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Dollhouse: Belle Chose

Ivy: "Paul is going to take you on a little spree."
Echo: "Shopping or killing? Joke!"

We've come a long way from "Eleanor Penn," haven't we?

The serial killer plot was a transparent metaphor: pushing away real people and surrounding yourself with fakes who play a part. Except Echo isn't quite like the other fakes. She was going to sacrifice herself for those three women. We all play a part, as Shakespeare said, but Echo plays them all: she's the killer and the victim. I was just starting to think that I knew Echo as a character, but now she's got a serial killer in there, too? Is Joss Whedon going somewhere with this? He must be.

The Dollhouse is so screwed up that it's practically not a superscary entity any more. Power failure, mixed up imprints, Uncle Brad walking Victor right out the door, not re-GPSing Victor in the first place. Topher blew the remote wipe (and how could they remote wipe Victor if they couldn't even track him, anyway? That was the hardest to swallow part of the plot). Bunch of total incompetents. Plus, the husband nearly got killed last week and the professor got stabbed this week. At this rate, extreme customer dissatisfaction is going to put the Dollhouse out of business before Paul has a chance to bring it down.

At least Paul got to do something more productive than pimp out Echo. He'd rather interrogate a serial killer than see Echo with a client, and who can blame him when he's so obviously into her? Paul did get pleasure telling "Terry" he had no rights, which has to be a law enforcement fantasy. Paul was probably the only person who got his wishes fulfilled in the Dollhouse this week.

I thought for awhile that all the professor wanted to do was fulfill a fantasy of getting a brainless co-ed to appreciate Chaucer, but no; he wanted forbidden fruit with an intellectual twist. He didn't deserve to get stabbed in the neck for it (considering he chose to do it this way instead of victimizing a real student). At least Echo didn't kill him, huh? And I'll repeat something from last week: how could your standard everyday college professor afford Echo?

Echo as Kiki was a genuine hoot, but Victor as Kiki completely stole the show. Even the plaid shirt and the khakis didn't ruin the effect. And that was after successfully mimicking that creepy nerdy serial killer. Love Victor. Love, love love.

Clever dialogue, interesting plot. I still don't have a real passion for Dollhouse, but it's intelligent, well-done science fiction and I'm enjoying every episode. And I'm bummed to report that there are cancellation rumors. It's a bad sign when we start getting them in freaking October.

Bits and pieces:

-- The title "belle chose" means "pretty thing." I think. We could assign several meanings for it, but I'm going to choose Tahmoh in hot civilian clothes. Too many years of seeing him in uniform, what can I say.

-- Just like Warehouse 13 a few weeks ago, they cast the brilliant Michael Hogan (Battlestar) and didn't use him. I wanted more than a twitchy undefined nonentity.

-- The sarcastic manager of the Dollhouse beauty salon was a lot of fun. The way Paul was staring at Echo in the salon? He's got it bad. I got a charge out of Paul looking for Echo in the unisex shower and getting an eyeful, too. "Would you like a... towel?"

-- Adelle mentioned briefly that they were searching for Claire, their "missing employee."

-- Does Echo have mallet-sized bruises now? Tank top in the coda, and no.

-- I did like the hint that Adelle made certain Terry had no brain left and would never, ever wake up.

-- No new episode next week. The previews were for Sierra's backstory in two weeks, and Summer Glau's advent in three. Something to look forward to. That is, if the show isn't canceled by then.


Topher: "It could also give him a man reaction."
Adelle: "I choose not to hear that."

Topher: "I have serious ethical problems trying to wake him up."
Boyd: "Topher has ethical problems. Topher."
Topher: "Way to land it."

Handler: "I won't even do this for my wife."
Paul: "I was trained at Quantico."

Kiki: "I probably never should have taken this course to begin with, but I figured it was mid evil lit, not advanced evil, how hard could it be? So I skipped intro to evil or whatever, but how is it I get an F when this guy that we're reading, Chauncey, can't even spell?"
Professor: "It's Chaucer. It's Middle English."
Echo: "Right. Like hobbits, or something."
Professor: "As I said, my office is open, if you'd care to discuss it."
Echo: "Yeah, I care to discuss it. I'm like the scarlet lady with the F on her chest."
Professor: "A."
Echo: "If only!"

Paul: "Terry Marion Karrens? Any part of that a boy's name?"

Echo: "Are you feeling my Bath-y girl power? I'm pretty sure I'm feeling your boy power. Now let's talk about F."

Boyd: "And what, just leave him out there in his doll state, totally wiped?"
Topher: "He'll be an empty-headed robot wandering around Hollywood. He'll be fine."

Three out of four stars,

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


  1. This article at Geek Buffet about Dollhouse says, and I quote, "Regardless of its ability to connect emotionally or aesthetically ... it is the most intellectually engaging show on American television today, and might be the most cerebrally significant series in history."

  2. I owe a bunch of Dollhouse comments, b/c I just caught up with the show last night. I find it disheartening to hear that there are already cancelation rumors, just when the show is really starting to get good. I think most of us Whedon fans figured that since the show would most likely be canceled after this season, Joss would take the 13 eps and do it his way. The 3 eps of this season so far have been way better than almost anything from Season 1, where he was constrained by trying to please Fox (with the exception of Man on the Street, and possibly Epitapth One, which I haven;t seen yet).

    I hope that Fox will at least let it have its 13 ep run. There's really not another show that's going to bring higher ratings in that time slot, and they would probably regain *some* of the respect of Whedon fans.

    That being said - on to the ep...

    Belle Chose was far and away the best of Season 2 so far. The plot was interesting, things moved briskly, and the characters were more empathetic and real. There were points in Season 1 when I was watching the show, *trying* to find something that I liked about it, but sort of sitting there like, "oh get on with it already."

    I don't know what Eliza did over the summer, but her acting skills have exponentially increased. I never thought she was a bad actress, actually - everything else I'd seen her in I've liked her - I just figured that the format of the show might have stretched her beyond her range. Whatever it is, she's been great, seriously great. If she had been this good last season, it would have been far less painful, and perhaps ppl woould have gelled to Echo a bit more.

    Also, I'm digging Topher, but I'll talk more about him for Vows.

    Without question, Victor was the star tonight. He's always been good - tonight he was scary good, no pun intended. Which brings me to the best part of the show: IT WAS FUNNY! I have sort of been annoyed with ppl who have expected Dollhouse to be funnier, lighter, more Joss-y, mostly because the show is not supposed to be funny. Duh. However, there was a deft mix of humor that didn't seem forced or take away from the gravitas of the episode or the show tonight. THIS is what we come to Joss for - not LOL gags, like "Glee" (yes, shameless plug), but for being able to mix flawed characters with social commentary and snarky humor. That being said, I was rolling on the floor with Kiki with the professor (medium evil) and Victor in the club. But I think my favorite was when Adelle saw Victor clutching Paul and drolly asked, "Made a new friend?"

    Re: your comment about the Dollhouse security (or lack thereof), I didn't really see that as a plot hole. First, there is someone on the inside sabotaging it - an angle that hasn't been as played up as much this season. Second, what Topher was doing to wipe Victor had a HIGH risk of going wrong. That was the whole point. Echo attacking the husband last week was a consequence of pushing things beyond what science had known until now - underscoring the dangers of playing with ppl's bodies, and Echo has always had something about her that makes her glitch.

    Sorry for the long comments - I've gotten into a full-on review habit - but those are my 2 cents.

  3. Actually, I disagree with Serena + Pumpkin. It took a long time for me to admit it to myself, but I've finally come to terms with what I don't like in the series: Eliz(s)a's acting. The character of Echo should have been given to an actress with better range. If you compare her performance as Terry to that of the guy who plays Victor, you can see it. Victor really felt and looked like a psycho, as he looked like a little girl (not a homossexual, a real girl)after the swap. When it was Echo's turn, she didn't look crazy or dangerous at all. She looked bland.

    As much as I loved Faith, and liked her performance in Buffy/Angel, as Echo she's not doing much to me. I'm much more interested in Paul, Claire, Topher and Adele.

  4. Great review. Just a couple of points, though.

    - 'Belle chose' was Chaucer's term for vagina. I think there's also a pun in there about how the professor wants Echo to choose to use what he says as her feminine power but she's not really choosing

    - As for Adele's hint that Terry wouldn't wake up, if you watch closely you'll see that Paul killed him at the end. Echo says that she thinks he dreams. Paul responds 'well he doesn't anymore'. Then the camera turns to Terry. He's breathing and then he stops breathing. I think they needed to make that a bit more obvious because if I'd picked it up on first viewing it would have been just about the best bit of hte episode

  5. Serena, you can leave comments any length that you like. They're terrific.

    I've just realized that Eliza Dushku gets a wide range of comments on her acting skills. Some people feel she's a terrific actress, and some think she's a cupcake. I wonder why this is? I think she's good; I like Eliza a lot. And I think Gustavo is right that Enver Gjokaj (Victor) is better. He's a scene stealer.

    Anonymous -- thank you so much for your comments on the phrase "belle chose" and on Paul killing Terry. I watched the episode twice, too, and I'm surprised that I missed Paul killing Terry. Where was I?

  6. I'm in between Gustavo and Serena on the question of Eliza's acting. I think she does a fine job with what she's given, and I think that she's typically given characters that are within her range.

    But I'm not sure I can compare her to the guy who plays Victor: I think he's just in a whole different league. I am actually hard-pressed to think of another actor who convinces me that he's a new character so quickly and easily. He just astonishes me week after week.

    Nice info on the 'belle chose', Anonymous. Kiki was really the Wife of Bath, right? (I know her name is Alisoun, but the same character.)

  7. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, comparing Eliza to Enver. That's like comparing Bon Jovi to Pavoratti - both good in their own way, but not in the same dimension :-)

    I forgot to add that the Chaucer/Alisoun gig was actually quite clever. We all thought that the dirty professor was looking for just another ditzy co-ed, but his fantasy was the ultimate seductress in medium evil literature. Still pervy, but in a cool, can't get anywhere else pervy.

  8. Bon Jovi to Pavoratti is exactly it, Serena!

  9. As much as I adore her Eliza Dushku is an actress who seems to struggle whenever she’s taken out of her comfort zone. It’s tempting to often wonder what the show would be like with a different actress in the lead. Eliza only got the role because she asked Joss to come up with a show for her to star in and he gave her Dollhouse.

    In all honesty I believe if Whedon had develop the series on his own without Eliza and Fox he would have gone with a different actress for Echo, possibly an unknown with no audience preconceptions like the all the other dolls.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Although I agree that sometimes Dushku gets a role that is out of her range, blaming her for poor rating is just annoying and incorrect.

    Firstly, actors can improve. And usually if they look good enough they get more leeway. Just look at all the trash around you.

    Secondly, the only one that makes or breaks a show is the director and the publicist. They are the ones responsible and not anyone else. In my option, the immediate classification of the show as a "Joss" show, and the lack of "audience pulling" episodes is what brought it down. Nothing else. The stand-alone episodes the I usually don't like are the ones that keeps shows like this on air.

    I really hope its not curtains for this show.

    If you got this post twice its just because I corrected my spelling mistakes. :)

  12. This was an enjoyable episode. But it's hard to suspend disbelief when the show has plot contrivances on a weekly basis. I'm done talking about the security system, as now I'm convinced there isn't any.

    The body switch (or brain switch, or whatever) was cool. If it had happened on the Buffyverse, with Willow trying and failing to make a spell to free her friends from possessions, and actually putting Kiki's spirit on Giles, it would've been fantastic. And it would've made total sense. On the Dollverse, not so much.

    While I think it's believable they would try a remote wipe to contain Victor, wouldn't they make sure all their dolls were safe and contained first? And how was that remote wipe done exactly? An specific wave for Victor's brain? And why did it affect Echo? Because of the composite event?

    It was pretty creppy that Echo held some of the crazy guy's personality. I believe if this episode had aired on the correct order, it would have made the crazy-mom-Echo-holding-knife-near-baby scene from "Instinct" a lot more scary. Also, Ballard adjusting to his new job and the comment on Claire's disappearance (please, Adelle, do chase her down) would've made more sense if this episode had been 2x02. I would complain about FOX screwing things up again, but keeping the show on the air is enough to make it up.

    Overall, not really on "bananas" level, but it held my attention. Next episode really looks like bananas, though.

  13. I just wanted to chip in regarding Eliza Dushku. I think a poor performance can hurt a show if it makes it more difficult for viewers to believe (and therefore think about) the reality presented to them. This is especially true of genre shows. Having said that, poor ratings are usually due to a number of factors, not just one person, so I see where you're coming from, WhyMe.

    Count me among those who think Eliza Dushku is out of her depths with this particular role. She's a charismatic presence onscreen, and she knows how to sell a number of different emotions. No one can deny that. The problem for me is that her body language is very distinctive, and it doesn't seem to change when she gets imprinted. How many different personalities shakes their hips and rotate their necks in small cirlcles when they're annoyed? How many prop their chest forward and swing their arms just a bit when they're happy or trying to prove a point? Once you start noticing these things, it gets really distracting, and it actually becomes harder to follow what's going on (not in terms of understanding the plot but of getting emotionally invested).

    Sierra and Victor really stand out as dolls because the actors seem really aware of the way their bodies move from one character/imprint to the next. I don't get that subtlety with Eliza Dushku, and unfortunately I think it's conceptually crucial to the role. I do like her as a performer, but I think her particular acting style is playing against the story. And, yes, I think that and other factors can affect ratings. TV production is a team sport, and everybody counts.

    On a completely unrelated note, "Belle chose!" is also a fairly common expression in French used sarcastically when things go terribly wrong. As an exclamation, it essentially means, "What a mess!" I don't know if it was intentional, but that gives the title a third meaning given the number of things that go awry in the episode and the fact that Topher just created technology that may get the world one step closer to Epitath One.

  14. Wow, Dimitri, I suddenly feel like an idiot.

    Topher did just take us a huge step towards Epitaph One, didn't he? I totally missed it! Remote imprinting, even by mistake...

  15. I hate to jump on the Eliza Dushku bashing bandwagon, but like Gustavo I have come to terms that I simply do not buy into her acting ability on this show. I think her role is incredibly hard and some personalities she pulls off far better than others. And for her role to work you can't notice the difference. That being said, I wouldn't call her unwatchable (maybe due to me being a male) and the supporting cast is quite good.

    I also think it's easy to compare Dollhouse to Whedon's prior work and that's just simply unfair. I give the guy credit for creating such a challenging concept and finding a way to make it (mostly) work. I can see the show improving each week and this episode was no exception. Victor is the man.

    One idea I have to make the show better would be to have Echo find her identity and keep it, thus allowing Dushku to have a solid, consistent character that the viewers can attach to. As of now I simply do not care much about her. But to do so might be against the show's concept completely and kinda seems Alias season 2ish when Sydney brought down SD6.

    Anyhow, I have a feeling that this ramble will be for naught as the show seems destined to be canceled. But hey you never know, maybe those fox execs really do fear the cult audience wrath.

  16. Cancellation schmancellation - http://www.thrfeed.com/2009/10/fox-we-will-air-all-13-dollhouse-episodes.html


    Totally agree about Eliza's acting chops. More Enver please. Dollhouse works so well as an ensemble show... shame that Echo is the focus.

  17. I feel like the show has become so focused on pushing the boundaries further every episode that it seems to be approaching its limits. All of the plot holes seem to be a side effect of this strategy. In addition to what was already mentioned, such as the security problems, didn't Topher say in the first season that a remote wipe was extremely dangerous? I'm assuming that because of this he never had it in his bag of tricks. How did he come up with this method of doing something that is presumable very difficult so quickly if they never considered using it before? Also, if what he said is true and he didn't properly isolate Victor, which would first of all make him incompetant, wouldn't Victor and Echo have both been wiped rather than having their imprints swapped? I also think Echo's been evolving way too much for it to be believable. I understood that the technology is flawed and she's going to glitch sometimes, but now it seems like the wipes are doing absolutely nothing.

    On a different note, isn't Paul supposed to be tracking down Alpha? I don't see that he can be making much headway while working the very full-time job of being Echo's handler.

    Also, I can't help but wonder if the show might have been better if it weren't SO centered around Echo. I know she's the main character, but Buffy was the main character of that show and she was really a side character in several of the episodes. I was hopeful at the beginning of the episode because I thought it would be interesting to have a main plot that didn't involve Echo and a side plot that did. Then the side plot seemed too boring, and I thought, "Oh no, they're going to do something ridiculous to bring Echo into the main plot." And they did.

  18. Another thing, why didn't Kiki notice she somehow changed into a man? Terry noticed right away, and I would think that would be hard to miss.

  19. "In addition to what was already mentioned, such as the security problems, didn't Topher say in the first season that a remote wipe was extremely dangerous? I'm assuming that because of this he never had it in his bag of tricks. How did he come up with this method of doing something that is presumable very difficult so quickly if they never considered using it before?"

    I can create a computer program that breaks into people's computers and forces a system update. It would make the world a safer place if successful. I have never done this before, and I would not try it because it's very dangerous and unpredictable. It's certainly something I *could* do though.

    "I understood that the technology is flawed and she's going to glitch sometimes, but now it seems like the wipes are doing absolutely nothing."

    Have you seen Epitaph One? That's where we're going.

  20. Thanks for the link to my essay on the intellectual strength of Dollhouse, Billie, though I'm curious as to whether your linking is an affirmation, condemnation, or search for additional comment (or all three in some awesome way).

    I think I have a compromise solution regarding the issue of Ms. Dushku's acting ability, or at least a proposal, that I'd like to present to you all. I think the issue is that Echo is one of, if not the, most complicated and difficult characters on television today. She is both the interchangable doll that Enver Gjokaj and Dichen Lachman play *and* she retains some of those imprints from week to week. Ms. Dushku has so much character to manage from one week to the next, and is sometimes changing from one character to another not only in one scene, but in one sentence, one facial expression, that her flaws as an actress are made painfully obvious to the viewers.

    What I think the case is, then, is that Ms. Dushku actually is a good actress. Watch "Instinct" again and see the paranoia in Ms. Dushku's eyes, or watch her handler-imprint with Boyd or Ballard and see the absolute trust there. That's not something I can imagine getting consistently from, say, Megan Fox, Olivia Wilde, Kristen Bell, Yvonne Strahovski, or even Scarlett Johansson to name a few television/film actresses in Ms. Dushku's age range.

    But putting Ms. Dushku in this role has meant that when she's rapidly shifting among different roles within the same scene, at a rapid-fire pace, we're now picking up on what Dimitri noticed regarding her body language; the head, neck, and hip tics that are fundamentally Eliza Dushku's, and not her characters'. If she could find an acting coach or other training method to deprogram her of those tics, she has the potential to be a great actress; as it is, she can only be good.

    So that's my story: she's a good actress, but the extremely demanding role of Echo forces us to see her flaws, and if people see an acting flaw, they shout "BAD ACTOR!" from the rooftops and immediately forget about the good things in the performance (I think you'll find people say this about David Caruso despite the emotional subtlety in his performances; he's just overly dependent on tics and props, even prior to CSI: Miami).

    And I agree that Enver Gjokaj is an outstanding actor. He has star potential and I'm rather surprised he's not had a major supporting prior to this. That's a rant against casting directors for another day.

    Also, looks like a great site you've got here. I'll try to poke back in from time to time. :)

  21. Hi, Kevin:

    Thanks so much for your comment. I probably should have said more about your essay when I posted the link, but my readers tend to be smart people who are very aware of the complexities that can be found in good science fiction and fantasy, and I was certain they'd be able to relate to what you said.

    I definitely agree with a lot of what you were saying in your essay. If you've looked at my main site, I'm sure you noticed that the shows that truly fascinate me are the very ones you talked about, and for the same reasons: Buffy, Angel, Battlestar Galactica, Dexter. They're my thing. I can do fluffy, too, but shows like Dollhouse are the ones I can get my teeth into.

    I'm glad you stopped by. Come back soon.

  22. Update on Dollhouse cancellation - So far, just rumors:


  23. Those are the rumors of the supposed first season cancellation. That obviously didn't happen. ;)

  24. The whole professor plot was dull and I feel the episode got better with the exchange. I loved Echo telling those women they had to kill her.
    And Victor as Kiki was amazing. I cannot stop laughing whenever I watch that, brilliant! Victor was also amazing as Terry.

  25. La Belle Chose is also slang for "vagina", coined by Chaucer in the "Wife of Bath" section of the Canterbury Tales.


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