Mark Watches ‘Dollhouse’: S02E01 – Vows

In the first episode of the second season of Dollhouse, Whiskey copes with being an Active while Echo is sent on a risky engagement for Paul Ballard. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Dollhouse.

I think Dollhouse works both as a thriller and an introspective examination of identity, and “Vows” is a spectacular example of that. Joss Whedon cleverly balances the suspenseful engagement that Echo is on with Whiskey’s existential struggle with identity. It’s a solid opening to this season, and one hell of a way to give me an idea of where the story is going to go.

Wedding Vows

God, it was so difficult to parse exactly what Echo was supposed to be doing. Well, yes, it was distracting that Apollo was on the screen, especially once he started fighting Helo, so there’s that. But even from the cold open, I was confused. HOW COULD ECHO GET MARRIED TO SOMEONE? There are way too many variables here. Is the groom marrying her as a trick? How do you trick the guests, too? Why would this arms dealer hire a bride for a day? WHY IS PAUL BALLARD HANGING AROUND? Is he her handler? Will any of my questions be answered???

I don’t think “Vows” is too clear on this, but it seems that one of the first things DeWitt offered Paul was the chance to use an Active (perhaps Echo specifically) for his own reasons. He chose to help break a case he’d failed to close for years while at the F.B.I., and interesting enough, he doesn’t get the credit for it. That’s an important aspect of Paul’s new role as a contracted “employee” of the Dollhouse because he still wants to do what he thinks is right. He helps pull an arms dealer off the market to ostensibly save lives, and that’s it. I think that’s a fascinating choice to make. He could have used a doll for anything, and he gained nothing from the engagement.

Well, I suppose he gained nothing tangible. He has an interesting conversation with DeWitt about his intentions with Caroline. Clearly, he is obsessed with her, and DeWitt knows she can hit Paul where it hurts with her comments about his treatment of Mellie. I don’t even think she’s necessarily off the mark, either. He’s moved on from woman to another. So what’s Paul’s game now? How does he navigate the increasingly complicated world he lives in? He knows he can’t beat the Dollhouse. The only hope I can have for this is knowing that Echo’s composite event has left her able to “access” her past imprints. We saw a small hint of that in “Epitaph One,” but the end of “Vows” gives us a better understanding of it. Echo is more aware of what she is than before, and she wants to get Caroline back. So how is Paul going to manage this without revealing that he has an ulterior motive to DeWitt?

This episode is also my personal favorite in terms of Eliza Dushku’s acting. She switches between different imprints so recognizably, and it’s a real treat to watch. God, how great is that scene where, as Roma Klar, she confronts Martin about his mistruths? It’s fantastic! Of course, it goes without saying that Dichen Lachman and Enver Gjokaj act circles around everyone, but is anyone surprised by that? NOPE.

Also, hi Wesley. Hearing Alexis Denisof’s voice is just weird, right? I’d actually not heard it until about three weeks ago. So now he’s going to lead a Senatorial crusade against the Rossum Corporation? That should be interesting, given the power both parties seem to have. It’s going to end in disaster. I’m just sayin’! I expect it now. Dear Daniel Perrin: you will be destroyed by the Rossum Corporation. (Here’s to hoping we get some sweet commentary about the power of multinational corporations in American politics, too!)

Identity Politics

I did like the entire story with Apollo, but I believe the real strength in “Vows” comes from the interactions that Dr. Saunders has with Boyd and Topher. I didn’t expect the show to address her existential crisis so soon, but given that a number of months have passed since “Omega,” it’s fitting that Whiskey would start to lash out at those around her. In particular, she focuses most of her ire on Topher. Who could blame her? He designed her, flaws and all, and he’s the only thing she can focus her confusion on. Her emotional breakdown in this episode is compounded by the fact that the very elements that Topher programmed into her brain were what led her to that breakdown.

Okay, that sentence hurts my head, but imagine being Dr. Saunders. There are two fears at work here: that she doesn’t matter, and that she does matter and she’s going to lose it all. Yes, this is contradictory, but Whiskey’s mental state doesn’t need to make perfect sense. She is terrified to learn that her reactions, emotional and physical, are barely her own choice. How can she lay claim to a life that was designed by someone else? How much of her actions are independent of what Topher put into her?

At the same time, Whiskey has gained her own experiences through the Dr. Saunders imprint. She has new memories that she formed on her own. She might be in the wrong body, but then this life that she’s had – no matter how limited or short that is – will end. There are no more experiences for that version of Dr. Saunders. And she’s terrified of giving that up. It’s all that she has.

It’s why she takes Boyd’s advice. She claims her life for her own, and she leaves. Oh god, Boyd, who are you? He is regularly the most sympathetic person in the Dollhouse. Though I did like that Whiskey called him out for being uninterested in her until he found out she was a Doll. Still, I want to know why Boyd has such an intense concern for the Dollhouse. I need answers.

I’m not going to get them yet, but I’ll keep asking. I’M SO EXCITED TO WATCH MORE OF THIS SHOW.

NOTE: Please check the Master Schedule, as next week’s Dollhouse episodes are swapped. Watch episode 3 BEFORE 2, as they actually aired in the wrong order. Thank you!

IGNORE ALL OF THAT. The posts and the schedule are in the normal viewing order.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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