Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Post In Which I Review Dollhouse's "The Left Hand"

I'm kind of depressed about how long it has taken to write this review, partially because after Hulu kept crapping out during the episode I broke down and bought it for 3.99 on iTunes. Of course, I now have one of my favorite scenes ever on my iPod constantly, so maybe it's all a wash in the end.

So, I'm going to do something I've been avoiding since this Healthcare debate thingy started in Congress, and that is talk about the state of Healthcare and those Congresspeople making the laws. Because Joss Whedon told me to. Seriously. Don't believe me? I offer Evidence A (which is actually from The Public Eye):
No one is saying the work these corporations do isn't vital, but there must be accountability. The health of our citizens cannot be held hostage to a profit motive.
Sounds like some healthcare angst to me. Evidence B is the fact Perrin is a man made and supported by the very industries he is supposed to be going after. Say, that's kind of like my own state senator, a Mr. Joe Lieberman! Who is a guy I voted for, in part because he campaigned in 2006 on the promise of fighting for a Public Option! Which, in turn, has made me into the schmuck of my immediate family! Who, of the two other members who are legal voting age, voted for Ned Lamont! Damn Lieberman! Oh, this also goes for a whole bunch of other people in Congress. Perrin, who is very much a demonstration of false consciousness, is used to validate and prop up the very industries that are going to bring about the end of civilization, Epitaph One style. Which, in turn, makes me think those Whedony people are probably pretty pissed and concerned with the way the Healthcare fight is going. Also, kind of like they think our elected officials are bought and paid for by Big Corporations, which is also the tale of today's Non Sequitur. There's probably a lot more to say about this issue and Dollhouse's handling of it, but I'm going to move on, now.

To Cindy Perrin. Who kind of gets the bad end of every stick. I know I'm not supposed to sympathize with someone who is clearly not on the Moral Train, but Cindy does stir something in me resembling empathy. And that is because she is pretty much in the exact same position as the Dolls, except she doesn't have the benefit of being a True Believer. She is used as just another object for the Dollhouse's purposes. And she is trapped by her role as a wife:
I can't stand you. Having to be your wife, letting you touch me, pretending that when it doesn't disgust me, it doesn't bore me? That has been really hard.
She is being forced to have sex with a man she does not love, forced to allow someone she doesn't even like, to touch her. And while I think her anger and hatred is more than a bit misguided - it isn't Perrin's fault, after all - it is also entirely realistic to rail against the person trapped with you in this type of farce than the nameless, faceless decision-makers that put you both there. And then, she dies. Cindy Perrin's situation just drives further home the idea that the Dollhouse - and Rossum - don't actually see people, merely opportunities to do what is best for their own self-interest. Which is, actually, yet another arm of the "corporations are soulless and need to be controlled for our own good" argument the entire show seems to be making.

What I really want to discuss, though, is the geekiest love affair known to man, and that is the mutual lovefest between Bennett Halverson and Topher Brink. Mostly for this:
BENNETT: How do you work it? The disrupter?
TOPHER: How'd you know it was called that?
BENNETT: What else would you call it?
TOPHER: A signal goes out for 50 feet, but everywhere. That's what messed up your senator and ruined your evil plan.
BENNETT: If you route the signal through here, it becomes directional. Not like a bomb. More like a taser.
TOPHER: Huh! (Tries To Tase Bennett) Huh.
BENNETT: Did - did you just try to tase me?
TOPHER: No? No, No! That would result in - you'd be unconscious. Why would I want that?
BENNETT: And it only works on Actives. I'm concerned that you may have just tried to tase me.
If only there were more times in life when one could say, "I'm concerned that you may have just tried to tase me". But it is their geekitude, their giddiness when bouncing ideas off one another, and their ultimate betrayal of each other - Topher by stealing Perrin's brain scan, Bennett by trying to kill Echo - that truly makes the episode for me. Well, them and:
VICTOR-TOPHER: What you're not getting, man-friend, is that this whole operation is dependent upon me. Not, uh, brain-constructy me, but "Bond, James Bond" me. Which is, not so me.
BOYD: Vic-Topher. All you hae to do is stay calm.
VICTOR-TOPHER: This from the guy who had to dismember my last little outing?!
Whedon has done the one person in two bodies before with Xander Harris on Buffy, being played by Nicholas Brendon (who was normally Xander) and his twin brother (who normally was not). This was better. Giving Enver Gjokaj opportunity upon opportunity to shine makes Dollhouse an incredible actor's vehicle - just not the actor it was designed for. Gjokaj's ability to go beyond mimicry, to actually embody the character created by another actor, is incredible. I was beyond impressed when he became Dominic last season. His Topher was even more superb, possibly because Topher is a exaggerated character to begin with. The concept could have become a gross parody of itself, but instead it was both masterfully written and acted. It was fun and self-aware and perfect, for the show and for the two actors. And my favorite moments were their interactions, possibly because two Tophers are always going to be better than one in my world.

But, again, it is Topher-Topher who truly makes the episode for me. From his:
I'm just here for Echo. My last ethical quandary was... unhelpful.
to his:
This isn't about Caroline! This is about Echo!
to his:
It wouldn't be a second opinion! It would be the same opinion twice!
It is Topher's emerging and continuing humanity that keeps me engaged. It is his continuing moral development that makes him still profoundly interesting. The fact that both he and Victor-Topher are still so focused on his last "ethical quandary" makes him a person with real regret and remorse. The fact that he sees Echo as a distinct person, as a friend separate from Caroline, makes him someone for whom the Dolls are becoming more and more, as themselves, actual people. And then there is the continuation of the idea he first expressed in the season opener to Whiskey/Saunders. What Topher is concerned about intellectually isn't so much having someone who agrees with him, who thinks like him and who will come to the same conclusions he has, but someone who will be able to see where he is blind. The fact that he doesn't want himself around for help analyzing Perrin's brain map could just be an ego thing, until it is related back to the idea that he is terrified he is going to miss something, and that someone will get hurt.

And yet, the most important part of the episode may be something Bennett herself was blinded to. She tells Topher:
I have a theory that the human brain can hold multiple imprints and still function... ...Not a composite. Something new.
This is what Echo is. This is what Echo develops into. This is what Bennett herself doesn't see when she at first tells Echo, and then Topher, that Echo is merely a shell - and at the same time Caroline. Topher seems to have a better handle on the fact that the person Echo is now is separate from who Caroline was, but the implications of that statement are far-reaching. What it does is offer a bit of hope for humanity even as it explains Echo's own existence. It offers up a new kind of humanity, after we have been ravaged by the world of Epitaph One. It is the series' optimistic rallying cry, that all is not lost. And, it creates a whole host of coolness we'll never have a chance to see fully examined.

We do see it examined partially, though, through the experiences of the escaped Perrin and Echo:
PERRIN: Even if I could, I don't know if I want to be the man I was before.
ECHO: I understand.
PERRIN: You do, don't you?
ECHO: I'm afraid of Caroline. If she comes back, where do I go? I don't want to fall asleep, even for a little while.
Echo is probably afraid of Caroline at least in part because she saw what Caroline did to Bennett, but the underlying fear that coursed through Whiskey/Saunders is also present here. These are people, and they exist. But the bodies they exist in are not, strictly speaking, theirs. And what we see through Perrin and Echo is this desire to continue to live on, to not disappear into the night. And it makes Echo into what she needs to be, a character in her own right and not just a placeholder for a person we have yet to truly and deeply meet. It creates just that one more level of moral and emotional conflict. And that, along with the fun, makes The Left Hand possibly my favorite episode of Dollhouse.

Grade: A+

Quotes of the Episode:

VICTOR-TOPHER: She's going to look at my 1.0, and she'll know!
BOYD: I have to track down Ballard. You just run the house and wait for yourself to call.

TOPHER: I poo you not!

BENNETT: I'm concerned that you may have just tried to tase me.

BENNETT: You hacked into my system. Stole Perrin's brain map.
TOPHER: You're trying to kill Echo!
BENNETT: So we're even?


MediaMaven said...

Loved this episode.

What Topher is concerned about intellectually isn't so much having someone who agrees with him, who thinks like him and who will come to the same conclusions he has, but someone who will be able to see where he is blind.

That is key. Everyone needs a partner with that ability.

petpluto said...

That is key. Everyone needs a partner with that ability.

Exactly. And poor Topher's woefully without.