Saturday, June 06, 2009

My Review of Dollhouse's 1x03: "Stage Fright"

Written by Jed Whedon And Maurissa Tancharoen
Directed by David Soloman

Echo (to Rayna): “You can fire me. But bitch, don’t think you can take me.”

We’ve had dates of the regular and homicidal kind on top of a spot of hostage negotiating so for the third episode were we going to get something a little more original? Surprisingly enough we did.

Like many acts in the charts and downloads nowadays, Rayna is hardly the kind of musician (or in her case pop star) that’s making a detrimental change in the music industry. Boyd had her pegged as being shallow, vapid and narcissistic but the Dollhouse aren’t exactly fussy when it comes to their choice of clientele.

In some ways, Rayna is a deserving case. Given that she’s being stalked by an obsessive fan who was able to set one of her dancers on fire, it’s hardly surprising that her manager Biz (what a name) contacted Adelle on getting his little money making machine the perfect protection.

However seeing as Rayna is something of a defiant madam, the only way Echo could ingratiate herself into the pop star’s life was by Biz pretending he saw her as a bad apple during the auditions for a backing singer.

It seems that along with her talents, Eliza Dushku can hold a tune. It’s almost a pity now that Faith never featured in “Once More, With Feeling” because of this discovery. Needless to say, Rayna’s actually impressed with Echo and didn’t waste time in hiring her as a backing singer.

For the rest of the episode we’re given a good look into the world of fandom. Why is that science fiction shows primarily feel the urge to lecture or educate us on the ups and downs of fandom? For every sweet, humble, harmless like Audra (Sierra’s engagement this week), there’s also a raging lunatic who would kill their idol as quickly as worship them.

Because of the programming, Echo not only had to act as backing singer, she also had the instinct to want to protect Rayna. Rayna’s not exactly the worst pop star parody (she seems a little nicer than Celeste from Six Feet Under’s fourth season) but a part of me wasn’t that sympathetic towards her either.

Some of the earlier diva moments, which included almost insulting Audra for no reason hardly endeared her and when Echo discovered that Rayna was actually in direct contact with the man who was terrorising her, it did raise some interesting moments.

Echo pointed out that Rayna was clearly unwell if she was welcoming the idea of some maniac trying to kill to the extent that she even praised his obsession. Celebrity is something that is largely scrutinised. We praise/judge virtually everyone who is famous, regardless of how they found themselves that way.

Rayna is to a lot of people the typical manufactured pretty pop princess. Her songs are hardly deep and meaningful (even if the song “Freedom” blatantly hit us over the head with her struggles) but she did discuss being fed up of her life all this time. Echo said she could change things if she wanted. Rayna instead decided to fire her instead of listen to common sense. Isn’t that always the way?

Of course Rayna’s actions had consequences for Audra who wound up being kidnapped by the crazed stalker so Rayna would come to him. Although it was pretty that Sierra as Audra wasn’t actually going to die in this episode, I did feel for her. Plus it played into a certain theme of friends looking out for each other.

Echo appealed to Rayna’s better nature by trying to get her to agree to meet up with the stalker and save Audra. When Rayna refused, Echo took the matter into her own hands and I have to admit I laughed a little when Rayna got smacked across the head with a chair.

The one part about the plot that didn’t work quite as well as everything else had been doing was the exchange. Stalker dude virtually lived up to every psychotic stalker fan boy cliché and when death was a possibility for Rayna, she realised she wanted to live. The scene should’ve been touching, reaffirming but oddly, it felt rather flat to me.

Echo actually kidnapping the woman she was supposed to be protecting did raise some brilliant arguments with Adelle and Dominic. Dominic again wanted Echo sent to the Attic but Adelle fought against him. Personal care for Caroline or the simple the fact that she does think Echo is special?

Boyd certainly seems to be on the thinking that Echo is special train. For him though, he was countered by Claire, who made a biting comment about settling for good effort. Claire does seem to be living in denial mode – first with the possibility of Alpha being still alive and now with Echo being special.

Speaking of special, you know what should’ve been a shock? The reveal of Victor being an Active. Had Joss and company not blown that one months before transmission, it would’ve made for a great moment when we saw him getting treatment from Topher.

As Russian dude Lubov though, Victor lead Paul up the garden path. He talked about the idea of a Dollhouse being a myth and then he lead Paul into getting a beating from those gangster blokes. Paul must be modelling himself on Jack Bauer because apparently even getting shot isn’t enough to properly slow him down. He took out his attackers before the ambulance came for him.

More interesting was the opening scene between Echo and Sierra as well the ending between them as well. Echo made the conscious effort to make sure that Sierra’s handler didn’t pick up on any prior rapport between the two of them. I don’t know why but the whole ‘friends help each other out’ line at the start between the Actives made me smile. I like Sierra but at the same time, I didn’t think I wouldn’t.

As for Mellie, wasn’t there something pretty telling with that scene with her and Victor/Lubov as well. Mellie wanted to protect Paul in a feeble way (would she have put a good fight had Victor/Lubov attacked her?) when the latter was looking for her crush. Plus she was the only person who bothered to see Paul in the hospital. I don’t want to be nasty about Paul but he isn’t the most social of people is he?

Also in “Stage Fright”

When the episode wasn’t throwing unsubtle/unearned parallels between Echo and Rayna, I noticed the latter started every one of her routines in a cage.

Echo: “I didn’t want you to get hurt. You’re my friend.”
Sierra: “Friends help each other out.”
Echo: “Yes, they do.”

So far, Echo’s had the aliases of random date, Eleanor Penn, Jenny and in this episode, Jordan. No, not the one who’s divorcing Peter Andre.

Boyd: “You know, you can call me Boyd.”
Claire: “Is there any reason I’d want to?”

Topher (re Boyd): “You’re gonna get married and have scowly babies.”
Claire: “Don’t be an idiot.”

We met Sierra’s handler, Joe Hearn in this episode. He also seemed to have a dislike for Echo and Boyd also disliked him.

Echo (re Rayna): “What about her – diva or diva?”
Backing Singer: “Ugh, it depends on the day. She’s the real deal. She’s earning it.”

Victor (to Paul): “Yeah, people are mostly crap. I don’t think there’s a Dollhouse. I hear different, I’ll give you call.”

Victor’s answer that he would like to be Doris Day if there was a Dollhouse was cute. It’s obvious that he will end up having a tragic backstory of sorts as the season unfolds.

Paul: “What do you know about the Dollhouse?”
Attacker: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Paul: “No-one ever does.”

Stalker: “I kill for you, you die for me, that was the deal. I wanna fulfil my part, Rayna. You have my number, call me.”

It’s funny how Echo conveniently mentioned Britney’s head shaving phase. At least the show’s rooted in some reality.

Echo: “Getting what you want may not be the best thing for a person.”
Biz: “You’re supposed to be with her.”
Echo: “She fired me.”

Stalker: “Rayna I would never hurt you.”
Echo: “God, now you’re changing your story too?”

Standout music: Jaime Lee Kircher/Kimberly Cole’s “Superstar (Smash It)” and “The High” by Light FM.

Boyd (re Echo): “She’s really special.”
Claire: “Special isn’t always a good thing here, Boyd.”

For an episode so panned by a lot of viewers, I was expecting “Stage Fright” to be frankly quite shit but it surprised me. Not as good as the previous episode but certainly better than the premiere and I do have one of Rayna’s songs now stuck in my head.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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