Recaps: Dollhouse Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2

by Michelle Graham

Dollhouse, Fox, Airs Friday 9/8c

Just like on the Gossip Girl beat, due to college work kicking my ass over the last month, I’m rolling this week’s and last week’s “Dollhouse” reviews into one big (late) bundle of joy for your reading pleasure. Things should return to their regularly scheduled review roll out times this week.

Episode: “Vows” (Season 2, Episode 1)

Synopsis: It’s six months after Alpha’s attack and Echo’s continuing glitches place her and her mission in danger when trauma triggers a semi-wipe. Saunders continues to struggle with the realization that her personality is not her own, with Topher suffering the consequences. Ballard attempts to adjust to working within the Dollhouse after so long trying to take it down, but just as he accepts DeWitt’s offer to act as Echo’s handler, a new enemy rises against the Dollhouse on a much more public stage.

Review: Poor Topher, Saunders/Whiskey is messing with his head, he sleeps in a server room and he’s so unable to deal with work that he’s offloading it onto Ivy, the girl he barely trusted to manage getting snacks for him properly last season. It seems that everything Saunders said about hating Topher, about him building her to hate him, it wasn’t the case. She made that decision all on her own. So what is it about him that’s so awful and why does her hatred of him upset him so much?

Speaking of Saunders, it’s a pity that she won’t be around much this season, what with Amy Acker getting a regular slot over on ABC’s new drama, “Happy Town”, because her storyline already has me hooked. How does a person deal with the fact they’re not who they think they are? How does a doll deal with the concept of its body being reclaimed by its original owner, even if it results in the end of their own persona’s existence? Saunders is right, if she goes back to the person she was before Whisky, she’s killing the person she’s become. There’s a wealth of material within that storyline alone, but based on what happened at the end of this episode, coupled with Acker’s unavailability, it doesn’t seem like Whedon will get a chance to really delve into it.

Happily, there are signs of reasonably strong threads running within “Vows”, other than just Saunders’ struggles. Echo’s struggle to deal with her memories, coupled with her vulnerability to glitches means that imprints might start blending soon. I have to admit, Dushku’s performance definitely improved, as she carried off the happy clappy newlywed, the tough-talking FBI(?) agent and the battered wife lying through her teeth to save her ass. If only she could work on her doll-performance then we’d really be getting somewhere.

Of lesser interest (though it’s sure to increase in importance as we progress through the season) is the appearance of a public threat to the Rossum Corperation, the parent company controlling Dollhouses all over the world. Senator Perrin (played by another Whedon alum, Alexis Denisof, with a very distracting non-British accent) is a very public figure, he can’t be brushed off the way Ballard was, and he may be able to swing focus onto the darker parts of the company. It seems that he doesn’t even know what he’s looking at, but surely it won’t be long before he becomes more informed.

Overall, the persona of the week (potw, for future reference!) storyline was, as usual, not what we watch the show for. The character development, particularly the Saunders-related storylines, were very strong. Watching Echo flip into a new persona to protect herself from the situation shows great promise, and if we could continue to have that sort of content with less focus on the potw, Dollhouse will definitely make good on all the potential it holds. So why, after a great finale and a solid enough season opener (hell it was far better than Gossip Girl’s!), did it yet again fail to improve, ratings wise? If the fans aren’t careful, Dollhouse will fall under Fox’s axe.

Episode: “Instinct” (Season 2, Episode 2)

Synopsis: When Topher takes his imprinting process to the next level, he accidentally causes too deep a bond between Echo and her pseudo-son. When the engagement is cut short, the call of motherhood proves too strong for a regular wipe and Echo’s willing to do anything to get “her” son back. Mellie is called back for a diagnostic, providing Ballard with a chance to see what a recovered doll is like. Senator Perrin receives an anonymous tip regarding the Rossum corporation and its lower-profile activities.

Review: After a promising start to the season, some great character development and plenty of unresolved issues, slightly let down by a shoddy potw, “Instinct” manages to do quite the opposite. Instead, we’re treated to quite a compelling potw, but the character development aspect was fairly neglected, with one character magically healing his issues somewhere between “Vows” and “Instinct”. Topher’s struggle and confusion seems to have been just my imagination, with the self-satisfied genius from early season one firmly back in the saddle. However, the potw aspect, with his reprogramming both Echo’s brain and body leaves many questions open, such as exactly where the limits of this technology lie. All this on top of the effects of such a deep bond on an doll such as Echo, one that already retains bits of everything. As she said herself, they make it so real for the dolls, so for all intents and purposes, Echo has just lost her son. Will that impact later decisions and interactions?

Sadly, not all of the episode was as interesting as Echo’s newest addition to her persona collection. We got to catch up with Mellie/Madeline/November, but honestly, who cares? Unless they’re setting up a storyline which demonstrates how becoming a doll can cause permanent damage, just let the character go. Even tormenting Ballard by dangling her in front of him is boring. Also, while it’s great to learn more about the Senator and his reasons for shedding light on Rossum’s under the table dealings, the segment didn’t fit into the episode, just like Mellie’s little snippets. There must be a reason for including these scenes, if only to continue building the storylines, but this sort of progress needs to be a logical part of the episode, not just part of the overall series arc. Dollhouse has already made this mistake, with early season one shoving scenes of Ballard’s investigation into random episodes without really integrating them into the stories cohesively. The writers really need to take a careful look at their current approach, because it really doesn’t pay to make the same mistake twice.

So, although there was a strong potw, something almost unheard of, the rest of the episode really lets the overall production down. Add to that a slip in the ratings (TVByTheNumbers puts Dollhouse’s ratings at 2.09 million and 0.8/3) to bring the numbers to an all-series low and it’s not exactly a recipe for success. Fingers crossed that something improves and does it very very fast.

Up Next: “Belle Chose” – Topher slips up on the job, mixing Echo and Victor’s imprints. Meanwhile, DeWitt is approached by a family in crisis.

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Have you been watching Dollhouse? What’d you think? Is it living up to the concept? Does it deserve the ever decreasing audience numbers? Did Fox make the right choice by booting Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles over Dollhouse? Show off your opinions down below:

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