Saturday, 23 January 2010

Spotlight: Dollhouse - “Hollow Men”

If you read my weekly round-up this week you’ll know that I found this episode to be a bit of a let down, but that doesn’t make snapshotit irrelevant and there were some pretty big plot points that need to be discussed. 

The episode opens with Boyd telling Caroline that Rossum is everywhere, involved in every aspect of medical research, with medical files on practically everyone. He explains that he wants her to become a Doll, with the alternative being that she be executed as a terrorist. “Not a chance” Caroline replies. “Believe me when I tell you, Caroline, this is your only chance. You are special, you have amazing potential. I wan to see exactly how far you can go and I promise you I will protect you.”

Ok, so that explains why Boyd becomes Echo’s handler, however, he wasn’t her first and if Alpha hadn’t composited she would still have her original handler. Also, why would the founder of Rossum place his original self in a position where he could end up dead? Why not use a Doll with his personality?

Quickly then we are returned to the present day as Anthony and Priya return to the Dollhouse, Priya’s sense of duty to Echo making her unable to stay away. However, by the time they arrive the house is in ruins and there are bodies everywhere. “Looks like the war started without us…” Anthony remarks.

Outside the House Ballard destroys all the mobile phones and any other devices Rossum might use to track them. Moments later Boyd arrives with Echo/Caroline and Topher. Echo is screaming in pain, Boyd tranqs her. The group quickly assume that Echo is broken, that her multiple personalities are clashing and without her all is lost. However, it is Boyd who insists that they all must keep going, even without Caroline to guide them.

It is obvious that Boyd has drugged Caroline to prevent her revealing his identity. What is not obvious yet, is why Boyd is so desperate to destroy the facility in Tucson.  

Back at the House, Anthony and Priya have checked in with security, they are all dead and all surveillance footage has been taken. Further protecting Boyd’s identity. The two of them return to the Chair room to discover a note that simply reads: “Press Enter :)”

After a quick discussion Anthony decides to jump in the chair and get zapped with an unknown personality. His decision seems to be based purely on propelling the story forward rather than any other emotion, especially as he has twice suggested getting out of the House and leaving all the mess behind. It was these small undeveloped or contradictory moments that made this episode fail to satisfy.

When he comes round Anthony is no longer himself, but Topher instead. I like Enver’s Topher impression so I was glad to see it make a return. Priya quickly brings Victor-Topher up to date with current affairs in an attempt to discover why someone wanted them to use the wedge. Then Topher remembers that he had a secret camera installed in the Chair room, that was lucky. Quickly he pulls up the footage to see Boyd injecting Echo with something. “Why would he drug Echo?” Topher asks, he trusts Boyd unquestioningly since he helped Topher get rid of Nolan’s body. “Not Echo, Caroline, she was going to tell us who the founder of Rossum is.” And then it quickly dawns on Topher “Boyd’s working for Rossum.”

Back in Arizona the band of Dollhouse Rebels are met in the lobby of the Rossum building by non-other than Clyde, only, now he’s sporting a brand new body… Whiskey’s to be precise. BTW, Amy Acker looks weird in a suit!

Clyde invites Adelle upto his office for a drink to thank her for all the work she has done preparing Caroline/Echo. “Above anything, Caroline is your success. You nurtured her, fostered her growth, guided her to become what she is now. Our saviour.” What Clyde means by this will not become clear for sometime.

Meanwhile, Topher, Boyd, Paul and Mellie are trapped in an interrogation room. Boyd is working on overriding the security. After he does so he asks Paul to go and find some weapons. Paul wants to take Topher, but Boyd insists he needs him. This can only mean one of two things. Boyd needs to Topher to achieve something or he wants to kill the genius.

Back in the House Priya is trying to track November/Mellie but of course Paul cut out her GPS strip. She insists on going after Boyd and Topher offers to return Anthony to his body but with some enhanced fighting skills. Priya is not so hot on the idea of having her man’s head fuzzed with. “I know, I get it, the tech is responsible for all of this, but in this instance, why not give the good guys a fighting chance.”

I liked this concept. In another series, it may have seemed noble to not use the weapon of the enemy for the purposes of good (think Lord of the Rings) but here, in Dollhouse, logic takes precedent over nobility and I like that.

Back in Tucson Boyd and Topher are sneaking about. Topher pulls Boyd aside to confide in him. “Echo, Caroline, whatever happened to her, it wasn’t a bad wedge. This is something else.” Topher explains. “What do you think it is?” Boyd asks. “It’s eerily similar to Sierra when Nolan drugged her. It had to be someone in the Dollhouse, I don't know who yet but I’m working on it. I left a little helpful something something back at the ranch. Topher 2.0, hopefully Victor and Sierra came back, fired it up and are on their way here with reinforcements… Go Team!”

Well, that really put a spanner in Boyd’s plan. What I don't get is why Topher didn’t figure out who drugged Echo, other than the Rossum operatives that knocked Topher out, no one other than Boyd has even had contact with her. Had it been me I would have been at least a little suspicious of my “man friend”. 

Back in the House Anthony comes to. “I don't feel any different.” Seconds later the elevator pings and Anthony flattens two black ops guys without breaking a sweat. “Looks like someone in Tucson knows we’re here.” (That was quick, Boyd!)

In Tucson Boyd leads Topher into the R&D room where the Rossum guys are working on the Wireless Imprinting Tech. “I thought it would take Rossum years to realise my schematics.” Topher is petrified. “Now that they have?” Boyd asks. “We’re even more screwed than we thought. With this you can wipe and imprint anyone. One zap with the laser and bzzz you’re a Doll.” Boyd picks up the laser and pulls the trigger.

A moment I loved, quite like that moment in Lost where Jack pulls the trigger on Locke. And just like that moment, the gun doesn’t work. “Whoa! What is wrong with you!?” Topher screams. “It doesn’t work!” Boyd says disappointedly. “Well good, maybe they didn’t have the cojonies to finish the job. They’re setup for mass production, this is catastrophic.”


Topher smashes the prototype and Boyd tries to stop him. “They are going to weaponise the Tech, my Tech.” Topher explains emphatically. “Topher think.” Boyd tries. “That’s what got us here in the first place. I’m going for mindless destruction now.” But Boyd persists. “We can use this Topher. If the tech stays in our hands we can stop Rossum and get out of this building without taking another life. All you have to do is fix one of them.”


Meanwhile Ballard knocks out the security guard and steals his pass to get into the weapons cache. He hands Mellie a weapon and tells her to protect herself. Then she asks the question we are all asking. “Why am I here Paul?” he replies “I guess I couldn’t let you go.”

Pile of crap. He let her go at the end of season 1. He let her go and testify in “The Public Eye” even when he knew she was being used. She is there for one reason, because someone has to die!

“That’s very sweet Paul but I don’t believe you. I’m not real. I’m a program.” Mellie protests. “So am I!” Paul exclaims. “And I decided it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Another statement that riled me. Had Dollhouse been given another season or two then Paul “might” have come to accept his situation, but he wouldn’t have done so after just a couple of hours, not a chance! I can see why this line was there, it was an attempt to wrap things up, but it was unnecessary, we can assume that Paul took the appropriate time to adjust to his situation, we don't need his story to be resolved with a throw away statement like this.

Back in the R&D room Topher figures out how to get the tech working. “A team of engineers couldn’t crack that but you, Topher Brink, you did it in ten minutes. You truly are amazing, I’m glad I chose you.” And so Boyd finally reveals his true colours… oh wait… but Topher still hasn’t cottened on! Luckily Echo shows up and kicks Boyd butt. Unfortunately Clyde is not far behind. He points a weapon to both Echo’s and DeWitt’s heads and the fight stops.

“What the hell is going on?” Topher asks…

“Boyd’s the founder.” Echo explains. “There is no way, not a chance on this earth.” Topher protests. “It’s the truth Mr. Brink.” Adelle assures him. “You really think I was going to kill Topher?”

Side Scream: THE HELLS YES! First he fired the imprint gun at Topher, then he reached inside his jacket for a bullet firing gun… Of course he was going to kill him.

“Why bring him here?” Echo asks. “Not just me?” Boyd looks about, a hint of crazy dawning across his face. “You’re here because you’re my family”

And snap. From this point on Boyd stops being Boyd and becomes a rather insane scientist/entrepreneur, no warning, no subtle change, just sane to crazy with the flip of a switch. You could blame time constraint but I don't feel it was necessary to have Boyd turn maniacal, the story could have functioned just as well without it. To me he isn’t crazy, he’s possibly not even evil, if anything he is logical… sigh…

“You’ve proven yourselves in so many ways I wanted you all with me. Except for Paul.” (Why the hell not Paul?) “Frankly I never understood what you saw in him.”

“So, you want us to keep you company, fiddling while Rome burns?” Adelle asks. “Thank you very much, I’d rather be dead.” A nice moment from Adelle, although if push came to shove she would side with Boyd.

“We have to face the facts, the technology exists. It can’t be un-invented. Once it gets out there it will be abused, none of us can prevent that from happening, but we can choose where we want to be and on what side when the end finally does arrive. You want to be the destroyed or the destroyers?”

Boyd returns to his “I care for you all” routine, but Echo doesn’t want to hear it. “You’re the key.” Boyd explains. “You’re going to save us all.” But Echo is defiant. “I wont save you Boyd. Given the first chance, I will kill you.” Boyd seems unnervingly calm at this news. “I have no doubt you’ll try. But the fact remains, inside that body of yours is ever lasting life. Every time your nervous system blocks an imprint, it leaves neurochemical traces in your spinal column. It’s unique to your physiology. So we’re going to harvest it from you.We’re going to use your spinal fluid to make a vaccine against imprinting.”

Ok, so that explains what “The Cure” is or at least might be, in the Epitaph flashbacks. It doesn’t explain why “we have Alpha to thank for that.” but hopefully we will find that out next week.

Meanwhile Paul and Mellie discover the mechanical room and decide to destroy the air con unit that keeps the servers cool and thus disable the Attic Hive Mind. Unfortunately Boyd simply activates the secondary cooling system and while he’s at it, he digs out a convenient recording of Adelle activating Mellie’s sleeper protocol.

Side Scream #2: WHY! Why would Topher not remove the sleeper protocol from the imprint. Why bring a doll with you that could turn on you. Why bring Mellie at all…? WHY WHY WHY!

Mellie opens fire on Paul. Paul throws down his gun and tries to appeal to the girl inside of the killing machine. “Listen to me. You’re not a killer. Remember us, remember what we had.” Mellie puts a gun to Paul’s throat, but then the Mellie imprint breaks through and she can’t kill him… so instead she shoots herself.

Side Scream #3: WHY! (Sorry, I’ve screamed that once already.) Firstly, Mellie and Daniel have both failed to resist the sleeper protocol in the past, her doing so now is just a soppy plot device that holds no water. Secondly, Mellie knows she is a program and not a person, therefore blowing her brains out sentenced Madeleine to death too. Although that sounds like a good moral dilemma to deal with, it isn’t dealt with, it’s just ignored. But finally, if you have to kill her it would have had much more impact if Paul had done it, after he swore to protect her? Plus it would have been far more in keeping with Joss’ ethos of killing the ones you love. Buffy killed Angel, Angle staked Darla, Wesley attempted to kill Fred, Connor killed Jasmine, the list goes on.    

So, Boyd and Clyde strap Echo to a rather Giger-esk machine to extract her spinal fluid, without killing her. Boyd neglects to mention whether or not it would leave her paralysed though. While Echo lies motionless, her spinal fluid being drawn away, a knock comes at the door.

Seriously…? A knock!? The scientist clearly decided that one of the authorised personnel who would be allowed in the room has left their keycard at home so he opens the door… HE OPENS THE FREAKIN’ DOOR… FOR A KNOCK?!

Quickly Anthony and Priya enter and get Echo out of the machine. “I thought you two would be on a beach in Cancún by now.” Echo mutters. That’s a Reaper reference by the way, but unlike Tim Minear’s cute Firefly references last week, this one did not evoke fond memories, it just reminded me who was responsible for the KNOCK ON THE DOOR BIT!

Echo instructs Anthony and Priya to get everybody out while she tries to blow the building up.

Meanwhile in the R&D lab Topher is blaming himself. “I did all this. I’m the one who brings about the thought-pocalypse.” Adelle shoots him a look. “Thought-pocalypse?” “Is Brain-pocalypse better? I figure, if I’m responsible for the end of the world, I get to name it.” Topher explains. “I gave the plans to Harding, I’m just as culpable.” DeWitt reminds him. “Thanks Adelle, you handed someone a piece of paper, I invented it… Which means I have to destroy it.”

Moments later Anthony shoots the lab to pieces, when he is finished he simply asks. “What next?” and Topher replies. “We wipe this tech off the face of the earth.”

Meanwhile Echo runs into Clyde, who’s fighting style reminds me of a certain primordial demon… The two go at it and Echo wins. However we still don’t know why Whiskey was left behind in the Dollhouse after the others left, was it her choice, or was she being condemned for what she did as Claire or Clyde.

Meanwhile Boyd meets up with Ballard, who is the only person still not clued in on what is going on. Pissed at DeWitt for triggering Mellie, Ballard joins up with Boyd and they go after Adelle. Boyd leads Paul into the mainframe room, where he immediately switches sides and puts a gun to his head as Echo draws and aims at Boyd and rather tongue-in-cheek-ly Paul looks almost at the audience and says “What did I miss.” (nice line :) )

Boyd goads Echo, explaining that her future is already written, that she will save the world whether she likes it or not. “Don’t think, shoot.” Ballard says calmly. “She can’t.” But she does, she shoots Paul in the thigh and he goes down in pain, giving her a free shot a Boyd, but she can’t take it, her programming wont let her. Luckily Topher shows up with a fixed version of the imprint gun and bye bye Boyd.

In a rather macabre ending to Harry Lennix’s Dollhouse appearances, Echo straps him with C4 and orders him to blow up the mainframe and Boyd replies with those immortal words “I try to be my best.” Although I like how dark this demise is, I found myself wishing they had given Boyd more time to be the Founder of Rossum, for him to be that bad guy, so that we could really have understood him, now we never can. It’s a shame and I wonder if Boyd would have still been killed had the series not already been canned when this episode was shot.

So the lab is destroyed, Boyd is dead and the world has been saved… but it was all in vein, as the episode closes out with a “Ten Years Later” moment, which felt rather unnecessary. Also the “So did we save the world?” “I guess we did” moment feels too neat, hopefully Epitaph Two will do more to explain what went wrong after they destroyed the lab and how Rossum was still able to bring about the apocalypse.

Overall this episode would have benefitted from an extension, preferably to a whole season, but to at least a double would have been nice. Also if Joss wasn’t going to write it, a Whedonesque veteran like Minear, Edlund, Craft and Fain or even Marti Noxon would have been better choices than new comers Tara and Michelle.

All of my complaints and I still think that Dollhouse has been the best new series of 2009 and the small issues I have with this episode in no way ruined the series… it just didn’t feel as awesome as it could have. I can’t wait to see what Jed and Maurissa have planned for  the Epitaph, it’s going to be epic!

This has been My Two Cents, tune in next week to bring the final curtain down on Dollhouse: Epitaph Two.

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