Monday, April 06, 2009

April Showers: Dollhouse 1.8

"April Showers" evenings at 11:00 all month long.

I'm killing two birds with one stone tonight, by starting the April Showers series with the latest visit to Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. [Here are thoughts on episode 1, 2 and 3 and 4 through 7 in case you missed them.] "Needs", the 8th episode, pleasantly dispenses with the usual three-plot structure. Hopefully the writers have realized that they've been leaning too heavily on the imprint assignment plots. The Dollhouse itself is the heart of the show. It's where most of the good potential metaphors lurk, this episode hinting that the writers might eventually find them. The Dollhouse could be entertainment itself (actors playing dress up / people as product) or a dysfunctional home (the executives as bad parents, the dolls as abused children, the handlers as elder siblings? enabling spouses?). If it keeps going in this direction Dollhouse might eventually be able to do what Buffy the Vampire Slayer once excelled at: illuminating universal emotional realities within outlandish genre trappings.

I love that this episode's plot essentially mirrors our own everyday routines: We wake up (for the dolls something's gone wrong. They don't know who or where they are), eat breakfast (The troubled dolls -- Sierra, Victor (Enver Gjokaj), Echo and Millie are terrified about the simplicity of the other dolls and their banal pleasantries about bananas), we shower to get ready for the big day ahead (for the Dolls, it's a co-ed experience. They didn't see that coming. The kids in the idyllic garden have finally realized they're naked).

What's so smart about this eighth episode is that each of these regular daily events fills the troubled dolls with fear and confusion. Essentially they're damaged children in adult bodies. Reality is going to be difficult for them. But the show, like all of Whedon's shows, has several tones to juggle. The shower scene is played for comedy but we've been prepped for it. Previous episodes have made the funny about Victor's "man reactions".

Victor walks by Sierra, averts eyes.

He's not supposed to pop a boner in the shower when he sees Sierra but he always does, which has caused much hand wringing among the staff. The dolls imprinting should be keeping them in a childlike state. The tingly parts are for paying customers only!

So Sierra and Victor enter the shower together. The newly aware Sierra warns Victor to watch where he looks and Victor tries to. He recites sports figures to stay calm. (I've been meaning to ask straight boys if this really works to prevent "man reactions". My equivalent would be Oscar statistics but I think that would just get me hotter. TMI!!!)

Mike (right) swims several laps every day. Sadly we don't watch him do so.

Weirdly none of the dolls get wet. Sierra looks a bit sweaty but that's it. The co-ed shower has more steam than water (It's network television. I guess steam comes in handy). The dolls have a weird encounter with "Mike" (adonis Teddy Sears) who's been reprogrammed. I love it when the dolls seem eerily vacant. The show is more fun when they tilt ever so slightly towards creepy and away from stupid.

Finally we move into the "get dressed" and "leave home" parts of the daily routine and here's where things really pick up, metaphorically speaking. The dolls find their wardrobes. The Dollhouse suddenly feels like a television set? Ooh, the places they could take this show, you know. Please be renewed for a second season. Pretty please.

Naturally the "leaving home" part doesn't work out well. (It's all been a test for the staff and a medical experiment with the dolls who've been showing memory glitches). They can't really leave. They're broken. Even if they escape the Dollhouse they're still dolls. Have you ever tried walking away from your troubles? Your troubles come with. B+


Carl Joseph Papa said...

This is my favorite Dollhouse episode. I am in love with this show especially to Dushku who I love and always will. After Battlestar Galactica left the TV, Dollhouse filled my much needed Sci Fi TV.

Dollhouse for me is the best sci fi show on TV today. Post BSG that is.

Jason Adams said...

Yeah, this episode felt like it was really fulfilling the show's deeper promise at last. I mean, the episode a couple of weeks ago (The third flower is green) was a blast with the twists and that sort of thing, but this episode here opened up all sorts of moral and ethical questions that are inherent in the show's premise that it hadn't bothered with really questioning yet. It was the first time the show's actually really moved me, and that conversation between Echo's handler and the doctor played by Amy Acker, about the morality of what they've done, well we've had a lot of iterations of that before but it actually felt earned here.

Shawn said...

I've really been liking the more recent episodes because it has become more of an ensemble which Joss is AWESOME at. Yes, Buffy, Angel, and Captain Mal are the leads of their respective shows, but what made BtVS, Angel, and Firefly work were their supporting cast.

So yes to more Victor, Sierra, Millie, and my God definitely for DeWitt. She is pure fabulousness.

crazycris said...

I'm afraid to say that -much as I like her- Eliza is my least favourite on this show... so this episode in which the other actives had such a big part to play... excellent! I've loved everyone's baseline personality coming to surface too.

So far my favourite episode! they sure as hell had better renew this so we can see where Whedon wants to take us with this show, so many possiblities!!! :o)

ebeing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carl said...

Did I hear this correctly in the episode...Millie's Dollhouse ID is Tango?

Another endorsement for playing to the ensemble strengths and slow mythology-building that have been hallmarks of the Whedon-verse. The show appears to be going in the right direction - if Fox can be persuaded to stick with it. Remind them that Buffy didn't really kick into high gear until Season 2.

nancy said...

Tango is the blonde girl. Millie is November.