Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Dollhouse" recap: One bad mutha...

I've gone back and forth about writing weekly recaps on Fox's "Dollhouse," mainly because I don't often get to watch the show live, and because I'm not sure how much an interest there is in this show. I didn't get to do a recap last week because I had a few other things I needed to do, and I debated about whether to skip this week's recap as well.
But, eventually, I decided it was a good idea to do a recap this week, and to check in with the show as often as I can. After all, I do like it and it's one of those shows that gives you plenty to talk about.
Talk this week's episode for example. We open with that Ballard/Topher scene in which Topher babbles about how he's perfected "Dollhouse" technology to the point where he can make physical changes in the dolls, as well as mental ones. I was a little confused at first, because we did see him make some physical changes last year, as when he turned Echo into a blind woman so she could infiltrate that cult. But we shortly see what Topher's talking about: he's turned Echo into a young mom. And he's added all the bells and whistles, including maternal instinct and, um, lactation. Eek. Yeah -- no way this could go wrong.
Turns out, the Dollhouse has been hired by a dad who lost his wife in childbirth. Due to her death, Dad can't bond with his son, so he hires Echo to love the child. Again, eek. Echo (as Emily, the mom), senses how distant the dad is and goes snooping. She finds what I assume are pictures of the man's dead wife and assumes he's having an affair. He tells her the woman is someone he loved who died and she believes him. All seems well, until Echo overhears Daddy calling the Dollhouse to come "take care" of Echo/Emily. Of course, she thinks this means "dead" as opposed to "rendered memory-free," and panics.
Eventually, Echily attempts to flee with the baby, going so far as to contact the police. When the police learn that Echily, despite her protests, isn't the baby's mama, they take the child away and Ballard takes Echily back to the Dollhouse so she can become Echo again. doesn't work. Echo retains memory of the baby, whether as a continuation of the composite effect she's experiencing or because, (as Ballard tells Topher) the maternal instinct he gave her was so strong that it couldn't be erased with a regular wipe.
Whatever it is, Echo takes out Topher with a palm to the nose and runs back to get what she thinks is her baby. She nabs the kid, and threatens Dad with a knife, but he manages to calm her down, convincing her it isn't really her child. She drops the knife and Ballard comes in to collect her.
Now here's the part I want to talk about. Echo tells Ballard how intensely she loved the baby, and how much it hurt when he was taken away. She doesn't understand why it's necessary for the Dollhouse to give her such real feelings on engagements. Because she really does feel everything they've ever done to her. Ballard tells her he knows that she remembers the other identities. No, she tells him. Not remember. Feel. She feels that she got married. She feels motherhood. And it all hurts. Ballard, in an odd, but convincing, twist, suggests she tell Topher. Maybe he can fix her so she doesn't feel all the painful memories. After all, he's willing to tackle the Dollhouse himself. He doesn't need her to keep putting her heart and soul at risk.
No, she tells him. Feeling nothing would be even worse than feeling pain. She was asleep before. She wants to be awake now.
What do you make of this exchange? It's sort of the mirror image of the conversation between Ballard and November/Madeline earlier in the episode, in which she tells him that she preferred to "sleep" for five years rather than deal with the pain of losing her daughter. Echo prefers the pain. She prefers awareness. She wants to be whole again, inasmuch as that's possible.
Another thing I want to pull from this scene is Ballard's seemingly selfless offer to take Echo's pain away. For the past season or so, we watched him trying to find Caroline, Echo's true self. Now, he's willing to sacrifice Caroline so Echo doesn't suffer. So where does Ballard's obsession lie? Is he now obsessed with Echo, as opposed to Caroline? Is his obsession all about physical appearance? Or is it that Ballard was initially obsessed with Caroline because of her looks, but appreciates Echo for different reasons, primarily her ability to evolve?
I hope this show stays on the air long enough for us to get answers to these questions. Meanwhile, here are some more thoughts on "Instinct."
* By the way, this episode drove home for me just how closely the active/handler imprinting ritual mirrors parenthood. As Adelle points out, babies need to be imprinted with love and care. So do the actives. Think about the script for the imprinting process: "Everything's going to be all right." "Now that you're here."
"Do you trust me?" "With my life."
Isn't that the unspoken exchange that takes place between every parent and child?
* Hey! November's back! Or, rather, Madeline. Adelle pays her a visit and gets her to come in for a diagnostic. Madeline, we see, is living the sweet life. It's unclear whether she was rich before, or if this is the spoils of an active's paycheck. At any rate, she gets a knock to the head while at Dollhouse headquarters, thanks to a hysterical Echo. Maybe this triggers the problems with November/Madeline that are eluded to in "Epitaph One?"
* Any idea why Sierra was put on the mommy job as well as Echo? Was it just to provide support for Echo? I guess new moms need a confidant, especially new moms with creepy, distant husbands. But it just seems like a waste of resources in this economy. Also, she wasn't really much help, was she?
* We get another glimpse of Alexis Denisof's Sen. Perrin. So far, his story seems to be all exposition. Though I am intrigued about who's leaking him information. Thoughts?
* All in all, I felt this was a bit of a comedown after last week's "Vows," but it was still a solid outing. Also, how devastating was it when Echo was pulled into the wipe room, screaming for her baby? Yeesh.


Danielle said...

I thought this episode was even more intense than last week's...but that may be because I know quite a few young mothers and could easily picture them going through equal distress.
As for your questions about Paul, I think he's evolving too. He wanted to save Caroline. She was the one victim he saw at first, but now he wants to save them all. And if Echo can help, that's great, but he won't make her go through pain when he could do it on his own.
He was still struggling with seeing Madeleine too.

Lee said...

I grew up in the 70s, but my town was 10 years behind the times, so I can pretty much relate to the show's era. The details about the uncomfortable summer heat, with air conditioning being really rare and cold salad suppers being served, are pretty evocative.