This episode is orders of magnitude better than anything that came before it. Breathtakingly intense, and full of alarming twists, turns and shocks that easily rival some of the best of his work on other shows, not to mention hints of much more interesting plot elements than anything seen in the series thus far. He even took what appeared to be a setup for a classic Whedon trope (terrible things always happen to happy people) and twisted it in an entirely unexpected direction.
I don't know if the rest of the series will be able to maintain this standard, but as of now, I'm completely hooked.
After a few predominantly standalone episodes this it was nice to have an instalment that advanced the overall plot line. It was great to see Ballard's investigation uncover more than just rumours and a single photograph. The scene where he meets Caroline was a lot of fun; especially when her 'character' assumes her 'husband' is wanted for something involving pornography. The episode has its dark moments; most notably when we learn who really abused Sierra and later when Dollhouse sends somebody to deal with Mellie although this latter event ends with a brilliant twist that is likely to have viewers cheering! Ballard's second encounter with Echo leads to an impressive fight that ends with further hints that Echo knows more than she should about Dollhouse whether this is because of failure in her conditioning or deliberate action by somebody within Dollhouse isn't fully clear yet. Intertwined with the main story we get some interesting vox pops as a TV show interviews people about the Dollhouse 'urban myth'. The cast does an impressive job; it was nice to see Tahmoh Penikett leading the episode as he does a fine job as Ballard; also particularly notable in this episode are Miracle Laurie, as Millie; Olivia Williams, as Adelle and Kevin Kilner as Joe Hearn. Overall I'd say this was a top-notch episode, possibly the best yet as it features some great action, real surprises and we learn more about Dollhouse and more is hinted.
Olivia Williams is perfect in her role of Ms. Dewitt, and I think that was the first time I felt she is truly worried about the well-being of the actives. The part with "the three flowers in a vase" is astounding yet exciting. Of course, it brings a few more questions, but we begin to see that everyone, everything is somehow connected to the Dollhouse, and that's where we recognize the work Joss does behind each of his shows. Nothing is made randomly.
I bet what comes next will be even better.
The bad; Not much, very good ep. You do think that Adele takes a hell of chance with November by not activating her about 30 seconds earlier?
Best line; "Perhaps I need to give it to you" Adele gives Boyd a bonus, not because he wants it but because she needs to give it to him to salve her conscience. Also like "PORN!" (all in the delivery)
Packing heat; Echo takes Ballard's gun off him, Dominic pistol-whips Herne Echo;4 Boyd; 6 Dominic; 5 Sierra; 1
Kinky dinky; According to Joss when they asked casting for extras to play the Dolls they were inundated with pictures of porn stars. Must have been hell. Why do we all bother to pay for porn? Why don't we just phone up a casting agency and pretend we need attractive background players for our TV show? Echo's personality thinks her fiancée has suddenly become rich through internet porn.
Notches on the Dollhouse bedpost; November beds Ballard (and she's a heck of a screamer) and presumably Echo returns to finish her romantic engagement with her client Echo; 3 November; 1
How'd they get away with that? The funny "What a rick!" and the indescribably horrible, Herne abusing Sierra. He's a son of a bitch but November killing Herne makes me wince every time.
This weeks fantasy; Echo plays the dead fiancée of the Internet mogul and then a hit chick. November plays Mellie and death-in-Laura-Ashley
Total number personalities; 2 for Echo Echo; 13 Sierra; 4 Victor; 1 November; 2
Total dolls; 4, here's November! Echo, Sierra, November and Victor
Subverting the Hollywood cliché; The client is actually a sympathetic figure and is even concerned about the security guards Ballard knocked out. For once we have a fat client/trick rather than a male model although Mellie actually thinks him kinda cute.
Bondage; Sierra tied up; 1
Kills; November kills Herne with her bare hands (never talk flower arranging with HER!) Sierra; 2 kills Echo; 1 November;1
Dolls injured; November badly roughed up by Herne
Capt subtext; The redneck guy thinks the Dollhouse is a great idea because it allows a guy to be with another guy but means that there's 'Nothing queeny' going on (his wife/girlfriend's expression when he says this makes me laugh out loud every time, just like Echo's 'Porn' line). Dominic punches Herne when he hints that there was something between him and Adele. Jealousy?
Happy hookers Takana describes Echo as a 'whore with a heart of gold'. Herne makes a good point about Adele hiring out the Dolls to be sweating under 'some Emir' (the difference being they'd signed up for that, they hadn't signed up to be sexually abused whilst in their non-programmed state, Sierra actually saying she doesn't want to). Joss refers to Miracle Laurie as 'Being a pro' but rapidly rethinks his phrasing. Just idly watching '2 and a Half Men' whilst I'm writing this and Charlie and Alan are being treated to a pair of hookers by their future stepfather in Vegas. It strike me how attitudes to prostitution in TV and movies have changed in recent years, Pretty Woman, Belle Du Jour, Patty the daytime hooker in My Name is Earl, Hung etc. In a recent ep of The Big Bang Theory to cheer Howard up Raj and Leonard hire him a working girl. Times have certainly changed, used to be the only time you ever saw prostitutes on screen was when they were murdered or were informants.
Know the face? 5 Whedon alumni-Mark Shepherd, Amy Acker, walking action figure, Eliza Dushku, Jim Piddock. Whenever I see Herne I can never help but think 'Is that Dennis Quaid?"
Guantanamo; The Afro-American woman likens the Dollhouse to slavery. Ballard is pretty damn rough with Takana.
Reminds me off; The Vulcan grip from Star Trek is mentioned. The internet mogul is very reminiscent of David Nabbit from Angel who also frequents ladies of the night (but likes his a bit more demony). According to Joss' commentary Eliza didn't care much for her housewife look but I think she looks great, reminds me of when The Mayor gave Faith that dress in Graduation Day pt1
Questions and observations; Interestingly according to the reporter the rumours of the Dollhouse have been circulating since the late 80s? Ballard and Mellie actually make a lovely couple, very sweet. For a moment I wondered if Echo's message was some sort of double bluff but to judge by Joss' commentary the message was real. From whom? We learn there are 20 Dollhouses all over the world. What is the greater, X-files style, conspiracy? Echo demonstrates genuine affection for her client, even after she's meant to have been wiped. Adele knows this but still keeps her in the field. Absolutely love the scene where Echo thinks her fiancée made his money through internet porn, she may be a Doll but she's no brainwashed sex slave, she reacts in exactly the same way the real woman would have done. The interviews on the street are also interesting, not to stereotype but you look at the blonde girl and kinda wonder if she is a Doll? Again, this almost feels like the 3rd pilot for the show. Marks out of 10; 9/10 best ep so far