Saturday, February 28, 2009

Baby Steps (Dollhouse 1.03 "Stage Fright")

This was a tough ep of Dollhouse to evaluate. The case of the week was mildly interesting, even though several aspects of it aggravated me. On the other hand, the ongoing shenanigans in and around the Dollhouse were fascinating.

There were lots of opportunities for humor to be mined from the surreal nonsense that surrounds pre-fab pop divas, and except for a couple of lines (working for the "Mouse," and "Who is eating a mint?!"), we didn't get any major chuckles. Instead, we got a clumsy parallel between the life of a wholly created pop tart and the manufactured personas of the dolls. The motivations of the singer, Rayna, and her stalker, seemed rather mechanical and unbelievable to me, as did Rayna's sudden "BFF!" attitude toward newly hired backup singer Echo. Plus, it didn't help that the actress playing Rayna, while she could sing and dance and slink with the best of 'em, didn't handle the "acting" part of the role with any subtlety. (In her defense, the part was poorly written, too).

However, outside of the case, things were much more interesting. We got to meet Sierra's handler, who is kind of a dick, and that served as a nice contrast with the character of Boyd and his fatherly dedication to Echo. Dr. Saunders had some nice moments with Boyd as well, and as always, those were well played by Amy Acker. And we had a couple of nice surprises:
  • Lubov, the low level Russian mobster than Ballard has been squeezing for information on the Dollhouse, turns out to be "Victor," an active. I had thought that Ballard's neighbor, the friendly lasagna chick, would turn out to be an active keeping tabs on our FBI agent. (She still may be, but that would seem like overkill at this point). This nifty reveal poses a couple of questions: if Victor was still in the same programmed persona, why did he need to come back to the Dollhouse for "treatment?" Could it be to just download what he's learned? Also, who exactly was behind the ambush of Ballard? Was it a total management operation, or perhaps Laurence acting outside of Adelle's knowledge to set this up?
  • Both Echo AND Sierra seemed to have retained a little something of their identities once they were wiped and returned to the tabula rasa state, as evidenced by the nods at the end. Nice.
In the ongoing debate over "why hire a doll," this one did seem fairly plausible. The Lou Pearlman manager figure was an old friend of Adelle's; they did point out that regular security wasn't exactly working, and the diva behavior of the pop tartlet made it more difficult for a typical protector to get and stay close.

Other random thoughts:
  • Is it just me, or did Eliza look too skinny this week?
  • Eliza's singing was quite unexpectedly lovely.
  • They did keep the imprint fairly close to the regular "Dushku" tough gal persona, so it wasn't necessarily a stretch for her acting muscles. However, I thought the transition from "eager, wide-eyed backup singer newbie" to "badass, tough talking Southie" was jarring and inconsistent.
  • What was the point of Sierra as the "number one fan?" Maybe it was to use her as bait, to escalate the actions of the real stalker and bring him out of the woodwork. However, if she was to be used as bait, wouldn't it make sense that some harm might potentially come to her? And in that case, couldn't she have been imprinted with some serious whoop-ass skills to allow her to take care of herself? Between this, and the motivations of the diva/stalker, I thought there was some sloppy writing and plotting.
  • Even though he's completely amoral, I continue to love Topher. At least someone is bringing the funny. We had the "scowly babies" comment, and then "Of the two people in here, who's the genius and who's the security guard in the pretty, pretty suit?" Hee.
  • I also liked the argument between Laurence and Adelle at the end, and Adelle's view that Echo DID perform her job admirably, executing all the mission parameters, albeit creatively.

Overall, "Stage Fright" was hit and miss, with just enough Whedony goodness to keep me hanging around until the show (supposedly) hits its stride around eppy 6 or 7. B-


  1. I'm with you...I liked this one OK, and the Victor reveal was nice.

    Question for you...Boyd told Amy Acker something like "we both know somebody is trying to kill Echo, and it's not Alpha." I have no idea what he is talking about...did I miss something, or is this just a small nugget of Caroline/Echo's backstory that we will find out more about later?

  2. I don't recall that moment exactly, and already deleted the TiVo recording. So my memory could be sketchy, but could he be talking about Laurence, the security guy, who seems to have it out for Echo?

  3. Thanks to the miracle of Hulu, I just checked out the line:

    "The word from upstairs is that it's not Alpha."

    This could mean that "management" is in Alpha denial. Or they want to make Boyd think that perhaps Ballard wants to do her harm.

    Other than that, I'll just take it as a plot point dropping that will pay off later.

  4. Thanks for the research, dude...I'm still not entirely sure what it means, so I'm hoping it is part of Caroline's story.