Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Dollhouse Review: Episode 7 'Echoes'

When I watched the preview for 'Echoes' the first thing I said was “Oh God, I hope they don’t turn Caroline into an animal rights activist. I liked Caroline.” This clearly says more about my issues than it does about the show. I had assumed that Caroline was an activist who had got into massive legal/other trouble, but I hadn’t actually expected to be right.

I didn’t expect this episode to be as brilliant as last week’s, but I was hoping that it was going to be good on its own terms. Instead I found it the most incoherent episode of Dollhouse yet. While there were lots of individual scenes I enjoyed, the only thing that bound these together was a plot that was sometimes sense deficient (my friend Besty found it even more annoying than I did and I only figured out a lot of the most problems of this episode talking to her).

I think the writers gave Eliza Dushku a very difficult task this episode and she wasn’t up to it. She had some very nice Alice moments* – such as the fists she tries to make when she thinks she’s going to fight. But in general Alice didn’t feel clearly delineated. I really didn’t understand the boundaries between her and Caroline. I think the writer’s should take most of the responsibility for this. I think a little bit more Alice before she started glitching would have gone a long way.

The biggest problem I had with this episode was the drugged staff of the dollhouse. While I found a number of lines and moments very funny,** I think it was far too early in the run of the show to do an effective “eveyone acts wacky” episode.# We’re not familiar enough with how people act normally for this to be much more than generic wacky humour. We saw some character humour with Adelle, but nothing like we could have seen from all the characters in the third or fourth season.***

I felt the active’s reaction to the drug had a little bit more of a purpose, both on a character level, and on a philosophical level. On a character level it was really important to show the effects of rape and attempted rape on Mellie and Sierra. ((and that was the only use of sexual violence, or the threat of sexual violence in this episode. So that’s two episodes of not using sexual violence to tell stories, and instead telling stories about sexual violence. Congratulations.)) On a philosophical level I love that brains, that people, don’t work the way Topher thinks they’re going to. I think the continual message that the Actives will resist their total colonisation, their total commodification (the metaphors are complicated I think) is very important.

I am really excited (and sad, and apprehensive) about Victor’s backstory. While the comparison between the dolls and prostitutes has been explicit throughout the story, the parallels between the dollhouse and an army have been largely ignored. I’m glad they’re expanding their metaphors, and entirely positive that Enver Gjokaj can do everything they ask of him.

I was disappointed that we didn’t get anything about Victor, Sierra and Echo’s relationships with other. It would have been really easy to have, for example, the way Echo and murderer-dude escaped the frat house to have been a moment of recognition between Echo and Sierra (friends help each other). Particularly as the stupidity and success of ‘run when their backs are turned’ strategy undermined the idea that the actives had been created to do this job.

And then there’s Mellie. I think I covered my conversion to all things Mellie last week. Mellie’s scenes with Paul this week ran very true to me, emotionally (and Miracle Laurie was brilliant again).***** I didn’t think, while I was watching it, she’s emotionally manipulating Paul, because that’s what the dollhouse wants her to do. I still don’t know if that was what was happening. Had they pre-loaded this parameter into her personality? Do they think that this will stop him investigating (because I think they’re probably wrong). Or were we just seeing her emotional reaction, and was the dollhouse going to use that?

So at this stage half my brain is wondering exactly how much the dollhouse finely tuned her reaction, and the other half is “see now he’s waiting at his door for her to come out.” I like that tension

Then there’s Caroline; I have so many thoughts about Caroline.

It’s strange seeing activists on TV. They very rarely share my politics, and sometimes I resent this – that activists are shown as such flakes. But then there isn’t necessarily a shortage of Caroline’s around.******

I do like that her plan failed. There’s a lot to admire about her as a person – I thought the difference between the Caroline that planned the break-in and the Caroline that talked to Adelle showed her strength in how much she had lost. But unlike Caroline I don’t think a small band of people following “this is where I am” changes the world. And I’m glad Joss showed this, I think it was an important antidote to Serenity (great as that movie is). ((I know some people resent the constant comparisons to Joss’s previous work. They think that it’s not allowing what he does now to stand by itself. I think that analysing a writer’s body of work is interesting and useful. Joss has themes, and I think it’s interesting to explore them))

Despite the animal rights flakiness******* (“What you say they’re experimenting on humans?” But there’s a cute dog over here”), I am interested Caroline, I want to know more about her. I want her to be free.

If I was going to articulate what this episode was about I would say: showing us how people become actives. I loved the ending; I love that we will now know one of the actives as a person. I am glad that they’ve made clear exactly that the dollhouse does not look for meaningful consent – they use coercion.

But most of the episode was superfluous to that story, and those scenes, for example the drug scenes, generally had no other character or thematic point. I wonder how much of the drug plot-line was constructed the way it was to justify the non-attic-ing of Echo. If the writer’s thought so many other things were going wrong, then the viewer might forgive the fact that the dollhouse is keeping Echo around even though she walked off an engagement.

I don’t know if that was the writers’ logic. But whatever their logic was, this episode didn’t work to me. And I think exploring how people become actives could have been an episode in and of itself.

*And huge props to the costume department - Alice’s outfit was hilarious. Matt is such a creep

** So I thought the funniest line was “say hi from me” – which is possibly a sign I’ve watched Innocence too many times (or as I like to think of it – almost enough times

# Julie talked about this in the trouble with Topher, go read that post. Although I don't agree with her that Victor was in the army - anymore than Echo was an animal rights activist. Hmmmm with my confusion about Mellie I think I may have to write more about this. Why is it that no-one complains that Alas focuses too much on the Whedon issues at the expense of more important blogging? Does everyone really think that all Whedon all the time is the way to go?

*** I thought that they were going to do something with the Actives being the only together people while those who usually control them lose control, which might have been interesting. But that ended up going nowhere.

***** I loved November’s very slow high five. I kind of want to see more of her, but not at the expense of Mellie (clearly I’m having some issues accepting the concept of this show).

****** Which makes me wonder if that’s like John Cleese’s accountant telling him he wasn’t offended by Monty Python’s accountants sketch because that was about chartered accountant, and he wasn’t a chartered accountant

******* And, because I have friend’s who are animal rights activists – just because I think Caroline’s animal rights flakiness is realistic doesn’t mean that I think all animal rights activists are flaky.

1 comment:

  1. Ha! I googled 'Dollhouse episode 7' looking for a review before deciding to skip straight to episode 8, and this was on page 1...