Mark Watches ‘Dollhouse’: S01E03 – Stage Fright

In the third episode of the first season of Dollhouse, Echo is assigned to a famous pop star to protect her from a stalker, and, naturally, things go RATHER AWRY. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Dollhouse.

NOTE: As promised, I have begun reading the Buffy fanfic project The Chosen on Mark Reads!!

Additional mod/admin note: There is no wrong way to view this show, or any show. We know a lot of you really enjoy this show. It’s very cool and has an interesting exploration of some darker themes. But not everyone enjoys being confronted with some of the issues that come up in this show. Things like human trafficking, sex slavery, and rape are very much in the bones of this show. Whether or not you think the show handles them well doesn’t matter to people who simply don’t want to explore them. We hope to have some really good discussions about these themes in future episodes, but try to keep those discussions in the threads where they are welcome. If someone expresses disgust or uneasiness about a certain plot point, don’t wander in to their thread to tell them that they’re reading the show wrong or missing the point. We can all have the conversations that we want to have, but that starts with respecting each other’s opinions.

I’m liking this show! It’s fascinating, the one-off stories are surprisingly engaging, and the mystery CONTINUES TO DEEPEN. Ugh, that final scene is enough to keep me watching all by itself, but I want to go back to the idea that for a one-off story, this was great. “Stage Fright” plays with our perceptions of a very familiar trope: the stalker. All the pieces are there. We’ve got an attached, delusional fan who is dead set on showing his love through violence. There are the creepy letters, the concerned manager, and the pop star who comes off as magnetic and genuine. Diva-ish? Sure, though those moments never quite felt right, as if they were part of a performance. I’d like to still think they were on some part, but that’s just my own personal reading.

Regardless, this episode has that special twist that I’ve come to appreciate in shows run by Joss Whedon. Whether the twist was Whedon’s idea or his brothers/Maurissa Tancharoen’s isn’t clear, but what is initially a straightforward story becomes instantly more complicated by the reveal that Rayna orchestrated the whole thing. As you’ll see in the video, the reveal itself completely bewildered me. Why, I wondered, why would someone do something like this on purpose??? It made no sense to me. While some of the execution isn’t all that great, I appreciated the sentiment here. The writers draw a direct parallel between Rayna’s experience as a famous musician and Echo’s life as an Active. Actually, for a few seconds, I thought Rayna’s monologue to Echo was meant as an admission that she was an Active herself until I realized she was speaking figuratively. Still, as clumsy as the logistics might be, I still liked the idea. As a pop star thrust into the limelight at such an early age, Rayna has grown up without much choice about her path in life. She has superficial relationships with the people around her, and she’s forced to deal with people like her stalker fan. These people imagine her to be whatever they want her to be because they never truly know her. The comparison is eerie, no?

So while it may have been communicated strangely, I thought it was a great theme to address through Echo. Rayna was so caught up in the only world she had ever known that it was logical for her to essentially engage with a murderous stalker so she could be immortalized forever. Well, and so she could be free. I think I would have loved to see a deeper, more nuanced exploration of this, but for a 50-minute episode that juggled multiple plots? Not bad.

Truthfully, it was all the other shit that kept me interested in the series beyond this episode. First of all, LET US TALK ABOUT AGENT BALLARD. Just when I think he’s getting somewhere with Victor, the show casually reveals that Victor IS AN ACTIVE. Oh my god. So is Victor’s entire mission just to distract Ballard, to constantly keep him from ever reaching the Dollhouse? Even worse, Victor sets Ballard up for a trap that the FBI agent walks right into, getting shot in the gut in the process. Look, I’m no fool. As soon as that happened, I sincerely thought, “Well, this is the episode where Ballard dies. I SHOULDN’T HAVE LIKED HIM.” I feel like this is an appropriate reaction, right? Thankfully, he’s still alive, but he looks so dejected at the end of the episode. Ugh, is this going to be the thing that convinces him to stop pursuing Dollhouse, isn’t it? He just looks so sad, y’all! And his neighbor across the hall even comes to visit! What are all these feelings, I swear!

But for real, what’s keeping most of my interest is Echo. My god, this episode gives me so much to work on, most of it incredibly subtle. It’s fun to watch Eliza get to play different people each week, and I’m a big fan of the developing relationship between her and Boyd. Of course, the big twist I get in “Stage Fright” is that she and Sierra appear to know one another AFTER their memories have been wiped. That one little nod conveyed so much, and I absolutely have to know more. But it highlights some other interesting moments in the episode. What did Dr. Saunders and Boyd mean by their little moment where they both acknowledge that someone’s watching them? Both of these characters are not telling us something, right? I mean, I suppose that scene might have been meant to communicate that they’re always under surveillance, but it got me thinking: who funds the Dollhouse? Where did their science come from? Who owns the company? As powerful as DeWitt is, I get the sense that even she answers to someone, right? So is this who Dr. Saunders and Boyd were talking about?

Of course, this episode further builds up the idea that there’s something unique to Echo that’s also being held from me. The entire point of “Stage Fright” was to demonstrate that Echo was quickly adapting to being an Active in a way no one had seen in this context. Dominic assumed she broke her mission, but DeWitt cleverly points out that she actually succeeded at it by looking at it differently than the Dollhouse team expected.

So what does this mean? Some part of the “treatment” process must not be working, obviously, since Sierra and Echo recognize one another. So I’m guessing this growth we’re seeing, this evolution in Echo’s thought process, is related to this. But how?

Well, I don’t know as of yet, but it’s fun to be speculating about this sort of stuff after only three episodes. Bravo, Dollhouse. Bravo.

(PS: I now know Kimberly Cole actually sings that “Superstar” song.)

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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1 Response to Mark Watches ‘Dollhouse’: S01E03 – Stage Fright

  1. pooslie says:

    🙁 what happened to all the comments?

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