Of all of Dollhouse‘s good episodes, I think this one is arguably the best of the series, especially because it contained two really great twists that I did not in any way see coming. Well, three if you count that chip . . . the thing upon which this plot is founded.
With Adele DeWitt out on leave, Lawrence Dominic is put in charge of the Dollhouse and on his watch, Topher finds a chip in the chair, a chip that could alter the imprint he put on any Active, like Echo, for instance. If he programs a cheerleader, that chip could make her a cheerleader assassin. So Dominic puts the whole Dollhouse on lockdown and imprints Sierra as a spy-catcher to find out who amongst them has betrayed him. The only people allowed out are Victor, send on a routine Miss Lonelyhearts engagement, the tenth of his missions as the paramour of the octogenarian, and November, imprinted again as Mellie and sent back into Paul Ballard’s life.
Ballard has started to go totally nuts in her absence, obsessing over Echo’s last message to him and using his time without a badge to become a conspiracy theorist. In the middle of a romantic embrace, Mellie snaps into November mode, delivering a message to Ballard the same way Echo once did. She reveals that she is an Active and that the Dollhouse has found out that someone is sending him information. She urges him to stop discussing the case with Mellie, as she is a spy, but to continue his investigation into the Dollhouse’s purpose.
“You can make people different. You can make me help.” – Echo
Even in her Doll state, Echo realizes that Topher changes people. She offers to help find out who the spy is by asking him to imprint her. He does so, imprinting her as an interrogation and body language expert, and she begins questioning the interior of the Dollhouse while Sierra is sent out to infiltrate the NSA and steal covert documents that would reveal who is leaking Dollhouse information. Sierra’s adventure is pretty cool; she dresses up like a cute Asian NSA agent and knocks her out on a train, makes herself some contact lenses with her phone so she can fool the retinal scan (uh, I totally want that technology – is that standard with an iPhone these days?) and takes out a security guard who catches her stealing, all in 4″ heels with amazingly gorgeous zippers up the back. From Sierra’s report, she pegs Ivy, Topher’s lab assistant, as the mole, but Echo thinks its Mr. Dominic. He is none-too-pleased with this accusation and gets into a crazy broken-glass fight with Echo before she bests him and forces him to admit this by dangling him out a window.
As for Victor, it turns out that Miss Lonelyhearts isn’t the 80-year-old woman his handler has been lead to believe he’s seeing, as he delivers roses to some random octogenarian, but speeds off in an Aston Martin to meet up with Miss DeWitt. They share a romantic weekend together, fencing and making love, until DeWitt enters the bedroom, clothed and crying. We later learn that she has been betrayed, as Echo delivers Lawrence Dominic to her for her judgment. He tells her that his mission was to keep her from bringing the Dollhouse down herself, and that by baiting Paul Ballard, he has driven Ballard further from the truth. Nonetheless, having worked by her now-betrayed side-by-side for three years, she condemns him to the Attic, which, by the way, is a complete mind-suck where the Dollhouse basically downloads your entire brain and turns you into a vegetable. Death without dying, and pretty frightening to watch, especially because Dominic manages to fire a shot into DeWitt’s stomach before his mind is completely blanked.
As DeWitt applauds Topher for using Echo to find the spy, he informs her that Echo came up with the idea herself, meaning that she’s still evolving and that the wish-fulfillment exercise suggested by Claire didn’t entirely work. Still, DeWitt thinks this might be useful, as without Dominic in the way, there’s no one to complain about Echo’s “brokenness,” suggesting, as Echo herself does, that her brokenness is actually an asset. She does, however, ask Topher to delete the Roger persona for the Lonelyhearts engagements, as Miss Lonelyhearts has realized how indiscreet her passions are, and Boyd gets bumped up to Head of Security, leaving Echo in the lurch as she bonds with a new handler at episode’s end.
I liked the way this episode was told, too, in addition to its content. I liked the framing with the BDSM engagement in the cold open, as it set us up to think about trust and trustworthiness, which is exactly what this episode was about. It was brilliant to show us how Echo realizes what’s going on, as well as to then follow each of the four imprints to see how they added up to what Echo was seeing. It kept me guessing, as I totally wouldn’t have seen that Lonelyhearts reveal coming, nor would I have necessarily suspected Dominic. My previous inkling was that Dr. Saunders was a spy, but now I return to my original thought that she, too, is an Active – just one that never disinhabits her very useful imprint. She mentioned in her interview with Echo that she never leaves the Dollhouse, so I have to wonder if, at the end of a day, she also cozies up in a pod.
I wonder, though, where the final episodes of this season will take us now that no one will be sending messages to Paul Ballard anymore. Perhaps Alpha will find him before the Dollhouse finds Alpha?
Can we agree on a couple things?
1.) Ballard is a terrible detective.
2.) I’m getting pretty fucking sick of every problem this show encounters comes from within their own headquarters, either through technological fuck-up or evil mole shenanigans.
Yes, it’s a pain in the ass how nothing ever seems to go right at the Dollhouse, and for such a secretive, mythological company, they have terrible security problems. That’s why I liked the episode “Man on the Street” so much, because it was more about the outside issues everyone was encountering, so much so that the Actives had to take on several different personalities in the same ep.
But this was, despite its problems, a damn good episode. I always like the Rashomon approach to storytelling, as it’s not necessarily what’s coming up next that’s important to a story so much as what has already happened. It also takes one moment and allows it to evolve several times over until its life is no longer unexamined, and is therefore worth watching.
I did find it a little strange that Sierra was able to so convincingly pull off her disguise despite being a completely different kind of Asian woman than her target. (The actress is Nepalese, in case you were wondering.) Her story, however, paid off in wonderful amounts of tension, as her fate in re: the rescue helicopter wasn’t even seen, and only brought up again several minutes later as Reed Diamond does his best to hold onto his final bits of Dominic before, as the actor would know, he was to be completely wiped clean of mind and sent to the Attic. (Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun…) As a fan of the actor, I hope to god they keep him on as an Active, especially so I can make more random references to such shows as Homicide: Life on the Streets and Journeyman (as I did when he appeared on that two-parter on Criminal Minds this year).
Oh, and using Echo as a spy hunter was a great and proper use of this show’s central conceit, much better than being a fucking midwife.
And as my wife and I have finally finished watching all five seasons of Angel, all I can say about this show is the following:
More Amy Acker, please.