but only because they are made to be able to do things like walk, talk, feed themselves, communicate and recognize language (although in a rather rudimentary form, since they intentionally aren't taught any complex concepts) in their wiped state. That would mean that the Dollhouse scientists like Topher are intentionally imprinting the dolls with those skills/knowledge, but not letting them have any other experiences or knowledge that may make them independent, rebellious or defiant, or able to take care of themselves. They may also be stimulating certain parts of their brains that are responsible for certain responses, but keeping other parts of their brain inactive. In short, I think it's plausible enough in terms of SciFi "science" where we don't know the exact details, but can imagine/accept certain premises.
                        You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize it; the dust is your life going on. If happy comes along - that weird unbearable delight that's actual happy - I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get, 'cause it's here, and then...gone.

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                        • #27
                          Originally posted by TimeTravellingBunny View Post
                          I have to say my first reaction to the midwife assignment was "but why would they need to pay for a doll for this". But on second thought, whether any of the clients objectively need to pay for a doll to perform a task, as opposed to finding a regular person, is not really the point, the point is that the clients think this is something they need (and have enough money to spend on it).
                          I agree the perception of the client of the need to have someone 'created' who wants to perform the jobs is key. But I do think there has to be some scaffolding for that need and I think the point for the midwifery assignment was that they were on an extremely snowy mountain in an isolated cabin (or some such if I'm indeed remembering correctly!). I suspect the majority of midwives wouldn't be willing or, even if they were, would not be able to travel to such a remote location and/or the couple wouldn't be geographically within the areas most health services would cover.

                          But in cases of people looking for people of specific skills to perform a task, authenticity is not of utmost importance - so, in those cases, the Dollhouses must have been able to really convince their clients that their imprinted dolls can offer top and perfected skills in a certain area, that they are the best of the best, beyond what a regular midwife or hostage negotiator would be able to perform.
                          Yes I agree that the ability to pour knowledge and skills into one person to become the epitome of whatever profession or field of knowledge required is the selling point in a very separate way to the ones who are looking for an authentic experience where the person doesn't know they are playing a programmed role. It is weird though when the client obviously still knows it isn't really real but can find enjoyment from seeing the other person believing it is. I think your point about some people not wanting to put the time and effort into making the connection with someone is probably sometimes true.

                          I don't think that "blue skies" was a reference to anything outside the Taffy imprint? It seemed to be a part of it, since Sierra, IIRC, also talked about 'blue skies' when she was imprinted with Taffy.
                          Ah okay. So it was only being used so pointedly to strengthen the sense of consistency when they were playing the same role.

                          Regarding the "childlike" state of wiped dolls, which was mentioned previously, and whether it is plausible that they could really be wiped to such a state that they would not even know to defend themselves against Alpha, in spite of the "fight or flight" instincts. I don't know if that's really so implausible? Yes, people and animals have those instincts, but in order for those instincts to kick into gear, you first have to recognize the situation as dangerous. Would a newborn baby defend himself/herself, if he/she was physically able to? Would a newborn baby have any idea that a person wants to hurt him/her? I don't know, but I think it's more likely that fear is something you mostly learn, based on your experiences... Wouldn't a fully childlike/babylike state include a lack of fear of many things we have learned to be afraid of as adults, because of our experiences and knowledge?
                          You do raise an interesting point about how learned an instinct actually is. The blank state that they are returned to could very deliberately have them programmed to be relaxed and trusting of others around them even. So I can see the argument that there is a necessity to feel fear and recognise a danger before fight/flight would take hold perhaps. But, as far as I remember, the memory of Alpha's massacre in the offices had Echo sat amongst a sea of doll bodies. Once one person, or maybe even two people, have been killed in front of you some of them would try to run I think. The reduction, or limitation, in cognitive reasoning to stop them realising any danger as that was happening around them would have to be some astoundingly strong programming. But even so, it could then just be that their 'childish' attempts to escape or even to fight back, were just utterly insufficient against someone imprinted to be a skilled killer and were meaningless in making an impact on the situation anyway.

                          Obviously, dolls aren't exactly like newborn babies, but only because they are made to be able to do things like walk, talk, feed themselves, communicate and recognize language (although in a rather rudimentary form, since they intentionally aren't taught any complex concepts) in their wiped state. That would mean that the Dollhouse scientists like Topher are intentionally imprinting the dolls with those skills/knowledge, but not letting them have any other experiences or knowledge that may make them independent, rebellious or defiant, or able to take care of themselves. They may also be stimulating certain parts of their brains that are responsible for certain responses, but keeping other parts of their brain inactive. In short, I think it's plausible enough in terms of SciFi "science" where we don't know the exact details, but can imagine/accept certain premises.
                          Yes, it is interesting to consider that the blank state is in fact a very complicated programme in its own right to define boundaries and limit the development that a doll that was inactive could make. Great point.

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                          • #28
                            1.05 True Believer

                            I wasn't particular captured by this episode, but found as I started writing up about it that there were some interesting points covered. I don't know if my problem is that I'm still not being given enough about Echo to care about her individually, if it was that the main assignment of infiltrating the cult just didn't really grab me or if it is just because of the big gaps between watching eps stops me feeling the progression/flow. Possibly it's a bit of all of these.

                            I thought Eliza did a passable job at playing Esther, it certainly wasn't her best performance I don't think. I'm not truly sure how well she pulled off being blind because obviously I know that she isn't, so the times where I thought it just looked like someone avoiding eye contact and when her exploration of people's features didn't seem a tactile enough experience, perhaps I wasn't being fair. But I didn't think it was terrible and I'm sure it is a very difficult ask for someone sighted to pull off incredibly well.

                            In an episode that looked at several different points of view within the organisation, at different perceptions and reactions, having the corrupt senator, the corrupt agent and the obsessed cop as side characters worked well I think. So, although I wasn't grabbed by the plot, I did find some aspects of the episode worth chewing on when I was thinking back on it. I quite liked the reveal that it was the ATF agent who had already set up the group to gain his temporary warrant by surreptitiously infiltrating their trip to the store, leaving the note to appear to be from one of the group and create for himself that window of opportunity. But still bound by appearing to operate within the rules they were tied at that point, and so I appreciated having a scenario that made it a real asset to the mission to pay to use an active, someone who truly believes they are who they are imprinted to be. Our obsessed cop following his leads in the background, another operating on 'true belief' worked in better for me this episode than some others.

                            I really enjoyed the contrast between the Dr Amy Acker plays and Topher this time. The reservations the Doc expressed at the surgical plan to place Echo in the group coupled with hearing she had previously raised risks of repeated imprints added more breadth to her employee disquiet. But Topher made light of the risks, quipping dismissively about the surgery and yet didn't want to watch tapes of Victor in the shower. Perhaps he is just distanced or maybe needs to disassociate the actives as people, believe in the resting state as having zero self awareness. But in that situation the Doc is a lot more practical, distanced and task focused.

                            Dominic and Adelle were also showing their own boundaries in how they deal with the company's product. How 'willing' the actives are, or can be for their different assignments, was touched on in the meeting with the senator. The risk/profit balance used to decide what is an acceptable assignment really pushes that the actives are treated as usable assets. Either conned into agreement, misled or 'bought' somehow one assumes. And yet Adelle to Dominic shows admiration for Echo's adaptability where all he can see is potential risks that remind him of everything going wrong with Alpha. With the Doc's scars a constant visual reminder, Dominic's behaviour also seems to tie back to that massacre consistently too. So sure is he that Echo is a disaster in the making that he tries to take her out (although why he didn't just shoot her with one of Sparrow's guns I don't know).

                            The inadequate/limited warning system the cult had set up in camp, able to alert them someone was trying to infiltrate but which didn't consider tunnels or a way to escape, made me think of the company's response to Alpha that we are seeing play out from the different characters. Of course we see more than the characters see/know, but it is hard to believe the little example fissures in the process/system they are seeing don't warrant a greater reaction following the Alpha incident. Smaller episode complaints... Esther's ability to read such complicated names after decades of having no sight seemed dubious to me. Also, the quick eye surgery that required no recovery time and left no sign of trauma afterwards required suspension of disbelief. But as we are accepting implanting and wiping personalities every episode, the latter is a small extra ask of the audience perhaps.

                            How aware is Echo at the end? She certainly looks at Dominic and seems to recognise him and, it is therefore implied, remembers his assault. Is it just a building breakdown of the process not wiping fully and individuality coming through? Has Alpha somehow hacked the system again unseen and is managing to release her? Could he potentially give Echo a remote imprint? Why did he leave her alive? It would be great to have an episode that gave a little bit more about Echo herself now, it really does feel overdue. I'd like to care about the cop more too, so seeing a bit more of his investigation could kill two birds with one stone for me. The situation inhouse is well established now, give me some specific character meat to chew on please.
                            Last edited by Stoney; 06-02-17, 10:16 PM.

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                            • #29
                              Congratulations, you've battled your way through the five episodes that, overall, are so mediocre most of us who had already seen it just couldn't even really feign the enthusiasm to talk rewatch with you about, say sorry. But next the actual series as an serialized storyline really begins, so there will be much more to say
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                              • #30
                                Hey, guys!

                                I am way behind on the Dollhouse rewatch - and I just managed to watch episode four at last. Forgive me for being kinda punchy and snippy here - it's been an exhausting day.

                                It was a mile above the third episode (of which the less said, the better) but it's hard to believe the same writers who worked on Buffy, Angel and Firefly worked on this show. For such an edgy premise, the show is amazingly timid in exploring the possible ramifications of imprinting new identities on a human being - the most intriguing thing about Dollhouse (the identity swap) feels pushed aside by the necessities of working out each cliched "case" of the week.

                                And the sexuality of the dolls is truly overused - why not have one of them take over the identity of Stephen Hawking or someone equally brilliant who has been immobilized because of stroke or disease? Why not have them be surgeons, pianists, mimetic experts, mathematicians instead of ridiculous, insipid plotlines that require the lead to be in a constant hyper-sexual state?

                                It's almost as if the writers couldn't think of any other reasons (or at least the network couldn't think of any other reasons) outside of sex or high-tech crime in which a doll would be useful - yes, there are mentions of other jobs, but we never really get to see them. So the show at this point is set up as victims vs evil bad guys who basically perceive their dolls as little more than prostitutes. We're not given a scene in which Echo saves a child's life through needed surgery - or saves a community from disaster through some kind of superior knowledge. Everything seems to be filtered through bad spy novels instead.

                                It's all trendy TV tropes all the time - bad guys wanting ransoms or trying to kill their sexual partner or fly girls surrounding a suicidal star. Or this time - it's a ridiculously laughable plot about art thieves that feels like something ripped out of a bad Dan Brown novel. I'm still waiting for half the cast who control the dolls to discover that they're dolls themselves (or at least for someone else to realize it) - it feels like it's moving towards that kind of Stepford Wives/Sixth Sense reveal.

                                I would like to get swept up in the actual characters - if not Echo (for obvious reasons), then Topher or Claire or others - but the preposterous Psycho of the Week plot keeps interfering. There isn't enough background - and one feels the lack of a major overarching theme (yet!) that should have been carefully woven into the plot of the week. Outside of Alpha's involvement, there's not a lot of tension except for glimpses by Topher and others of what's going on behind the careful mask they present to everyone in the Dollhouse.

                                And it's pretty obvious that network demands for even more T&A were affecting the quality of the scripts. There's still too much "heroine as hooker" for my taste even if it is a fakeout - and a pretty poor one as it was obviously an act as soon as "Taffy" ran down the hallway. Part of the problem is that there are two different aspects of the show pulling at each other - the first is a cheesy Law & Order: Special Victims Unit point of view in which the horrors of real-life sexual abuse and forced prostitution and slavery are addressed in weekly crime stories - and the second is a wildly ambitious exploration of identity in American culture that is fantastical and psychologically unsettling.

                                And so far, the show wants to have it both ways - and you can't. If you set a science fiction show inside a concentration camp, the clash of a horrific reality and a thought-provoking fantasy have to be VERY carefully mixed or you end up with a kind of mess. And to be honest, Dollhouse isn't really in the league of Salman Rushdie or Jorge Luis Borges although it shares the same ambition in an attempt to blend the fantastical with the grimly realistic.

                                Instead, there's an uneasy blend of pulp fiction and mythological constructs about identity and what it means to be human - I find myself constantly eye-rolling at all the references to shattered identities in every single episode as the writers gamely try to insert higher philosophical themes in the middle of a Bionic Woman episode. From the midwife idea of "birthing" something new to the conversations about art as a rendering of the multiplicities of life, I imagine that the writers were desperate to fill the silly plotlines with meaningful commentary on the idea of identity and the life of the "dolls" - but having a dissertation on the meaning of modern art while someone bleeds out on the floor just feels like a really bad Reservoir Dogs parody. Or a mock Sopranos episode. If it was meant to be telling commentary, it fails - it's too heavy-handed to kick back at the viewer and the theme is forced out only to just lay there like a dead thing.

                                The phone wipe by Alpha was obviously the most interesting thing about the episode - and Topher's reaction bespeaks that there's something else inside the character besides the drive of a mad scientist simply following orders. His bump-up in access to information means that we'll finally learn something about the Dollhouse that's been sorely needed for four episodes - namely, why Alpha was created and what he wants.

                                To avoid sounding wholly negative about the series, reading Stoney's review of the next episode and KingOfCretins' response tells me that the show finally moves out of this stagnant mire and starts to break away into more interesting territory ( TTBunny and vampmogs and Local Max have been hinting this for a while!) I know that so many people love parts of this series - so I'm assuming like many great shows that it's a slow walk up a long hill to finally hit the heights and get to the good stuff!
                                Last edited by American Aurora; 08-02-17, 01:22 PM.

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