Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Love Supreme: Dollhouse Review 2.08

This two episodes a week schedule is really hard to maintain. This is a trucated review of episode 8. I enjoyed it (despite the presence of both Alpha and the supposed love between Ballard and Echo), but I didn't love it the way I loved the previous episode, so there's less ranting.

I didn’t talk a lot in my last review about what had happened to Adelle – I felt that this episode shed so much light on her character, that it was worth holding some of the discussion off to this review. Adelle’s bargaining, craven reaction to Alpha, was very telling about how the three months we missed had changed her.

As Alpha said to her “All this bargaining, you don’t have anything I want that I can’t just take.” She’s lost her ability to bluff and negotiate – she didn’t just have her power taken away in that time, but her ability to use power, the desire to be in control and her belief in her ability to do so. (I don’t think any of the characteristics she lost were characteristics to be admired in a human being, but she’s definitely a very different character without them)

I think part of it is that she’s lost the lies she used to tell herself, the ones where they were doing good. She knows she’s brought about the apocalypse for her own personal power, and I think that knowledge is one of the reasons she can’t assert herself the way she used to.* She told herself all sorts of lies, and she doesn’t have those lies anymore. All she has left is the will to survive.

I don’t think she’ll stay like this forever though, something must happen. The Adelle we saw in this episode would let Clive Ambrose take Victor’s body to eat crab in for the rest of his life. (Making the Adelle we see now compatible with Epitaph One is, I think, an extreme challenge for the writers. I think they’re probably up to it).

The new Adelle has implications for the rest of the dollhouse. One of the things that we had been seeing, over the course of the show, is that those running the dollhouse were regularly deciding that it was easier to let people have some freedom than maintain total control. (This bares more than a passing resemblance to real life) Echo wasn’t really acting like a doll, Victor and Sierra were spooning. The process some dolls went through in Needs worked (from the point of view of the dollhouse) in making them easier to manage, as did some freedom. But Adelle doesn’t feel like she can allow them that freedom anymore. Her grasp on power is too tenuous.

Her reaction to Echo, Ballard and Boyd makes perfect sense. Her response to Echo seemed particularly cruel, and well designed. I found it distressing to watch Adelle use Victor against Echo. Echo and Victor had been allies – and the situation she was in was terrifying enough without the breach of trust there. (Not that poor Victor could help it – and more in the “is there anything Enver can’t do” files)

We even got a tiny Victor and Sierra moment, and I’m all about tiny Victor and Sierra moment. (although obviously I prefer large Victor and Sierra moments, or Victor and Sierra episodes, or “The Victor and Sierra Show”) I enjoyed Noir Sierra (that’s what she was right? I’m not an expert on film genres). It’s a shame that we haven’t seen more of that sort of thing, in the show. One of the many aspects of the show that Fox didn’t support.

I wasn’t overcome with excitement when I learned Alpha was going to be in these . I think Alpha was one of the biggest missteps of season one. Serial killers are profoundly uninteresting, and every decision they made about Alpha’s store made him more boring. I’m not a massive Alan Tudyk fan anyway.

But if they have to bring back Alpha I can think of worse things for him to do than go round systematically killing all the men who have hired Echo. In fact, by the old measure that the character who is meanest to Ballard is my favourite character for the episode, he was my favourite character for this episode (more on that later). It was particularly enjoyable to see him blow up Matt of the inane fantasies, because I hated that guy and who doesn’t love a pun?

Of the characters we’ve seen on screen that have had sex with an active 6 are dead (Hearne, bow-hunting guy, Matt of the inane fantasies, Nolan, teaser guy in a caravan and Ballard), 1 got stabbed in the neck, 1 is in prison, and 2 (Joel Myner and Adelle) seem to be intact. (I am assuming that baby guy didn’t have sex with Echo – because they were new parents and she wasn’t what he needed). That’s a much better ratio of rapists to consequences than in the real world.** Although how the dollhouse remains open with that survival rate among it’s clients is becoming more and more of a mystery.

I liked the return of Joel Myner (and the visual image of him running away from Paul Ballard down the beach was hilarious – I’d run too). Obviously he’s an entitled rapist creep, but I always thought it was interesting that the dollhouse was giving him what he wanted – not what he needed. That by giving him Rebecca every year they were ensuring that he could never really live in this world. He appreciated Rebecca in Echo, which I thought was awesome.

The bait and switch was beautifully done. Even if I had to grit my teeth through Alpha’s speech about how Ballard must really love Echo because he didn’t sleep with her. He quotes Nietzsche, what on earth does he know about human relationships?

But, clearly all that is forgiven, if Ballard is truly dead. At the end of watching Meet Jane Doe I was talking about how much I hated Ballard and the many ways I wanted him to die. But I knew that none of them could possibly come through “Ballard can’t die,” I said “But he could go into a coma, wouldn’t it be awesome if he was in a coma.” Dollhouse has a weird habit of granting my wishes,*** so now Ballard’s in a coma.

Let’s hope it’s the permanent sort of coma. I understand that Tahmoh Penikett probably hasn’t been written out of the series and Epitaph One gets a little pesky at this point, but they could have imprinted Ballard with someone else (or that could be Alpha with Paul’s personality viewed through Echo’s brain). The only problem there is that I don’t think Tahmoh Penikett’s two and a half emotions make him doll material as an actor.

It’d be annoying if Echo and Ballard were a tragic love story (they were together and we killed one of them – it’s a new things Joss is trying). But far less annoying than watching him. How are we supposed to view Ballard? How do the writers see Ballard? At this stage I honestly have no idea. The last two episodes were constructed like an epic love story. As if the audience had been hanging out for the kiss since the beginning of the series. But they had to know that a large chunk of their audience were chanting “Go Team Alpha!” Ballard was always creepy, they knew he was creepy – they had him having sex with a dead Caroline and raping Mellie. So why do this? Why take Echo in this inexplicable, ridiculous and unearned direction?

But all’s well that ends well I guess – go coma!

* Incidentally, I’ve seen it suggested in several places that they’re doing a season 5 of Angel and she’ll turn out to have a deep plan. I think this goes against everything we’ve seen in her character development in this episode. I also think it doesn’t make any sense – she hasn’t just joined some secret society or killed someone, she’s given Rossum the plans of how to bring about Armageddon.

** A fact that almost makes me uncomfortable. One of the things that bothered me most about X-files was that it was a moralistic universe – almost all the time, particularly in the early seasons, everyone who died deserved to die. While it’s satisfying to have people killing rapists left, right and centre, that’s not how the world works. I’d much rather watch an uncaring universe than a moralistic one, even a moralistic universe which shares my moral understanding

*** I complained that there wasn’t enough relationships between the dolls and I got Stage Fright (which I still think was under-rated). I complained that they were using sexual violence to tell stories, rather than telling stories about sexual violence and I got Man on the Street.

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