Saturday, March 21, 2009

One Step Forward...

Dollhouse: Man on the Street
Season 1, Episode 6

My expectations for this episode (written by Joss Whedon and directed by David Straiton) are probably lower than most. The build-up of this being the dramatic recreation of the series that magically raises it from bad television to the pantheon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly... yeah, that's probably asking too much. Instead I come hoping for something at least on lines of the second episode, "The Target." That episode by Buffy-vet Steve S. DeKnight at least showed some of the potential of the series, convinced me to stick around this far and was average television.

Did it live up to these expectations? Sorta, kinda. Not exactly raving praise, but its still something. Below the jump will get more into the specifics of the episode and where I think this series will rank in the long run.

What's up with the person on the street interviews? Well, it does at least establish that there are rumors about the Dollhouse organization known to the common man. Even if they're quickly mocked or disregarded at least we don't have to watch people not knowing what Ballard is talking about anymore. And they also introduce the concept of the more large scale problem with the Dollhouse. That being - why do you need a free lower class when you could have a programmable one?

Finally we get the episode I wanted all along with an early and strong focus on Tahmoh Penikett's Agent Ballard (including a guest appearance from his Battlestar buddy Romo Lampkin a.k.a. Mark Sheppard). Our main investigative force actually manages to track the deposits to the Dollhouse through corporate fronts. Wow, six episodes in we get some real investigative work. But it takes a big step back when he starts going over the details of the investigation with his freaking neighbor! I think a character should have a line between recklessly determined and mistake-prone. There is no way this could possibly end well. The brutal revelation that she is a Doll isn't much of a surprise at the end, since being used is the only way Ballard doesn't look completely incompetent for involving a civilian. It's still an insanely stupid and unbelievable decision to talk to her about all this.

Without a doubt the fight scenes with Ballard are a highlight of the episode, which doesn't say a lot for the dramatic ability of the episode. Penikett is just good at looking cool while tearing into people. But there is some decent comedy, something the writers have not been able to really bring into this series much. So I have to credit Whedon for putting an actual humorous moment in the middle of a massive confrontation between Ballard and some protection agency goons.

Echo/Caroline/Rebecca Mynor - Is this a porn man?!

Joel Minor - There is no porn!

Tonight's big guest star is Patton Oswalt as Joel Mynor, who has Echo programmed to replace his deceased wife. It's the first real circumstance to show why someone would actually hire a doll as opposed to a prostitute, mercenary or involve the police/government in their problems. Not that a prostitute couldn't do what Echo was hired for this week.

I enjoy Joel's take on Ballard's compromised motivations, but it only highlights that we haven't really learned much about the second lead of the series and the only one of the two that actually has a personality from week to week. I enjoy him being the focus of this episode and hope they keep that up. I've mentioned it a half-dozen times now by Ballard and Boyd really need to be more of the focal point of this series.

I'm glad to see Whedon admitting this organization is clearly a bad thing with Ballard's take on Joel's fantasy of being with his dead wife again to show her their dream house:

And then you sleep with her.

The main advantage of the episode is how much darker things get at the Dollhouse itself with Sierra being raped, Victor being investigated for it and Boyd' nice solo investigation to determine the guilty party is Sierra's handler, Hearn. The big drawback of the Dollhouse is that every person who works there is a creep or worse. Well, except for the Dolls, themselves.

The good this week is an examination of the motivations behind Dollhouse clients (and I suppose the point of it is that they fall short of acceptable), not one, but two confrontations between Ballard and Echo/Caroline. And it's this second confrontation along with Ballard's conversation with Mynor that are the highlight of the episode. Of course Echo does a bit too well in the fight. I mean she doesn't have the proportionate strength of a Slayer here Joss. And we've routinely seen Ballard walk through three, five or more trained opponents without too much difficulty... aside from the bullet in his side.

As far as the deeper reaches of the Dollhouse itself, good job there. The show needs something deeper than what we've seen so far. But even if this---- all comes to fruition, I fear this show will never be more than an inferior riff on Alias. So let's just say I'm not holding out too much hope. But the darker and far more interesting story accomplished the goal of locking me in for little while longer. And the twist with Melanie being a Doll... predictable but nice.

All that being said - I love the global reach of the Dollhouse, the mole inside the organization (obviously the cute, little assistant programmer) and idea that this is all just the testing ground for wide-scale application of the technology. I just don't look forward to the inevitable step backward from the quality of this week.

Final score: B-

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