A long time ago, when Stephen Colbert was still only a correspondent for The Daily Show, I loved him. I'm pretty sure he was the guy who did my favorite bit the show offered, that being someone who went to the Deep South to root out anti-Northern sentiment and came back fully indoctrinated in the fight against Northern Aggression. He had a map that looked something like this (stolen from here; the rest of the site is pretty cool, by the way):
he discussed the different tactics and strategies, denied the North had won, referenced different "territories", and was hilarious. But then he got his own show in 2005, and I hated it. My friends love it. My parents love it. I can sometimes hear them laughing hysterically in the other room when The Colbert Report is on. But then I walk in, and stoney silence ensues. I am a Colbert killer. He just isn't funny when I'm there. Frankly, I'm not convinced he's ever that funny; I certainly haven't seen it. The reason for this tale of Colbert-woe on a post about Dollhouse? Well, I was starting to think my parents were Dollhouse killers, though that moniker doesn't flow quite as well as Colbert killer. I came to this conclusion because my parents only see alternate weeks of Dollhouse; I watch it with my best friend, and we switch off houses. Week 1, with "Ghost", my house. Week 2, with the awesome "The Target"? Best Friend's house. And so on and so forth. And inevitably, the episodes we watched at my house were weaker. So when this week's episode started with the cringe-worthy dialogue and acting of the fly scene, I was a bit concerned. When Echo/Alice's story started, I told them they weren't allowed to watch the show any more.
I realize that this isn't truly their fault; Palidone made this astute observation:
"When Whedon is on, he’s capable of producing amazing television, but when he’s off, it’s a bit like watching a talented dancer start off on the wrong foot."
That pretty much sums everything up. For every "Restless", there is a "Where the Wild Things Are". For every "Objects in Space", there is a "Shindig". For every "Once More with Feeling" there is, well, much of the other scenes in season 6 (and I like season 6). The trade off isn't equal; the good greatly outweighs the bad, or the not-up-to-par. Also, I'm willing to watch subpar episodes because they are generally still enjoyable and I think it is important to acknowledge that sometimes ideas just fall flat. But while I love the thought behind a lot of the Dollhouse episodes, the themes the show is exploring, the actual execution has just been, for the most part, okay-to-good. I like the show, but it wasn't truly magically brilliant. Last week's episode was the turning point, and - death by glass window aside - this week's episode was a continuation of that. My parents? Apparently not Dollhouse killers. Which is good to know, because I rather like my house and my television and not having to drive 45 minutes at the end of the night.
Let me make it clear; for the drugged Topher-DeWitt interactions alone, this episode is made of win. Seriously. Adelle bouncing on the trampoline was hilarious, and Topher keeping it semi-together without pants was incredible. Don't believe me? Watch this:
I think my favorite thing may be DeWitt climbing over the bar, and the fact that both she and Topher do it later in the episode as if there is no other way to get down and up to that portion of the facility.
I read in a few places that "Echoes" is Dollhouse's "Band Candy", and I find myself agreeing in a large way. Both episodes deal with an altered state among the population usually in charge. Both episodes use this altered state to bring the hilarity. But as much as I love "Band Candy" (teenage Giles rocks my socks, as does teenage Snyder), I think this episode became, by its very nature, more complex than "Band Candy" could ever boast. In sharp contrast to the antics of Adelle and Topher are what the individual Dolls go through. Last week's discovery that Hearn was raping Sierra delved to new depths when we see Sierra 'glitch' to that traumatic event. It was horrific, both in content and delivery. Special Agent Victor's memory of a wartime trauma was also devastating. And the two of them reacting to each other, both oblivious to and complicit in the reinforcement of those traumatic memories, was tragic. This is where the show, I think, is; the aftereffects of the events are still seared into the Dolls, still present and not dealt with. They cannot escape it, but at the same time, they don't know that past exists. And yet, Sierra is still a rape victim; and the show does not shy away from that. It would be easy to. Given the very nature of the show and the wiping process, it would have been incredibly simple to just let that moment fade, a one-shot meant to make a point about the nature of the Dollhouse. But Joss and Company didn't go that route, and I am appreciative of it. That decision also goes to the heart of what the show can be, what I hope it is and what I see it as being.
What the show can be is also being demonstrated through witnessing the recruitment process. I'm still of the mind that Eliza Dushku is not a good actor. The recruitment scene with DeWitt is painful for me to watch, and not solely because Caroline's very autonomy is being stripped from her. Part of it may be a result of the dialogue in those scenes; but part of it is Dushku's semi-mouth breathing acting style therein. Even with that, the whole "they signed up for this" argument pretty much falls by the wayside. Caroline's tenure as a Doll was coerced; as was Sam's. They both may have had opportunity to refuse, though Caroline was kept in a room for two days with no "frickin' idea where" she was and DeWitt had been tracking her for two or so years; those facts kind of fly in the face of free and autonomous consent. And even if Sam had the ability to refuse, to walk away, DeWitt knew which buttons to push in order to facilitate his acquiescence. The assumption of free will falls by the wayside. Yes, the soon to be Actives make choices; and no, the choice they make may not be the best one for the situation in which they find themselves. But that choice, and the actions that brought them to the Dollhouse's attention, still is not reason enough to turn them into objects to be used. What's more, DeWitt seems to recognize this; her reaction to Caroline/Echo is interesting. She specifically works to keep Echo off of the campus. In her own way, she seems to realize that a severance package and promise of monthly stipends does not limit the evil doings of the organization.
Speaking of evil-doings, Topher continues to demonstrate his amorality with his drug rant:
Could be phases, could be... a little thing I like to call body chemistry. We're all our own little cesspools of hormones, enzymes, chemical reactions. It's the same as any drug - herion, cocaine, caffeine, how your body reacts depends on a multitude of indefinable factors. You snort horse once, don't like it, you go back to your organic tea, have a nice life. I do it once, whoo. I'm doing two bags a day for 20 years. One toot for you, adios, amigo. That's what's so exciting about drugs!
The scene reminded me strongly of an exchange on Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
GILES: Grave robbing? That's new. Interesting.BUFFY: I *know* you meant to say gross and disturbing.
Except Topher isn't Giles, and doesn't have someone like Buffy to pull him back to the moral side of the argument. This isn't a momentary lapse into sciency giddiness. This is who he is. Topher is scientific mind run amuck, like the Operative was government run amuck in Serenity. It is dangerous, and more than slightly scary even if Topher cannot perform the physical feats of The Operative. Perhaps it is even more scary because of that. Instead of coming after you himself, he can just program someone to do it for him. And lose no sleep over it. Which is why his reaction to N-7316 is so intriguing.
Assuming that Fran Kranz can act (as I do), Topher is the one who remains closest to himself and his own goals throughout the course of the episode. DeWitt is still primarily herself, but she becomes incredibly unfocused and like bouncing on the trampoline. Dominic experiences a guilty conscience over his attempt to burn Echo alive (after all, "who does that?") and asserts that there is more to him than what we see. Boyd loses Echo and plays the piano. And yet, although somewhat affected and pantsless, Topher maintains his focus on the issues at hand with only somewhat distracted by his drawer of inappropriate starches. A good friend of mine thinks that's because Topher's a closet druggie. But I wonder if it is because he is less of an adult. He has less of a developed moral code than the others. He seems to have little impulse control, and no ability to stop the ramblings that trickle out of his mouth. He needs his juice boxes. His wrong-doings cannot be explained away by his less than adultishness; in fact, that very thing could be a condemnation. I was interested in that aspect, even though it shot my own theory that Topher may have been a Doll to hell. In its own handbasket.
Another point of interest was Echo's reaction as Alice; for the first time, we see her truly go off-mission. Before, she was always on task, though adapting to the requirements of that task in a way that alarmed Dominic. This time, she up and leaves Tie Boy and makes her way to the college. She has access to traumatic memories before coming in contact with the drug. She is driven to an attempt to fix what had previously gone wrong, and as she tells Sam, "I just have to listen to myself". That is what she has been denied; that is what she is starting to retain.
Final Grade: A
Line I Will Be Quoting: "You're not overwhelming me with specificity".