3
Oct
2009
Dollhouse: Season 2, Episode 2
Instinct
Jordan
Dollhouse opens with Ballard investigating the imprint room sans Topher. He's new at the Dollhouse, and he is clearly already trying to wrap his mind around how to bring it down. Topher walks in, finds Ballard in the chair (a chilling image, to be sure) and then immediately launches into a monologue about his own genius. It seems that Topher has learned how to use the brain to alter the Actives on a glandular level"”he could theoretically give them telekinesis, or even teach their brain to fight cancer. The implications of this change are mind blowing, even though he is restricted to tampering with the minds of the Actives (as he quips, "The human mind is like Van Halen. If you take out one piece and keep replacing, it just degenerates."). In this case, however, all he did was give Echo the ability to breastfeed.

It seems this week the client has recently lost his wife during childbirth, and his grief and residual anger toward his newborn son have left him incapable of properly fathering his child. Instead of dealing, he heads to the Dollhouse, where he is given an Echo imprinted with the belief that she is his wife and the child's mother. This is, unsurprisingly, unhelpful to his attempts to get over his wife, and so he estranges himself from his Echo and the baby, diving into work. Eventually he has an epiphany and realizes that he needs to parent his own child, so he arranges for the Dollhouse to retrieve their Active.

Unfortunately, Echo overhears this request and believes her husband is trying to have her killed and take away her baby (which, in reality, is basically what is going on). She flees with the child, but no one can ever fully escape the Dollhouse, and soon she is back in the chair. After Topher wipes Echo, her immediate reaction is to punch him in the face and flee, heading straight for her baby. It seems Topher's glandular tampering has left her instinctually connected to her baby, which leads to some excellent moments of Echo the doll trying to work out how the real world works (most hilariously when she climbs in a car and just meekly asks, "Go please?"). This all leads to a horror movie cliché of a finale, that works incredibly well as Echo is confronted with the fact that the baby is not her own.

She knows, deep down, that she is made to be other people, and is convinced that she was made to believe the baby was hers, but that does not change her instinctual love for it, nor does it diminish the pain she feels when it is taken from her. Echo is faced with an important existential choice as the episode ends"”Ballard can try to have them wipe her away, so she can "go back to sleep" and forget all the sadness and pain she has been forced to endure. Yet Echo, acting as her own character now, says "I don't want to go back to sleep." She chooses to deal with all of the heartbreak and pain in order to remain conscious, in order to continue having the ability to choose to do anything at all. And that is a most important choice indeed.
Subplots tonight revolve around Senator Perrin's continued investigation of the Rossum Corporation, which is complicated when a file appears on his doorstep including a pretty thorough explanation of the Dollhouse's existence (which makes me wonder if Alpha is in D.C.). Also faced with the choice of whether or not to "go back to sleep""”to pretend he does not know the crushing details of Rossum's work and thus keep himself and his family from danger"”he too chooses to remain awake and in the fight. I expect his life will get a lot worse before it gets any better (if it ever does) but at least the choice to stay in the fight has been his own.

We are also faced this evening with the alternative. Madelyn Costley (better known to us as November or Mellie, played by the quite capable Miracle Laurie) chose, in the face of overwhelming grief after her daughter died of cancer, to just "go to sleep." She signed a five year contract to abandon her own body, and return to it with no pain or sadness (and a shit ton of money that includes an amazing apartment). She is perfectly happy with her decision, not even bothered by how much she isn't bothered recounting the story of her daughter's death. The only moment she even seems to realize what she's given up is when she sees Echo struggling for her "baby" which is in fact just an imprint. As she pointed out, the pain Echo feels is real, and in fact, its much realer than the affected distance she's been left with.

Tonight's episode was, technically at least, a standalone episode, of the format we've been moving away from since the epoch making "Man on the Street" but this differed significantly from the first five episodes of last season. This episode was much headier than any of the stand alones to come before (with the possible exception of last year's "Haunted" when Echo was imprinted with a dead woman looking to solve her own murder). It also showed the growing abilities of Eliza Dushku as an actress. I may stand alone in this, but she has shown a giant increase in potential in the last two episodes. Her Echo is more mournful and deep, and her imprints are actually beginning to feel like different people. Miracle Laurie also gets kudos this eve for showing her ability to inhabit vastly different characters. Madelyn is a far cry from Mellie, and very interesting if only in that. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of Topher's attempts to alter Actives on a glandular level, as he is not the type to learn from his mistakes. Also, major kudos must be given to the former Reaper writers who took their first attempt at Dollhouse and delivered a solid episode with enough moments to break your heart and make you think to carry us into next week.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-"It's like the person I knew isn't there anymore. He just"¦went away"¦" As true as this is for Echo's imprint, its equally true for the man she thinks is her husband.

-"I outplayed myself! It's kinda like chess"¦"

-"They made you love him because I asked them to." Ouch.

-"Its not pretend for me. They made me love my little boy and then took him away. They made it so real. They always make it so real. Why do they do that?"
Tags: Dollhouse
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