The Wife:

This weekend, I was able to watch the original Joss Whedon pilot for Dollhouse (included on the DVD that comes out Tuesday, July 27), as well as the futuristic mind-fuck that is the unaired “Epitaph One.” And even though I have some slight misgivings about certain things in Whedon’s original pilot, I ultimately believe that it would have set the show up for a better, more consistent run, leading ultimately to “Epitaph One,” which is one of the most interesting episodes of science-fiction television I’ve seen in some time. Let’s look at these things one at a time:

“Unaired Pilot”

The only thing I didn’t like about this pilot is that it reveals that Sierra and Victor are dolls right away. Therefore, if this had been the pilot, the Victor reveal that happens a few episodes later wouldn’t have been shocking. Nor would have Echo witnessed Sierra’s making and called into question her own making. However, for all that was sacrificed, the episode managed to explain a lot about the business strategy of the Dollhouse in a very believable, naturalistic way. In fact, the opening scene here is of Miss DeWitt explaining the process to a skeptical client. Likewise, there’s a scene where Topher explains to Boyd, not quite as new to the operation as he appears in the reshoot we all saw, how his tech works and why he’s so concerned over the dolls flocking together. Sometimes, these parts felt a little too “telly,” but in the end, I really didn’t mind them. A pilot should establish your universe, and Whedon’s original pilot does that a lot better than the one Fox made him rewrite.

And if there’s any positive spin I can put on not having the Victor/Sierra introductions appear a few episodes in, it’s that Echo’s problems don’t surface right away and it establishes the possibility that her “evolution” might also be happening to other dolls. There’s also a better character introduction to Whiskey, although it still doesn’t affect the game-changing 11th hour reveal that she’s a doll. It simply hints about the Alpha problem earlier and actually answered my question about how many people in the Dollhouse’s employ were aware that Whiskey was a doll. It’s clear from a scene she shares with Topher (about how pro bono engagements with purely altruistic purposes are good for the dolls’ health) that he, as well as others, are aware of what she once was. They simply do not address it.

I do like that this version of the pilot established a prior connection between Echo and Ashley Johnson’s character who, in the finale, has Caroline’s personality uploaded into her. It would have been great for Fox to have allowed that to stay so that the season finale would have included a great big payoff for those who had been watching since day one (“Honey, I am you,” Echo growls at alcoholic Ashley Johnson, in a delightful bit of foreshadowing before launching into a screed about how she once was addicted to booze and men. Echo is a better Cleaner than Benjamin Bratt is, and I appreciate that altruistic engagements can still involve kicking out barstools from under people.) And it would completely explain why that particular mall employee is the one that Echo and Alpha as Mickey-and-Mallory kidnapped, as she would have looked familiar, thus triggering Echo’s memory issues.

There’s also not a hint of Mellie/November to be found, which is great, because Miracle Laurie was always the worst part of this show.

But the most important and necessary part of Whedon’s pilot is the way in which it establishes Echo’s relationship to Paul Ballard. See, she was originally sent to kill him, in the guise of a woman looking for her lost sister (“Caroline”), and, once she got close enough to him to seduce him, she’d off him and rid the Dollhouse of the Paul Ballard problem forever. But Echo fails to kill him, and though she is called off her mission before she can snuff his life out in his hospital bed, this gives Paul Ballard a good reason to be obsessed with this woman who looks like Caroline and why it’s vitally important for him to find the Dollhouse.

Whedon’s original pilot only makes me wonder how much more solid the whole series could have been had Fox not asked him to make the series conform to some sort of case-of-the-week format. This episode definitely felt more like a Whedon episode, from ass-kicking ladies to corporations with less-than-forthright intentions to excellent character building and witty zingers. (More Topher = more goodness.) All I can say is that I’d have loved to see the show jump off from this point, rather than where it actually started. I can only imagine how much better it would have been.

The house that Echo built.

The house that Echo built.

“Epitaph One”

If you regularly read my Dollhouse posts during the season, you would know that one of my chief complaints during the course of season one was that the show always skirted issues of consciousness and embodiment, both physical and digital, as well as other cyberpunk-esque conceits. Here, Whedon treated us to a future, only 10 years down the line, in which the technology employed at the Dollhouse and other similar houses has gotten out-of-hand and basically caused the apocalypse. Not only has most of the world as we know it been destroyed by weapons technology from China (obviously, this is prior to the Sino-American alliance of Firefly), but there’s also an all-out war between natural humans and those with imprints, specifically those who have been imprinted so often that they no longer have a memory, roaming the land, it seems, like vacant zombies, capable of basic human function but incapable of emotion or real thought. The “actuals” have taken to tattooing themselves with birthmarks of their own names so that they never forget who they are – something which, for the sake of my continued work on tattoos and body marking, I hope is further explored as Dollhouse progresses.

In this episode, a group of actuals are heading underground to find a place called “Safe Haven,” and find themselves inside ruins of the Dollhouse. They’re mission is to protect a little girl, who turns out to not be quite what they thought she was, and by encountering Whiskey and experimenting with Topher’s chair on a captive “blank slate,” they learn about what happened to the Dollhouse that made things get so bad. Among these incidents: Victor and Sierra also underwent the multiple consciousness uploading processes that Echo went through, allowing them to be many people simultaneously; the Dollhouse acts as an underground safe haven, with Miss DeWitt heading up vigils for people’s memories, as forgetting seems to be a plague affecting the world; Topher, unable to cope with the fact that his technology, a technology he revolutionized so that uploads would happen in minutes, rather than hours, has wrought such horrors upon the world, is reduced to a blubbering mess, sleeping in the pods the dolls used to occupy and desperately trying to find the right math to fix things. There are many other things we learn here, but no image was more powerful for me than the image of Topher, scratching symbols into the walls of his pod with chalk, rocking back and forth in Miss DeWitt’s arms and crying, a mere shell of the brilliant, confident man he once was.

I think “Epitaph One” gives us an excellent look at where this series could go, getting darker and darker as it progresses. I’m not sure I’d like to see Dollhouse play out for 10 years (nor should it, as it would be hard to maintain being your best as a doll once aging takes its toll), but I’d love to see Dollhouse function on a five-year plan, exactly the length of each doll’s contract, building a momentum toward this destructive and horrible future, preferably with some episodes like “Epitaph One” thrown in. Lost revolutionized and reinvigorated its narrative by tossing in some flash-forward storytelling, and I think that Dollhouse would do well to include a few glimpses into the future, as well. I like every idea presented in “Epitaph One,” and I liked its execution. I’d like to see more like this, and it gives me great hope for the potential of this series.

The Husband:

If IMDb is to be trusted (which is should be about 80% of the time), the show is intended to run, as mapped out, for five years. This is a good, comfortable number, as that is the longest amount of time any Whedon show has lasted on one network. So it’s optimistic while still being realistic. And if you’re like my wife and you pay attention to the show (which I clearly did not do nearly as well), then you’re already ahead of this information and now I look like a fool. But hey, at least I’m confirming your estimates.

As far as “Epitaph One” goes, I hope more people don’t complain about its spoilerishness, because I don’t really look at it this way. For one, I don’t think anybody behind the show has said whether or not this episode should be considered canon. Then again, I didn’t listen to Whedon’s commentary on the disc, so I can’t be certain. Maybe Whedon mentioned something at Comic-Con this past weekend that could illuminate this discussion. But I do know that he mentioned (at least allegedly, as I read this on a blog review of “Epitaph One”) that even if it is canonical, we have to realize that the memories we see throughout the episode can’t be entirely trusted, as memories are, by nature, not always the truth.

But I often subscribe to the Sophocles version of storytelling mentioned in what I refer to as Ebert’s Theory of Sophocles vs. Shakespeare as found in his review for Road to Perdition, which raises the question of whether or not a reader/viewer wants their story’s conclusion fated/preordained/foreshadowed. Oftentimes, by knowing the direct ending of a story, it does not spoil what comes before but makes the events even more suspenseful, exciting and even heartbreaking. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Cycle, we know how it’s going to turn out, but we don’t know why, and it makes the story that much better. It’s obvious from Death of a Salesman what is going to happen at the end, so it’s the journey that is the important element of that play. And, to go way-mainstream as an example, knowing that a major character was going to die in the Ministry of Magic battle climax in Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix (thanks to a shrewd marketing move by J.K. Rowling), that climax was that much more dangerous and readable, as almost all of the major participants within the fight came close to death at one point or another. (Ebert oddly misses the concept that, in most of Shakespeare’s tragedies, we are told almost immediately who is going to die, or at least that there will be a mega-bloodbath, but whatever.) And for Dollhouse, I don’t mind the “spoilers” at all. It’s the journey that matters. It’s Sophocles.

Lost is Sophocles. You heard it here first.

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The Wife:

Eli Stone

Just a stones through from greatness.

Just a stone's throw from greatness.

I’ve written previously in my two (count ’em!) posts on Eli Stone this season about how I think the show lost some of its spark during the second season, but the most underwhelming parts of season two were, evidently, saved for last, to slowly peter out during this three-episode burn-off. To be honest with you, I’d forgotten a lot of this season simply because of the break between when I last watched and these remnants. Thus, nothing really stood out to me about them and they only served to reinforce my early assessments of what went wrong with the show. And keeping Maggie and Eli away from each other, while it did allow Maggie to come into her own (looking especially confident and sexy in the last episode) it lost a little bit of the spark from one of the most interesting relationships on the show, only to half-assedly rekindle it in the final episode’s desperate attempt for closure.

I actually found the whole central vision-mystery from the last episode to be extremely frustrating for two reasons, one complaint for each part of it:

1. The parents of the braindead girl who didn’t want to give up her heart to that dying woman are selfish idiots. I am not a religious or spiritual person, but I was raised Catholic and I can tell you that there are several flaws in their argument about “not wanting their daughter’s heart to burn in hell because it’s inside an atheist.” First of all, denying someone the chance to live is possibly the least Christ-like thing a so-called Christian could ever do. Second of all, Christianity believes in the soul, not the body. So if their daughter dies, she goes to God, not her body and not her organs. Certainly, if she signed up to be an organ donor, she is aware of that fact, and so are her parents who are executors to her will. This whole case was insanely stupid, and I’m glad Eli proved their idiocy by basically pointing out my first complaint that denying someone the chance to live because they have different beliefs than you do isn’t only discriminatory, but COMPLETELY ANTITHETICAL TO YOUR SUPPOSED FAITH.

2. I guess Eli was busy using all his smarts and logic on that because he seemed COMPLETELY INCAPABLE of using it to interpret the plane crash part of his vision. He knew from the beginning it was a KeyStar air flight. He made a correct step in getting employee flight records after seeing the Weathersby Stone travel bags, but for some reason never made the connection between the name of the airline and what employees might be flying on that airline. Instead, he totally wasted Jordan, Taylor and Matt’s time by asking them not to board their flights. (Now, I suppose in the world of Eli Stone, KeyStar might be the ONLY airline, but I find that highly doubtful, as that would be an air travel monopoly and, surely, some client of WPK would have already sued them and broken up said air travel monopoly long before Eli turned over a new leaf.) Then, once he got the time and date of the crash in his next vision, he didn’t take any further steps toward, say, looking up KeyStar flights departing from SFO that day and figuring out, based on listed travel times, which ones would potentially be the ones that would crash. I realize he’d still look like a crazy person/terrorist if he called the TSA and gave them a list of specific flights to check, but it would also stand to reason that he might be able to better prevent the crash if he actually took the time to narrow down the field of possibilities.

Instead, we got a little deus ex machina with Maggie’s fateful voicemail announcing her receipt of the Weathersby Stone travel bag and her intended us of it during her flight to Italy, departing that day. I suppose I should be happy that it got him there in time to drop seemingly-dead, only to have him reunite with Maggie, who just happened to demand to be let off the plane before it took off due to her own hunch, which then caused a flight delay for another safety check, allowing the airport staff to find a safety problem with the plane, preventing it from blowing up and saving the lives of all of its passengers. I should also be happy that Eli’s burst aneurism didn’t kill him, although I guess he’s still got that second one in there, waiting to destroy him.

Then there’s also that who odd and problematic talk with God/his father, in which its revealed (yet more telling instead of showing) that the atheist he fought so hard to get a heart for ended up dying during her transplant, which miraculously and conveniently ended up giving that braindead girl’s heart to none other than Eli’s soul mate, Grace. Are they still soul mates now that Eli’s still got a deadly aneurism and Grace has a new heart that will allow her to live a normal life? And how does Grace figure in to last season’s vision of Maggie with a baby that is presumably Eli’s? I know this God-snowglobe ending was meant to tie up loose ends, but I feel like it mostly made a mess of things.

Harper’s Island

The next murder Im hosting will definitely be held in my new murder basement, by the way.

The next murder I'm hosting will definitely be held in my new murder basement, by the way.

I never got the chance to write about Harper’s Island prior to this, but I did watch the limited-run series in its entirety and enjoyed the show’s commitment to campy fun good times. You see, I like murder mysteries. In fact, every year, I host a murder mystery party at my house in which I invite some friends over for dinner and a 4-hour immersive role playing game with lots of improvised craziness and clue-solving. Watching Harper’s Island was exactly like playing one of my murder mystery dinners, only with a significant increase in the number of potential suspects and an ever-growing body count. (At my dinners, only one person dies. And they stay dead, unlike John Wakefield.) Clearly, I am inclined to like such a thing.

In the beginning, I thought the show wasn’t going to be as cool as it ended up being, and part of my problem was with the casting and the writing. Too many of the actresses looked the same, and didn’t seem to have distinct enough personalities. In fact, up until the near-end, I would sometimes confuse Bride Trish’s sister with her step-mother, and I’m glad Bridesmaid Lucy died so early on because otherwise, I’m not sure I’d have been able to tell her apart from Chloe (unless Chloe were in every scene with Cal, like he has was cute her British accessory, or something). But once certain unnecessary bodies were dispensed of, the key players really started to flesh themselves out and the show got good. I’d say this is when the cast was probably at a total of 10, just after Mr. Wellington’s encounter with that headspade that awakened everyone to the possibility that there was something other than a wedding going on on Harper’s Island. (Here I must insert that my murder dinners are meant for eight, which is a perfect number because these things are filled with a plethora of information to keep straight, and maintaining tidbits from any more than eight sources while drinking bottle after bottle of wine is exceptionally difficult.) Once we got down to a manageable number of characters, we started to explore Abby’s past with the island, the history of the Wakefield murders, her mother’s diaries, her father’s obsession and the possibility that she – or someone else – could have been John Wakefield’s love child.

I also became somewhat invested in the growing relationship between Chloe and Cal, and, subsequently, in the changes in their characters during this whole ordeal. At the beginning of the show, Chloe was an effervescent party girl who was nothing if not gorgeous, which is perhaps why I couldn’t tell her apart from Lucy. Cal, on the other hand, was a fish-out-of-water Englishman, a man a bit too posh and uptight for seafaring life in the Pacific Northwest, constantly picked on by other party guests and locals because of his difference and because a girl like Chloe had no business being with a man like that. But as they found themselves in the midst of danger, Cal and Chloe stuck together. She got a lot tougher and a lot smarter, and he likewise proved his mettle by employing his medical knowledge (from working as a mortician, I believe), to help the survivors figure out facts relating to bodily injuries and their causes, as well as patching up certain wounds and instructing others how to patch up his own. Nothing cemented their growth more for me, though, than Cal’s death at the hands of John Wakefield and Chloe’s defiant swan dive to join her would-be fiancé in the river below, growling, “You can’t have me,” just before she takes the plunge. Beginning-of-the-series Chloe wouldn’t have done that for Cal, but end-of-the-series Chloe did.

Now, about that John Wakefield love child. As it turns out, that love child ended up being Wakefield’s accomplice, and it isn’t Abby, but her childhood best friend, Groom Henry, who reveals to her (after kidnapping her and murdering his father and anyone else still alive except for hostage Jimmy) that he set up this whole thing (including his fake relationship and fake wedding to Trish . . . ouch!) to lure Abby back to the island so they could be together . . . even though they’re technically siblings . . . which is really creepy, but doesn’t seem to bother Henry at all. I don’t understand why he kept Jimmy alive to allegedly pin the title of “Wakefield’s accomplice” on, especially after going through all the trouble to stage the burning deaths of Trish, Abby, Jimmy, Wakefield and himself. Even with “Wakefield’s accomplice” alive somewhere, it’s doubtful that the Washington State police would dig further into people “proven dead” or go digging about on an even more remote part of the island to look for said accomplice. So to take someone hostage and force them to write a false confession? This strikes me as very bad planning on Henry’s part, especially since his only post-massacre plan was to hole up in a really sweet house with Abby for the rest of their days, living out a warped little domestic fantasy and hoping she developed Stockholm Syndrome. Clearly, keeping Jimmy as a hostage is just a handy plot device so freaked-out Abby can find him, thus making her even more freaked-out and so Jimmy can find a reason to break free from his restraints and launch himself at Henry, thus taking him out with a very large boat knife and allowing Jimmy and Abby to ride off on a state police boat into the Puget Sound sunset.

But all in all, I had a lot of fun watching this show, delighting in the ever-growing body count, the inventive, nautical deaths and the various murder mystery tropes and red herrings dropped along the way. I wish the series had been more of a success, though, because I like the idea of these limited-run series. As my friend Drew wrote, they definitely solve the problem of Twin Peaks Season 2, and other series with a central mystery that outlived the story they’d planned to tell. (Joss Whedon was always very good at keeping each Big Bad around for only one season, and any subsequent seasons would deal with a new and different evil.) Plus, it was kind of like having a murder mystery at my house, only without all that cooking and planning. I’d have been interested to see other incarnations, especially because Creepy Little Madison was already poised as a natural successor to Abby as a Wakefield survivor for the next edition of murders in and around the Pacific Northwest.

The Husband:

As usual, my wife catches me with this article just when I’m getting extremely busy at work, so I can’t contribute very much, but I will agree with pretty much everything she said about both shows.

In a little way, I think I enjoyed the final four episodes of Eli Stone more than my wife simply because of some of the nice character development, but was left scrambling to reach for my iPhone and look up character names as they were mentioned, because a several months-long break between episodes kind of destroys any concept of who is named what. (This doesn’t happen to quality shows like Mad Men or anything on HBO, but that’s because they’re sweet programs that dare you to forget their characters.)

As for Harper’s Island (which I almost accidentally typed as Herpes Island, which is the inevitable porn spin-off), this was the perfect show to watch out of the corner of one’s eye while playing Peggle and Unblock Me on my nifty little Apple phone. (I plug! You give me money!) I had an even harder time telling the characters apart, but basically because I never bothered to learn their names in the first place. Except for Abby. (Yes, I forgot Henry’s name, even though the actor played a very memorable Harry on Ugly Betty over the last three years.)

More importantly, I don’t think there was one point in the entire series where either my wife or I ever bothered to venture a guess as to who was going to be the killer. No clues followed. No online community message board chats. I just watched until the next kill or the next shot of a scantily clad Chloe. (By the way, this Alvin & the Chipmunks actress, Cameron Richardson, has done her share of tasteful nude photography, so go forth and view.) Once during the final three episodes I jokingly guessed that it would be Madison, which, to be fair, wouldn’t have been the worst idea in the world. Just implausible.

More limited series, I ask, and networks could take a lesson from CBS sticking to this show, even if it was shifted from Thursday at 10 to Saturday at 10. To think, would Taye Diggs’ Day Break have developed more of a cult following had ABC allowed it to finish out its run? The world will never know.

The Wife:

The Dollhouse season/series finale (and I’m betting it’s the latter) was certainly some of the series’ finest work, confirming my Dr. Saunders-is-a-doll theory and engaging in some interesting cyberpunk conceits. As a finale, I think this episode admirably wrapped up the season and, since the central arc was essentially completed, could serve to wrap up the series, as well. But, as any good season finale-that-might-be-a-series-finale should be, there are open doors through which to proceed should FOX get Dollhouse a greenlight for 12 more episodes. (Or 13. Depending.)

When Alpha abducted Echo from the Dollhouse, he stole all of her former imprints, and destroyed the backup copy of her original “Caroline” personality. Topher struggles to find out which of her imprints he would have uploaded into her before absconding, and discovers that it was never one of Echo’s imprints at all, but one of Whiskey’s.

A tall glass of Whiskey.

A tall glass of Whiskey.

Three or so years ago, Whiskey and Alpha were sent out on a paired engagement, basically playing Mickey and Mallory from Natural Born Killers in some dude’s totally weird torture/porn fantasy. Alpha, programmed with a personality prone to paranoid delusions, started to take things too far, which in turn called in the handlers to break things up, but not, of course, until after the reveal that the silhouetted woman he was working with wasn’t Echo at all, but Whiskey . . . and after Whiskey and Alpha proceeded to have some totally hot foreplay with their captive. (This is, I guess, the only reason one should ever want to be kidnapped by Mickey and Mallory, because otherwise that’s a pretty fucking terrible idea!)

And here’s where I take a moment to thank Joss Whedon for giving us Amy Acker in stripper clothes. She’s so much more beautiful and has so much more range than Eliza Dushku that I’d rather watch a spin-off prequel about her character. I mean, really, Dushku has basically only been Faith for most of this series, whereas Acker has been someone completely different than Fred. And we already know she’s a great actress. Let’s all take a moment to shudder in remembrance of the Ilyria arc on Angel.

But as to the Mickey-and-Mallory imprints, it seems Alpha chose them in part because his Mickey personality was dominant at the time, and in part because it was the most convenient way to go on a kidnapping spree. He and Echo-as-Mallory, only minutes out of the Dollhouse, kidnap a young girl named Wendy and drag her back to Alpha’s lair. He was astute enough to call in a bomb threat to the building and lock everyone else inside the Dollhouse so they’d have greater difficulty finding him, and Paul Ballard (who also doesn’t have a whole lot of range or characterization, thanks to Tahmoh Penikett) puts himself in charge of reconstructing what happened on the day Alpha went rogue.

It seems Alpha was obsessed with Echo from the day Caroline strode into the Dollhouse for her pre-Activation tour. Caroline makes a comment about how the Dolls all seem like zombies waiting for tasty brains, which I thought was a pretty cute, sly nod to her Hulu commercial, as well as an accurate assessment of living without a personality. Per the Mickey-and-Mallory flashback, it seems Alpha was routinely paired with Whiskey on engagements, as she was, at the time, the Dollhouse’s most requested Active. And because of his fascination with Echo, he one day took a pair of scissors to Whiskey’s face during art class, eerily demanding, “Whiskey, let Echo be number one.” And so Whiskey was broken, and Alpha was to be given a full diagnostic, wiped and then sent to the Attic (despite his protestations that “I was making art”). During the diagnostic, though, he resists, creating that famous composite event where all of his former imprints uploaded into his brain, causing him to not have multiple personalities, but to be multiple personalities, as other brains shifted, randomly, into his own consciousness at any given moment. And so that killing spree occurred, in which he preserved the one person he thought was different and special: Echo.

At his power plant lair, Alpha uploads Caroline’s brain into poor unsuspecting Wendy with his own version of Topher’s chair, and forces “Caroline” to confront her own body. This was absolutely my favorite part of the series so far, as I felt it finally engaged in some commentary on theories of consciousness and embodiment rather than just bringing something up through a moral lense (such as the show’s constant dialogue about slavery and freedom, which also is brought up in the most eye-rolling way possible during this otherwise great scene). Alpha shows “Caroline” her body and chastises her for abandoning it, making a strange bid to privilege the corporeal and temporal over permanent, ethereal cyber-consciousness. I found this bid to punish Caroline’s mind for abandoning her body especially strange in light of Alpha’s next assertion that, if he makes Echo like him, they can be supreme beings, gods or supermen (or, literally, the Alpha and Omega), because they are not one person with multiple personalities, but one body comprised of many people, able to shift in and out of consciousnesses at any minute.

To make her into Omega, Alpha uploads all of Echo’s imprints into her, hoping that she will do as he did when he emerged from his composite event and destroy her original consciousness. In this case, to kill “Caroline.” But Echo as Omega seems to have a slightly better grip on reality and juggling multiple consciousnesses than Alpha does, and realizes it’s pretty insane to destroy one’s primary consciousness, so she instead swings at him. She disagrees with his theories on the übermensch, because even though they may be everybody, in the sense that they are many people, they still aren’t someone without their original personalities.

That notion of being “someone,” I think, is what Alpha’s addled brain is rallying against by destroying his own original brain and asking Echo to destroy hers. To Alpha, a body with just one brain in it, one consciousness, is to be “someone,” which is to be less than “everyone,” privileging a multiple consciousness, an ever-shifting collective over the singular, individual consciousness. I really like this conceit as it subverts the notion of what it means to be an “everyman” in narratives. This whole time, we’ve looked at the Dolls as “everymen,” capable of having attributes projected onto them, but now we’re asked to read Alpha and Omega’s composite personalities as “everymen” in a literal sense, which renders them godlike, in Alpha’s conception, and, therefore, utterly singular. Uniqueness here is achieved by subverting the traditional notion of an “everyman,” and that’s pretty clever.

Barring that reading, I would find it very odd for Alpha to spend time punishing Caroline’s brain for abandoning her body, when he went on to destroy his own. Especially when he utters the most cyperpunk line in the entire series as he uploads Caroline into Wendy: “A body’s just a body. They’re all pretty much the same.” And he’s right: bodies aren’t special, but consciousness is. This show’s entire conceit has privileged the consciousness over the corporeal, uploading new people into blanked out bodies and sending them off to do the extraordinary or the ordinary. A body is only meat and flesh and organs, something that can be marked, scarred, broken or destroyed while the consciousness, especially the kind that is downloaded or uploaded at will, that lives on. And I couldn’t be happier that Dollhouse finally made it to a point where it engaged in its own conceits. (Props to you, Tim Minear!)

Thus ends our brief, poorly-executed literary theory section of this post. I promise only summary/brief commentary from now on.

While Alpha, Wendy/Caroline and Echo/Omega are having theoretical fun in his lair of doom, Ballard manages to get the bomb threat called off so he and others can go hunt down Alpha and their missing Doll. Sierra and November are imprinted as thieves, for some reason, in the one plot thread that never actually goes anywhere, which I think was added just to make Ballard uncomfortable at seeing the woman he kind of cared for uploaded with a new personality. He also discovers that Alpha and some of the other original dolls were taken from a prison population, and that, as a convict, Carl Craft (later known as Alpha) was also prone to carving up people’s faces and kidnapping. (So perhaps one never leaves one’s original consciousness behind, even when erased?)

Meanwhile Dr. Saunders tends to Victor, whose lovely face will now be scarred worse than her own. She’s actually not very kind to him, reminding him that he will never, ever be able to be his best again, that he’ll basically suffer the fate she suffered: being uploaded with a new personality for the remainder of his contract with the Dollhouse and working on the inside, as a Doll with scars is a broken Doll. (I’ll spare you more theory/analysis on bodily marking, abjecta and the horrific powers of scars, even though I assure you I really, really, really want to say something about it.) You see, once Whiskey was broken by Alpha, and he killed the original Dr. Saunders (who was an old dude who liked lollipops), they made her useful by uploading his skillset and temperament into her body. I feel so badly for Victor, whose life will never be normal again. He won’t notice it now, but when his contract is up, he will. Maybe Topher can make one of the Dolls into a plastic surgeon and fix most of Victor’s scars. He’s almost too valuable to lose as a Doll.

Why couldn't she climb to the top of the ratings? She can do practically everything else.

Why couldn't she climb to the top of the ratings? She can do practically everything else.

Back in the power plant, Echo agrees that she won’t kill her own consciousness (after the world’s most eye-rollingly on-the-nose speech about how she has 37 different brains in her head and not a one of them thinks you can sign a contract to be a slave, especially when there’s a black president), Alpha threatens to break Wendy’s personality so that she can never have it back, revealing his plan to basically live out his days kidnapping people, and putting Echo’s consciousness into them so that she can repeatedly kill herself (and yet never kill herself . . . which is where his argument descends into crazyville). She chases him outside to save Wendy’s consciousness and literally goes out on a limb for the girl, crawling on a construction beam to get to the wedge. Conveniently, Boyd and Ballard have figured out where Alpha’s lair is by this point and Ballard manages to position himself right under Echo, catching the wedge as it falls and saving the girl. Alpha escapes (thus setting up the chase to continue should there be a next season).

Back at the Dollhouse, Ballard agrees to contract for DeWitt to help track down Alpha, but only if November’s contract is voided and she gets to return to her own life, which was pretty sweet and unexpected of Ballard to do, and proves that, in some small way, he did care about Mellie, even though she was never real. And Echo? She gets wiped clean, at least for the foreseeable future.

I’d be surprised if Fox gives Dollhouse a second season, but with such a strong sweep (save for “Haunted”) heading into the finale, they’d be remiss not to. It’s not the smartest show on TV, but it tries hard enough to be. And I’d rather watch something with which I can engage than something that doesn’t ask me to at all.

The Husband:

Hell, I can ignore about half of the Dollhouse episodes and still be confident enough with the other half, especially the last two and the Rashomon episode, to demand a second season. Just like Buffy and Angel, it took its time to get its intelligence and cleverness past the network and finally become a true Whedon show, one of big ideas, big laughs and big action. While I felt the first handful of episodes really talked down to its viewers (something that FOX surprisingly does not do very often with its dramas, and far less so than the #1 network, CBS), it finally started asking us to put the pieces together, and play along with the show as it progressed through its actual mytharc.

As I didn’t really give a crap about this show for a few weeks, I was surprised at how emotional I felt during this finale, especially during the Alpha flashbacks. This may have a great deal to do with how much I have grown to love Amy Acker over the last nine months while I watched Angel, but also my extreme amount of respect for Alan Tudyk as an actor ever since I saw him in A Knight’s Tale. (It took me another three years to discover that he wasn’t British.) The moment he slashed up Whiskey’s face was probably the series’ best moment, one of both great despair and, in a really fucked up way, love. I’m so glad I called the fact that Whiskey only became Dr. Saunders after she was slashed up, and that she wasn’t necessarily the second Doll, and that it in turn gave me a reason as to why Dr. Saunders would be afraid of Alpha, even if she wouldn’t have remembered him as an activated active and not as Whiskey.

While my wife geeks out on cyberpunk, I’m more interested in the broader concept of a soul, or in this case, how despite being a superpersonality, Alpha original form, Carl Craft, tends to dominate and thus fucks up the rest of the Dollhouse by basically being Jack the Ripper. It explains away some of the contradictions in Alpha’s “quest” versus his own killer instinct, the highbrow and lowbrow of what’s going down in that fried brizzain.

Ballard still sucks, though, but now that he’s in cahoots with the Dollhouse, maybe he can redeem himself as a character if the show gets renewed.

Which brings me to the renewal question. I wholeheartedly think that had FOX not dumped it on Friday nights, pairing it with the sinking second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, it would have definitely earned a second season. Can you imagine how Fringe would do on such a shitty night with such a shitty pairing? Why not put Dollhouse on Mondays after either House or Bones (the ever-shifting hits of different proportions)? I think going up against Heroes, which some might consider stupid, would actually be a great concept. Heroes is hemorrhaging viewers each week, viewers who’d do better with the similar-but-better Dollhouse, so FOX could easily snag those viewers away, viewers who’d perhaps prefer something a bit more rewarding. And at 9, it could basically take all of those viewers who love Chuck at 8 but ignore Heroes (…as I raise my hand…), because Chuck was designed for Whedonites, the smart nerdy crowd who’d follow Adam Baldwin anywhere. It’s a dirty tactic, sure, but it’s not a new concept.

Come on. Even if many great shows have failed ratings-wise this season, at least they were given a second chance after the WGA strike. Money is money, so wouldn’t you love to capture the intelligent 18-34 bracket who are smart enough to have a disposable income? Because those people are called Whedonites.

The Wife:

I have mixed feelings about the most recent installment of Dollhouse, and that’s odd to say considering this is the penultimate episode that will be airing. But I couldn’t stand the first half of this episode. The Sleeping Beauty story was far too heavy handed, and the sections at the beginning with the young Susan meeting the older, wiser “best possible future” version of herself were the most insufferable of all. It’s perfectly fine to allude to the fairy tale (and I think there ultimately was a good payoff for its use at the end, albeit one that I think produces a very complicated reading), but it isn’t fine to lay that allusion on so thick that it isn’t an allusion anymore and it becomes completely insulting to your audience.

Echo-as-Susan tells little Susan to think of herself as the prince when she reads the story, to think that Briar Rose willed the prince into being, thus saving herself, but in the end, it’s Alpha that imprints Echo/Caroline or whomever she is with that personality, and I am uncertain what we’re supposed to assume about his act of heroism here. I think the best and most likely reading is that Caroline made a pact with Alpha before they both entered the Dollhouse to somehow destroy it from the inside, with Alpha “malfunctioning” and going rogue in order to manipulate Ballard into letting him back in so he could save Caroline, which is the personality I’m presuming he imprinted Echo with, prior to their make-out session. However, does that count as Briar Rose/Echo “dreaming” her prince/Alpha into being, and thus saving herself? I suppose it does, since the plot was hatched long before she became one of many sleeping beauties in the Dollhouse.

So, completely insufferable Sleeping Beauty allusion aside, once Ballard and Alpha-as-Stephen A. Koepler-who-designed-the-Dollhouse enter into the inner sanctum, things got really good. My husband has long since wondered why the Dollhouse has such a terrible security system, and I came to the same conclusion with this episode. Even thought the place is underground, that doesn’t mean a secret corporation should be so damned easy to access! This place has barely a fraction of the kind of security protocols a bank vault has, so it’s basically been begging for Alpha to come back and slaughter everyone, etc.

I told you not to touch my organic, medicinal, personal-use carrots!

I told you not to touch my organic, medicinal, personal-use carrots!

It is, however, pretty clever on Ballard’s part to break up with Mellie in order to track her back to the main site of the Dollhouse, and then to track down the man who designed the sustainable environmental life support system that an underground building would need . . . and much more clever on Alpha’s part to engineer Paul’s manipulation to get himself back in. And even cleverer to affect such a horrible, annoying personality as to not arise any suspicions that he may, in fact, be a killer Doll.

There were some great payoffs once Ballard and Alpha were inside the Dollhouse as well. I really liked the moment where Alpha refuses to go down the stairs that don’t have risers for fear something will reach out and grab him, which was reiterated when Ballard battles Boyd and Echo reaches out to grab Ballard’s ankles and trip him. This was, perhaps, the best payoff to that Sleeping Beauty story, as Echo (basically asleep as a human being) manages to defend herself. I also enjoyed Alpha’s confrontation with Claire Saunders, as he lovingly fondles the face he carved up, moments after taking a blade to Victor’s face.

There was also some good misdirection before these wonderful reveals occurred, in which some Alpha-like murders turn up in Tucson and so Adele imprints Mr. Dominic’s consciousness onto Victor in order to get access to his USB files. There’s a wonderful moment when Dominic realizes what’s happened to him and he cannot handle being uploaded into another body, which is probably the first true cyberpunk crisis I’ve seen on this show. (Also, the actor who plays Victor does a pretty good Reed Diamond impression.) Dominic-as-Victor suggests they look for Alpha in Tucson, so they send Sierra out there to examine the body as a forensic biologist . . . and she discovers that the body was killed in L.A. and brought to Tucson and that it’s the body of one Stephen A. Koepler, which was a stellar reveal as Alpha had done such a convincing job of being Keopler until this point.

Also, I definitely got some confirmation for my theory that Claire is an Active when Dominic screams out “Whiskey” and she shirks away, trying to pass it off as though he just wanted a drink. I find it hard to believe that the folks who run the Dollhouse would be ignorant of their own naming conventions, so perhaps Claire is a Doll made by someone else, masquerading as a real person? (Whiskey, by the way, is the phonetic equivalent of W, the letter right after V for Victor.) If she’s Whiskey, then I have no idea how the Dollhouse chooses to name its Dolls. I had assumed they went in alphabetical order, in chronological sequence, which would make Alpha the first and Zulu the last. Surely, I thought that Claire would have really been Bravo, someone with the Dollhouse so long that the other Dolls would have no idea she was one of them. But she’s Whiskey. And I no longer know if there is a logical system in place for the naming of Dolls. Curious, that. But mark my words: Claire Saunders is an Active. And her name is Whiskey.

Because the end of this episode was so damned good, I’ll try my best to forget that the beginning of it ever happened. I am really looking forward to the upcoming season/series finale, but it’s a pity we won’t get to see Felicia Day’s to-be-unaired 13th episode until the DVD release.

The Wife:

I think my husband will most definitely disagree with me, but I was very much not into this whole “solve your own murder/attend your own funeral”-Agatha Christie-Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous-style plot in the most recent edition of Dollhouse. He said something to me during the show that if he were to use the Dollhouse, he’d be using it to solve mysteries, which is fine and all, just not this mystery. Just not this way.

I’ve been reading Thomas Foster’s Souls of Cyberfolk: Posthumanism as Vernacular Theory and I have come to realize that the interesting things about Dollhouse, to me, reside in the fact that it’s constantly bordering on some really heavy theory and criticism regarding cyberpunk fiction tropes and, more importantly, issues of posthumanism. I’ve sadly not read William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, but in Foster’s critical study of posthumanist bodies, I realized that the entire concept of Dollhouse has its roots in Neuromancer’s Molly, who rents her cyborg body out for money for people to upload their own consciousness into. She’s a meat puppet, a kind of cyber prostitute. And so are Echo, Sierra, Victor and November.

It's such a shame that these bodies are frail and weak.

It's such a shame that these bodies are frail and weak.

When Adele’s friend Margaret is uploaded into Echo’s body after her death, she sets about on the plan she’d conceived one year prior to her death (when she was rich and suspicious) to reintegrate herself into her family as another person, Julia. She would be a ghost at her own funeral. I think there could have been something really cool with the concept of uploading a dead person into an Active and then having to hunt down that person when they realize they can have “eternal” life as an uploaded consciousness in a new body, but Margaret instead went to her second death voluntarily, citing that she knew Adele would easily catch her. That’s consistent with her character, yes, but I’m surprised that more Dollhouse clients haven’t thought about uploading their consciousnesses to Dollhouse files and making arrangements to have their personas uploaded into new bodies from time to time, allowing them to experience life after life. That is, after all, a major trope in posthuman narratives, the idea that bodies are unimportant, only as vehicles for consciousness and that eternal life is achieved not through deity, but through technology.

Dollhouse is always skirting these tropes, but never really engaging with them. I don’t find this problematic, just curious. I’d have liked the “solve your own murder” plot more if it were attached to another character, something that didn’t involve race horses and old money and Oedipal complexes, but something more criminal, something darker. Something engaging and, most of all, something in Eliza Dushku’s tough-gal range. She wasn’t nearly as bad in this episode as the guy who played Margaret’s son was, though. He is the worst on-camera cryer. Truly.

The Husband:

Yes, I proclaimed halfway through the 42 minutes that I really liked the episode so far, and got a very funny look from my wife in response. I am quite aware that the episode was silly and majorly un-Whedon (even though one of his brothers was a co-writer), but for some reason I really gravitated toward it. It felt like it was from a different show, but that’s not entirely a bad thing due to the show’s central conceit. Let’s put it this way – it felt like a good episode of another show. It was simply that I felt it was a good use of the Dollhouse, and that ten episodes in I think that the detective episodes capture my interest the most. (Except for the mystery of who’s shooting at the pop star. That sucked balls.) If we’re talking about the best detective story this show has had, it would obviously be last week’s episode as the three Actives crossed stories, and that is indeed the level each episode should be aiming for. I’m just sick of how many plots revolve around Actives malfunctioning, because it’s already old hat.

Or maybe I like stories where spirits return to stalk their family post-death, like Hello Again or Chances Are. I’m sure there are more serious films about the same thing from better directors than, say, Emile Ardolino or Frank Perry, but my concept of spiritual rebirth is sadly focused entirely on the wacky 1980s.

And the bad cryer? He learned that leftover pain from his short stint on the rightfully canceled Bionic Woman last season. And Convicted. Because that sucked.

The Wife:

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.

Dude, I am so not afraid to cut you.

Dude, I am so not afraid to cut you.

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?

The Husband:

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.

I am just doing my best not to look suspicious! And to cover up for Dan Vassar  . . .

I am just doing my best not to look suspicious! And to cover up for Dan Vassar . . .

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.

(Seriously.)

The Wife:

I am starting to really, really like Fringe‘s MOTW episodes. I know that “Unleashed” was rather silly conceptually, but as far as Fringe‘s MOTWs are concerned, this one was its best written by a mile or two. I attribute this to the writing of Zack Whedon, younger brother of the great Joss, who really stepped up his game as a storyteller here. He also wrote “The Dreamscape” and “The Transformation,” so from at least one of those other episodes I can tell that he and I share an interested in bodies and mutation, but between “The Transformation” and “Unleashed,” I liked this one much better. “Transformation” was conspiracy-driven, and while I really enjoyed the scene where Peter lies their way to safety because it had great tension and great use of character, “Unleashed” did the same thing with two characters.

Chiefly, by surrendering Charlie Francis to the attack of the Giant Hybrid Gila Bat Monster, we were allowed to see Francis as dynamic and valuable to the other characters in this universe, not just as an archetypical G-man figure. We knew Francis and Olivia had been working together a long time, but giving her a reason to have to save him allowed us to humanize him in a way the show has finally successfully done with Olivia. I like Kirk Acevedo’s extremely expressive eyebrows, and that’s usually enough for me in these episodes, but now we know that he’s the kind of person who does such a dangerous job that he may not make it home to the woman he loves more than anything. Seriously, the scene where he’s trying really hard not to cry while he laughs at her lame-ass joke so that she doesn’t worry her that he might die in a very short time? That scene was great. Great for the story, great for the character and great for Kirk Acevedo as an actor.

Well, at least I'm not as dead as that guy.

Well, at least I'm not as dead as that guy.

And then there’s Walter, who was extra nuts in this episode, unusually so, which built up a really dynamic tension leading into the scene in the sewers where he, Olivia and Peter plan to catch the Giant Hybrid Gila Bat Monster so that they can kill it and harvest its mutant blood so they can transfuse Agent Francis with it and save his life, also killing the tiny Giant Hybrid Gila Bat Monster larvae he’s been impregnated with. Mmm. Sexy. (I really liked Walter’s off-the-cuff remark about Francis’ newfound expectant state: at least he wasn’t impregnated the traditional way. Can you imagine being raped by a Giant Hybrid Gila Bat Monster? Not cool. Not sexy.) I can honestly say that even though Walter’s behavior should have led me to expect the unexpected, I was thoroughly surprised when he downed that vial of stolen monster poison and locked Peter and Olivia behind a sewer grate (that’s a really advanced sewer, that has monster-proof grates with locks . . .) so that he could kill the monster himself. Even if he died while doing it, it would be a fitting sacrifice, as, per usual, Walter had once worked on a hybrid monster but never really got those plans off the ground. (He hadn’t accounted for super-immune bat DNA, the secret ingredient of sorts in this wicked Giant Hybrid Gila Bat Monster.) While the creation of the monster had nothing really to do with Walter’s research, the very notion that someone he’s close to could be hurt by his years as a mad scientist galvanizes him for heroic sacrifice. I like this side of Walter; the side that’s sane enough to realize when he’s made tremendous mistakes.

Even outside of Walter’s excellent character moment, I honestly didn’t expect the larvae twist and was extremely excited to see those corpses burst forth with thousands of wriggly little monster babies, and that’s why I’m so impressed by “Unleashed.” Even though it adds nothing to the mytharc of the show, it was surprising and unexpected – and that’s quite a compliment coming from someone who watches as much TV as I do. A bajillion kudos to Zack Whedon on this one. (Husband Note: Show co-creator J.R. Orci co-wrote the episode, but it’s always fun to inflate the brother of a TV game-changer than the dude whose brother co-wrote The Legend of Zorro.)

It was also an interesting episode for me because it is not only the second Fringe episode to deal with hybridity, but also the second to deal with pregnancy. As I previously wrote, the pregnant body is site of contention regarding bodily autonomy. So, too, is being a host for incubating larvae. Having the role of the impregnated fall on a male character instead of a female one was an interesting reversal, and I like the idea of creating a male body that reads similarly regarding issues of autonomy and the self. You might say that because of his monster-incubation, Charlie is somewhat feminized in this episode, and, indeed, he is reduced to a state of powerlessness, which is traditionally the female role in a monster narrative. The irony is not lost on him that he and his wife had been thinking about having children prior to this incident. I liked the revival of this show’s narrative concern with the genesis of things, and while I am wholly disturbed by it, I hope Fringe continues to throw me these little thought-nuggets that I might somehow be able to use in my research. There’s something very problematic about pregnancy, genesis and gestation in sci-fi narratives, and I find that extremely interesting. Way more interesting than any commentary on hybridity and animal research that this episode may have also contained.

The Husband:

Freaky-ass episode, to be sure, but also extremely funny.

Funny Thing #1: The monster-vs-the-child game of cat-and-mouse at the playground, where the child’s mother represents the ultimate in parenting fail. Girl, your instincts are way off if you don’t realize there’s a Giant Hybrid Gila Bat Monster in a playground tube with your cute young boy.

Funny Thing #2: After they try to put poison into Charlie’s bloodstream in order to destroy the tiny little larvae, they become worried when Charlie’s bloodstream shows signs of being poisoned. Uhm…yes. You put the poison in there.

And if you were wondering who played Charlie’s wife, like I was, and was racking your brain as to who this chick-who-looks-like-Dreama-Walker-plus-ten-years was, and why did I feel such sympathy when I saw her face, a little research clears up everything. Her name is Kiersten Warren, and she played Nora Huntington, Tom Scavo’s pre-Lynette baby mama on Desperate Housewives. You may recall Laurie Metcalf ending her life with a bullet to the chest during the supermarket hostage situation in s3, leaving the Scavos with her terrible and conniving daughter. But she was far more annoying then and had black hair, so I’m not surprised it took me a while to figure out who the actress was. (She was also apparently a regular on Saved by the Bell: The College Years, which I didn’t watch, and also a regular on Life Goes On, which I did watch but don’t believe I can name one actor on that show…[research research] What? That was Patti LuPone who played the mother on that show? Man, was my seven-year-old brain tiny back then. That’s something I think I’d remember. And it totally explains why she has always seemed eerily familiar to me over the rest of my life.)