Monday, May 04, 2009

"Dollhouse" keeping

So, tyranist went away for a couple of weeks (guess some political dissidents needed disappearing), so we didn't get together to watch "Dollhouse" for a long time. They skipped a week anyway, so it wasn't entirely our fault

His TiVo was filled to the brim with all sorts of new shows, and we've been watching "Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire," "Harper's Island," "Fringe," "Sarah Connor," and "The Unusuals," so that delayed things even further.

So, by the time I'm typing this, I guess the show is over and done with. FOX hasn't said that it's canceled (at least as far as I know, since I'm trying to avoid [further] spoilers), but the coffin's as good as nailed.

And like I said in my last "Dollhouse" post--they actually gave the show a chance (even if it was in a lousy timeslot), by showing pretty much all the episodes, and in the right order. I have to admit that I'm curious about the two shows that were shot that haven't aired, but I can talk about that when I know a) how this season ended, and b) that the show is for sure canceled.

So, first up was an episode called "Haunted," written by Jane Espenson, Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon (which, if I recall correctly, means that Jane Espenson wrote the first draft by herself, and the other two did rewrites as a team).

In it, a rich middle-aged woman named Margaret, who is good friends with Adelle DeWitt, dies. But she has had her mind uploaded at the Dollhouse, and they plug Margaret's personality into Echo. She decides to go to the funeral and spend time at her mansion to figure out who murdered her.

This was unlike any of the other episodes we'd seen, and it really showcased the range of potential stories you could do on the show. Echo/Margaret goes around, interacting with her boytoy new husband, her spoiled daughter and son, and her drunk estranged brother, trying to find out which one killed her, and discovering in the process exactly what they thought of her. She gets to be young again, and knowing that she is actually dead, she realises that the Dollhouse provides the potential for immortality.

There was a rather interesting b-story, where Topher tells Boyd Langton he needs to do some testing on the imprint machine, and ends up programming Sierra to be his best pal. They hang out and have fun, and Adelle tells Langton that it's Topher's birthday, and it would seem that the only friends he has are the ones he makes up. It went a long way--for me, anyway--to making me like Topher.

There's another subplot where Ballard takes Mellie's (or "Mellie's") fingerprint and gets his friend in the FBI to check it out on the computer. It retrieves a criminal record, but less than a second after it comes up, the screen goes blank and the monitor claims there were no results found. He goes back to his apartment, and Mellie has noticed he's been acting differently toward her. She asks him if he's found any new Dollhouse clients, and as he kisses her, he now considers himself to be one.

In the end of the show, after about a thousand twists and turns, we discover that Margaret's son killed her, and has placed the blame on his stepfather. Then, in her own handwriting, she writes a new will and letters to her loved ones, saying goodbye. She goes back to the Dollhouse, talks to Adelle, and lets herself die for real. The end.

I turned to tyranist and semi-apologised for not liking the show, because I really enjoyed "Haunted," and found it totally engaging. When I got home, I found that of the eleven episodes that have aired, this one got the lowest ratings. Merrill has a strange way of looking at ratings, and claims that people must not have liked the episode before it. Tyranist just thinks the whole ratings system is flawed, and tries not to think about it.

Because we had another episode ready to go, I didn't have much time to think, and we started up the second-to-last episode, "Briar Rose." It was written by Jane Espenson, and due to my niece clicking through the channels on the night it aired, I had had the biggest twist of the show ruined for me. To my credit, I don't believe I said anything until later.

So, Echo is in a school or orphanage or institute for troubled youth or . . . Okay, let's just say that Echo is in a classroom, reading the fairy tale of Briar Rose, which sounds a felch of a lot like Sleeping Beauty, but what do I know? There's a kid in the class who freaks out, and we discover that Echo has been programmed with an artificially-aged version of that girl's personality, in order to help her cope with the terrible experiences that led her to being troubled.

Tyranist theorised that the Dollhouse must also do charity work, since there wasn't a super-rich client footing the bill for this job, but I doubt we'll ever know for sure.

Anyway, a dead body turns up in Arizona, that looks like the handywork of Alpha, the escaped, insane Active, so they send Sierra down there in the "guise" of an FBI pathologist. Also, the NSA sends a coded message for Dominic (who is "boxed" in the Attic). They upload Dominic's personality into Victor, and he is somewhat freaked out to be there.

That, though, does open up a couple of interesting story possibilities. Let's say there's a serial killer on death row, or a terrorist who is captured, and they scan that dude's brain and stick it into, say, November/Mellie. Could she then tell them where the bodies are buried or the children are being kept or where the bomb has been planted or how the Kennedys are involved, or would she just resume the activities of the killer/terrorist and need to be captured once again? This is the second time I've had to say, "Well, I guess we'll never know."

Maybe I'll ask Joss next time I see him.

So, the A-story of this episode is rather Ballard-centric, as he breaks up with Mellie, being a little harsher than necessary. She goes off alone and he follows her when she is picked up (I wondered if she had a handler, and how that would work if she did). She's taken to a building in Century City (I'm pretty sure it was one of the ones blown up at the end of FIGHT CLUB), and Ballard realises that the Dollhouse is located beneath the city.

Back with his bald-headed FBI associate, Ballard researches the architect who designed that particular building, and goes to his house. His name is Stephen Kepler (I had to look up the guy's name so I wouldn't refer to him as Alan Tudyk), and he's a totally paranoid, stoned-out-of-his-gourd shut-in, who apparently hasn't left his apartment since a white guy was the heavyweight boxing champion. He's rather uncooperative.

Alan Tudyk is a likable, comedic actor, and the two times I'd seen him in person, I didn't know what "Firefly" was, but the part of the stoner does seem tailor made for him. He claims to know nothing about the Dollhouse, but he does remember the strange floorplan he drew up for the building. Ballard finally forces him to leave his home/hydroponics bay, and help him enter the Dollhouse. Sure enough, there's a way to climb in through an air conditioning grate, and descend to Ballard's destination.

Tudykepler is also a computer genius, and he manages to shut down the security system so Ballard can locate Echo (who he knows as Caroline). She's in her little sleep-bay, and while Tudykepler shuts the power down, Ballard pulls Echo out . . . and runs into Boyd Langton. They fight, and Ballard is taken before Adelle DeWitt. They exchange words, and it's up in the air whether they're going to just kill ex-Agent Ballard or send him to the Attic, when Adelle gets a call from Sierra. The dead body they found in Arizona is that of the architect that designed their building, some guy named Stephen Kepler.

Elsewhere, Doctor Saunders and Victor run into Alan Tudyk, who pulls out a blade and slashes Victor's face in the same way he did hers. You see, Alan Tudyk is Alpha, and the whole deal with Ballard was a diversion so he could get back into the Dollhouse and achieve his goal. He grabs Echo and puts her in the imprinting chair, uploading an unnamed personality into her. She immediately recognises Alpha as her handsome prince, come to rescue her at last, and the two of them leave the Dollhouse together. The end.

So, that's about it. I have to hand it to the writers on this one, by giving Alan Tudyk a role that so obviously suited his clownish track record, they completely lowered our guard that he could be the psychotic mastermind the show has lived in fear from since the first episode. It came as a great surprise (at least I imagine it did, since I had the surprised ruined when my niece turned the TV to FOX the other night just at the moment that Dr. Saunders sees him and says, "Alpha!"), and I really look forward to the next, final episode, where we can see him in action.

I'll just leave it at that. I'm sure I'll have something to say when the last episode airs, and who knows, maybe a miracle will happen and the show will get renewed, and I'll have to continue doing these blog posts for a good long time.

Rish Alpha-field

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