Friday, May 29, 2009

My Review of Dollhouse's 1x02: "The Target"

Written And Directed by Steven S. DeKnight

Adelle: “If you’re amenable to the terms of your contract you will be assigned to Echo, one of our most requested Actives.”
Boyd: “What happened to her last handler?”
Claire: “You’re standing in him.”

After a surprisingly underwhelming pilot episode, it’s nice to know that the second episode gave viewers more of a glimpse of the excellence that could be achieved. The episode might have some bumps but it’s an improvement from “Ghost” and that’s as good a place to start.

We’ve seen her as a hostage negotiator and a date for some random rich bastard, so episode two makes her a random date for another rich bastard. I’ll halt the groaning because even though Connell’s spiel about wanting to be with an honest woman isn’t as nauseating as it should be.

The date in question is also a little more adventurous than a motorcycle race. It’s the outdoorsy type of experiences where rock climbing and archery are on top of the list. Sure, Connell also got his wicked way with Echo but if the idea of Actives being used for sexual purposes was hard to swallow, then so is killing them.

It should’ve been obvious from the moment Connell started mouthing off about having the right to live – shoulder to the wheel and the like. Connell believes himself worthy of survival because of his ability to take down prey. Unfortunately for Echo, she’s gone from date to target practice, proving that some men really are bastards.

This is something of an unoriginal and uninspired premise, very horror in its setting (of course they’d have to be the woods because a fight for survival on a beach isn’t going to have the same kind of resonance) but there’s some psychological elements that actually make you care about the episode.

Unknowing of her surroundings and pretty much kept away from Boyd, Echo literally was without a paddle in an episode where she had to fight for her life. Maybe she should trade places with Alex Drake. 1982 is moderately safer in comparison that being stalked by Robin Hood gone very bad.

For the most part, there’s a lot of running on Echo’s part and being tricked into drinking poisoned water wasn’t the smartest of things that could’ve happened to her. Connell clearly didn’t want to kill her there and then, which was strange but maybe he really is the type of person who feels he deserved a worthy adversary.

Partly drugged out in a weird way brought some stuff to the surface for Echo. As good as Topher blathers on about his imprinting prowess, there’s no chance that Caroline could be completely eradicated.

Echo kept seeing little bits of Caroline, almost trying to piece the bits together. It’d be too simple if she got to connect the dots this early in the series but it’s good that parts of Caroline are seeping through, given the abhorrence of what is generally happening to her.

The interesting part of this episode should’ve been her final smackdown with Connell. It wasn’t but it didn’t lack either. After Echo got bored with trying to understand what would compel him to hunt her down like an animal, she decided to get more vengeance like in her approach. Connell shooting Boyd as well contributed to that.

Connell’s death didn’t exactly reek of poetry but heck if I’m going to feel sorry for him. His death however did confirm that someone really is watching. Undoubtedly the person is Alpha and it’s equally obvious that he was the one to hire Connell to test Echo out.

Alpha was also the same person who left that nice little envelope there for Paul as well with Caroline’s picture. Paul is still a weak point for me this episode, what with him being a laughing stock by his co-workers, harassing Lubov/Victor and being seemingly harassed by overly affectionate neighbour Mellie.

I’m not going to pretend that I think Mellie is a doll because I would be incredibly surprised if she wasn’t. Mellie showing up just as Dominic and Adelle argued over on how to deal with Paul butting his nose into the Dollhouse. Dominic wanted to kill him but Adelle clearly thinks that having someone spy on him is a better solution. She’s probably right.

As for the rest of the episode, the use of flashbacks to explain a violent incident three months prior certainly had its point. We learned that Boyd replaced Echo’s old handler after he wound up a casualty of mad Alpha’s killing spree. In fact, there were a lot of casualties during that. It was also Boyd who believed that Alpha was behind the set up for Echo, though Claire was all too quick to dismiss the idea.

It was because of Alpha we learned that Claire’s face was badly sliced up but apart from the Alpha information dump (why did he spare Echo?), the flashbacks also helped established Boyd’s introduction and disgust with the Dollhouse.

He pretty much treated Topher with contempt when he realised that he was responsible for botching up Alpha and he also didn’t treat Echo like a real person. However this episode more than showed that Boyd cares for her and the Active/Handler dynamic is pretty Slayer/Watcher like anyway in the general feel of it.

Another bonus with the episode was Dominic. His desire to kill Paul is one thing but the iciness towards Echo at the end of the episode was something else. He noted that people tended to die around her and he treated her with glaring contempt as well.

He’s very likely to be a dangerous threat to her and by extension to the Dollhouse as well. That might not sit well with Adelle who at the start of the episode did issue a thinly veiled threat to Connell if he hurted Echo. Not that an act of protectiveness like that would still make me think Adelle is doing the right thing with this organisation.

Also in “The Target”

The lighting for the flashbacks was a little jarring at the start, kind of similar to some episodes of Battlestar Galactica.

Topher: “What’s the magic word?”
Boyd: “Please?”
Topher: “I was looking for abracadabra but that’ll do.”

Topher talked about Actives being vulnerable when they’re not programmed. Isn’t that similarly stupid to giving them impairments like breathing difficulties?

Tanaka (to other FBI agent): “Agent Ballard is telling us to investigate. Thanks for the tip.”

Boyd: “You telling me you programmed one of your Dolls to be Jack The Ripper?”
Dominic: “Not my department.”

Dominic mentioned in the episode that he would put Echo in the Attic if he had the choice or kill her. I can only imagine that isn’t a good place to be.

Paul (re envelope): “Where’d this come from?”
FBI Agent: “Granny left it. Man, her teeth were big.”

Boyd (re Actives): “Look at them. Bunch of helpless children. Did the ones Alpha slaughter even put up a fight?”
Topher: “They wouldn’t know how.”

Alpha was able to slice his victims in eight seconds because of the surgical skills that had been imprinted on him at the time.

Adelle (re Paul): “I think you overestimate his abilities.”
Dominic: “Even a blind dog can find a bone if he digs enough holes.”

Echo (to Connell): “You know what gives someone the right to live? Not hunting them!”

Some sci-fi favourites were in this episode with Mark Sheppard as Tanaka and Matt Keeslar as Connell.

Ranger: “I don’t know, I swear to God.”
Boyd: “He’s not listening.”

Mellie (re Echo/Caroline): “Is she in trouble?”
Paul: “Maybe or she got caught up with the wrong people. Either way I’ll keep looking until I find her.”
Mellie: “Lucky her.”

If Mellie is a Doll, then Adelle must have been aware of Paul snooping around for some time because Paul definitely knew Mellie for a while by his attitude with her.

Boyd (re gun): “Do you know how to use this?”
Echo: “Four brothers. None of them Democrats.”

Connell (to Echo): “Is this the best date ever or what?”

Standout music: “Get Out” by The Vines and “Leave It On” by Deorentos. Also Sierra didn’t appear in this episode.

Echo: “I’m gonna go swim in the pool.”
Dominic: “If it were up to me, I’d put you in the Attic or in the ground.”

Chronology: We know that Boyd’s been working with Echo for at least three months but we still don’t know how long in her five year contract Echo has been working for the Dollhouse.

This was way better but I’ve liked Steven S. DeKnight’s work on Buffy/Angel for the most part, so his trademark wit for “The Target” and moments of horror and psychological testing made me a little more invested in the overall story. Good job.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

1 comment:

Nat said...

I thought this episode was better than the first, but still quite uneven.

I didn't pick up on the fact that Mellie might be a doll, but I wasn't really concentrating properly on the episode either.

I like the flashbacks, I think they were needed early on to explain a lot of the things, the pilot didn't.