The Wife:

“Target” was significantly, significantly better than “Ghost” and calmed all my fears about how this concept might ruin itself. I believe in you, Joss. I never should have doubted because you are, as always, smarter than me and you always know what you’re doing.

“Target” introduces us, through flashbacks, to the events of three months prior, in which the Active known as Alpha went all crazy-face and destroyed nearly everyone in the Dollhouse. Of the Actives, only Echo and a few others survived, with Echo experiencing the worst of it: the only Doll still standing amid a literal shower of blood and bodies. Her handler was killed during Alpha’s massacre, and poor Amy Acker had nasty things done to her face. We learn all this as Boyd learns it, when he is brought in to replace Echo’s old handler. It seems Alpha went rogue because he experienced a “composite event” in which he had echoes of personalities he should have been wiped off, causing him to go nuts and slaughter everyone he could get his hands on. No one really knows why he chose to spare Echo, but it seems that Echo, too, might be starting to remember things like Alpha did.

Never shoot until you're sure you'll hit your target.

Never shoot until you're sure you'll hit your target.

She gets sent on a fantasy date with an outdoorsy sort of fellow. They white water raft. They rock climb. He teachers her how to shoot a crossbow. They have sex. And then he tells her to run, because he plans on hunting her. Now, when I heard Olivia Williams tell this client that there would be an additional fee for the kind of engagement he requested, and then saw them rafting in the great outdoors, I was pretty sure he was going to try to kill her, I just didn’t think it was going to be in the exact same way as the human hunting episode of Criminal Minds. As she flees from him, she finds herself in a cabin where Richard, her fantasy-date/hunter, has planted a drugged canteen. Tripped out and disoriented, she starts hallucinating alternate versions of herself, and then falls into the rapids and nearly drowns. When she resurfaces, she remembers being the only survivor of Alpha’s massacre.

While Echo’s off on her fantasy date, Boyd has been monitoring her from the woods in his surveillance van, and we get to learn more about the relationship between an Active and his or her handler. Each Active is imprinted with their handler’s voice and ultimate trust through subliminal call-and-response programming. At the end of an engagement, all a handler needs to do is tell the Active that “everything’s going to be all right” and the Active will immediately respond with “now that you’re here.” This keeps the Actives from experiencing serious health risks during high-risk engagements, and also allows the handlers to immediately control the Actives after any engagement. This answers so many questions I had about how the Actives knew their handlers when imprinted with different personalities.

A park ranger encounters Boyd’s van out in the woods, and quickly reveals himself to not actually be a park ranger, shooting Boyd’s driver and taking Boyd into his custody in the surveillance van. Boyd manages to fight the guy off and then heads out to save Echo when he notices how spiky her vital signs are getting (he was unable to see before because Topher’s satellite feed got knocked out). Once he finds Echo, he tells her that everything’s going to be all right, even though her fantasy date manages to pierce his side with an arrow. Echo explains the things she’s been seeing or remembering, and vows to kill the man whose been trying to kill her. Boyd tells her that she simply doesn’t have the right training for this, struggling to not tell her that she simply isn’t the right personality at this point in time to kill someone, but Echo insists that she’s a fast learner. Boyd hands her one of his guns, and Echo proceeds to hunt her hunter, facing off against him with weapons until he wrestles her to the ground where she manages to off him by driving a fallen arrow into his jugular.

Meanwhile, Badass Government Agent Guy Paul Ballard is just a step behind the Dollhouse, poking around the site from which Davina was rescued. Firefly‘s Badger tries to tell him that the Dollhouse just doesn’t exist, just like how his coworkers at the FBI continually tease him about chasing a fairytale, but he finds Echo’s glasses, assuring him that he’s not on a total wild goose chase. At work, Paul receives a package containing a picture of Echo back when she was Caroline, the same package we saw being shipped by a naked mass murderer at the end of “Ghost.” I certainly hope that the mass murderer in question is Alpha, and I think the wounds on the bodies surrounding him in “Ghost” and the wounds on the bodies he slaughtered in “Target” are enough proof to make that connection.

After Echo kills her fantasy date, Reed Diamond and team sweep in to clean up the mess, and we learn that “Richard Connell” was entirely fake, which is why he passed the background check. No ordinary fantasy date, “Richard” knew about the Dollhouse and was sent to specifically kill Echo, explaining his somewhat cryptic chide for her to learn to hunt in order to prove that she’s “more than just an echo.” From this, we know that at least two outside agencies are after the Dollhouse, because I’m pretty sure “Richard Connell” and his not-a-park-ranger friend were not working for FBI man Paul Ballard. And I doubt they’re working for whoever (Alpha) sent Paul Ballard Echo’s photograph.

Knowing that Echo survived a massacre at the Dollhouse gives me someone to connect to, as does seeing how Boyd came into play in this wacky arena. If every Dollhouse episode is as good as this one, I will be in it for the long run.

The Husband:

While I definitely consider all the backstory stuff to be damn fucking good, I still feel that all of Joss Whedon’s shows – even bits of Firefly – are a little bit too low-rent for my taste. I know he prides himself on being able to get by on a very low budget, but goddamn does it show sometimes. A little intricate and creative filmmaking can cover up the worst of his weaknesses, such as shitty special effects or reused sets, but it’s almost like he delights in looking cheap.

Now, the Dollhouse itself looks rockin’, but all the Most Dangerous Game stuff looked like locations from Grizzly Adams. Maybe they could have done at least a little bit with the camera other than just follow the actors around, running through trees and hiding. It’s worth a shot. Put some filters on. Play with the light. Work some post-prod action.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain. I’m always saying story first, and I definitely believe in that above all else. But the story was solid, so why not at least put some effort into establishing a better mood for your show? Because even when it’d be obvious that certain planets on Firefly were just the Simi Valley or Santa Clarita, at least the CGI work on Serenity was top-notch.