Saturday, March 14, 2009

Faith has a Tru Calling (Dollhouse 1.5)

Each week, Dollhouse comes together a little bit more, with better writing, better performances and more layers to the overarching mythology.

Last night's episode, "True Believer," had Echo going "undercover" into a dangerous cult compound in order to find a cultie that had requested help, and provide the ATF with enough reason to get a warrant and bring the compound leader to justice.

One of my big stumbling blocks with the show has been "why hire a doll" instead of a subject matter expert from the real world. The reasons thus far have been varied and passable, but I really liked what they did with "True Believer," because it was clearly a job uniquely suited to a doll, and because it also revealed some very interesting things about the overall operation. Clearly any new addition to the compound would be viewed with extreme scrutiny, and the combination of Echo's programmed total, unwavering faith and her well executed "blindness" made for a convincing cover. As for how she got this engagement, I loved the reveal that a prominent senator was using the Dollhouse (and hey, even if he was using it for just kinky sex, one can surely see the benefits of having the girl completely disappear and get mindwiped, isn't that right, Elliot Spitzer?). It also gives some validity to the idea that the Dollhouse is afforded a certain protection from legal entanglements.

"True Believer" also had one of Eliza Dushku's better performances, miles removed from the usual tough-talking, sexing it up Southie. He eye and hand movements were realistic, and there was a quiet, stillness and sincerity to her "beliefs" that sold the "Esther Carpenter" character (right up until some of Echo started to seep through at the end). Fran Kranz, Olivia Williams and (of course) Amy Acker also had great moments back at the Dollhouse, and the ensemble is really coming together.

Good Stuff:
  • "If she was any more relaxed, she'd be ooze."
  • The whole scenario with Victor experiencing a boner for Sierra. Or as Topher dubbed it, a "man reaction."
  • Interesting throwaway line during while Topher was on the phone about a "Valsalva Mechanism," which apparently has something to do with neurological coordination between the brain and various bodily functions (and has been used to diagnose stuttering).
  • "I believe I spotted a tumescence."
  • Really good fake out on the "save me" message. When Boyd went to the c-store to review the tapes, I immediately thought "well, why didn't the ATF think of that?" Of course, there was a real good reason the ATF didn't, since the agent in charge actually faked the note.
  • Another good fake out was the appearance of Laurence on the compound in a mask. I thought for sure that Echo's rescuer was going to be Boyd.
  • God's message: "Move your ass!"
  • Mellie, whom I still think is a doll, has obviously been programmed to be Rachel Ray with a better rack. I love that her "leftovers" are always a full tray of Italian food, with none eaten.
  • Echo's "I see perfectly" at the end, directed toward Laurence, was fully of double meaning and well played by Eliza.
  • There was nothing in this eppy to specifically signal it, but I'm beginning to think that Adelle was a one time doll who volunteered for the program and has now moved on to corporate management, giving her better insight and empathy into the nature of the business.

  • Would Ballard and his FBI compatriots really let Mellie and her manicotti hang around while they were reviewing evidence?
  • The line at the end, "she could be anybody," was a little on the nose and groan-worthy.
  • Upon deeper examination, the rational and motives of the cult leader, and Echo's almost immediate acceptance into the cult, don't hold up all that well. We were told that Jonas Sparrow wasn't really a die-hard believer, but more a creepy narcissist with a "man reaction" for young girls. If that's the case, and he didn't really believe the biblical nonsense he was shoveling out to his flock, why would he accept someone who came to him under the guise of a "miracle?" Other than the fact that she looks like Eliza Dushku?
  • I might have to go back and look at the opening scenes, but how exactly did the ATF dude put the "save me" on the back of the note?

Overall, the episodes continue to improve in quality and depth, and next week brings the purported kick off the show hitting its stride. A-


  1. I don't recall the throw-away comment about the Valsalva mechanism, but I've watched it only once thus far. So I don't know if it would apply to the conversation Topher was having, but executing the Valsalva maneuver would involve forcing air against a closed airway. Usually it involves plugging your nose and blowing to pop your ears. I know this because my Valsalva maneuver has failed me since last October, so I haven't been able to equalize the pressure in my ears for six months. Would "maneuver" instead of "mechanism" make sense if it were used instead? (I'm still not over the fact that they had dialogue that referred to an "exuberant" fee rather than an "exorbitant" one a couple of episodes ago, so I'm not trusting them to get things right.)

  2. Also, I can't believe you left off "sneizure." I'm totally adding that to my vocabulary right away.

  3. Yeah, I did forget "sneizure," which made me giggle. The Valsalva thing came up, I believe, when Topher was talking on the phone to someone. I could have sworn he said "mechanism," which after a quick crackberry google skim, led me to believe he was chatting about something related to behavioral or bodily functions that might be inherent in the profile mapping he does. "Mechanism" is it's own "thing" if you search around for it, so it's probably what was intended. And yeah, the "exuberant" fee is a classic error. Probably one of those that slipped by editing and was just a misspeak by the actor after doing many takes. Surely no one would actually write that into a script. I hope.