Sunday, December 13, 2009

Yet more "Dollhouse" blogging

Episodes 7 and 8 of "Dollhouse" season 2 aired last Friday night. I interpreted the episodes as two more spins down into the death spiral, but my judgement might have been biased by news of the show's cancellation by Fox. In any case, here are some thoughts as to what went wrong and what went right in these epsiodes.
  • Episode 7 started with Ballard and Echo roaming around the American southwest, on the run from the "Dollhouse", and trying to break a poor, oppressed Hispanic woman out of a prison run by corrupt Anglo cops. In other words, Ballard and Echo were an "A-Team" (minus B. A., Face, and Murdoch, that is). Just close your eyes for a minute and imagine how purely awesome it would have been if "Dollhouse" had been the "A-Team" with a brainwashing machine in the back of the van.

  • The other half of episode 7 was essentially a bait-and-switch to do some essential character damage control. Adelle DeWitt is supposed to be the tough-as-nails boss lady of the Los Angeles dollhouse. In reality, for most of the series to date, Adelle has been more of a pushover than anything else. In season one, she essentially plays the enlightened leader against Laurence Dominic, who floats all of the tough decisions for her first. In the first half of season two, she tends to get pushed around by her boss, Harding.

    The dollhouse half of episode 7 is designed to give Adelle her bitch reputation back. The episode starts with Adelle suffering an entirely random and completely inexplicable demotion to tea-serving girl at the hands of Harding. After being humiliated as a woman by the boys club, Adelle finally has an excuse for betraying Topher in order to get her old job back. The net effect of the episode is to bring us right back to the L.A. dollhouse status quo, except with evil Adelle instead of morally conflicted Adelle.


  • Episode 8 is the long-awaited return of Alpha. The first revelation is that Echo's quest to bring down the dollhouse is presumably doomed to failure, since Alpha turns all of the dolls into mindless killer dolls and they still can't bring down the dollhouse.


  • The second revelation is that Paul Ballard has finally gotten mind-wiped, in the sense of suffering brain-death at the hands of Alpha. Of course, everyone following the show knew from the very start of season 2 that Ballard was going to be turned into a doll. The reason why is also obvious: Paul Ballard was too masculine. In the Whedon-verse, the only unstoppable, butt-kicking, nail-chewing, kick-your-ass-at-three-in-the-morning hand-to-hand combatants are mousy, 100 pound women. Ballard was the one male character who was allowed to kick ass in season 1, so turning him into a vegetable in season 2 is karmic retribution from Whedon.


  • Finally, episode 8 ends with Ballard brain-dead and Echo back in the dollhouse. It's clear that episode 4 -- the episode where Ballard is mysteriously missing -- was mostly likely moved out of order in an attempt to save the show during its November hiatus.

The ultimate impression that I've gotten from Dollhouse season 2 is one of torpor. The highest priority of all of their actors is not getting typecast as a character from a dead show, because that's the way they've all been acting since day one (except for Eliza Dushku, who seems determined to go down with the sinking ship). The end effect is exactly what one would expect: every episode has 90% of the cast moping around waiting for Echo to do her job of the week.

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