Written by: Brett Williams, Special to CC2K
CC2K's Brett Williams returns with another detailed and SPOILER-FILLED review of the latest episode of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse!
This episode starts out with footage of a sort of Inside Edition style video magazine with a field reporter interviewing people about the possible existence of the Dollhouse. This device crops up throughout the episode, with various folks from the streets of LA offering their opinions on the urban legend. It offers a nice contrast to the reality of the actual sequences in and around the Dollhouse while also giving the show a human element that has been noticeably absent from previous episodes. This episode is also the only episode so far that hasn’t followed the exact same “formula” of one long engagement for one episode. Thank you Joss for mixing it up and making us give a damn again.
On to Ballard in his office, poring over videos and documents, trying to find that eureka moment. He looks as though he’s about to have it when his chief rival, played by Mark A. Sheppard, shows up and gets in his business. Ballard calls into question his co-worker’s devotion to his case and his willingness to dig deeper, to follow leads. This only supports my theory that Agent Badger (okay, that’s not his name but it’s fun to call him that) is moonlighting as something more than just a federal agent. The two tussle and Ballard loses it, finally shoving Agent Badger into the nearest wall. This probably won’t end well, but to Ballard’s credit he doesn’t seem to mind.
On to the Dollhouse where Victor and Echo are eating together. Sierra walks up and sits by herself. Victor seems concerned that she is by herself. That’s right Vic ol’ boy, keep working on that crush. I’m sure it won’t land you in the attic. So Victor goes over to Sierra, worried that maybe she didn’t see them, acting for all the world like a spurned middle-school lover. He taps Sierra on the shoulder and she screams bloody murder. Uh oh.
We cut to Doc Saunders examining Sierra. She is questioning the girl about Victor and if he startled her. Sierra tells her that Victor likes to pretend that they are married which sets off Doc Saunders “this sure as hell shouldn’t be happening” alarm. She releases Sierra and her handler, Hearn, and Boyd walk into the examination room. Doc informs them both that Sierra has had sex and Hearn informs her that’s impossible, that her last engagement was hanging out with a sick little girl. Saunders says she examined her after that engagement and she was fine. Apparently, Sierra has had sex since she’s been back in the Dollhouse. Prime Suspect = Victor. We find out in this scene that the dolls are supposed to be removed of their sex drives altogether. Hearn in particular seems very disturbed by this development, which Boyd finds a bit dubious. After all, it’s not like Hearn has shown much compassion toward his charge in the past. Methinks Boyd smells something fishy. So anyway, Hearn storms out fuming about, “DeWitt” this and “attic” that. Boyd sticks behind with Doc Saunders and she tells him how unlikely it is that Victor would have done this. Just because he likes Sierra doesn’t mean he would hurt her. She’s got a very good point, especially since they seem as calm as Hindu cattle when they aren’t imprinted. Doc Saunders smells something fishy too. They’re about to close it up when Echo shows up and tells them both that Sierra cries each night when they climb into their sleep pods. Now Boyd smells a clue.
Back to Our Man Ballard at the FBI. He’s standing over the shoulder of his superior, Loomis, who has decided to show him what Agent Badger is unwilling to show him. She’s opening up the classified files on the Crestejo (his daughter got kidnapped in the pilot) case so that Ballard can have a look around. We see that Crestejo made a huge payment to a hedge fund on the day his daughter was kidnapped. They follow a trail of annual payments to that hedge fund out to a software mogul named Joel Mynor, aka Comedy’s Last Great Hope, Patton Oswalt! Minor is on an FBI watch list of potential Dollhouse clients. Apparently he likes to show up at various charity events with beautiful nobodies on his arm. Ballard has liked this lead for a longtime and now he thinks he might have enough to bring the guy in. You can almost see his super cop chubby tenting his slacks. Loomis agrees to help him out, but only under cover of darkness. Going after Minor without so much as a warrant is a crazy bad idea, but she thinks there’s enough there for Ballard to maybe get lucky. She makes sure to warn him though, that if the director finds out what’s going on, Ballard will be out of a job.
Next scene is Ballard with his neighbor Mellie. The two are having some takeout together and he’s foolishly getting her up to date on the most secret aspects of his Dollhouse investigation. Look, I know she’s gorgeous, sweet, helpful, warm, did I mention gorgeous? But you’re investigating an organization capable of turning people into anything they want them to be. Don’t you think maybe you should filter what you’re telling this girl? This is the longest exchange that the two of them have had yet and they have great chemistry. She totally steals the scene as she tends to do. It certainly appears that Ballard is crushing on her as much as she is crushing on him, which is nice, since she’s awesome and he’d be an idiot and a half if he kept ignoring her the way he has. This scene, the two of them on the couch with Chinese food, joking about bad relationships and sharing secrets, is the most genuine moment between two characters that we’ve seen throughout the course of the show. That’s what Joss do.
The next scene is Patton, I mean Mynor, hanging out on the lawn of a nice if not generic suburban home. He’s having a discussion with the head of his security force, telling him he doesn’t want anyone in or around the house while things are going on. He wants total privacy, for what we aren’t yet sure. So Echo pulls up to the curb and gets out, very happy to see Mr. Mynor. While this is going on, Ballard is creeping around the back of the house and dealing with security detail the way that he does; with fists and knees of fury!
So Joel and Echo are talking on the lawn and she’s…normal. I mean, she’s not some crazy hot motorcycle-riding, bow and arrow firing, safe-cracking bad ass servant of God. She’s just a normal woman with a normal car and a normal sundress with her normal husband on the lawn of this very normal house. Mynor calls her “honey” and if we didn’t know better we’d swear the two were a happily married couple.
So Ballard has dispatched a security guard and snuck into the back of the house just as Mynor and Echo are entering through the front. He tracks their voices through the house, listening as Mynor describes the house to her like she’s seeing it for the first time. Ballard finds them in the kitchen and does his cop thing. The confidence is dripping off his tongue with each word as he’s convinced he’s finally caught someone in the act. He has Mynor right where he wants him. Then Echo closes the refrigerator and steps into view and Ballard, not surprisingly, gets that “Huh-wha?” look on his face. This should be interesting.
We come back from commercial to more footage of the video interviews and there is a collective, “Gah, Joss! What’s happening in that kitchen?!” Whew, we’re back. Mynor is trying to reason with Ballard who can be quite the unreasonable fellow at times, so that’s probably not going to get him very far. Echo is confused and frightened and Ballard keeps calling her Caroline. Mynor is trying to convince him he’s made a mistake, I’m sure panicking on the inside and hoping against hope that this guy is out of his depth and isn’t looking to catch someone in the employ of the Dollhouse. Oh Mr. Mynor, it might be a bad day for you.
Echo goes on to explain to him that she is Rebecca Mynor and that she and her husband Joel just bought this house. So, that must be his fantasy. He’s fantasizing that he and his wife have just purchased this new house together and then I guess they’re going to christen it by having some crazy hot sex in the new bedroom. Hey, sounds great. I mean, I seriously doubt she’ll get shot at in that scenario, so I call it a win. So anyway, Ballard goes on to explain to the two of them that he’s with the FBI and there’s a very funny exchange as Rebecca (Echo) convinces herself that her husband has actually been making internet porn all this time and now he’s going to jail. She thinks she’s the wife of some crazy porn empire. Ballard’s getting a little annoyed. He didn’t expect any of this to take this long. His whole career is staring him right in the face and he just wants to cuff these people, save the girl, and go home to a nice meal with his super hot neighbor. But this is a Joss Whedon show, not Law and Order. It’s not going to be that easy Paul.
So the security guys show up and taze Ballard and Rebecca (Echo) freaks out some more. She thinks his weird porn bodyguards have shown up and are now doing something very illegal to the handsome young FBI man in their new kitchen. Mynor is starting to freak, she’s freaking even more, and the whole thing is falling down around them. Then Ballard does his “I’m such a badass I’m going to take out an entire group of armed men with my bare hands” thing. In the middle of it Boyd shows up and rushes Echo out of the house and back to the Dollhouse.
Ballard, I think fully aware now that his career is pretty much over, decides to hang out and lean on Mynor some more. To his credit, Mynor isn’t intimidated at all. When you’ve got enough money to contract regularly with the Dollhouse, I doubt very seriously that law enforcement is something you waste a great deal of time stressing over. So Mynor and Ballard decide to have a conversation.
Meanwhile, back at the Dollhouse. Topher and Echo are asking Victor to talk about Sierra and monitoring his responses as they do so. Victor says that Sierra makes him feel better. Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing a rapist would say, even a largely de-programmed one. Cut to Boyd talking to another handler about Victor. The guy is apparently Victor’s surrogate handler while the other guy is away on vacation or something. He’s worried that he’ll get blamed for this, that maybe they’ll even decide that he was the one who raped Sierra. Boyd seems cool and collected next to this man. He’s still not buying that Victor is the one that did it and, for what’s it worth, he doesn’t seem overly concerned that the man standing to his left is the one who did it either, even though we’re supposed to get that impression. Boyd still smells fish and this time it’s red herring.
Back at the house Ballard and Mynor are still having their chat. This scene is the best one of the episode and it succeeds in turning every idea we had about Dollhouse clientele on its ear. Mynor explains to Ballard that his fantasy consists of engaging a doll on the same night every year. We find out that despite his current success he was never that successful in the past, cursed to always be the second runner up, Antonio Meucci to Steve Jobs’ Alexander Graham Bell. His wife, despite his continued failures and near-misses, never gave up on him. She stood by his side and supported his every endeavor. So one year he finally made good on all his promises to her when his creation Bouncy the Rat finally hit big. The money from Bouncy allowed him to buy the house that he and Ballard are sitting in. He never told his wife about the money or the house, choosing instead to surprise her by having her meet him there the day that he purchased it. She never made it. A sanitation truck sideswiped her vehicle just three blocks from the home. So each year, on that date, he has the Dollhouse rebuild his wife so that he can live out that night with her the way he had intended. It’s a heartbreaking story and it even gives Ballard pause for a moment. Mynor’s story is important because it forces us to question our own beliefs about the Dollhouse just as Ballard is questioning his. It’s also important because it challenges Ballard to consider what his own fantasy is, and whether he’s so blinded by his mission to even seek it out. Brilliant scene.
More street interviews.
Back at the Dollhouse Boyd is doing his detective thing. He observes a hallway where two camera angles intersect but don’t manage to cover every inch. He finds a blindspot and thinks it’s likely that’s where the rape occurred. He dials up Dominic and informs him that Victor needs to be removed from the floor and put under lock and key until further notice. He wants Victor and his handler both locked away. They find Victor talking to Echo and he seems genuinely confused and hurt. He knows they all think he did something bad but nobody will tell him what. For his part, the handler is freaking out some more, panicking in the grips of security. More evidence that he’s the likely culprit? Sure. Do I believe for a second he actually did it? Nope.
Back to Ballard and Mellie. In true Joss Whedon fashion he’s all shirtless and hot. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve seen David Boreanaz and James Marsters shirtless compared to the very few times I’ve seen Sarah Michelle Gellar or Alyson Hannigan shirtless. Joss likes to make the men folk get naked. You’re welcome ladies, and gay men, and really anyone who appreciates a chiseled physique. So anyway, Ballard is nursing his wounds from his fight earlier and Mellie is there to help him and totally stare at his unfairly proportioned torso. There’s more genuine humanity in the form of earnest and slightly awkward flirting. Humor, sexual frustration, genuine human emotion? Hey, maybe this really is a Joss Whedon show. So Mellie keeps asking questions about how the investigation went and Ballard decides it would be a better idea to make out with her than to tell her. Hey, no arguments here mi amigo. Considering she could be a spy I think the best course of action is to have crazy passionate sex with her. As opposed to, you know, telling her all your secrets. Then it gets a little awkward, as making out with your neighbor certainly could be. They decide that the kiss should be just that, a kiss, and they go back to talking over what happened earlier in the day. Methinks this is not over.
Meanwhile, back at the Dollhouse. Sierra and a group of dolls are walking down the aforementioned hallway. She gets near the doors where the blindspot exists and slows. Then the door opens for her and she moves inside. A silhouette and a voice join her. It’s Hearn, her handler, and he has the look of a piece of shit who thinks he’s getting away with something. He asks her if she wants to play the game and she says, “No.” That doesn’t seem to deter him. He commands her to lift up her dress and she’s about to do it, until Boyd knocks his ass through the plate glass door with a punch so vicious it would make Jack Johnson shiver in his grave.
The next scene is Boyd with DeWitt and Dominic. She wants to know why he didn’t inform the two of them that he was setting Hearn up. Boyd informs her that he had to be confident that he’d gotten away with everything, that nobody suspected. He couldn’t risk jeopardizing that by letting anyone in on the operation. DeWitt makes it clear to Boyd that she never wants him acting on his own like that again. Then she says she’s giving him a bonus. He politely declines but she tells him he’s getting it anyway. I assume it’s her way of making what he did just part of his job instead of something heroic. It’s a smart move on her part, especially since she’s concerned that Boyd cares too much about the dolls.
Dominic sticks around and the two of them go over a video that was taken from a hidden security camera placed inside Agent Ballard’s apartment. It’s footage of his conversation with Mellie about just how close he came to nailing Joel Mynor and saving Echo. Dominic wants to know if DeWitt has a plan for all the shit that seems to be raining down on them. They have a handler abusing actives, a federal agent closing in on them and then spilling all his information to the nearest civilian. Dominic thinks it could get bad for all of them once the higher-ups get wind of all of this, most of all for DeWitt. She maintains her cool confidence though, calling for Hearn to be brought before her and for Echo to be prepped for a little face time with Agent Ballard. God, this episode is so good.
Some more street interviews. This one is hilarious. It’s a real red around the neck sort of guy and his cute girlfriend. He’s talking about how the Dollhouse could be kind of awesome. Like, maybe you could use it to fool around with another guy, you know, just to see what it was like, not to be gay or nothing. Latent homosexual humor? Oh Joss, we love you. Please stick around.
Topher and his lovely assistant now. He’s working on a new imprint for Echo that will make her a badass and efficient killing machine for her “date” with Agent Ballard. This is the first real glimpse we get of Topher’s process and it’s a nice scene, if short. It’s also nice for Firefly fans because the effect being used for his brain imaging software is almost identical to the effect used in the Firefly episode Ariel when the crew breaks into an Alliance hospital so Simon can take a look inside River’s brain. His assistant pipes in with some advice which he roundly ignores. Then he sends her out for food. I’m still convinced that there’s more to this girl than meets the eye. Any theories, Dollhouse fans?
Boyd shows up and wants to know why Echo is being sent on an engagement without him. Apparently Boyd is being given a two-day vacation to get his head straight. He doesn’t think he needs it but the brass sees it differently. That’s a fair assessment by management. I mean, he did just beat another handler to a pulp for raping his active. That’s the kind of thing you might want to relax after. Boyd wants to know what kind of mission Echo is being sent on and Topher lies to him. He tells him it’s something simple, something with no risk whatsoever. Obviously that isn’t the case. I think it’s likely that they don’t want Boyd anywhere near this because of the objections he’d have to it. Infiltrating gun-toting cults or stealing a few artifacts is one thing, but killing an innocent FBI agent is the sort of thing that might maybe sick in ol’ Boyd’s craw. Good move by DeWitt.
The next scene is DeWitt interrogating Hearn. He’s less than remorseful, mainly because he thinks he’s going to killed, tortured, or wiped. He cracks wise and Dominic gives him a rap on the head. This is the only episode where Dominic hasn’t pissed me off or just annoyed the hell out of me. Hearn tells them he raped Sierra four times and Dominic tells him he’s disgusting. Hearn, to his credit, throws it back in their faces. He’s questioning why they think they’re so much better, when all they’re doing is making her believe she loves the complete stranger they’re sending her off to have sex with. He’s screaming at DeWitt that she has no idea how things work in the Dollhouse, that you can’t expect to have a bunch of nubile young women walking around with no clothes, no morals, no inhibitions, and no defense mechanisms and expect something not to go wrong. It’s no justification for what he did (there is no justification for what he did) but it does bring up an interesting point. Surely they expected this would happen eventually, if it hadn’t already. DeWitt sends Dominic out of the room and then hands Hearn an image of Mellie, telling him that the girl is a problem and she needs to be eliminated. That’s right, instead of killing the bastard she’s sending him out to work his evil prick mojo on Mellie. I’ve got chills watching it. Remember last week when I told you that Mellie is the new Willow/Kaylee/Fred and that all they have to do is put her in danger and our hearts immediately beat at double time? Well, it’s working.
Cut back to Mellie and Ballard who decided that a kiss was nowhere near enough. They’re having that hot sex I suggested he have earlier. It looks like fun. I’m glad Ballard is capable of having fun. I was starting to wonder. The good news is that he isn’t struck with any crazy magic at the end of it, thus turning him into an evil vampire bent on world domination. He’s still just plain old Ballard. That’s good. She tells him that she’s not going to freak out on him, that she’s not going to worry if he says this is all a mistake and that they shouldn’t have done it. To his credit, Ballard seems to have no interest in such folly. He has more interest in the hotness and the funny and the flirting and the getting them food. Good man. So he says he’s going to go grab her some food and then the two of them can go over his files together and try to figure some things out.
Down at the food getting’ place, Ballard glances to the mysteriously empty backroom and sees Echo’s face back there. She jumps him and takes his gun away from him and the next couple of minutes offer a crazy badass (if slightly unnecessary) fight scene in which our two heroes use a plethora of kitchen utensils to hurt one another. They spill out into the alley where Echo finally manages to subdue him long enough to deliver a message. This is important folks.
“The Dollhouse is real. They know you’re after them.” He wants to know why she’s telling him this. “We have a person on the inside. This person corrupted this imprint while the programmer wasn’t looking, added this parameter.” What?! Holy shit, is that true? It could easily be just another ruse by the crew at the Dollhouse but I really believe it isn’t. I think that somebody in that place is trying to get a message to Agent Ballard. Echo tells him that this is not the same person that sent him the tape and the picture, that this is a first communication. She then goes on to tell him that there are more than twenty dollhouses worldwide and that he’s going about this the wrong way. He wants to know if she’s going to help him and she tells him that the person who sent this message is. She also tells him not to look for her again, that the next time it could be any of the dolls. She wants Ballard to find out what they’re purpose is, not just their function. And to do that he’s going to have to let the Dollhouse win, have to let them see that he’s been defeated, that he’s giving up. God this is so good.
We can’t know if any of this is true, but I want to believe it is. Is it Alpha, someone working for Alpha? Maybe it’s Topher’s assistant, or Doc Saunders or even DeWitt herself? DeWitt has been startlingly reckless and brazen so far. Perhaps she’s trying to bring the organization down from the inside out. Regardless, this is a huge revelation and the kind of seed that makes you want to come back for more, more, more.
Ballard seems convinced, as convinced as he can be by such a rapid download of information. She tells him that he has to trust her and hands him back the gun. Then she yells, “He’s got a gun!” and puts a bullet into a cop who has just come around the corner, thus cementing Ballard’s complete and utter fuck up. He’ll be blamed for the shooting, accident or not. They’ll have his badge for this. Echo then gets it through his head that they will strike at him through any means necessary, that they can leave no information behind. “Mellie!” He takes off, worried that he’s already to late to save the innocent woman waiting for him back at his apartment.
Back to the apartment. Hearn breaks him and starts tossing Mellie around the apartment, assaulting her. She’s struggling valiantly but he’s overpowering her. The scene is intercut with footage of Ballard running down the street, trying to call Mellie to warn her. The machine finally picks up and it’s DeWitt’s voice. “There are three flowers in a vase. The third flower is green.” It’s a trigger and it turns Mellie into a badass fighting machine. The next few seconds are very satisfying as we see Mellie dismantle Hearn and kill him by stomping his bastard throat into the coffee table. DeWitt speaks the trigger again and the active turns back into the crying, confused, frightened Mellie just as Ballard bursts through the door. I’ve been saying for weeks that I thought Mellie was probably a doll and it appears that I was right. It makes me sad, because I liked the character so much and I wanted so desperately for her to be 100% genuine human. But damn if I wasn’t off the couch and cheering when DeWitt woke her up and she kicked the shit out of that murdering rapist asshole.
Making Mellie a doll works on another, deeper level as well. She’s the one character on the show that we really see ourselves in, the one character who is just “normal.” By showing her to be a doll you call into question everything the audience feels about the whole process. We care about Mellie, we care that Ballard cares about her, and we see just how important her love and her friendship is to him. If that’s the case, then this can’t be all bad, right? See how clever that is?
Lastly, poor Tahmoh. All his favorite girls turn out to be robots.
One last street interview. This one comes courtesy of a man who is either a neuro-scientist or some sort of psychologist. He is trying to illustrate just how frightening something like the Dollhouse really is. He points out that if technology like that exists it will be, “used, it will be abused, and it will be global.” His theory is that, in a world where people can be anything and the rich run the factory, what point is there to humanity? Why would the people controlling this technology even allow us to exist? Joss has been reading Harlan Ellison and William Gibson. Good.
The next shot is Ballard turning in his badge and his gun and I’m finally getting my wish! Those of you following my reviews may remember how I pointed out recently that Ballard would be a much better character if he were a disgraced FBI agent still trying to do his job. If you stripped him of all these resources as just made him a, well, a man on the street, that his character would be infinitely more engaging and sympathetic. Joss, are you spying on me?
Do you need a new writer?
Meanwhile, back at the Dollhouse, Dominic is informing DeWitt that Agent Ballard has been removed from active duty pending an investigation into the shooting of that police officer. Apparently his obsession with the Dollhouse, his unorthodox methods, and his wholesale ass-kicking of Joel Mynor’s security detail didn’t help much either. He also informs her that Hearn’s fingerprints showed him to be a member of the Russian mob believed to be carrying out a contract hit on Agent Ballard. DeWitt is happy to see that their sleeper agent (Mellie) performed so admirably. She wants Dominic to bring her in for a diagnostic, just to be on the safe side. He wonders if they’re pulling her altogether now, but she doesn’t think so. Ballard isn’t the kind of man to just give up, despite the setbacks, so Mellie’s presence as a spy in his midst will certainly be needed in the future. Still, the Dollhouse is having a good day, which is a nice change of pace. DeWitt informs Dominic that he should tell his counterparts in the other houses about what happened to Sierra. “It won’t look good for you,” he says. “Can’t happen again,” she answers.
Victor walks up to Sierra and greets her. She decides to share her book with her and she doesn’t seem to be stressed out at all, so whatever Topher did to fix her seems to be working.
DeWitt goes to visit Echo and we see that she’s drawn a picture that appears to be her and Joel Mynor. She tells DeWitt, “It isn’t finished.” “The picture?” she asks. “It isn’t finished.” “You’d like it to be finished?” Echo is obviously showing residual memory of her imprint, a desire to finish what was started. DeWitt seems perfectly comfortable with this, thus lending a bit more credence to my “she’s trying to blow this all up from the inside” theory.
The final scene is Echo and Mynor on the front lawn of the new home, completing the imprint that Ballard so rudely interrupted.
Wow! Well, I’ve been telling you guys for a few weeks that the show was supposed to get good with this episode and man was that ever the case?! Joss returned to Dollhouse with a bang this week and I for one was not disappointed one bit. Man on the Street turned everything we knew about the show so far on its ear and planted a few seeds that I personally can’t wait to see blossom into fully grown trees of awesome. I’ve said all along that Dollhouse had a lot of potential if they could just get out from under the yoke of the network. For at least one week they have done just that. This episode has everything you’d expect from a Joss Whedon show. I’ve already discussed with a number of my friends how much better this episode was than any of the previous ones. I know for a fact that Man On the Street won at least three viewers back to the show in the Nashville area alone. I’d wager it actually won a lot more than that. Now one episode is hardly cause for champagne, but it is a firbolg-sized step in the right direction. Let’s hope they build upon it with next week’s episode which, incidentally, looks freaking awesome.
Man On the Street – 5.0 out of 5.0
Tune in next Friday and we’ll see you all next week!