Monday, February 23, 2009

TV Topic: "Dollhouse": Why You Should Watch!

In its second week on the tube, "Dollhouse" ratings went down. Hopefully Joss Whedon's clout will give it a reprieve. Perhaps a fresh start in the Fall and a prime-primetime spot will get people watching. I didn't particularly enjoy the first episode, but the second was much much better.

The plot this time around involved several helpful flashbacks that provided insight into the personalities and objectives of Boyd (the cop), Laurence (the uptight, veritable 2nd-in-command to the British kahuna Ms. Dewitt), Dr. Saunders, and, of course, the rogue agent Alpha:

• The scars on Dr. Saunders's face were inflicted by Alpha, and although he murdered almost everyone in the Dollhousea few months back, he spared Echo for a reason not yet revealed.

• The reason Alpha malfunctioned is because he developed what is known as a composite event, where memories pile up instead of erase like they're supposed to. So he must've started realizing what he was and where he was.

Echo is the most requested of all the agents.

• I though Echo's interest in the boy she went on a date with last week was an anomaly, but apparently she always tells her handler that she'll be right back because she wants to return to wherever her job took her to that day.

• When an agent gets a new handler, they have to go through a conditioning process. The handler has to say a few scripted comforting sentences that the agent will subconsciously remember whenever they are out in the field with a different imprint/personality. So, if say Echo were sent on an extreme sports date and the man (an unrecognizable Matt Keeslar from ABC Family's "The Middleman") who requested her turns out to be a psycho who intended on hunting her instead of hunting with her, then her handler could find her, say a scripted sentence, and she'd reply her programmed response, automatically trusting him.

Now here's why you should keep tuning in:

Alpha, a Dollhouse agent turned serial killer, went rogue, flipped out, and is presumably hunting Echo, the only person he chose not to kill or attack at all. Why?

Ms. Dewitt doesn't consider government investigator Paul Ballard a threat, but Laurence is keen on getting him out of the way. Sometimes I wonder if he was programmed to be that much of a prick, which makes me wonder if the agents can keep their imprints for longer than a day and what the side effects are if they do.

• The best part of this episode was the last scene. We learn that Alpha's composite event isn't a one-time glitch. It seems like it's happening to Echo too. We've seen evidence of her scratching to the surface of her imposed imprints--sometimes recalling her former self or realizing that she isn't who she says she is. She's so strong-willed against the programming that instead of responding to the scripted statements that her handler tried to use to calm her down when he found her bleeding in the woods, she used his lines to calm him after he was speared with an arrow. In fact, she wasn't even trained for combat, but she still managed to outwit and out-maneuver her attacker. But the best part of all had to be in the very last scene. Her date/attacker gave her this whole speech about how his father use to tell him to "put his shoulder to the wheel" simultaneously smacking his shoulder as he said this. It was his way of saying that he believes in survival of the fittest and he was determined to come out on top. After she was wiped and the imprint was removed, Laurence started taunting her, consistently stating that she was nothing because she had no personality of her own and was practically brain dead. She seemed understandably confused and rather indifferent in her robotic state until he walked away, and she smacked her shoulder. Chills, my friend. I got chills.

EW's Ken Tucker reviewed the series and came to the conclusion that one of the series' major flaws was that "we have to start from scratch with each installment and buy into Echo's new personality. The result: no consistent hero to root for every week." But I think it's moments like that one that prove otherwise. We're rooting for the girl Echo used to be--the one scratching to the surface. I'm definitely tuning in this Friday to see what happens when Laurence kidnaps Ballard and when Ballard meets the object of his obsession.

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