Mark Watches ‘Dollhouse’: S01E11 – Briar Rose

In the eleventh episode of the first season of Dollhouse, everything falls apart in an unendingly terrifying way. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Dollhouse.

I CAN’T. I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS. I DON’T THINK I HAVE EVER BEEN SO UNFORTUNATELY UNPREPARED FOR A TELEVISION SHOW IN ALL MY LIFE. THIS SHOW WAS NOT WHAT I THOUGHT IT WAS, AND EVERY TIME I GET CLOSER TO UNDERSTANDING DOLLHOUSE, THE RUG IS PULLED OUT FROM UNDERNEATH ME.

H E L P.

  • This is, without a doubt, one of the most thrilling and tense hours of television I’ve experienced in the Mark Does Stuff universe. Like, this upstages some particularly frightening episodes of Battlestar Galactica, slaps “Hush” in the face, laughs at the fourth hour of Torchwood: Children of Earth, and joins the league of The Prisoner or Breaking Bad when it comes to suspenseful television. I’m serious, this is one of the coolest science fiction stories I’ve come across, and I can barely wrap my head around what just happened.
  • And look, I clearly enjoyed all three of Joss Whedon’s other shows, but since “Man on the Street,” this is the most consistent the man’s ever been. I also like the first five episodes, too, but Dollhouse really comes into form with this batch of episodes.
  • THE “BRIAR ROSE” STORY WAS SO OBVIOUSLY ABOUT ECHO AND I DIDN’T SEE IT AT ALL. A woman is trapped in an endless “sleep,” secretly desiring escape, until her Prince comes to save her. Except the show twists this story in a super disturbing way.
  • Yet the “Briar Rose” element of this episode does not exist solely to foreshadowing the ending. I absolutely loved the fact that Topher programmed Echo to help a young girl believe in herself. It’s touching, and it gives him depth. It’s an example of what the Dollhouse technology could be used for that’s actually helpful. At the same time, it acts as a form of contrast. Compare how this mission of Echo’s differs from what happens with Alpha. We see both ends of the spectrum of the science, the good and the bad, the moral and the horrifying.
  • I would be remiss not to mention just how fucked up DeWitt is when she orders Topher to put Dominic inside of Victor. Again, the fact that Topher is so mortally bewildered by the act is a sign of how terrible this is. Shit, when Topher has moral objections to an experiment, I think things are pretty goddamn awful.
  • Enver Gjokaj nearly steals the show. I can’t say he does this alone, because this episode also has Dichen Lackman and Alan Tudyk giving performances that are stunning and unreal. But I have to devote a bullet point to Enver’s truly inspiring acting. He is able to talk exactly like Dominic sounds. It’s eerie and unsettling. Did he and Daniel Day-Lewis make a pact with Satan? (Sorry, I just saw Lincoln the night before I’m writing this review, so he’s on my mind.) I think the casting agents should be given medals for this cast. And puppies. Give ’em lots of puppies.
  • Oh my god, I could not believe Paul Ballard’s story. I’m so heartbroken over his treatment of Mellie, despite that I know it was a way for him to get her to go back to the Dollhouse. And I know Mellie isn’t real, but Miracle Laurie plays her so fantastically that I’m confused by the whole thing. Should I feel so strongly for a programmed fantasy? I can’t help it!!!
  • HAHAHAHA OH MY GOD, THAT SHOT DURING THE OPENING CREDITS OF THE 110 FREEWAY IN DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES IS LITERALLY LIKE A BLOCK OR TWO AWAY FROM THE LOCATION OF THE DOLLHOUSE’S UNDERGROUND PARKING LOT. THE OPENING CREDITS SPOILED THIS FOR ME AND I HAD NO CLUE.
  • Bless you, Alan Tudyk. I’m still trying to process the first forty minutes of “Briar Rose” because I’m unsure how this was all designed. Initially, I thought Stephen Kepler was claustrophobic, but his behavior is actually way more representative of agoraphobia. He has a fear of wide-open spaces, of being unable to escape. But did the original Stephen Kepler also suffer from the same phobia? Or did Alpha merely invent that entire character?
  • It’s weird thinking about Ballard breaking into the Dollhouse with Kepler because while I was watching it, it was both tense and hilarious. Kepler was the worst possible person to bring along for that mission, and I enjoyed Tudyk’s sense of comic timing. Except now, in hindsight, IT’S TERRIFYING. THAT’S ALPHA THE WHOLE TIME. God, I need to know so much more about Alpha right now. Was he the remains of an identity? Did he invent it himself? Did he take over Stephen Kepler’s life? I DON’T EVEN KNOW.
  • Oh my god, I ALSO HATE STAIRS WITHOUT RISER BACKING. OH MY GOD.
  • Boyd is hiding something because his reaction to Ballard was so strange to me. He clearly wants to defend the Dollhouse and Echo. That much is clear. But he seemed genuinely willing to let Ballard walk right back out from where he came from. Does he really not want the Dollhouse discovered? BOYD, YOU ARE SO INTRIGUING.
  • This show has had some of the most brutal and realistic fights that I have ever seen on television. Boyd and Ballard’s fight is fucked up. IT’S SO FUCKED.
  • “People were fighting on top of me.” VICTOR, BLESS.
  • There was a moment when Ballard was opening the sleep pods where I thought he might choose to save Mellie instead, but her story didn’t quite fit the one in “Briar Rose.” Still, it’s an upsetting moment because he chooses to save one woman over the other. In his mind, there’s too much of a risk present in Mellie. As he says, any moment, she can turn on him and kill him.
  • I briefly entertained the notion that at least Ballard would escape. It seemed that he was ignoring a pretty huge problem concerning Echo. She wasn’t Caroline in her current state, and unless he got her original identity imprinted in her, what the hell was he going to do to her once they escaped? So I thought Ballard would get out at the last minute, but NOPE. Oh my god, that scene where he confronts Boyd and DeWitt is incredible. I love that he gets straight to the point: what these people are doing is immoral and incredibly wrong. DeWitt is so certain that it’s not, so I wonder what it is that I’m missing. How does she justify all of this?
  • Alpha’s reveal is seriously one of the most shocking things I’ve seen in any of Whedon’s shows. As soon as he cut up Victor’s face, it was unmistakable that Kepler was really Alpha the whole time. But there was a cue just before this: Dr. Saunders’s reaction. That really gave it away. My god, how is she going to cope with this? The man who slashed up her face nearly did it again.
  • Yet out of everything here, I am most confused by Alpha’s obsession with Echo. Why her? What does he imprint her with at the end? Is that her original personality, or did he give her someone else’s identity? Where the fuck are they going???

Look, I’m enjoying Angel a lot right now, BUT I REALLY WISH I WAS WATCHING DOLLHOUSE NEXT. I need to know what the hell is going on! This show, I swear.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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