Thursday, October 22, 2009

Belle Chose: Dollhouse episode 2.03 review

Sorry for the delay in this week’s dollhouse episode. I’ve been a bit busy, and this was a solid episode. Not so world-changing that I had to spend the next three days searching for superlatives, or so incompetent that I was instantly driven to rant. Just solid. I think in some ways it proves that Dollhouse can have solid Engagement of the week episodes, so I was wrong last week.

So for those who haven’t been following dollhouse ratings from the edge of your seats – the news has been all over the place. The episodes were appalling, they were better but still awful, Fox was going to pull it, Fox was committed to making and airing all 13 episodes, Fox had confirmed airdates for the next 5 episodes

Well four days or so after that good news Fox has announced that they’re not airing Dollhouse during sweeps, but instead they’re airing double episodes through December. This means I’m going to be in withdrawl all through November, and also I’m grumpy. If anyone out there has a Nielson box, the offer is still on for a very small bribe.


This episode was filmed as the second episode, and it’s obvious after watching them out of order that they’d been changed. (according to reasonably reliable internet sources it was Joss and Tim who decided to change the episodes round – which is surprising to me – messing with continuity isn’t usually their style). This episode fits straight on from ‘Vows’ – the mention of Dr Saunders, and Ballard clearly new to the dollhouse.

The one advantage to all this is that it makes Ballard look much, much worse (and since no-one really insulted him this week and so I’m therefore favourite character-less I’ll take what I can get). In his first engagement, his behaviour is just standard-issue-creepy. But if this is even his second engagement he isn’t just confused, stupid and gross – he’s predatory. Although, despite the advantages of Ballard looking worse, I’m going to go with the original continuity, in the rest of this review and in my head.

Oh and there was an extra special Ballard hating moment of putting down the client: ‘Some egghead English professor who can’t get any of his real students to sleep with him’. There’s some masculinity dissing in the first half of that, which makes the second part particularly gross. Apparently Ballard thinks “he’s a non-manly man who can’t even take advantage of his power over women” is an insult. Seriously – why did no one insult him this episode?

But the most exciting aspect of all this was that we got to see the wardrobe. The mechanics of the dollhouse are far more interesting to me than most engagements. The wardrobe guy’s commitment to his job was great – I really hope we see more of that character.

We also saw another African-American watcher. I do wonder if the casting of people of colour as handlers is deliberate. In terms of how the dollhouse would work, I think that would be an interesting decision. To build your world with an understanding of ethnicity, and the segregation of the work-force is a real step up when it comes to Joss-verses. However, the TV show ‘the dollhouse’ doesn’t tell stories about handlers - it tells stories about dolls, management and professionals. So the effect of what may (or may not be) realistic world-building, is that the stories revolve around white people, which is not a good solution (I’d love to see some stories about handlers – that is handlers that aren’t Ballard).

I should warn you now that I’m not an English major, I’ve never read Chaucey (or Chaucer), and so the insightful parallels with English literature will have to take place in the comments.* Given that the professor wrote non-fiction bestsellers I guess it isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility that he’s saved up everything he’s ever earned to pay for the dollhouse. Although that is one inane fantasy to spend your life savings on – unless there’s a literary layer I’m missing.

And while I usually rag on Tim Minear for being a libertarian, there was some straight up feminism in there. (As there was in Out of Gas – Kaylee and Fester the mechanic was a moment of true beauty) The way the Professor’s ridiculous speech on the power all women have was undercut by the fact that he only wanted a women with that power over him if he’d constructed her. And the parallels between the professors’ refusal to acknowledge his own power and control and the serial killer’s explicit violence against women were nicely done.

None of these themes were subtle, but after the thematic hot mess that was ‘Insticnt’ I’ll take obvious any day.

Echo stabbing the client, was a very satisfying moment. (Although I don’t know what’s more implausible – the dollhouse’s profitability or its (lack of) security.)

Neither Boyd, Adelle or Topher really got much to do this episode, but their interaction was nicely done (“Topher has ethical problems *Topher*”). I’ve been disliking Boyd for a while now, mostly because I hate the moral posturing about the dollhouse for one so complicit. And also because I find the way he gets so worked up when Echo has sex in a way he doesn’t want to have sex – the problem is that she’s having sex with no meaningful way of giving consent, not that that sex involves whips and tempura. Although I think the real problem is that he hasn’t had a plot-line since The Target. His translation of Adelle made me remember that I might like him if we ever saw anything from him but hypocrisy and punches.

When the serial killer was loose in Victor’s body, Adelle was clearly more concerned about Victor than say him killing people. I wonder if she’d have tried something that risky if it had been any other doll.

Clearly Victor as Kiki was one of the highlights of the episode. And Ballard had a small moment of not-sucking when he stood with Victor. Enver is a fabulous actor and he committed. But it was also an example of the show having it both ways. The scene was a commentary on social norms, why are those behaviours normal in Echo’s body, but ridiculous in Victor’s? Why does the same person get such different responses?

But the only reason the scene is funny is that he’s a boy acting like a girl.

The show is going to continue to have it both ways (see the wardrobe). The question will always be, how did the balance come out? Dollhouse is usually going to have to show the ideas it’s critiquing. Which is stronger: what we see or what the show is saying? I think in this case it works, at least partly because of Ballard’s position, but it’s always a fine line.

I was a little disappointed with the ending. It seemed to be another season one “Ba-Boom! Echo remembered something!” I really like the idea that Echoline (I’m pretty sure I got that from Whedonesque) is fighting back against the imprints if it’s something she doesn’t want to do. But to end it all on such a repetitive note was a real let down.

That just leaves the serial killer plot. Eh – serial killer plots aren’t really my thing, even at their best moments of parallels I’ll talk about the parallels not the plot themselves. Enver Gjorkaj is very talented. The dialogue between the women in the cage “we have names” was clunky in the extreme. I was engaged, it was watchable, but if I never watched another story about serial killer, it would be too soon.

See I don’t even care that Ballard killed someone – that’s how much I’m not interested in serial killer plots (I’m more grumpy that he made fun of his name – two masculinity insults in one episode – I hate Ballard so much).

Enjoy the next episode – it’s the last till December (and this makes me very, very sad).

* Although I have read ‘Writing Your Dissertation in 15 minutes a Day’ and the author of that started her dissertation on The Wife of Bath. Although all I remember is that is based on hideously misogynist source texts, but whether it is itself as misogynist is up for debate. I’m guessing that the parallels lay with the way men use ideas of women having power – discuss…


  1. ALexander9:02 am

    Good review. I liked htis episode a bit more than you, I think. It could be that I have a lot more interest in serial killer shows, than you, I do follow Criminal Minds and Dexter, after all. In this case I feel it was done pretty well--creepy, plausible, not shown as too unstoppable. Plus it paralleled the larger themes of the show pretty well, while the killer wasn't himself a client of the Dollhouse his sense of entitlement, migogny and network of connecitons was quite similar.

    ALthough I'd say the professor was creepier than the killer. The whole notion of him insisting that women had the power through sex and that prostitution for a grade was a form of influence is disturbing in its own right. And this was a case where the scifi element extenuated the hypocrisy perfectly--here he was insisting on his victim's empowerment when her whole personality was framed by him, and she had no existence in life or in the course beyond acting out his fantasy.

    The notion of an educator custome designing an airhead that he could screw while lecturing about Chaucer is quite distrubing, and insofar as its plausible it's more disturbing.

    With regards to a professor being able to afford an Engagement--yeah, I'd say that's contrived. Even if he had tenure, that shouldn't be in his price range. It looked like he was giving intro-level undergrad lecturer taken largely for breadth requirements, I doubt he'd be Distinguished Professor status. I suppose he might have inherited or something.

    That and the uncle just walking out with killer-in-Victor were the big realism issues, but I could get behind them for the sake of an interesting story.

  2. Oh my god, Maia, I'm not going to spoil you, but you are going to LOVE the latest episode. My boyfriend and I watched it on Friday and just kept saying over and over, "OMG I can't wait to read Maia's post about this." The show just got PHENOMENALLY better.

  3. Anonymous5:04 am

    Ditto Lauren's comment. Can't wait till you review it. Plus an episode were the only reference to Ballard was cut out (Hah!) in which Echo remains Echo for the most part, there is tons of Victor/Sierra and we get to know Priya (poor girl). Its amazing!

  4. Thanks for all your comments. I'm writing my next review as fast as I can (but it's pretty long already and I haven't even touched on Sierra/Victor). I'm stoked that people are thinking of me while watching Dollhouse. I'll try to be my best in my review

  5. Anonymous8:16 am

    I can wait a little longer if its longer. I'm always a little sad when I start to reach the end of your analysis.

  6. I'm a big fan of Joss Whedon - Buffy TVS remains my all time favourite show and I've still not forgiven Fox for cancelling Firefly; sounds like they're up to their old tricks with Dollhouse though! I've heard a lot about it but not seen any episodes - still waiting for some NZ TV channel to pick it up (but not holding my breath)...