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Thread: Dollhouse watch : Season 1

  1. #41
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    Dollhouse episode 1... errr, 6: Man on the Street

    This was certainly an improvement over the past episodes. In fact, except for needing to see the Ballard storyline at a slightly earlier point, this almost could be the pilot episode. It says to the viewer – this is our world and here’s what the show is all about. As Stoney said, it’s a bit on the nose.

    I think a lot of the “on the nose” aspect betrays this episode’s central function as “mission statement” and “course correction”. As Stoney and Aurora have said, it’s well done because Joss Whedon is a great writer. But still this is about repositioning the show for better episodes to come (hopefully).

    The “man on the street” idea is enjoyable. There’s a memorable 1976 episode of the TV series M*A*S*H called “The Interview” which is structured entirely as a period documentary, interviewing the show’s regularly characters. TV shows have often turned to this format – especially the sitcom The Office. (Both British and American versions.) And I’ve seen cutaways to man-on-the-street interviews in many TV shows and movies. Xena’s Lucy Lawless makes a cameo appearance in 2002’s Spider-Man where she offers her opinion of the arachnid hero. (The film was directed by Xena executive producer Sam Raimi.)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXmVr9krlqI

    Neil Gaiman (writer of comic books, novels, short stories, television and movies) used a similar man-on-the-street device for the framing arc of a 1989 special of the Secret Origins comic book that spotlighted Batman’s weird villains.







    It’s a fun device for world-building, but I agree with Aurora that it makes little sense for the level of tech scene in the Dollhouse to be so far ahead of normal society. But then that’s the dichotomy we see in superhero comics, movies and TV shows. The heroes, villains and spy agencies have access to technology far beyond those of mortal men, but elsewhere things appear just as now. We see this probably a bit in Buffy with season four’s Initiative and even more so in the comics once vampires become public knowledge.

    But it’s not quite as effective – either as comedy or drama – as some of the Buffyverse’s world building. I think of that moment in “School Hard” between Principal Snyder and the police chief:

    Chief: So? You want the usual story? Gang-related? PCP?

    Snyder: What'd you have in mind? The truth?

    Chief: (considers) Right. Gang-related. PCP.
    Principal Snyder and the police knew the truth. The sense of denial in Sunnydale wasn’t as strong as we had been led to believe. And this was the first hint that would lead to such adversaries as the Mayor and even the Initiative. On first viewing, it felt like layers were being pulled back and there was something deeper underneath.

    On a more comic note, we have Larry’s remark in “Anne” that shows the other students are aware of the town’s weirdness. “It's all about egg whites. If we can focus, keep discipline, and not have quite as many mysterious deaths, Sunnydale is gonna rule!” This throwaway line would bear fruit in “The Prom”.

    Another “On the Nose” element is Joel Mynor’s speech to Ballard. This is a guy who had his very special memorial fantasy ruined and yet he finds the time to psychoanalyze the “hero cop”. I suppose it might be statement about the rich – that Mynor to get past his private pain to pull someone down. But more importantly, is there anyone in the audience who didn’t already think that Ballard’s quest was a doll-like fantasy?

    Like Aurora said, Paul Ballard doesn’t even seem to belong to a 21st century agency. Replace the computer for a visit to a locked filing cabinet while holding a flashlight, and his investigations are straight out of 1950s TV. I imagine we’ll see even more X-Files machinations from his agency masters, but Ballard doesn’t have the smarts or charm of either Mulder or Scully.

    I’m glad that they appear to finally be moving away from the monster of the week format. Angel vastly improved when they moved past the Saturday Morning TV version of film noir cases and brought in the powerful Darla arc. Echo’s missions up until now have been a bit too commonplace. The plot with Sierra’s rape and the looming threat of Alpha is more intriguing than what we’ve seen from the outside world.

    Now that Dollhouse has had a good scrub-up and polish, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.

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  3. #42
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    Great post PuckRobin and I *loved* your trademark comic reference using Secret Origins of course.

    I'm hoping to get on to the next episode this week now I've caught up with the BtVS rewatch. I've never been great at juggling!

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    Man on the Street is pretty good. It raises some important questions about what is this organization and what are they using it for. The client using Echo as a semblance of his wife so that he shows the house he never got to show his wife is actually sad because that´s something empty. The wife isn´t there and that part may ease his pain a bit but not for long.

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    When can we expect the next episode review? It's been over a month. These big breaks in rewatches kind of tend to ruin the momentum. I'm afraid you'll end up forgetting half of what happened in the previous episodes.
    You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize it; the dust is your life going on. If happy comes along - that weird unbearable delight that's actual happy - I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get, 'cause it's here, and then...gone.

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    You're right, you're right. I don't seem to be able to keep on top of this or keep up to date with the rewatch easily at the moment. I need to post on All The Way too this week but I can probably work in watching the next episode here and putting up at least some brief thoughts today or tomorrow.

    - - - Updated - - -

    1.07 Echoes

    So I watched this last night and had some mixed reactions to it. I can't say it was a great episode for me, although there was plenty that moved the overall story forwards which was really good. Obviously we had some interesting and significant information given as we found out more about Caroline, a little more about how/why people are manipulated into agreeing to the offer of signing themselves over to the Dollhouse and a bit more too about the organisation and others involved in the research/tech involved. We also had further breaking down of the imprinting process itself with more 'glitches' occurring and more signs that the imprints and original memories aren't ever truly wiped so much as suppressed, as per the inhibitions the drug released. Also on the plus side, seeing more of Caroline allowed us to perhaps start to piece a little together of traits that may be hers which are playing their part in Echo's more off piste behaviour. So, certainly some good stuff in there for sure and lots of questions following.

    So why didn't I love it? Well, as much as I appreciated seeing those on the inside of the organisation having their behaviour and actions affected for once, I didn't find it funny but was clearly supposed to. Despite it not being as comprehensive, they weren't being overwritten, what happens to the dolls is so horrific to me that even just the smallest ability to be able to apply any sense of 'see how you like it' due to the loss of control they suffered made it fail to be a comedy situation for me. The feeling of the shoe being on the foot was just too strong and the attempt at comedy actually was quite jarring and irritatingly goofy sat in the midst of the usual awful truth of the exploitation of the Dollhouse. Incidentally, I thought the 'hard R's' comment was also really weird and when I eventually thought I might have worked out what it meant (I think), I just couldn't see a British person saying it. It sounds like an observation an outsider might make, rather than a Brit of themselves, if you see what I mean. Anyway, the 'funny' fell virtually entirely flat for me. I say virtually only because I did smile at Boyd calling them up to play the piano piece and Topher giving Victor superiority over Dominic.

    In addition to that, there was also a good deal of awkward naivety to Alice as well that I didn't find engaging. Perhaps there was a little bit of a mix of her imprint along with the breakdown somewhat raising a little of her 'blank', more childlike, resting state. That would be interesting, but it is likely that it was just the imprint reacting with uncertainty to the memories flickering and I just found the portrayal of Alice to be a pretty weak, very dilute character. Also, the threat of the drug which the actives were supposed to be containing, in what must have been one of the most expensive operations to date(!), just swung around in the degree of seriousness too much so it all was pretty ridiculous really. So definitely a mixed bag generally for me.

    So, now to more specific thoughts. If Caroline ran at first and they spent two years, I think DeWitt said, chasing her, we can perhaps see why she may have been feeling desperate by then. But clearly there was something about her which, from the start, had the medical staff call DeWitt to say she was a possible candidate. Maybe it was just her frame of mind from losing her boyfriend and fearing for her own safety? But DeWitt referred to them 'doing this dance' for almost two years, so there could well be more to that flashback than appeared on the face of it. Especially when it concluded with the statement that 'nothing is what it appears to be', ha!

    It certainly wasn't clear from the scene how well Caroline understood any links between the woman speaking to her after she had been caught and the Rossum organisation she was running from. Had she and DeWitt already spoken in the past and her memories been altered? It would be surprising if DeWitt's interest in Caroline was entirely prompted by the medical staff, and sustained enough to track her for two years just due to Caroline's potential and without any knowledge of her original break-in to Rossum. So surely if the Rossum Corporation knew she had seen industrial and ethically black secrets they wouldn't be happy with her being freed at all. Of course telling her it would be five years doesn't mean they were being truthful anyway. But if it was seen as a good enough way to contain threats and benefit from exploiting those who could otherwise expose them, similar to how Sam was dealt with at the end after his attempt at industrial espionage, then any fear that the mind wipes are failing would raise the question of whether to just eliminate such dolls, surely? We definitely know murder isn't off the cards for them.

    Even if we take what we saw of the scene as the time Caroline chooses to become a doll, there was no real indication of whether she truly knew what she would be passing herself over for still. So coupled with the idea of people being preyed on in times of desperation, it certainly doesn't make the idea of what is happening to the dolls feel more of a real choice. DeWitt actually referred to making choices in the face of forces you can't control, and we also heard Sam when referencing his mum talk about not having choice because of the reliance between them. Manipulating people by using the importance of other people to them or the urgency of a situation against them, just emphasises the sense of some lack of control despite the appearance of choice.

    Did Boyd ever report that the callback for a treatment didn't work on Echo at first or will it just be assumed to have related to the effects of the drugs? It seems by the question of whether she should be sent to the Attic yet again at the end that they are in fact aware of her individually glitching again, presumably having had confirmation from the client that she had walked out during the assignment. Having Echo refuse to go in for a treatment and run away from Boyd on campus was then shown to change when she agreed to go in after she had relived her original memories. This seemed intended to reflect what had happened originally and emphasise the idea of people becoming willing to sign themselves over to escape something, to be relieved of a terrible situation. But I do still assume it doesn't involve honest disclosure about the assignments. I don't think many people would feel casual enough about some of the risks and uses that we have seen happening to them or be desperate enough to agree. Perhaps we are just supposed to think that this is what is involved in finding just the right candidates, locating people so on the edge of an abyss that anything sounds better than falling. Making choices and living with the consequences of them, as in fact DeWitt and all the rest involved in this system also have to do too. But a level of desperation wasn't conveyed to me by the examples of Caroline and Sam that made the 'anything you like' attitude of becoming a doll willingly, with their eyes totally wide open to the reality of it, seem likely.

    Of course we also had again the uncomfortable aspect of how the dolls are being used kept front and centre in our minds even after Echo had walked out on the client, due to the ridiculous outfit she was in through the episode. Of course it was intentional to have ED kitted out in such a clichéd 'fantasy' outfit which nodded the head to a naughty schoolgirl look, alongside the client who wanted to introduce her, to 'teach' her, lots of new things. I assumed we were seeing the same client as the first episode, due to the link with the motorcycle. But whereas last time he seemed to want someone daring/confident, this time he is looking for someone more innocent to share his interests with. And this exploitation is a very real part of this organisation that we've seen over and over, being shaped to someone's requirements and prostituted to satisfy their whims/fantasies. This time the visual reminder remained beyond the assignment. Maybe this is an intentional comment about an actor/actress who is a complex individual, has a real life with relationships they are passionate about, different interests they care deeply about like Caroline's drive to expose the Rossum organisation, being reduced to a fantasy performing sex symbol. So much so that even when they aren't performing any longer, they are still perceived to be, still seen to be to some extent, whatever character it was they played which connected to the audience member??

    We were given some (probably dodgy) science around repressed memories and inhibitors as we were introduced to Rossum, a corporation involved in the background of the Dollhouse working on memory affecting drugs. Other purposes/applications for the research Rossum are undertaking wasn't raised yet but it seems likely they exist.

    The idea that our personalities are constructed from our memories has obviously been running through the series so far. This then has the potential to be applied both to the experiences gained during being a doll as well as from the person's original memories as the question of whether they can truly be cleared continues to be key. We have certainly seen a variety of memories breaking through for Echo. As the dolls were all glitching due to the drugs, they appeared to be experiencing varying flashbacks that weren't all restricted to their assignments. I may be forgetting something but it could be possible that Victor was actually reliving events that he sought to escape in becoming a doll in the first place, the same as Echo was, and we saw Sierra experiencing again the assault she endured whilst in her resting state too.

    And there was a further dangerous side revealed as we nearly saw the result of a subconscious trigger being activated during this glitching. Mellie started to repeat the trigger phrase that DeWitt had telephoned through to her. As she has now packed up to leave her apartment, is it possible that this breach could have resulted in her winning a special place in the 'Attic' but they didn't want a sudden disappearance creating questions? Possible, or they may not be willing to lose their connection to Ballard and still be hoping to use Mellie to spy on him and distract him further. It is possible Ballard may decide to try and find her, although I'd have thought it is unlikely when really she was only a salve for his deeper wish to find and rescue Caroline.

    The little we saw of Ballard had him continuing to be single minded and it was a bit dull to be honest. In contrast, the little glimpse of a weaker side of Dominic was interesting. With his inhibitions down we see that the hard image is perhaps somewhat constructed by himself, a nice contrast against the dolls' stories and their decision to hide themselves under a false front (to whatever degree it is an informed choice). Although it has to be said that the tough guy exterior as a constructed tool to hide a more sensitive side is a bit on the clichéd side!

    Despite liking that I could see traits starting to link Echo to Caroline I'm not sure the episode succeeded significantly in making me care about Caroline more. And that is despite having very strong opinions which married well to the passions of the person we were being presented with through her revealed memories. This in itself raised an interesting thought as I wondered why it didn't make a huge impact from seeing details of her background. I think it is because seeing some of her 'original self' felt just a little bit too like seeing her playing another, new, constructed role. Maybe that is the point (and the benefit) of having left it so long before showing us some of the real Caroline. It is easier to dismiss who is really beneath the surface if we are used to someone wearing masks and performing constantly? Perhaps that also makes it easy for those in the organisation that are fundamental to the exploitations as they stay more distanced from the dolls as 'real' people. Shown in Dominic's discomfort/apology perhaps. If we, as an audience, are forming views and forming loyalties to people that we don't truly know at all but based on the enjoyment we have of performances where they are presenting a constructed persona again and again, is it too easy to dismiss the truth of that person and them not truly be seen as 'real' at all? If so, when audiences seek to 'know' the real person behind the camera, how much like Ballard are they just bringing their own wants into the mix of how they then interpret what they see?

    So there was plenty to chew on from this episode, even if it didn't all work well for me. Heading on I hope that we learn more about the Rossum organisation and how it ties with Dollhouse. I'm assuming the brain scan that was seen by Caroline/Leo (was it Leo?) was similar to the scans Topher was looking at and was related to Dollhouse and/or the memory experimentation generally. The deliberately sinister babies in jars seemed a bit over the top, but may relate to something more specific. It would be interesting to also see a little more of whether Echo is the only one having glitches which expose her original memories rather than her assignments/resting state not being fully removed/overwritten. There also seemed to be a question to raise in how much the connections, the strength/intensity of memories, plays a part in what is retained. If the traumatic memories were all ones which surfaced first (considering Sierra's/Mellie's/Victor's/Echo's memories which were shown), what does this say of how 'safe' it is to constantly push people into these extreme scenarios if you can't then remove all the lingering memory/effects? Will this relate to what eventually pushed Alpha over?

    Perhaps we will meet some more people who recognise Caroline. You would have thought they would have dolls operate far from the place they come from. But anyway, it would be nice to get some more detail/consistency bound back with Caroline now, some more to build up the sense of the 'real' character beneath so that I can start to really care about her more as a real individual and give some weight/importance to those glimpses of her, to the glitches that imply she can break free, and not remain the doll they have spent so many episodes establishing she is.

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    Yay, it's good to see another episode review!

    I didn't find anything in the episode laugh out loud funny, but I didn't mind the humorous moments, either. I don't have a problem with dark humor or deliberate mood dissonance. Dollhouse is in general not a show with many laughs - I can think of maybe a couple more episodes with some funny moments, but those episodes are otherwise very dark. Out of all Joss-created shows, Dollhouse is by far the one with the least amount of humor in it (barely any).

    That said, I also found Adelle's "I am so British" lines very badly written. Not only are those the things that don't sound like an actual British person would say, they sound like something written by someone who knows very little about British people. The "hard R" comment also is factually incorrect. I'm guessing they were trying to refer to the "posh" RP (Received Pronunciation) accent, because apparently, the writers of this episode are among those people who think that all British people talk like that, and are completely unaware that large portions of Britain speak a variety of accents that sound nothing like that. But it still doesn't make sense, because Americans, to the best of my knowledge, don't pronounce hard Rs either. If there's any American accent with a hard R, someone please correct me. I'm guessing that the writers of this episode also don't know what a hard R is, and that they were trying to refer to the fact that, in most American accents, soft Rs are pronounced, while people who speak RP don't pronounce Rs at all. But what makes the line especially absurd is that it's actually in some of the British accents - such as Scottish and Northern accents - that hard Rs are pronounced. So, if anything, it's the opposite - it's the Americans who don't pronounce hard Rs, while some of the British do (and other British people pronounce soft Rs, while others, like Adelle, don't pronounce Rs at all).

    So, all this was pretty annoying to me as a philologist, and I had to get it off my chest, but aside from that, the episode was OK with me.

    This episode, together with A Man in the Street and the next episode, Needs, makes up something like a trilogy of episodes that deliver information and backstory that was missing from the first 5 episodes. You made some very good observations about what we see here in terms of the dolls' memories and how their brains work. The first episode started, IIRC, with a conversation between Caroline and Adelle, where Adelle talked about "wiping the slate clean", promising a new start with all the traumatic and bad things forgotten, and Caroline retorted that the slate is never actually fully clean. We see that she's right and that the Dollhouse people have overestimated their ability to 'wipe' people's minds clean. Echo is supposed to be something of an outlier with her ability to retain some remnants of the memories and skills from past assignments, but we see here that all dolls had memories come back to them, memories that they were not supposed to have retained - in some cases, traumatic memories from their 'real lives', in others, from things that happened to them in doll state, and in others, from their assignments, or even moments when their sleeper programming was triggered. We're starting to see that, perhaps, it is impossible to completely control and manipulate people's minds. This seems to be a surprise to Topher, Adelle and others - and this is probably why the Rossum Corporation people believed that they don't need to kill people who knew too much, if they could use them as dolls. They believe that they are able to erase certain memories and that this is it, but we see that memories sometimes have a habit of still resurfacing.

    Caroline's personality is pretty relevant and informs who Echo is. We've seen Echo act to protect others in both her assignments, and in her blank doll state (with her almost motherly/big-sisterly concern for Sierra and Victor). It makes sense that she was an activist and idealist who wanted to fight evil powerful corporations and had an instinct to protect those who are enslaved and exploited and not given any rights. At the same time it's ironic that she ended up signing her life over to be enslaved and exploited the same way that those animals were. But maybe Rossum should be more worried about Echo..

    Adelle wants to believe that the Dollhouse is really giving people a choice and an attempt to escape their past, and no doubt it helps her justify her actions (we saw with her reaction to Sierra's handler that she likes to think she has certain moral boundaries she will not go beyond), but as we see, they are really using people's desperation and trauma to convince them to agree to a 5 year long slavery, with a "choice" that is barely a real choice (since other alternatives are also really bad). It makes me think of the Ancient Rome type of slavery where, aside from conquered and imprisoned foreigners who were forced into slavery, there were also Roman citizens who sold themselves into slavery because of their debts that they couldn't otherwise repay, and hoped to eventually regain their freedom.

    One of the things that seems to make the Dollhouse offer appealing is that they can wipe your traumatic memories and make you forget them. Caroline's guilt over her boyfriend's death must have tormented her a lot (and it's seen in this episode when she's yelling at Sam that he's responsible for his friend's death even if he didn't mean for him to die - obviously she's also talking to herself), otherwise I don't see her agreeing to sign the deal with the Dollhouse instead of going to prison.

    It would be interesting to know how the Dollhouse managed to placate that client that Echo walked out on in the middle of the assignment (and left him tied up to a bed, no less... pretty unpleasant situation). And yeah, that's the same guy from the first episode.

    I think you're going to like the next episode. IIRC it has a lot more backstory info and the things you've said you want to see.
    You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize it; the dust is your life going on. If happy comes along - that weird unbearable delight that's actual happy - I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get, 'cause it's here, and then...gone.

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