“I’d like to take my place in the world.” – Dollhouse, 1×01   

Finally getting this post done, which is long overdue, but tonight’s the second episode of Dollhouse and I wanted to get out what I liked and disliked about last week’s premiere. I think you’ll be able to tell why I’ll be watching again tonight.

Echo (Eliza Dushku) is sent on an engagement as a kidnapping negotiator in the series premiere episode of DOLLHOUSE. ©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Adam Taylor/FOXI liked it. I didn’t love it but I also didn’t hate it. I’m not sure I would ever have hated it? I am a Whedon fangirl after all. I think it felt familiar in a way only a Whedon show can but I also understand why the ways it is different than Joss’ other work is going to be a major hurdle for some fans. The lack of humor may eventually get to me but I can’t believe the trademark Whedon Wit won’t eventually show up. The premise of this show prohibits it from ever having the same silly moments his three other shows could but I don’t think that precludes any humor at all. Which is good for me because I’ve been having a hard time sticking with any straight dramas lately.

I keep seeing people say they can see the re-writes and re-shoots in this episode but, uh, this was completely different from the original pilot. I’m not even clear if this episode had any re-shoots. I thought it was the original pilot, which will still be aired eventually, that had to be re-written and re-shot? That makes sense since the way things were introduced here is going to change how that episode plays out. For what it’s worth, I think this episode works better as the series opener. Helmut chucking and sexy hair flip aside, the network made some good calls as to what was missing in the original pilot.

Ok, enough of that, let’s move on to the pilot that did air. I’m going to address some of the complaints I’ve seen pop up here and there first before I get into specific things I took from the episode.

First, Eliza. Look, I love her but I was always fearful that she wouldn’t be able to handle this role. I’ve never really thought she had much range. I was not a Tru Calling fan despite my massive girl crush on ED. So when the critics started listing her as one of the reasons the show didn’t work for them? Eek. I was afraid I’d be in the same boat. Which is why I was so happy that I’m not. At all. I think she did an impressive job switching from personality to personality here. If anything, I think she was weakest as her original personality of Caroline. (More on that in a paragraph or two.) Other than that, she did a great job showing us four different people. I reserve the right to change my mind about this once I’ve seen how she continues to do this week after week but, for now, I’m a lot closer to believing Eliza does have the versatility needed here.

Second, why hire an Active? To which I just say… why not? Granted, there are moral issues at play here and I’d never go to the Dollhouse (is this actually what the organization is called?) for my needs. But, in a world in which the Dollhouse exists, why exactly wouldn’t someone who has the money and means not choose that option? Not that I think they’re always going to be someone’s best option, I completely understood it in this first episode. The client was clearly someone who had used them previously. He wasn’t supposed to go to the cops but he wasn’t willing to leave his daughter’s safety in the hands of the kidnappers either. So he goes to an organization he knows will provide him with someone who will give him a little control over the situation. I really don’t find that all that implausible. Plus, on the moral side of things, I can’t imagine the people who use the Dollhouse are exactly the most upstanding citizens. I don’t find it hard to believe that they would use a service like this rather than going through the proper channels. Again, this doesn’t seem to be as complicated as people seem to be making it.

Third, how are we supposed to connect with these characters? Ok, so I do think Eliza’s inconsistent performance as Caroline didn’t help here. Plus, I think the video yearbook scene would’ve had a much better impact had we not had that very first scene between Caroline and Adele. For one thing, it would have made it a little unclear whether Caroline had joined the Dollhouse willingly or not. After all, it would theoretically give her the ability “to do everything” as she said in the video. But, more importantly, it would have meant the first glimpse of who this girl had been before she became Echo and the difference between the two would have been a more haunting and heartbreaking that way. (Not that it doesn’t still have an impact, because it’s more than a little scary to think her wish did come true but not at all in the way she meant it.) In the original pilot, we didn’t get nearly as much of a hint at who Echo had been before the Dollhouse. I think seeing a little more of that actually helped me connect to her in a greater way. Also, the fact that Echo is remembering things she shouldn’t while with a client is a clear indication that something’s starting to happen and that’s why we’ll be able to connect with someone who changes from week to week.

Adelle (Olivia Williams, R) recruits Echo (Eliza Dushku, L) in the series premiere episode of DOLLHOUSE. ©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Isabella Vosmikova/FOX Actually I find this particular topic interesting. There’ve been a lot people who have an issue with the premise of the show and the fact that these “dolls” are basically prostitutes. And, from what we saw in this episode, not even necessarily willing ones at that. I get that. I think we’re supposed to have that problem. But why, then, do people not feel an immediate connection to all of the dolls we see in the Dollhouse? The idea that I can’t root for Echo because she’s different each week seems wrong to me. Shouldn’t I root for her because I know she didn’t go into this willingly? Why is it ok to only care about her when she’s got a distinct personality and not when she’s a blank doll?

Not that I suffer from this. Like I said, I found it heartbreaking to see Caroline as she was after I’ve watched Echo become a blank slate multiple times in one episode. It gave me plenty of reason to “connect” even if I’m not exactly drawn to the character immediately.

Ok. Enough of the complaints that puzzled me once I saw the episode. Let me move on to the stuff I noticed/liked:

  • “Are you volunteering?” It seems clear from the opening scene that Caroline didn’t really “volunteer” for anything. But are there some dolls that have? We get to see a bit of the beginning process of “wiping the slate clean” with Sierra but there was no indication in that scene that she didn’t willingly give herself over to the process. Then again, all the talk of Alpha later certainly makes it seem like he didn’t just walk away free as a bird after his five years was up. I’m going to guess not all of the dolls are unwilling but that, yes, it’s often drastic straights that lead them to “volunteering” for the Dollhouse.
  • “I’m sorry that you don’t understand what I’m offering here.” Adele seems convinced that what they do helps people and will help Echo. Why? Or is it, as Boyd notes later in the episode, just something she has to tell herself, to believe, because it’s the only way she can justify what she’s doing?
  • I want a girl with a short skirt… Heh, all the commentary about how short the white dress is at the beginning made me laugh because she is wear leggings on underneath it when she’s riding the bike. Hey, can’t blame a girl for wanting to be wearing a dress rather than a dressy shirt at a party. It’s not like she had any friends at the party to tell her what a bad idea it was to ditch the leggings.
  • “You think this is a normal weekend for me?” “Maybe.” It’s interesting to me that twice in this episode, the client actually says something to Echo about her not being who she’s playing. Both times she reacts as the person she is in that moment would… except the second time it actually triggers a memory from the Dollhouse. I can’t decide if this was intentional. One time to show us that things seem to be functioning normally in the first engagement and then a second time to show us something’s changed by the second engagement. Either way, I found it to be an interesting statement about the clients. In the case of Matt, the first client, is it done because he has to remind himself that it’s not real? Or done to see if she’ll react? I’m not sure but I’ll be watching to see if it keeps happening. Also, it’s of note because we see Adele specifically reminding the next client not to mention the Dollhouse to the active.
  • “Dude, where’s your friend?” “It’s time for her to go.” Ok. Why does a guy who clearly has gobs of money and plenty of hot women at his birthday party need to hire a doll for a weekend of “no strings attached” fun? Is it because even then he can’t help but get attached? Or is it simpler than that? He gets attached because she is his version of the perfect woman? After all, that’s what he ordered. Then again, he has no problem letting her go and moving on with his party when his friend asks where she went. Before that moment I was having a hard time not liking Matt even though I knew he’d hired Echo out as some kind of birthday gift for himself.
  • Echo (Eliza Dushku) is sent on an engagement as a kidnapping negotiator in the series premiere episode of DOLLHOUSE. ©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Adam Taylor/FOX

  • “I don’t want Rambo, I want a negotiator.” Where did I see people asking about what the client specified? I think the was surprised by the doll that he got for the very reason others weren’t buying her as a master negotiator. Because she didn’t look it. Because the Dollhouse made Echo a negotiator who fit this particular kidnapping the best. Topher definitely seems shocked when he realizes that he took memories from someone who had a past with one of the kidnappers so I don’t think that part was intentional but I do think they purposely picked someone who had been kidnapped as a child and therefore had been through what was happening to the little girl in our tale. This is probably why I didn’t have any trouble buying Eliza in the role, because I didn’t take it to mean that she was the bad-ass negotiator she was projecting herself to be.
  • “These personality imprints? They come from real people.” As for the memories they are imprinting on the dolls… where do they get those? I know, I know, real people. But real people who are dead? Or real people who are alive? Do these people volunteer their personalities? How does this part of the Dollhouse work? Do you think they ever use the memories/personalities of the dolls in their previous lives? Errr, I don’t think they’d give Echo any of Caroline’s memories but would they give Sierra some of Caroline’s memories? As bothered as I am by the concept of the dolls, I’m also squicked out by the idea that someone could steal my personality and give it to someone else. Or give just pieces of it to someone else.
  • “Do you think the Dollhouse really exists?” See now, is this just a code name the FBI has given the case? Or is it really the name of the organization? I know we don’t know why Paul Ballard is so interested in the Dollhouse but I’m guessing it’s going to turn out to be personal. I don’t really know why he is so sure it exists right now but I got enough hints that there’s more to interest than it being a job that I’m willing to wait and see.
  • Working at the Dollhouse – What kind of person do you have to be to be able to watch these dolls come in after every “engagement” and listen to them sharing details about what happened as though they were that person… only to have them disappear after they go into Topher’s office? You’d think that’d begin to wear you down. I know I couldn’t do it. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be even closer to them, to be their handler. There’s obviously got to be more to Boyd than we’re seeing. He comes off as the least morally contempt person inside the Dollhouse but I can’t forget that he does seem to have a problem when Echo goes from person to person. Also, on this subject, Amy Acker is quite beautiful. I’ve always thought so but I love her shorter haircut. She looked very “soft” in this episode which I’m sure means her character is exactly the opposite. But I’m intrigued and I’m wondering if her scares could be at all related to Alpha.
  • “Keep Looking” I’m guessing the person we see at the end is Alpha. Is the fact that he’s clearly supplying Ballard with info the reason the FBI agent is so sure the Dollhouse exists? Or could there be more of a connection between them? I don’t like the idea that he killed Caroline’s parents and yet also seems to be concerned that Ballard find her. Maybe it’s some of what Topher meant earlier, he’s neither good nor evil. He’s got a balance of both? I dunno but their deaths bug me because all I could think was of how there might not be anyone who knows the real Caroline left.

OK. I have to stop now. You can see why I like Joss shows. They make me think. Even when I don’t love an episode or even know if I’m gonna love the show itself, I can always find a lot to dissect and process. I look forward to a little more of that after tonight’s all new episode.

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