Dollhouse: Running on instinct

KT is starting things off this week and Raked will join us shortly.  Tea, anyone?

DOLLHOUSE:  2.02 “Instinct”

Last week Echo got married; this week she’s a new mother.  Life moves fast in the Dollhouse.

This episode depends on the idea that the maternal instinct is the strongest bond imaginable.  It certainly proves to be stronger than the bond between active and handler — and though it’s artificial, last season’s “The Target” showed us how strong that bond can be.  Although, as ever with Echo, we do have to wonder whether she’s acting differently because Topher did something new and different or because of her special ability to hold dozens of personalities in her head except for sometimes when she doesn’t seem to remember they’re there.  It’s a little confusing and I don’t really understand what the rules are for Echo.

On the other hand, it seems that trauma and kidnapping are the recipe for getting an ambivalent father to bond with his baby son.

One of my favorite things about this episode was that, for a change, the engagement went south (initially) not because of a weirdness in Echo’s programming, but because the Dollhouse and the client made a poor choice regarding how much to tell her.  Echo clearly had an idea of what her “husband” was like before the baby and the unexplained change made her suspicious.  Topher admits later that imprinting lactation was probably a bad idea, but I think his first mistake was in not programming her to believe that the husband had always been as we saw him.  Once we knew he was taking out his grief on the baby, it made sense — but Echo’s initial suspicions about the affair weren’t completely crazy.  Plus, they didn’t really play it up here, but wouldn’t it be horrifying to overhear that phone call to the Dollhouse where he asked for her to be removed?  And then you watch your best friend waltz into the suspicious black van — the seeds for serious paranoia are all there.  (Although, why this imprint got freaked out about the black van when none of the others ever have, I cannot explain.)

At the end, Echo’s plot suddenly turned into a pastiche of a stalker movie, thunderstorm and all, with the twist of course being that stalker-ish Echo felt herself to be the threatened mother.  I thought that was an odd stylistic choice, and that Echo’s confrontation with the baby’s father felt awfully long.  Writing the climax of the episode as a character moment involving a one-episode character is hard to pull off, and this one didn’t quite get there.  I think that’s a big part of the problem with Dollhouse‘s Engagement-of-the-Week plots, and I’m hoping to see fewer of them this season.

One last Echo-related quibble:  The shoes on this show are still killing me.  Mommy Echo takes her baby downstairs, complains about needing coffee, but is already wearing four-inch wedges?  Raked, have we started a Dollhouse drinking game yet?  The shoes need to be on the list.

[After the jump, we’ll talk about
people other than Echo!]


I was pleased to see Madeleine back and raising lots of questions as usual.  The practical:  Do all the former actives have to come in for diagnostics?  On a regular basis, or as a one-time deal?  Backstory related:  What exactly was her recruitment like, that it created this bizarre relationship with Adelle?  And outside the story itself:  Is this character walking out now, or will the writers find a way to keep her around?

But most of all, is she really so very pleased with what her Dollhouse experience did for her, or is she carefully trying not to say the wrong thing, as she half-joked to Adelle?  Her scene with Paul was beautifully sensitive and painfully awkward all at once.  Madeleine’s scenes were easily my favorite part of the episode.

Paul Ballard’s interaction with Topher is interesting to me, and I think when we’ve seen a little more it will be interesting to compare Topher’s relationship with Paul to his relationship with Boyd.  He condescends to both of them and they all three acknowledge the moral dubiousness of what they’re doing, each in his own way.  But watch how Paul puts up with that condescension in order to learn more about the Dollhouse technology and how it works.  Certainly he’s providing an opportunity for exposition, but as he reminds us at the end, he’s still out to bring this place down.  (Also, he can make that chair look really tiny!)

Predictions!  I haven’t even mentioned Senator Perrin yet.  Who do you think is sending him information?  Ballard seems to be the obvious choice, but it could also be Alpha or even Madeleine, though if we take her chat with Ballard at face value, she seems an unlikely choice.  Or, for that matter, are we sure that Dominic was the only mole in the ‘House?

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11 thoughts on “Dollhouse: Running on instinct

  1. shoes: I noticed this, too. Nice high tops, mommy.

    climax: really? REALLY? I wonder if there was some sort of writers strike on the Dollhouse set and they needed subs because that scene was so out of whack with the writing quality. A storm, no electricity, lightning shadows? Did the writers have Scream on their minds?

    Madeline annoys me now. I don’t know if it’s the way Laurie plays her or if that’s the way she’s supposed to play her, but it’s rubbing me the wrong way.

  2. The writers for this episode (imdb tells me) are Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, a team who have previously worked on Reaper and L&O:SVU. This is their first Dollhouse episode… maybe they got lazy on the climax because they ran up against a deadline?

    It is a little heartbreaking how not-Mellie Madeline is. (Although I would bet that Laurie is doing all she can to make that a big difference.) I’d also guess that Madeline seemed stiff in this episode out of discomfort at interacting with Dollhouse people again — her “real” self in “Needs” who went out and found her daughter’s grave didn’t seem nearly so stiff. But definitely we’ll have to see how that plays out.

  3. “I’d also guess that Madeline seemed stiff in this episode out of discomfort at interacting with Dollhouse people again”

    true, true.

    I also looked up the writers and director I was so incensed (with rumors of an extremely early Dollhouse death floating around you can’t waste your few precious aired episodes!).

    The director worked on Buffy and Angel. Fazekas and Butters have nearly identical resumes on Reaper, L&O. And yeah, this is their first Dollhouse episode. I don’t know. Am I wrong to feel like Joss should be pushing for more A-game here? (if I had my way Tim Minear would write or direct every episode).

  4. More imdb browsing says that we should be in luck. Next week’s episode is written by Tim Minear and directed by David Solomon. Yay! The next one is a script from Maurissa & Jed (whose first episode was so-so, but they got the credit on the fabulous “Epitaph One”) directed by Jonathan Frakes, and the one after that is written by Andrew Chambliss, who wrote “Spy in the House of Love.”

    So I have high hopes for the next three!

  5. I hear that the next three are supposed to be awesome. When I asked the person who tweeted this information, “What about #2″ (aka, this episode), I got no response.

    Btw, I’m entirely cheating and not posting. For two reasons: This post covers everything quite well, and if I don’t catch up on other posts, I’ll have people throwing pitchforks at me. I’m not sure how, but it will happen.

    My big complaint: I wish Boyd were Echo’s handler. He was just so good with her. I fully expect that if Boyd had come to her, while she was in such a panic, and asked her if she wanted her treatment, she would have complied. There was an almost tangible trust between them–something that’s missing between her and Ballard.

    Plus, in the end, I think Boyd would have alerted Topher of the flaws in Echo’s wipes. I think Boyd would have cared so much for Echo that he’d choose her safety and peace of mind over some “greater good,” because that’s what a handler’s supposed to do. Boyd would have started to question whether having so many memories of so many dolls inside–especially once she admitted that she was feeling all of it, not just remembered–was harmful to her health. I mean, think about it. If you have to be completely wiped to be in the chair, what’s really happening to Echo? She could have a meltdown any minute.

    As for Madelaine, my biggest complaint was how her behavior seemed to be so different from the other glimpse of Madelaine we’ve had in the series: Needs. There, she was matronly and still mourning her daughter. I mean, think of the dress alone. Floral. Simple. Not this busty, expensive suit. It just doesn’t match up.

    Which means the writers are having trouble with their canon, or perhaps Madelaine isn’t who we thought she was. Could it be that this is just another doll?

  6. That reminds me of another question I had about Madeline. At the end of last season, CS brought up the point that just putting Madeline’s personality on a hard drive for five years while her body was used by the dollhouse shouldn’t erase her grief. Here, she clearly says that it did, so apparently Topher worked some magic in her brain on her way out?

    Anyway, I don’t mean to be obsessive here. I’m just hoping that the change in Madeline gets explained rather than just retconned.

    Excellent point about Boyd vs. Ballard. Although… Ballard offered to tell Topher and have him really wipe Echo, and she refused. Still, I’m hoping for more exploration of Boyd’s character this season. He was great with Echo, and he’s got great chemistry with Saunders, too. She was surprised in “Vows” that he was taking interest in her — maybe he’s drawn to vulnerability so that he has someone to protect.

  7. Yeah, I know Ballard offered. I feel like Boyd has her best interest in mind, though, and it really wouldn’t be a question. Or if he did ask and she said no, he’d do it anyway, knowing it was best for her. I realize that sounds controlling, but I think he’d see it as best interest for her. Ballard has bigger plans and doesn’t mind if she’s hurting. He asked, but didn’t press. It’s just a different mindset.

  8. Hmm, that brings up some good points. I wouldn’t be surprised if Madeleine’s desire to stay close to home (and possibly other things) were Dollhouse-implanted.

    And yeah, I think you’re right about Boyd and Ballard. There doesn’t seem to be a way for Ballard to achieve any of his goals without hurting Echo one way or another. He’s in a heck of a tight spot.

  9. At first I thought the episode was horrid. The writing (especially climax) seemed shoddy and the episode screamed filler. Then I thought about it in relation to Epitaph One. I thought about it in relation to the Dollhouse’s implications. And I see now the point that episode made. I admit that the ‘mission’ contrived for this episode was bland, but the “glitch” it highlighted was very important. Topher not only gave Echo a new brain, but changed her on a molecular level. Thus, even in her Tabula Rasa state, Echo glitched because she was still a mother – not in her brain but in her body. Given Epitaph One’s assertions about the dark evolution of ‘tech’, this episode had much more to say that I think it got across past the shaky cover story.

  10. Pingback: Dollhouse: The truth about Senator Perrin « Raked

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