Note: I accidentally deleted Dollhouse from my DVR after watching it only once this week; if I get some plot details wrong in the below please do leap in to correct me though I tried to check against some recaps.
I shall risk “you’re so hateful” comments again this week by being, well, not entirely enamoured of the second episode of Dollhouse, either. (For my views on the first, see here.) I know, I know. I love Joss too! But it’s starting to seem like the kind of relationship you have in your late twenties where the person you’re dating has such totally amazing qualities (you know, artsy, he totally likes Alan Parker movies too, etc.) that you totally gloss over any faults, until one day these things are brought into sharp relief in one bad evening. See, Joss and I are in this place right now where it’s like we’re out to dinner with friends and all of a sudden I realize he is opining on the categorical imperative while chewing on a huge wad of spaghetti and everyone at the table is either bored or grossed out…
Anyway, to summarize: this week we didn’t learn that much more about Echo’s background or how this whole personality erasure thing works or what Alpha is or anything, you know, actually plot-developing like that. Instead, we watched Echo be hired by a new client, ostensibly for a whitewater rafting trip (complete with a non-consensual sexual encounter, whee!), and then hunted through the woods in some kind of weird attempt to re-enact Deliverance. The client turns out to have been an impostor, and possibly connected with Alpha, although how and in what way are left entirely unclear.
Intercut with this present-day story were flashbacks explaining how Echo’s “handler,” Langdon, came to be, well… her handler. (The shocking and unexpected truth: he was hired for the job.) It appears, as well as having her mind erased, that Echo has been imprinted to blindly trust Langdon. He has only to tell her that “everything will be fine,” and she will follow him everywhere. In other words, he is the dad to her five-year-old mental capacity. So not only now do we have the denial of female agency as a central premise of the show, we also have father issues developing.
If it wasn’t clear already, all this is making me feel a bit suckered, readers, like the writers are going for disturbing for disturbing’s sake. I’m not sure they have greater things to say about any of the themes they play with but don’t per se address, if you know what I mean. I realize it’s early, but considering that that’s usually when you get all that pesky exposition out of the way, I’m wondering whether there is a there there, if you catch my drift. We asked some good questions last week – about what the Dollhouse is there for, and why anyone would want to hire a facsimile of the real thing – and so far we have been afforded nary a glimpse at potential answers to these questions.
I’m also worried that this show is going to fall victim to what I think of as “Lost Syndrome,” in which the writers take a fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants approach to the narrative. No one knows where it’s going, and people often forget where it’s been. This works well in improv; it does not work so well in episodic storytelling. When you never know where you’re going, a show can commit its own suicide by way of continuity errors that can only be reconciled by tie-in internet websites.
For example, it says something that as I was watching the rafting trip morph into a hunt I was wondering to myself, “Is this intentional? Is this what he hired her for? Did the agency know that she would be at risk?” The writer, Steven S. DeKnight (an old Buffy hand), clearly wanted me to be unclear on this point – Adelle hints at the assignment’s “danger” by charging a last-minute additional fee. But then later, the ambiguity was retracted by a scene in which Adelle and some other Dollhouse minion exchange their unhappiness with this “psychopath” client. In which case, what is particularly dangerous about this whole scenario? Last week, Echo was sent off to negotiate with armed kidnappers, but no mention of additional fee was made.
It’s internal storyline confusion like that that suggests to me that the answers to these questions are not very clear to the writing staff either. In which case… we’re in for a hell of a (frustrating) ride.
Well, that’s enough of my view. Et tu, commenters?
P.S. Dorkalicious: Is it me or does the Dollhouse ape the layout of Wolfram and Hart from Season Five of Angel?