Monday, March 9, 2009

Blogging the Dollhouse: Episode 4: Gray Hour

Dollhouse is proving to be particularly adept at playing with our heads. The way they set up this engagement so that we think it’s another sex gig, a rich man’s gift to his son. And then with the faked rape – we remember Episode 2, and think, it’s happening again. But no.

I also love how they have us expecting that Echo’s going to come through in the end. She’s wiped, sure, but we keep thinking she’s going to summon some hidden reserves of memory, some residual core of consciousness, her own or borrowed, and remember how to get herself out of this. We’ve come to expect this, because in every new episode she’s shown a little more ability to free-associate between her imprints, to read the palimpsest that is her brain. But it doesn’t happen this time. Even her spasm of action at the end, neutralizing the guy with the gun, is ambiguous. It could have been a reflex. And note that again, Echo’s moment of autonomy, of transcending her programming or lack thereof – her fumbling toward awakening – is an act of violence.

Topher. “I’m scared like a little girl.” Yes, Topher definitely has his creepy side. Like the way he talks to his cute Asian assistant. “Humility is part of learning. I break you down and build you back.” This is how he interacts with women. The whole Dollhouse thing is his sick brainchild, no?

Langton. So far he’s the closest thing we have to a point of view character, since he’s new to the Dollhouse, and since he strikes us as basically a good guy. Certainly his and Echo’s bond of trust is the only thing the show has resembling an emotional center right now. Of course on her part that’s fake. What about his? He’s clearly come to care about her – not in a romantic or sexual way, but a fatherly way. He’s protective. This sets him apart from the other handler we’ve met, and from Dominic the security guy, who seems to despise the dolls.

Why do any of these people work at the Dollhouse? The series began with tantalizing hints that Echo is here because Caroline did something she needed to escape from or atone for; either being a doll is her “consequences” or it’s a way to evade them. Is the Dollhouse a prison, a form of rehab? Remember the cages and prison motifs in Episode 3…

Sooner or later I’m sure we’ll be exploring her motives, but I’m just as curious about the motives of the others. We know nothing about Langton’s background except that he’s an ex-cop, and this gives him a little more instinctive interest in solving clients’ problems than some of the other handlers have; perhaps not coincidentally, this makes him a better Dollhouse employee, since his desire to complete missions coincides with the Dollhouse’s desire to satisfy its clients. Why isn’t he still a cop, though? Is it just money? Is his ready trigger-finger a factor? Is he hiding from something, too?

And what about Saunders and DeWitt? Unlike Dominic, but like Langton, they both seem to have some sympathy for the dolls. They share Topher’s scientific interest in their capabilities, their behavior when unprogrammed. But they also – especially Saunders – seem to have some concern for the dolls’ welfare. Dominic’s eager to send Echo to the Attic; DeWitt gives the impression that she wouldn’t hesitate to do that if it was necessary, but she wouldn’t like it. Is she really the idealist after all?

Nice use of “I Go To Sleep” there at the end. I think this is the version they use, although I (predictably, I fear) kind of prefer the Pretenders’ (which Sia’s version is a pretty close copy of), and I like Ray Davies’s original version a lot too.

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