Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Post In Which I Review Dollhouse's "A Spy In The House of Love"

Dollhouse's "Spy in the House of Love" managed to demonstrate much of the show's strength while not doing the same with its weaknesses. It epitomized that "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative" song; not only did it fully integrate each Doll's imprint into the overall story line, it also did something Joss Whedon had first proposed as something Dollhouse as a show could do, that the show itself could radically change in terms of genre from week to week, going from thriller to action to romantic comedy in terms of style while keeping the core of the show the same. It was an interesting idea, especially coming from the genre-bending Whedon, but it did not come to pass. "Spy", however, demonstrates what the show element may have looked like, albeit all at once.  In following the imprinted Dolls, we follow those different genres. For Sierra, it is pure Alias, down to the wig; For Victor, it is very much a romance a la Nicholas Sparks - with a twist; for Echo, it is a psychological thriller/mystery; and for November, she walks into Ballard's very own conspiracy theory, and then managed to shore that theory up.

The episode as a whole also revealed much about two of our favorite bad guys, Dominic and DeWitt. Dominic, we learn, obviously, is a spy - though I would venture that the spy in the house of love is a reference to November. But DeWitt, well, with DeWitt we learn that she is one of the "pathetic, self-deluding souls". We see what she needs, to be wanted, to be allowed to have doubts, to be allowed to be weak, to be allowed to show more emotion than the staunch Brit. It is sick, and probably an abuse of power (I'm not sure how the Dollhouse views employees utilizing the Dolls for their own personal edification, but I would bet it isn't in the handbook as a perk). Even with that on the moral side, we see more of her from the story telling side. We see her reaction to Dominic's betrayal, a reaction she denies Dominic the pleasure of seeing himself. We see a possible deeper - and more selfish - reason for her response to Victor's 'man reactions'. We know that she "used to head a division that grew replacement organs out of stem cells. I could tell people what I did for a living", and it seems as though she misses not only the open nature of her old profession but also - probably - the less ambiguous nature of it.

Dominic's reveal was, in a word, fantastic. It turned around all we knew about him - not that we knew much. What we did know was that he hated Echo, and was loyal to DeWitt. Even as the episode progressed, those were the constants. When discovering the chip, he intones, "If anything happened to DeWitt...", further throwing suspicion from himself that he was in fact the spy. The fact that he was, that he found it "embarrassing how naive" Adelle is, and his actual reason for spying all added more to the character. As did his casual acceptance of Topher and Ivy as casualties in his overall mission. It makes his reaction in "Echoes" to Victor being programmed as an NSA agent all the better. But what was incredible was his reaction to Echo at the end:
ECHO: What's in store for you - you don't have much to smile about.

DOMINIC: After you beat me to a pulp, they're going to erase me. But first, they're going to erase you.

ECO: I can take care of myself.

DOMINIC: I know. That's why I'm smiling. 'Cause one day, you'll be erasing them. And even after all this, they still won't see it coming.
At first, it looks like Dominic is merely getting pleasure out of the fact that the person who caught him will go first. But then, it shifts. Dominic may be an ass, but he doesn't seem to be holding anything against Echo here, in this particular instance. He's offering his own prediction, the prediction that allows him to go with satisfaction. The belief that he was right, and Adelle really is embarrassingly naive.

As well as being embarrassingly naive, Adelle also seems to be a bit of a hypocrite, what with Dominic telling her that the technology needs to be controlled and DeWitt shoots back, "By a clandestine organization with little government oversight?" She seems to forget that she runs her own clandestine organization with no government oversight, and that perhaps she shouldn't be throwing stones. There's more than a smidgen of a chance Dominic shouldn't be either, but he seems to be worried about the eventual economic gains the Rossum corporation could net by releasing the technology to the public. And in an odd twist, he wasn't there to bring down the Dollhouse or even subdue it under NSA control. He was there to contain it, and to keep the FBI from finding it. Making this particular government organization - and perhaps even higher up - one of the bad guys.

Another interesting character development is that of Topher. Often appearing to care about almost nothing outside of himself and his juice boxes, Topher proves that isn't exactly the case in an awesome exchange:
TOPHER: Boyd! In about two minutes, I'm gonna make a call to DeWitt. If you were to do something, maybe get some air, maybe run, I wouldn't know that you had done that.

BOYD: I have no idea what you're talking about.

TOPHER: You don't? I found this in the chair.

BOYD: And?

TOPHER: This chip lets someone access the primary imprint protocol, which means they could have altered my imprints. I make a cheerleader, they make a cheerleader that shoots people. Or an assassin that does cheers. Or any active, any time, with a parameter we don't know about!

BOYD: We have a spy.

TOPHER: Inside the Dollhouse.

BOYD: And you think it's me, you think I'm the spy?

TOPHER: Not in a bad way.

BOYD: They find out that you talked to me before you called DeWitt, they'll fry you.

TOPHER: Yeah, I didn't really think that through.

BOYD: Thank you.

TOPHER: Hey, I'm boned anyway.
Topher is by far becoming my favorite constant character on the show (my favorite varies week to week depending on what Enver Gjokaj is doing/being). He's completely amoral, but Fran Kranz brings something sweet to the character week after week. And his amorality apparently comes in handy, when it relates to warning a fellow traveler. If he were there for the whys instead of the hows, he might not have been inclined to give Boyd the ill-conceived out. There's another possibility, but I like Topher too much to even really bring it up; it is possible he really is a spy, just not the spy they caught. They caught an NSA spy wandering around the place, looking to reign in the technology. But the spy who used the chip, the one sending messages to Ballard, doesn't seem to be Dominic. Dominic's purpose was to protect the Dollhouse, albeit for a different set of masters than the ones DeWitt serves. But given that Topher is, well, Topher, and can't seem to keep more than one thought in his head at one time unless it relates to the science part of the fiction, I'm going to assume it was someone else. That being said, Topher is the person, behind whoever Victor is that week, who tends to get the best lines:
IVY: Should we help?

TOPHER: Yeah. I helped when I imprinted her with kung fu skills, but be my guest.
so I hope (if they get a second season) they keep him around.
He also seems to be on the brink of an actual moral discovery, what with his asking Echo, "Why would you want to?" when she offered to help, and his look of "oh shit" when she told him he made people different. 

The other insanely cool/twisted part of the show was Ballard. Ballard, now by knowing who and what Mellie is and having to play along, has become trapped into a complicit role in a Doll's exploitation. His face when kissing Mellie after the fact was amazing, all clenched. It was self-loathing wrapped in a pretty shell.

Dr. Saunders and her refusal to leave the Dollhouse was another interesting tidbit. It both furthers her assertion that the world is full of terror and chaos, and explains why she would continue to help the Dollhouse exist even if she believes "the system is flawed, perhaps irreparably".

That isn't to say there weren't some problems with the episode. Like, how does Victor's Roger get programmed to find DeWitt if even Topher doesn't know he's not supposed to have the hots for the octogenarian? How did Mellie get programmed with the underlying message to Ballard if the chip was found after she had her 'treatment'? How come Mellie didn't see Caroline and immediately freak the hell out? Plot holes, all. But overall? Second strong episode in a row. Go team!

Grade: A


Rebekah said...

Yay! I love reading these and I had been feeling some withdrawal symptoms after you started spoiling us with weekly reviews of each episode. I love coming here to read your take on each one. So it doesn't matter if they pop up on Saturday right after the episode, I like reading them whenever! Thanks.

petpluto said...

Thanks! I was afraid people would mind them being so late - which would be the better option than people not caring one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

Regarding your plotholes at the end, as for Millie knowing the chip was going to be discovered, after Echo shot up the chair, it was a logical conclusion to make. And maybe Ivy programmed Victor for DeWitt without Topher knowing. And perhaps Millie didn't freak out because maybe dolls have some sort programming that when in the dollhouse, being taken to and from engagements, they're just supposed to go with the flow of things. It probably keeps them from questioning why they are there in such a strange place when first activated, and keeps them complacent for mind wipe after.

Lots of 'ifs' there. What do you think?


petpluto said...

"as for Millie knowing the chip was going to be discovered, after Echo shot up the chair, it was a logical conclusion to make."

That is true. I guess my problem was that the 'informer' seemed to feel it was an imminent threat right then; but you could be right that this was merely the first time the person doing the manipulations of the Imprints had a chance to get a Doll to Ballard.

"maybe Ivy programmed Victor for DeWitt without Topher knowing."

I think that would be contingent upon when Ivy arrived; plus, Topher doesn't seem like the type of guy who would let anyone touch his precious technology (I say that with all manner of love toward Topher). That being said, you may be right; I just wish that we the fans didn't have to fanwank this sort of stuff away. It would be a seemingly easy fix.

"perhaps Millie didn't freak out because maybe dolls have some sort programming that when in the dollhouse, being taken to and from engagements, they're just supposed to go with the flow of things. It probably keeps them from questioning why they are there in such a strange place when first activated, and keeps them complacent for mind wipe after."

Out of your three theories, this is the one that I think works the best. I like it, because it does explain how Mellie could possibly not be freaked out by waking up in what is clearly not an airport after talking about taking the Red Eye. Not to say that the other two aren't compelling, but I do think this one jives best with the show. And it's something I hadn't really thought of before, so more food for thought!