Let’s Watch Dollhouse ep. 4: Joss Whedon and The Sundance Kid

Dollhouse

So last time I was pretty positive about Eliza Dushku’s performance. This episode begins with Echo being a midwife, a role that seems to be just a tad out of Dushku’s range, by which I mean she could just as equally be playing someone unclogging a blocked drain.

We’ve got a few different narrative threads going on this time. At the Dollhouse Echo and Sierra continue their journey toward BFFhood. I’m please about this, but I’m starting to wonder if the whole Tabula Rasa state thing was a good idea. It robs these characters of a lot of their, well, character, and the actors are clearly having trouble with it. Sierra and Echo also have lunch with Victor (who is indeed an Active, which I wasn’t sure about last time). Topher speculates that there’s some kind of instinctive bond forming between the Actives that’s surviving the memory wipes.

Topher: They volunteered for this.

Langton: So we’ve been told.

UH OH.

Well, we know Echo at least volunteered. Or “volunteered” since she appeared to be under a lot of duress at the time. I wonder how much money they’re getting for this at the end?

The client this time around is an old guy with a vague foreign accent. DeWitt tells him that his engagement involves significant risk to the Active, something that’s calculated by computer since apparently none of the Dollhouse staff (except presumably the handler) actually know exactly what the engagement is. This seems like a system it would be fairly easy to get around. During this conversation DeWitt gets a phone call from someone who is apparently her superior who seems (we don’t hear his side of the conversation) to be telling her to kill Ballard since the last attempt to take him out with the Russian mafia didn’t work. I sure hope he gets to eat some of that lasagna soon.

So the engagement this time around is for Echo to have sex with a rich asshole. Nah, just joking! She’s pretending to have sex with a rich asshole so they can get into the hotel’s security room and blow open a wall into a vault next door that’s about to deactivate their motions sensors and cameras for an hour to upgrade the system, giving them a chance to sneak in and rob shit. I kind of assume a place like that would compensate for the lack of security by drafting in a ton of personnel to watch the building during the down-time, maybe give the police a heads up. The plan involves the asshole and his frat buddies pretending to beat Echo up so she’ll run to hotel security and get access to the room they need. Because Joss Whedon writes empowered women. And the plan doesn’t even make sense, it relies on the hotel security guy a) taking Echo into that one specific room and b) not calling the cops on the rich asshole accomplices or throwing them out of the hotel. Echo this time around is basically playing Buffy, in that she’s a wise-cracking badass who wears sexy outfits a lot. Her dialogue is awful and Eliza Dushku is not good at pulling it off, which is a bit disappointing after the relatively decent quality last episode.

Also while we’re on the subject, can you actually crack a safe just by fiddling with the dial for a bit and listening to the noises it makes? Because that’s what Echo does. Sexily. As much as I’m making fun of it the basic premise of the episode is actually pretty cool. In the middle of the job one of the thieves hired to tag along with Echo makes off with the ancient Greek statue they were supposed to be stealing and just then- at the worst possible moment- Echo gets a phone call from a mysterious person (hint: it’s totally Alpha) that erases her imprint, leaving her cowering in fear in her tabula rasa state. Sierra is then drafted in to essentially take over the exact same role that Echo had been playing. Hi-jinks ensue.

The problem is that what this amounts to in practice is lots of Echo huddling in a corner plaintively and once again being explicitly referred to as child-like and even “cute” by other characters. Then one of the thief dudes slaps her! JOSS WHEDON: FEMINISM WARRIOR. Also having Sierra play the exact same role right after Echo just highlights how much better at acting Dichen Lachman is than Eliza Dushku. Seriously, she really blows Dushku out of the water.

In theory this episode is supposed to be a tense race against to clock to extract Echo and her accomplices from the vault they’re trapped in before the security down-time ends and the fuzz shows up, but there’s so much time spent on Dollhouse personnel bickering and Echo and one of the thieves having inane conversations about art. The situation is ripe for all sorts of drama, with the soft-spoke art appreciating thief who got stabbed by the traitor earlier wanting to kill himself witha  sedative Echo had on her and the more aggressive dude declaring that fuck that, they’re going to shoot their way out (for some reason they’re packing automatic weapons despite the client apparently demanding very strongly that he didn’t want them to kill anyone during the job, on pain of losing all of their payment). There’s also some thing with Topher going on a near-psychotic paranoia trip over who did the remote wipe that’s so goofy and stupid I’m honestly not sure whether it’s supposed to be taken seriously at all.

Sierra instructs blank!Echo over the phone on how to get out but she messes it up and the Dollhouse decide they have to kill her. Damn, this arrangement is starting to look worse and worse for the Actives. Now I’m really curious how much they actually know about all of this before signing on. Luckily sensitive art appreciation thief throws a smoke grenade when the vault doors open and Echo uses this and the firefight between asshole thief and the police to escape back to Langton. At the end of the episode Topher gets confirmation from DeWitt that Alpha is still alive, which is super scary you guys.

Ballard’s plot line this time around might as well not even be present- Victor goes to Ballard trying to lure him into danger by pretending to become an informant for the FBI, Ballard is a hard ass who blows him off, the end.

So this episode was…… alright, I guess? It wasn’t as bad as the first two but it didn’t continue the only consistent positive attribute the show has, which is a willingness to develop the over-arching plotline quickly. We already knew Alpha was alive so Topher finding out about it doesn’t really advance the story in any way. Overall there isn’t a whole lot to say about this episode- it wasn’t particularly good, it wasn’t particularly bad, the plot is basically just filler.

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