Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Double Dragon Take on Dollhouse

Dollhouse: Needs/Spy in the House of Love
Season 1, Episodes 8/9

Rather than jumping out immediately for the third "Well, it's not great but it convinced me to stick around another week" of the short season after last week's episode, "Needs," I held off in hopes off not being let down yet again. So after having raised the bar, I was slightly more impressed to find a second consecutive episode in "Spy in the House of Love" that not only failed to disappoint, but maybe raised the bar even a little further. So hit the jump and will analyze a nice little turn towards decent-level television.

On its own, "Needs" was a strong episode with a terrible ending. The four main dolls (Echo, Victor, Sierra and November) recover their original personalities and attempt an escape. And besides Echo's moronic decision to stay behind (although given what we saw of her past, it's probably just stupid enough to be in character), things work out for them alright. The revelations that November probably retreated into it after the death of her daughter and Sierra was kidnapped into it by a client paint two strong opposing pictures of how people end up there.

More than anything, the theme last week was developing what an evil organization the Dollhouse really is. It's also the big problem since even Boyd is compromised by association, the Dolls are wiped again at the end of the things and Ballard's only big appearance is to discover the bug and have an utterly unnecessary sex dream. At least we can say they aren't shying away from exploring his somewhat obsessive attitude, even if the reasons why are still unexplored.

My biggest problem with "Needs" was that besides once again showing how significantly more interesting Sierra and Victor are than Echo, is that the entire escape is something the Dollhouse knew about and allowed in order to get the Dolls that are rebelling a sense of resolution, which is meant to stop their glitching... yeah, cause whenever my internet is running slow I have my computer visit Dr. Melfi, fixes things right up. But the development just immediately devalues everything the audience had been rooting for the entire hour.

Ballard's quest, mostly stalled out in "Needs" with the aforementioned crappy little dream sequence, but takes a huge leap forward as he reveals a growing obsession and a second message delivered through November/Mellie that manages to flip his little relationship upside-down in an instant. A very quick improvement to a pain-in-the-butt storyline, I have to say.

In the second hour, Topher discovers the technology the spy has been using to alter the programming. With DeWitt called away, rage-o-holic Dominic loads Sierra with the program of a spy to infiltrate the NSA and uncover evidence on the traitor.

Her break-in is well done and one of the more engaging sequences in the show so far, coming off like a prime years Alias sequence. Yet again, I argue that Sierra is a much more interesting doll than Echo, just as Dichen Lachman has much more range as an actress than Eliza Dushku.

In a neat little trick to reliving the day, another storyline reveals a few of the things we missed earlier in the day in the discovery process and flips it to show another side to Victor's Ms. Lonely Hearts Engagement with an elderly lady. After being dropped off he quickly leaves on his own for a weekend of fun with DeWitt. I'd like to say that were I in a similar situation, I wouldn't... um... dip my pen in the company ink, but to be in the same situation I'd be evil. So who am I to judge?

On the Echo front, besides the rather creepy sequence where she suggest Topher "change" her so she can help, attempts to trace down the spy herself. As a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Tim Roth's character from Lie to Me. Her interviews give us a little more depth on the members of the organizations and her fight with Dominic is the most exciting sequence in the show, raising the stakes on even Sierra's infiltration.

I have to hand it to writer David Solomon for pulling the wool over our eyes with the possibility of different spies with multiple perspectives and loyalties. And even more impressive is the deft way they rewind the day from multiple perspectives without telling the entire story in any one of them, but with each making the others better.

The show managed for a bit to make some other characters, especially DeWitt, interesting. But mostly it seems temporary and the criminal lack of Ballard's development continues to haunt things. But the possibility of Echo developing into more to the organization than just a Doll (did the same thing perhaps once happen to Saunders or Topher or Ivy?) gives the show more than the two themes of Echo discovering her personality and Ballard finding her. The subtle handling of all of this, including Boyd graduating from handler to head of security, makes the show seem more mature than the show has been this far. Now if only they can keep it up......

Final score: C/B+

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