In the sixth episode of the first season of Dollhouse, Ballard makes a break in his quest to find the Dollhouse, but in a way he could never have expected. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Dollhouse.
This is, without a doubt, spectacular television. It really is one of the best hours of any show Whedon has put on the air, and I am just completely overwhelmed by the fact that this is the sixth episode. SIX. OH MY GOD. I don’t think I’ve ever seen shit get real on a show so quickly.
There are multiple reasons why I am a fan of “Man on the Street.”
It works well if you’ve just started watching it.
And you know, that goes for the previous five episodes, too. For an episode that suddenly jumps into a ridiculously serialized territory, you actually don’t need much from the past to understand what happens here. Now, I’m all for being complete as possible for these sort of things, and that’s why I love doing what I do. I want to see everything. But I feel like if you just turned on FOX one day and saw this, you’d be able to understand the basis of this show.
The secondary characters matter.
That’s actually been something Whedon is generally good at, but here, we get Joel Mynor. It was only temporarily distracting that ONE OF MY FAVORITE COMEDIANS WAS ON DOLLHOUSE. (Go watch Big Fan. It fucking rules.) Once I got over the fact that PATTON OSWALT WAS ON DOLLHOUSE, I was able to appreciate not only his performance, but the story behind his character. This is related to another positive point, but the writers cleverly take our assumptions for how clients work with Actives (and justifiably so, but I’ll get to that), and they twist it around to surprise us. Of course I assumed that Joel Mynor was a disgusting lonely creep in those first few scenes. Why wouldn’t you? And while I ultimately still feel like he’s gross, I was not prepared for the show to reveal the motivation for him hiring an Active year after year. Sweet mother of gods, that was depressing.
But here’s the important part.
The show never strays far from reminding us how fucked up the treatment of the Actives is.
That’s especially apparent just after Joel gives this long, emotionally heavy monologue about losing his wife merely three blocks away from their dream. There is the briefest moment of silence, and you wonder if Ballard is going to sympathize with this dude, and then he just rains down on his parade by pointing out that he then has sex with the girl he hires every time. In that instant, Ballard makes his position clear. It doesn’t matter what sob story you give him, he finds it horribly immoral to have sex with someone who cannot truly consent to it. These people, as far as he is concerned, are scum for using other folks who have had their entire memories wiped. And I think it’s important that such a rigid moral structure exists here because it’s very easy to get caught up in the flashiness of the Dollhouse and forget what they are doing. Paul Ballard is there to remind you how horrible this place is and how fucked up their treatment of people is as well.
On top of this, there’s the entire subplot involving the possible sexual interaction between Victor and Sierra. Initially, it is presented as another clue towards the growing trend of the three main actives being able to remember one another after wipes. However, there’s something much more disturbing and horrifying at work here, and I largely think the show deals with it incredibly well. As it turns out, Boyd discovers that Hearn is raping Sierra behind a hidden panel in a hallway of the Dollhouse. When DeWitt confronts him in her office, the uncomfortable moral situation is made even more obvious. Here, DeWitt is excoriating Hearn for using an Active without their consent, and Hearn throws the Dollhouse right back in her face. How can she stand there and claim that what Hearn is doing is wrong when the company itself is in the business of using people? Now, thankfully, Hearn must still pay for what he’s done, and it’s not a way for him to get out of facing the repercussions of his actions. Good riddance, Hearn.
The most significant part of this, though, comes from Echo’s shocking programming during her fight with Ballard. She reveals that the Dollhouse is not the end. Couple this with the final news interview in “Man on the Street” and it’s clear that I am just beginning to understand the potential for how fucked up this is. What else am I missing? Is there some other plan for this technology? Honestly, I think that this message through Echo is real, and that someone inside the Dollhouse really is reaching out to Ballard. But what is the real purpose of all this???
That fight scene
is the best fight scene in any Whedon show ever. It is so brutal and realistic. There were moments where it looked like Penikett and Dushku eschewed the use of their stunt doubles. It scared me because I THOUGHT THEY WERE ACTUALLY HURTING ONE ANOTHER. It is goddamn incredible.
THE PLOT. OH MY GOD, THE PLOT TWISTS.
Honestly, there’s so much to like about “Man on the Street,” but the story really comes together in this episode. All of this happens IN ONE STORY:
- Ballard meets Caroline/Echo.
- Ballard definitively learns that the Dollhouse is 100% real.
- Ballard FIGHTS Echo.
- Echo reveals that there’s an insider within the Dollhouse willing to be a whistleblower for Ballard because THERE IS SOMETHING WORSE THAN THE DOLLHOUSE IN THE WORKS.
- We learn there are 20 (!!!!!!) Dollhouses around the world. TWENTY!!!!
- Hearn is murdered.
- By Mellie.
- WHO WAS AN ACTIVE THE WHOLE FUCKING TIME.
- NO WHAT THE FUCK, SHE IS SO GREAT AND I LOVED HER AND SHE WAS JUST GETTING INTO ALL THIS CUTENESS WITH BALLARD WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO ME
- oh god SHOULD I JUST ASSUME EVERYONE ON THIS SHOW IS A FUCKING ACTIVE. THIS IS SCARING ME.
- BALLARD IS SUSPENDED FROM THE F.B.I. HE’S GOING TO LET THE DOLLHOUSE WIN. OH MY GOD.
God, this is just wonderful. This is precisely what the show needed to inject energy and urgency into the story. We get to see just how talented this cast of actors and actresses are. The music is perfect. Oh god, that Concerto that plays during Mellie’s attack is HEARTBREAKING. It’s clever, engaging, disturbing, and entertaining. I AM SO ONBOARD THE S.S. DOLLHOUSE RIGHT NOW.
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