Monday, March 02, 2009

"Dollhouse" warming

For me, "Dollhouse" already had two strikes.

I'm sure you're thinking 1) it's on FOX, and 2) it's on the Friday Night Death Slot.

And while those two things are true, I'm talking about what was going on with "Dollhouse" and yours truly.

Strike number one was that I, frankly, just didn't care for that first episode. The idea is interesting, but the episode itself did nothing for me. If I didn't love Joss Whedon like a pervert loves a raincoat, I probably wouldn't have continued.

And Strike Number Two was that, to my confusion and disgust, Joss's original pilot episode was scrapped, and not shown second, as we had been told (and indeed, as I had told everyone).

All I needed was one more strike, and then, it was anybody's ballgame.

Tyranist invited me over yesterday to watch the show with him, but I didn't really want to. I'm behind on work and writing, and that damn Facebook has games on it, so I was content to just sit around and do nothing. But I changed my mind today and hoped he'd invite me again. When he did, I quietly agreed and drove down south to his crumbling, hundred year old manor.

His monstrous spawn was only somewhat so tonight, and after watching a very uneven (and unsatisfying) "Sarah Connor Chronicles," it was time to visit the dollhouse.

Apparently, the new second episode was called "The Target," and was written and directed by Steven S. DeKnight. I knew his work from the later seasons of "Angel," but since that ended, I've been catching up on "Smallville" episodes, and saw his name on many of those (usually the better ones).

So, Echo is . . . "given" to a handsome outdoorsy type played by Matt Keeslar. I don't know where I know Keeslar from, or how I even knew his name was Matt Keeslar, but tyranist kept referring to him as "the other Paul Atreides," from the DUNE movies (the other being Kyle McLachlan). Still, he's Matt Keeslar to me, for some reason.

He takes her out into the wilderness, for a hike, some rafting, some archery lessons, and some sleeping bag copulation. Then he tells her she has a head start, and then he's going to hunt her and kill her. I said to tyranist, "Already? They went there on the SECOND episode?" You'd at least think we'd get four or five regular assignments before she gets the guy who just wants the Active so he can kill her.

Well, we find out a bit about her handler, Boyd Langton, and get flashbacks to when he was brought on in that capacity. It was right after "Alpha," the rogue Active, went crazy, and killed a bunch of Actives, let Echo live, and scarred up poor Dr. Saunders's face. We see a bit more of what Echo and company are like before they've been imprinted, and see how they are "bonded" with their handlers. When Matt Keeslar's associate tries to take Langton out, we also see that he can take good care of himself.

Echo is pursued by Matt Keeslar, who is bowhunting, and puts one in Langton's stomach. Ultimately, Echo turns the tables on Keeslar, and shoots him, beats him, and sticks one of his arrows in his neck. This experience certainly brings Langton closer to Echo, but it's hard to tell if it makes any impression on Echo, since her memory of the whole ordeal is wiped along with her recent personality.

There's a subplot with Agent Ballard still trying to find out if the Dollhouse exists, and his badgering of a Russian thug named Lubov. He's sure Lubov knows about the Dollhouse, even though nobody else believes in it, and Ballard is a joke at the FBI. He and Fox Mulder should have coffee sometime. Also, Alpha sends Ballard a photo of Echo (back when she was Caroline), seemingly encouraging him in his investigation.

Oh, and we meet Ellie, Ballard's lovable neighbor girl. I thought she was attractive, oh yeah, but tyranist began writing love poetry in the air around us using his son's sonic screwdriver replica. It's happened before with him, but I can't remember when, it's been so long.

This episode was good, certainly better than the previous one, but I have to admit that I wasn't really jumping up and down with joy about the show.

It's not exactly rocking the kasbah in the ratings, and I have to admit that I'm unsettled by FOX's attempts to use sex to sell the show (which it is also doing with "Sarah Connor," which is an even less sex-centric show than this is).

Hey, I'll be the first to tell you how hot Dushku is in person, but the show isn't really about that (or at least it shouldn't be), and I'm aware of how coveted the Male 18-34 demographic is . . . but I can't say I appreciate each episode's obligatory sex or semi-nude scene. I guess I'm getting old.

But what FOX needs to be aiming for is the FEMALE demographic on a show like this. Joss Whedon's shows always tended to skew toward women (except maybe "Firefly*"), and with a strong female main character (as well as a title that's gonna resonate with girls rather than boys), and a lead in show with a strong female main character, I'd hope they'd realise that women are important, and probably less fixated on cleavage than, well, others.

Besides, even though I've heard detractors of the show call it "Whorehouse," it's got a really interesting Sci-Fi premise, is smart (or trying to be), and seems to be aimed at viewers who pay attention. And women aren't the lowest common denominator, shite-slinging talk shows notwithstanding.

I wouldn't be typing any of this had we not watched another one, so let me move on to what I really want to talk about.

During the end credits, the promo for the next episode began. Echo is protecting a R&B star by going undercover as a back-up singer. "Oh no," I thought. It was as though the episode was tailor-made to turn me off.

But it was already on tyranist's TiVo, so we started it up.

This one was called "Stage Fright," and it was written by Marissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon.

It begins with the performance of your generic sexed-up pop song, sung by a young, cleavagy black chick named Rayna. Something goes wrong and one of her backup singers bursts into flames. Well, it turns out that Rayna was supposed to be where that "accident" happened, and that, combined with several disturbing fan letters, cause her manager to go to the Dollhouse and get some kind of special protection for her (since Rayna despises and/or distrusts all her bodyguards). Of course, that protection turns out to be Echo, and they imprint her with aspirations to be a singer. She auditions to be the new back-up singer, and Rayna takes to her like a fatherless child to a Bratz doll. It seemed odd to me that Rayna would befriend Echo so quickly, but at least the other characters mention it (and it's possible that Echo was uploaded with all the personality traits that Rayna appreciates in the hopes they'd hit it off).

We also see Echo interacting with Sierra, the angular new Active, who is also dropped into the scenario, this one as an Australian fan who won a contest and gets to hang around with Rayna night and day. Despite myself, I found myself liking her (Sierra), since she was so harmless and passive, compared to the Terminatoresque persona we saw in the pilot 2.0.

Meanwhile, Ballard gets a call from his Russian contact, Lubov, telling him he's found news about the Dollhouse. Immediately after, we are shown that Lubov is also an Active, codenamed Victor. It seems to be a set-up, and Ballard is nearly killed by legitimate members of the Russian mafia. Tyranist's raison d'etre, Ellie, tries to be by his side and comfort him, but is prevented, and Ballard ends up thinking he's as alone in the world as, I don't know, Rish Outfield.

Meanwhile, Echo discovers that one of Rayna's fans, a gross-looking Ginger guy, has been sending her "I'm Gonna Kill You" cards (which Hallmark discontinued around 1997), and that Rayna has no intention of stopping her performances or wearing a bulletproof push-up bra. The crazed fan, we later learn, is so horrified by the public's (and media's) treatment of Rayna, and their constant attention and scrutiny, that he wants to put her out of her misery.

And I realised something at this point: either intended or subconsciously, this was the "Leave Britney Alone" guy. I found myself smiling, REALLY digging the show, all of a sudden.

Well, Number One Fan goes nutso when he discovers Sierra is being touted as Rayna's new number one fan, so he tries to kill her instead. And Rayna is really upset by this. Echo understands that Rayna WANTS to die. She is tired of how hard her life is, and thinks that being killed (especially in front of the fans and/or cameras) would be a really awesome career move. Echo then clobbers the singer with a chair.

Wow. The smile on my face had become a grin.

Well, the Dollhouse brass is really shicking a brit over Echo's behaviour, and want to pull the plug on Echo, "sending her to the attic," whatever ominous fate that is.

Meanwhile, Ginger Stalker takes Sierra hostage and Echo offers to trade Rayna's life for hers. They go up on the catwalks and Rayna nearly falls to her death. Echo and Langton her handler take the stalker out (and poor Sierra apparently never realises she's not just a big fan), and Echo rescues Rayna, only after Rayna discovers she doesn't want to die after all.

And that was pretty much it. Echo and Sierra get taken down to Anchorhead and have their memories erased, and about two seconds before the credits, they share some kind of look. A look that says that, hey, maybe their minds weren't wiped after all. The end.

Dude, I gotta say, this episode was right on the money. I shouldn't have liked it, but there were two or three great twists I didn't see coming (come to think of it, maybe there were four or five), and suddenly, I was completely invested in the show. You're damned right I'll be watching next week.

Thanks, kids.

Rish Outfield

*I can imagine FOX had even given a damn about "Firefly," and had tried to sex it up the way they do with these two shows.
"A space captain . . . in love with a space whore. But she's too busy screwing to notice. Fridays on FOX."
"A space harpie who really wants sexual intercourse with the hot new guy. But he's too busy being a space doctor to notice. Fridays on FOX."
"A crazy teenage girl who might go on to be hot one day. Will anybody have sex with her? Oh yeah, in space! Fridays on FOX."
"A tough brute with no sleeves on his shirt. He sleeps with guns. But is that all he does with them? Fridays on FOX."
"This week . . . space lesbians! Watch 'Firefly' Friday on FOX."

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