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Dollhouse: Instinct

Topher: "Perhaps triggering lactation was a bridge too far. Live and learn."

Joss Whedon managed to find a whole new way to creep me out.

I get it, yes, this poor guy Nate lost his wife and wasn't bonding with his baby and requested a doll to create that link for him. But making Echo lactate in order to carry out an assignment actually felt more physically invasive than sex to me. How rich was the guy? How long could he afford to pay the Dollhouse for Echo's services in this capacity? Months? That house was big but it wasn't a mansion; who could afford Echo for months?

Interesting how the usual situation with dolls was essentially reversed: Echo thought her husband had been replaced by a stranger. She didn't respond to "Do you want a treatment" because Topher had keyed such a strong physical response in her to "her" baby. (Her hitting Topher while going through that "Did I fall asleep" protocol was well-deserved.) In the end, she connected with one of her assignments; he was kind to her and told her the truth. Yes, she probably would have killed him if he hadn't, but it was still nice to see the game-playing stop, and reality actually mean something for a change.

The focus this season is strongly on Echo, as well as her relationship with Paul, and I like how it's progressing. He was ready to do anything to help her, but he still let her call the shots. Paul also got to see both sides of the Dollhouse equation this time, courtesy of the real Madelyn. Being a doll really did make all the difference for Madelyn, emotionally and financially. (And now she can leave the country? I was confused about this one. Did she commit a crime, too? I thought she was a volunteer only because of her daughter's death?)

I wasn't sure I liked it, but this was a heavy episode. Madelyn didn't want her memories, didn't want the pain. Echo refused to give up her memories, even though they were incredibly painful. Is Caroline a stronger person than Madelyn, or is Echo?

Bits and pieces:

-- Paul is fascinated and repelled by the Chair. I really liked that opening scene. And hey, Tahmoh in a purple shirt for a change. Yum.

-- Senator Perrin got another file with evidence on the Dollhouse: prostitution, human trafficking, murder. Who gave it to him? And what's with the Senator's wife? She couldn't be a doll, but after what happened to Paul with Mellie, she sure felt like one to me.

-- Much, much coffee. Isn't caffeine a no-no when you're nursing?

-- New doctor in the Dollhouse. I miss Claire already.

-- Why was Echo just telling a car to drive itself? I thought that was pretty weird. When has she seen a car drive itself? Am I forgetting something that happened in an earlier episode?

-- Topher: "The human mind is like Van Halen. if you just pull out one piece and keep replacing it, it just degenerates." I had to replay it twice before I got it.

The first episode of the season was about marriage. This one was about babies. What next, kindergarten? It certainly held my interest, but I noticed that I didn't want to see it a second time. That's always a sign for me that the episode wasn't a complete success,

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


  1. I really liked this episode.

    About leaving the country, I thought Adelle meant the Dollhouse wasn't holding her in one place to keep tabs on her.

  2. I thought this was the best stand-alone so far, maybe in a tie with "Haunted". My only complaint is regarding the opening scene, which was boring and certainly drove viewers away. Apart from that, "Instinct" was sharply written, well-paced and well-acted.

    Eliza Dushku nailed the part, didn't she? There were some tough scenes to play, and she did just fine. Echo holding a knife close to the baby really freaked me out and got me on the edge of my seat. First time that happened while watching DH.

    About Madeline, maybe once an Active contract is up, the Dollhouse drugs them someway, so they will fell better about whatever brought them pain in their past. On "Needs", Madeline minus memories grieved for her daughter. Whatever makes Madeline feel better, it must have been done once November was retired.

    Why was Echo just telling a car to drive itself? I thought that was pretty weird.

    She had been whipped, so maybe it took her a few moments to remember how a car works.

    Her hitting Topher while going through that "Did I fall asleep" protocol was well-deserved.

    I laughed out loud when that happened.

  3. I think Madeleine is not the original Madeleine. It's Madeleine plus 5 years of grief counseling, except without the specific memories. Topher can bend a personality pretty much any way he wants.

  4. I liked this episode a whole lot but something is missing from this series. I'm not sure if Dollhouse is for me. I love Whedon because he produced my two favorite shows ever (Buffy and Angel) but Dollhouse just lacks something that those shows had.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the series progress, but I haven't connected to Dollhouse the way I did to Buffy or Angel (which was pretty immediately).

    Love the review and keep up the good work Billie!

  5. He must have been insanely rich as he hired Sierra to be Echo's friend. That entire girl-pal scene didn't work for me at all.

  6. Billie I believe this ep answered your previous question to why did Ballard have Madelyn released instead of Caroline.
    Also, caffeine in moderation for nursing mothers. New mothers need caffeine too! Can't hurt the baby, just keep it awake :)
    Great review - thanks!

  7. On your question of whether Madeline committed a crime, Paul accessed her police file in season 1. We saw a bunch of mug shots for her. So it certainly looks like she was a criminal

  8. I just want to echo (no pun intended) comments about Eliza's acting this episode. She was seriously awesome. I think that this episode could have easily fallen flat if she wasn't so good.

    About the money issue - I was wondering that too. First, Paul is the client in Vows, Nate in this one, and the prof in Belle Chose. Maybe they have a sliding scale fee, or have started a lower-priced line, a la Anna Sui for Target, to appeal to a mass market? Although it is entirely possible that Nate, being in finance, could have had a buttload of money.

    Re: whether Madeline was a criminal - its possible those mugshots were taken if/when the police thought that she was responsible for her child's death. Did they say why she lost her child? I can't remember.


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