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Dollhouse: Needs

Dominic: "It's easy to become attached to your assigned active. In fact, it's necessary. But don't think of them as children. Think of them as pets."

Like dogs that might need to be put down, as Sophie the handler said. Pampered pets that can't be allowed out on the streets alone.

This episode was terrific. Mostly because of Victor. The real Victor is obviously a take-charge kind of guy; he was the one calling the shots, telling them all to fake tabula rasa, jumping a guard to get a badge, and so on. And there was something so romantic about Victor's love for Sierra, even when he doesn't know who he is, or even who she is. I was surprised at how much I liked Victor, and how much I wanted him to kiss Sierra. Maybe I'm more into this show than I thought.

Adelle said they were all volunteers, but I just can't see Victor voluntarily signing away five years of his life. And Sierra certainly didn't volunteer. She was sold into slavery for turning a man down. Nolan (played by Vincent Ventresca, who used to be the Invisible Man on the Sci-Fi Channel) managed to make me utterly despise him in the space of about two minutes. Great performance. I hope they bring him back and Sierra makes mincemeat out of him.

Caroline's defining characteristic is apparently her need to right wrongs and rescue the unjustly imprisoned. The parallel between her need to free the caged animals in the previous episode and the way she ran back into her own prison to free her fellow inmates was actually rather heroic. She couldn't know it was pointless.

The episode opened with a wonderful Buffyesque dream sequence in which Caroline really was Paul's dream girl, literally as well as metaphorically. I thought it was interesting that Paul dreamed about both Caroline and Melanie, as if he connected them in his subconscious. I was confused about Caroline calling Paul in the end. How'd that happen?

Claire's motivations were a complete mystery to me. It was all her idea, allowing their four problem actives to have what they needed. Was it compassion? Was she trying to save their lives? Was it strictly clinical, Claire doing her job? Was it part of her secret master plan to bring down the Dollhouse? All of the above, or none?

What I found most disturbing about this episode where the pets got loose was Victor's revelation that the real him was always trapped inside, like he was in a living nightmare. Shuddery.

Bits and pieces:

-- Why put four of the five troubled actives in the same hub? They were in the same hub before, so it wasn't just for this particular experiment. Wouldn't splitting them up be smarter? For that matter, why "floor coffins" at all? Do they have to be airtight so they can pump drugs into them?

-- Caroline kept mentioning that everything would be okay if she got to the mountains. What's in the mountains? Is it a place or a person?

-- The real Sierra (was her name Rhea?) was self-sufficient and wry, insistent that the four of them stick together and help each other.

-- November was much like Melanie. She probably is a volunteer. I can't imagine how I'd feel if my child had died. She was also a bit unpredictable and fun, like Melanie. Loved the thing about the co-ed showers.

-- We know more about Sierra's and November's lives, but not Victor's. Other than that he's a sports fan. I wonder if Victor knew Sierra before? Did he end up in the Dollhouse because of her?

-- Apparently, you have to be blanked out before you go in the chair, or your brain implodes. Caroline almost made it happen to Topher. You know, that would be a perfect karmic end for him. Make it so.

-- Topher is a pain even in meetings. I feel bad about constantly trashing Topher, but it's proof that Fran Kranz is a good actor if we all hate his guts, right?

-- Loved the wardrobe scene. Plus it was a great way to use something that was certainly already there for the show.

-- Adelle spoke fondly of the real Caroline, that it was just what she'd do, go back in for everyone. Again suggesting they had a personal relationship.

-- When the lights were out, Topher had a glow stick. More kiddy stuff.

-- What's in the attic? Therapy? Torture? Obedience training?


Victor: "Who the hell are you?"
Echo: "Hey, I woke up in a five star floor coffin just like you, pal."

Mike: "They probably want to study our reproductive systems."
November: "Sex with aliens?"
Victor: "Come on. Who doesn't want to put alien guy back in the box?"
Was that the real Mike? Or did they just program him to be annoying so that the other four would accept leaving him behind?

Woman: "Good morning! We're having banana pancakes for breakfast today."
Tango: "I like pancakes."
Victor: "We're all gonna die."

Sierra: "What you did to me, putting me in that hell. What did I ever do to you?"
Nolan: "You said no. And nobody ever says no to me."

Quite possibly our first four star episode. Hard to tell in a first season, though. Comments? What did you think?

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. One of the things that I love about this show is that you never know what's real, and what is being created by the Dollhouse. So I'm not entirely convinced that Sierra was sold into slavery by this Noah guy.

    At the end, Adelle (? Claire? need to go back and see) was talking about how these particular dolls needed to deal with their unresolved issues, and that Sierra "needed to confront the man that took away her power". Its entirely possible that they created the Noah character and memory so that she would have a chance to deal with her rape experience by her handler.

    Otherwise, it really does feel like Sierra's had too much victimization for any one character, especially considering that when she's not "wiped" she seems to be able to take care of herself. She doesn't come across like a victim at all, and I think it would make perfect sense that the handler rape is another way to illustrate the evil of the Dollhouse.

    That being said, I didn't really enjoy the episode that much, and I realized why: I really don't like Caroline's character at all. I know that she's supposed to be seen as someone who wants to save ppl/animals/living beings, but she comes across as condescending and self-righteous. They haven't built up Rossum enough to make me want someone to break in and expose the company. Yes, they've told us its evil, but there hasn't been a build up or subtle ways of feeling its soullessness, like the way we felt about SD-6, Dharma, or Cavil.

    And I think therein lies my problem with this show, which is not necessarily Joss' fault. I feel like we're being bashed over the head with obvious stuff, as opposed to the Whedonesque, emotional subtleties that draws out intelligent viewing. I love it when I "get" a connection or symbolism on Buffy or BSG. With Dollhouse, I barely pay attention.

    I know that some of it could be Fox, or even Joss being burned by having cult hits that appeal to intelligent audiences being canceled quickly. In this day and age, a show is barely given 5 eps before the plug is pulled, so I know its a tough balance. It doesn't make me miss it any less, though.

  2. I didn't love this episode for many of the reasons you mentioned, Serena+Pumpkin, especially Caroline as a radical animal liberationist, which doesn't quite have the same moral clarity as slaying vampires (although getting the Dolls out was a bad idea with good intentions). Don't get me wrong, I'm pro-animal and generally anti-corporation, but like you said, the Big Bad hasn't been clarified enough for us to quake in our stylish yet affordable boots.

    But I've just got to admire Victor's acting. In the first two episodes, when I though he was just a Russian mob flunky, I thought to myself: "wow, I'll bet that actor's really Russian, and really that much of a slimy fool." Then, last week, I totally bought him as an NSA agent. And this week he seemed genuine and like a great leader (maybe ex-military?). Either way, he's got me completely convinced with everything he does.

    I do wonder how much of what they saw was really them or just fake memories. The mountains Caroline kept seeing were from an early episode where she was a midwife. And was Katie just a stand-in for the loss of Agent Ballard?

  3. . I was confused about Caroline calling Paul in the end. How'd that happen?

    My guess is that the inside person snuck it into Echo's programming for this event. So everyone else just thinks the dolls were normal but wiped, so events played out as predicted. But Echo gets a little bit extra to call Paul, allowing the inside person to get another message out.

    I really like this show, but I think I'm grasping for something "real" to anchor myself. You can't trust anything the show shows you. In some ways, it's missing restrictions on what the bad guys can do. Like in Buffy, vampires had to be invited in, could not stand sunlight, and were damaged by holy objects. Buffy played a lot with those conventions, but they were rules which governed the show. But for Dollhouse, is there anything the dollhouse can't do?

  4. Wasn't there a part in "Echoes" showing that Victor used to be a soldier? If so, that could explain why he signed up with the Dollhouse. It's not that hard to believe that he could have seen or done some stuff that he didn't want to remember. Also explains his familiarity with the military code names and how he knew the best way to escape the enemy camp.

    I liked this episode quite a bit, it was probably the best one so far. But I'm kind of bothered by the fact that the Dollhouse seems to be controlling everything. How am I supposed to care about the characters' struggle against the Dollhouse when their efforts are doomed to failure from the very beginning? Or not even failure, not really - calling it a failure would imply there was some possibility of success. Yet everytime someone does something agaist the Dollhouse, it turns out the Dollhouse sees everything, knows everything, and the whole situation was probably engineered by them in the first place.

    Like Rohan, I'm missing a basic set of rules. I'd like to at least know how can Dollhouse be hurt and who's in a position to hurt them. I'd like to see someone achieve at least some small victory against the Dollhouse. Or at least to see someone get in a position where we could reasonably believe that they could achieve such victory later. I need to see something that would at least establish that there is point to the fight, that it is possible to achieve something without the Dollhouse knowing all about it.

    In short, what I'm missing is some credible threat to the Dollhouse. So far the basic setup seems to be "the Dollhouse is controlling everything and nothing happens without their approval", which is good for them but kind of boring to watch.

  5. Michael, I remembered as well about Victor's flashes of soldier life in Echoes. He was trying to stop what looked like a civilian from going somewhere, but the civilian didn't listen and was blown up. It was kind of hard to tell but I replayed the flashes a few times.

    Also Michael, I believe you've already had your credible threat introduced in the form of Alpha. He has all the info and resources he needs to threaten the Dollhouse and it seems like they know nothing about his whereabouts so far. I'm sure we'll get some Alpha screentime in the finale if nothing else.

    I was not as enamoured with this episode as I was with Man On The Street. I'd say that was the only 4 star ep so far. My main beef with this one was how artificial it all felt. Since the Dollhouse can take bits of people's memories and implant them into the Dolls, they could have just 'staged' the important closure related memories that the Dolls needed. For example, November could have been implanted with memories of someone kneeling at her daughter's grave.

    Since we saw in ep1 what happens when Dolls are implanted with tramatic memories, these closure memories would likely have just as positive an effect. It would also be a much more likely MO for the Adelle who seems to want to control everything. I found it Extremely hard to believe they would let tabula rasa dolls escape out into the public - as was mentioned I think by Dominic - anything could have happened to them.

    Another thing I thought was off about this ep was that we have had no scenes where November was shown to be a priority case for 'closure'. We've barely seen her in Tabula Rasa so I spent much of the ep wondering how the Dollhouse knew she needed closure.

    Victor's closure also seemed very artificial - he needed to kiss Sierra? I think if he's in love with her he probably needs to do alot more than that!

    I know part of the problem was that Claire and the others didn't know exactly what the Dolls needed but having decided they needed 'closure' I thought it was a little unlikely that Topher could make them fall unconscious when they experienced this 'closure'. Really, people can experience closure just by having some therapy. Why didn't they try having a therapist talk to the tabula rasa 4some first?

    This whole episode felt unrealistic to me. I got the impression that the last scene was Echo calling Paul of her own volition - without any mole adding that program - otherwise she wouldn't have given such vague info. The mole specifically said (through Caroline's body) we can't tell you where the Dollhouse is, whereas tabula rasa Echo said on the phone as much as she knew about their location.
    So this scene was pretty unlikely too since she wouldn't have known Paul's number - none of her personalities have had reason to call her.

    *sigh*. I still love the Dollhouse but was miffed by the fakeness of this episode.

  6. Hi Billie,

    LOVE your reviews, have since the early Buffy/Angel days :-) I was thinking the same thing about Victor, I'm liking him almost as much as or more than agent Ballard (which I thought was impossible since I've been a huge Helo fan for years).

    I'm slowly getting more into this one....I see Joss in there more and more each week.

  7. Just to add also....Buffy season 1 was not as stellar as the rest of the series, nor was season one of Angel. Give Joss some time to work his magic! Hopefully Fox will give him that time!

  8. What a lot of terrific and well-thought out comments! Thank you all.

    I have to say that, while I liked this episode a lot, I had a hard time writing about it. This show is different. The concept seems to be flawed because opinions about what's going on are all over the place. I'm also hoping that it gets a second season so we're not left with a lot of unanswered questions and undeveloped plotlines.

  9. I'm just afraid that Dollhouse won't get the chance to get any better. If you read any of the inside blogs and news (see IGN TV and TWOP), you get the very strong impression that Dollhouse won't get renewed.

    My problem with the show so far, is that my reaction is basically "meh." I'd rather have ANY visceral reaction to what happens in the show than that (good, awful, I don't care) - I just can't get myself to really care about any of the characters. Even in the relatively lackluster first season of Buffy, I never had that reaction. I immediately related to the characters and the situation, even as far-fetched as it was. In Dollhouse, nothing is real, and there's no fight (besides Ballard's) to really care about - yet. (I completely agree with the above poster(s) opinions about the lack of "rules" and a concrete base to form a world around - as opposed to this shifting mess we've got)

    I still trust Whedon to turn it around - he's shown that he understands what a good story is, so I'm hopeful for that. However, if Dollhouse doesn't get renewed (and with it's ratings being bad and constantly declining week to week - especially in the coveted 18-25 demo), he won't get the chance. If that happens, I don't see Joss coming back to television for a very long time (like 10 years), if ever (read his interviews for his feelings about television and his interest in internet video and you can see where I'm getting this from). That would just be, well... too bad, I guess.

  10. On first watch, I didn't like this episode a lot. On second, I loved it. Don't know what really happened, but I even downloaded the version with subtitles in Portuguese to watch a third time and not to miss any detail.

    This was the most character-driven episode so far, and I believe what we learned about the four dolls is true. Actually, the whole "giving what they need" was a clever plot device to give the audience information about the characters without using flashbacks.

    Why is true what we saw? Topher confirmed that the mountains memory was real, not a part of the test, and there was no reason for him to lie about that. And why would the Dollhouse give Echo a fake memory of a mountain? They were even surprised that she didn't go with the others (the only problem I have with the episode: it was too convenient that Adelle and/or the security didn't see Echo entering the elevator).

    We know that all Victor remembered about the Dollhouse was true. How he knew Sierra was being abused and couldn't help her. By the way, that's very creepy! The notion that the person is there somewhere, locked in their own body, but unable to to something is terrifying.

    Joss said that there's a limit to use twists like "oh, he's a doll!!!". So, it's hard to think he will constantly lie about who the dolls are. Also, what would be the point of giving the audience more knowledge about the dolls' past only to say later it was all a lie?

    And... I think none of them got closure. All the things that bothers them will eventually resurface.

    As to Caroline, her memory glitch was about the Rossum lab. But when she was looking at the mirror, she remembered what Ballard told her. That must have been the composite event developing, not the glitch. And, then, when she was going through the Dollhouse files (where did she find them?) she catched Paul's name and called him. From the cell of the handler whose ass she kicked?

    The final shot of the "floor coffins" was beautiful (btw, it must be a symbolism of their real personas being buried, but alive). "We stay because we don't know where else to go." Really appropriate (and sad) lyrics.

    Ballard was again boring to watch. Giving him a clue that will lead him to a dead end was done too many times.

    Anyway, great episode. I love our four dolls more than ever now, and want to see them break free. Even if we are not getting a second season (but let's not lose hope: http://www.whedon.info/Dollhouse-Tv-Series-Fox-Leaning.html )

  11. Oh, another confirmation of the memories being real: Boyd and Saunders' dialog. Unless she was lying to him.

  12. Thanks for posting the link to that article, Tom L. That's the first bit of good news I've heard about Dollhouse's ratings and it's chance for renewal in a while and it gives me some hope.

  13. I'm sorry to bring this up, Serena + Pumpkin, since I'm pretty sure that's not the spirit in which you meant it, but when you wrote, "it really does feel like Sierra's had too much victimization for any one character, especially considering that when she's not "wiped" she seems to be able to take care of herself", it seems you're insinuating (perhaps unintentionally) that only weak people get abused. I've volunteered at shelters and such, and I can tell you with confidence that someone "able to take care of herself" can be hurt with as much cruelty as anyone else. It's not the victim's fault, and that's something we have a really hard time convincing people wo've suffered, so I promised myself I'd speak out whenever it comes up. I don't mean this as an accusation, and I hope I've not offended you.

    I was happy that Dollhouse, essentially a show about abuse and victimization, took the time to acknowledge this notion when it finally gave us an origin for Sierra.

    What I find intriguing about the series so far is the level of self-delusion involved in running the Dollhouse. Dewitt and, uh, Amy Acker's character (forgot her name) claim to be providing the dolls with closure for their own good, but then they send them right back to the type of abuse that was troubling them in the first plae. Sierra may have confronted the man who took away her power, but she's going to be used like a sex toy again and again by the creep. A similar conclusion could be reached about Echo. It's monstrous, and it's exactly the way abusers justify their actions, and what's disturbing is that the show invites us to sympathize (but not too much) with these awful people and come back for more. It's like we're caught in the loop of an abusive relationship ourselves.

    Or maybe I'm the only one who likes Dewitt and Lennix and keeps getting disappointed by their willigness to use these people that way. Hmm. I think I just discovered something about myself there.

    Oh, one final thing: if you think a kiss wouldn't be enough to bring closure to Victor, I think you're underestimating the power of kiss. To quote Catwoman, they "can be deadly when you mean it".

  14. Interesting premise, though I guess I should've seen it coming.

    The Dolls got to have some closure on some ongoing issues for them - Sierra faced the man responsible for her in the Dollhouse, Echo got to play hero, Victor the role of protector and November grieved for her daughter.

    Caroline is coming across as a poorly defined character (not playing to Dushku's strengths) but would anyone have really blamed her if she had shot either Topher or Adelle? Probably not.

    Adelle predicted Caroline's responses and allowed the whole scenerio to play out accordingly.

    Claire being the one who orchestrated the whole thing was an interesting twist.

    Pity that Caroline and Boyd didn't interact at all. Could've been interesting.

    Paul realised that Caroline left him a message after the bugging incident. That dream was uninspired witg him, Mellie and Echo.

    Still a superb episode though, 9/10.

  15. Very good episode but I wish it would be real, that they would escape.

  16. I'm not a massive fan of this episode, but I continue to enjoy Mellie/November. The curvy girl is more comfortable in the unisex shower than the girl with the physique of a yoga instructor and cheekbones that could cut glass.

    I just don't like Sierra that much. Keeping in mind I'm talking about fiction and NOT real life, I just don't like that she constantly needs to be saved and taken care of. Also, Adelle prides herself on helping people and claiming that her dolls are volunteers. How is Sierra a volunteer if she's been kidnapped into slavery?

    Victor is awesome. I loved his oh so subtle NY accent.

    Interesting that Sierra, Victor, and Echo made assumptions about what was happening to them in the Dollhouse from their real world experiences. Echo went to human guinea pigs, Sierra thought it was rich people getting their rocks off, and Victor thought it had something to do with the military.

    My impression was that Echo called Paul sometime between breaking into the gun case and cutting the power.

  17. Jesus why did Dushku claim ep 6 is where everything turns? It was this episode. I could feel Whedon poring out of it finally


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