In the fourth episode of the first season of Dollhouse, Echo’s assignment goes haywire when the impossible happens. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Dollhouse.
I don’t think Dollhouse has hit a perfect stride yet, but I’m all for being patient and letting shows develop. I’ve learned that sometimes, it’s worth it to invest in a show because the payoff is so satisfying. I often speak of shows like Rubicon or The Wire, which might not be immediately exciting to a new viewer, but continually reward the audience as time goes on. That’s also the case with shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fringe, Doctor Who, and even LOST, though that pilot instantly grabbed me once I saw it. Hell, I think Fringe is a perfect example of this. That first season is so procedural, mostly one-off stories that resembled discarded The X-Files scripts, and while it’s entertaining, it’s not until you get to a certain point (which I won’t spoil for y’all) that it becomes OH MY GOD HELP ME I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. (On that note, I swear I am going to put aside time to catch up on Fringe and write reviews. I swear!!!)
I’m going into Dollhouse with an open mind, and I really want to approach any new show I do with the same attitude. I want to give these stories time to develop because it’s only fair. Television is such an interesting medium when it comes to storytelling because there are so many outside factors that can affect how a show develops. It’s why I tend to be less harsh about mistakes and poor writing in television specifically. It’s funny how episodes that fandom at large sees as fairly mediocre are so fun and entertaining to me, but that might also be because I’m not watching it week-to-week. Anyway, that’s a completely separate point, but the whole reason I’m talking about this is that I do think Dollhouse is developing well. The unsettling premise still makes me squirm, but I’m fascinated by the constantly shifting serial arc of this season. A lot of that simply concerns discovery. So much information is being held from the audience, but “Gray Hour” smartly reveals quite a bit through another one-off story that also examines the mental stability of the Actives.
So let’s get the obvious out of the way: YES, I LOVE HEIST STORIES, SO YES, I AM RATHER BIASED ABOUT MY INSTANT LIKING OF “GRAY HOUR.” Y’all are just gonna have to deal. (PS: There’s a heist scene in the second book of the YA trilogy I’m working on right now SO NONE OF YOU SHOULD BE SURPRISED ABOUT THIS.) That twist, though – that Echo was actually sent on an engagement to steal part of the goddamn Parthenon – completely changed my perception of this show. Generally, I assumed that while the Dollhouse corporation is generally morally bankrupt and severely fucked up, they’d avoid sending their Actives on engagements that were explicitly illegal. Why risk getting caught? But “Gray Hour” showed me that for the right price, the company will send their Actives to do pretty much anything. This truly isn’t about doing good for people or fulfilling their fantasies. This is a money-making operation, a company with high prices and (I imagine) high profits.
I think that also means that Dollhouse is also about the exploration of a company spiraling out of control. With each episode, the façade of control that this company appeared to have slips away. Things are getting more and more chaotic. Engagements are going awry with more frequency. It’s also clear that Adelle DeWitt answers to someone, given that phone call she has in the beginning when she’s talking to Diakos. Of course, nothing proves this point more than the end of “Gray Hour.” Topher’s security clearance is upped right around the time he figures out that he’s been lied to about Alpha. Which, look, I’m really happy the show is dropping any sort of mystery about the figure who’s been instrumental in remotely wiping Echo and causing so much trouble in these first four episodes. It would have gotten old fast. Regardless, it’s clear that the company is losing its grip rapidly, and that’s something people like DeWitt and Dominic value more than anything. They want things to go smoothly. They don’t want trouble. And they want to be puppet masters. Now, an outside force they created is undoing all of this. But why? Why wipe Echo’s brain? Why risk getting her killed? I’m interested to know what Alpha’s motivations are, as they don’t make a whole lot of sense right now.
This episode also continues to build on the subtle and fascinating revelations about the nature of the Actives that we saw in “Stage Fright.” This time, Topher is the one who notices that Sierra, Echo, and Victor all continue to gravitate towards one another. The audience is shown that Sierra and Echo still recognize one another, and I’m curious as to what these two are able to retain after each wipe. It must be consistent, right? How would they be able to acknowledge one another after multiple wipes? I mean, these people literally live their lives without a sense of continuity. Nothing builds from one moment to the next. They’re supposed to be empty, personality-less shells. That’s what’s so scary about Echo’s remote wipe during the heist. In an instant, she has everything in her (programmed) life erased, and the Dollhouse team has no protocol for how to deal with this. What does Echo become in a situation like this? How does she react to a traumatic wipe that takes place in a traumatic environment? The writers use the conversation Echo has about art to initially suggest that perhaps what’s been done to Echo has essentially “broken” her. What sort of human is she if she lacks any identity or personality? Have the pieces of her humanity slid apart? That’s why I think Echo’s line to Boyd when she exits the building with Cyril is so important. “I am not broken,” she says, and it feels like this subconscious rebellion on her part. She refuses to be categorized as disposable or fractured. Just because she’s been reduced to a state that’s highly irregular for a human doesn’t mean she isn’t human. I guess I really like this idea that her and Sierra are slight aware of what’s being done to them, so it’s fun to read these moments through that lens.
God, how great is Sierra as Taffy? Bless you, Dichen Lachman. I don’t know where you came from, but lord, you are so talented. She’s got unbelievable chemistry with Eliza, and we’ve now seen her in three entirely different personas as an Active. Her range is so ridiculous! Ugh, I just love the idea that her and Echo are secretly planning some sort of rebellion or clue. CAN THIS HAPPEN.
“Gray Hour” is also light on Agent Ballard, and his story is so frustrating to me. Well, I mean that in the sense that it’s hard to see him work with Victor since we all know Victor is a plant. Plus, DeWitt mentions she is going to try and give Ballard “closure” AND I AM SCARED TO FIND OUT WHAT THAT MEANS. Ugh, this shit is stressful already. But that’s a good thing. I’m left wanting to know more with each episode, and not many shows can pull that off. Bravo.
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