Mark Watches ‘Dollhouse’: S02E09 – Stop-Loss

In the ninth episode of the second season of Dollhouse, Victor learns what life after the Dollhouse holds for him. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Dollhouse.

This is just too much, y’all. How can this show sustain such relentless suspense over and over again?

“Stop-Loss” takes a phenomenon that’s decidedly modern (relatively speaking, as it really only came into fruition as a military term post-Vietnam) and applies this to the life of Anthony Ceccoli, and Afghanistan war veteran who is assigned to the Dollhouse after he developed severe PTSD from the war. This show has certainly paralleled issues that the United States government has faced, but never has it been so obtuse about it. I don’t think that’s a discredit to Dollhouse, though, because the story they give us is so necessary to tell in a post-9/11 world. We have troops who are being sent to fight wars, and this is what happens when they come back. They lack a support system. They’re affected by our government’s stop-loss policy and sent back to fight, despite serving their duty already. And while Dollhouse inherently deals with the absurd, Blackwater was a real organization. There is a terrifying truth behind this episode, and I appreciate that the writers don’t shy from it.

Like Sierra’s backstory, the first episode devoted solely to Victor’s origin is incredibly difficult to watch. Not only is the writing heartbreaking, but the cinematography in the opening scenes is some of this show’s best. When Victor’s contract expires and he is sent out into the world, we get to visually experience what it means to be aimless. (ALSO, I AM TAKING THAT REFERENCE TO THE HYPERION AS THE HYPERION FROM ANGEL AND YOU CAN’T STOP ME.) The camera drifts about his body, never really focusing on one thing. It hovers above him. It spins around him. As Victor wanders out for the first time, the one moment he is grounded is when he thinks he sees Sierra sitting in a club. He is humiliated when it is not her, and it’s not just because he made a mistake. On the surface, he doesn’t even know who she is.

How do you live your life after an experience like this? Five years just passed in a matter of seconds, and Anthony has been thrust into a world that doesn’t make sense to him. I understood what Ivy meant when she said that not much has changed, but that’s relatively speaking. For Anthony, everything has changed. Most notably, he’s no longer at war. And he misses it. Seeing that portrayed onscreen was so revealing to me because the childhood friends I have that went into the military routinely act the same way. It’s not that they like war. But they were just eighteen years old when they were shipped across the world to fight some rich man’s war, and they were there for years. You can’t expect an experience like that to not have far-reaching effects on a person. That even applies to the Victor part of Anthony. At the end of the night, Anthony can’t sleep in a bed, so he moves to the bathtub to mirror his experience for the last five years.

In short, “Stop-Loss” shows us that you cannot erase the past. It is impossible. And no matter how hard Adelle tries to gain control, she won’t succeed if she keeps ignoring this. It’s interesting, then, that this episode comes so close after the Angel episode “Power Play” that I watched on Monday. I feel like what I’m seeing here is what Angel never did. Adelle has finally recognized that the game she’s playing is one that’s inherently about grasping as much power as she can. I initially hoped that she’d found a way to gain control of her house as a method to keep her Dolls safe because she cared about them. But as her story progresses in season two, she continually puts her own self-interest above anything else. It’s interesting to watch how this is contrasted with the growing concern of people like Boyd and Topher. With Ballard, I expect him to be opposed to the ethical dilemma of the Dollhouse. That’s a no-brainer. We’ve seen bits and pieces of Boyd’s concern for the Dolls and Echo in particular, though I’m still confused about his ultimate motivation for all of this. But when Topher is working in secret against you for moral reasons, PERHAPS THIS IS A SIGN THAT YOU ARE ON THE WRONG PATH.

God, it was just so exciting to see Echo and DeWitt openly confront each other. I’m so used to ~mysterious~ shows dealing with obfuscation that it was refreshing to witness these characters being so frank like this. Granted, DeWitt was drunk during this scene, but if anything, that just allowed the honesty to flow much more freely. The moral focus has shifted far from the what it was in season one. Now, the dichotomy is for or against Rossum. It’s no longer about fighting against the Dollhouse itself. So Echo poses the question: Which side does DeWitt fall on? Is she going to be complicit in the terrifying future Rossum is creating, or is she going to fight against it? The answer to this is going to be fascinating because we’ve seen parts of it in “Epitaph One.” Are those scenes going to be re-contextualized by the remaining episodes in this season? I already want to re-watch that episode again. I LOVE IT SO MUCH.

And you know, I deeply adore that amidst all this fucked up, super complicated moral mess, there is a story about love. Victor and Sierra’s tale of love in the Dollhouse is so fucking fantastic to me, and “Stop-Loss” deals with it brilliant. The show acknowledges that only certain parts of these people are in love with one another, but that through all those layers of identities and forgotten memories, these two people know they’re meant from one another. I’m reminded of the LOST episode “The Constant” because I felt like a huge element of having Priya come along to save Victor involved giving him a constant upon which he could latch on to. Priya was willing to keep the memory of that awful day she experienced in “Belonging” if it meant she could find the man she’d fallen in love with as a doll.

And I had hope that DeWitt’s story would turn out this way, too, that we’d see a transformation that left us feeling good. I hoped that Boyd’s scathing criticism of her would open her eyes to her behavior, leading her to an epiphany about her loss of focus and the reality of Rossum’s business ventures. The ironic thing is that it did do this, but in the complete opposite way that I expected. Boyd, Topher, and Ivy had already taken matters into their own hands, and I truly believed that after DeWitt’s shower, she would also join them. So you can imagine my surprise, shock, and horror as the final moments of this episode arrived. I am still struggling to understand the implications of this. Where is Boyd being taken??? What happened to him? Will Ivy or Topher get a similar treatment, or will DeWitt use fear to keep them in line?

But what is most bewildering about the end of “Stop-Loss” is how nonchalantly the show portrays something that’s always been hinted at. We know that the Attic exists, and it’s always been this nebulous threat. Dominic was sent there, and we only saw a glimpse of what happened to him before he was stored away. Now, we watch the utterly horrifying and confusing experience ourselves as Echo, Victor, and Sierra are all de-commissioned and left in the Attic. What are those containers? What’s that goo for? Why the big sheet of plastic wrap? And what the fuck is in the Attic? Is it a mental experience or is that room itself the Attic? I’m fucking terrified, y’all, and I can’t believe that DeWitt herself is now the primary antagonist. I never saw it coming! Ugh, secret antagonists are the worst, because I’m so terrible at seeing what’s right in front of my eyes. I should have seen this coming!

My god, I have never wanted to just keeping binging this show more than this moment, I swear.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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