Dollhouse – S01E03, Stage Fright – episode review

Dollhouse title

Alright, third episode and a third personality for Echo in [[Dollhouse (TV Series)|Dollhouse]]. This time, she’s a sassy backing singer for the Britney Spears of this fictional universe. Echo takes the guise of ‘Jordan’, tasked with befriending Rayna, a sexy popstrel who’s got a stalker problem.

So, the peeps at the Dollhouse task Echo with being BFFs with Rayna, but give new ‘Doll’ Sierra (which is a type of Ford car in the UK, by the way – I’m waiting for a Doll called Mondeo) a secondary task of being Rayna’s greatest fan. However, as the plot unfolds, Echo discovers that Rayna is actually in touch with her stalker and is, in fact, more than happy to end her career onstage with a bullet in her head.

This prompts one of the funniest moments of the episode, where Echo tries to tell her she’s having a breakdown, and “not just a shave your head, flash your junk kind of breakdown”. When Echo doesn’t quite grasp why Rayna wants to eat stalker-bullets, Rayna utters an unwittingly insightful: “What is wrong with you? Were you grown in a lab or something?”

That little twist where Rayna was being pen pals with her potential murderer was welcome. It threw out all of my preconceptions of how the story would go, and it made it more interesting to see how Echo would solve the problem. What happened next was really interesting!

The stalker kidnapped Sierra. For some reason, this wasn’t dire enough to activate Sierra’s programming to step in. But the end result was, Echo stepped in to save her friend. I got the impression that part of her personality was based on a WWE wrestler when she smacked Rayna with a folded chair after uttering “friends help each other out” – the words she’d originally said to Sierra back at the Dollhouse.

Some nice developments in this episode, as well as moments where I laughed out loud. Echo is clearly becoming self-aware in some way, and I think Sierra is too. The way the make eye contact after their memories are wiped, and how Echo gives a subtle nod to ignore each other makes this new relationship interesting.

Echo’s handler, Boyd, seems to notice this. He remarks to Dr Saunders that Echo seems to think outside the constraints of her programming. Little does he know, my friends!

Elsewhere, Laurence Dominic raises a few interesting questions: he suggests that Echo is becoming dangerous, like Alpha, the rogue male Active who virtually wiped out the Dollhouse. He suggests that Echo is sent to the ‘attic’. What’s the attic? Is it somewhere an Active is sent to retire, or is it code for something else? He also has a row with Brink about Echo malfunctioning. Brink, proving himself to be the Xander of this series, wisecracks at him, “You’re in my house Laurence – of the two of us, one of us is a genius and the other is a security guard in a very lovely suit.”

Other opinions

An interesting comment on the FBI subplot, and Agent Ballard’s quest to expose the Dollhouse:

For the first time, Agent Ballard’s quest shows signs of an interesting story. For a side plot which seemed so boring in the first two episodes, the mere small twist we saw this week was enough to light a fire under my interest levels and bring them up a degree or two.

Alan Sepinwall comments on how the plausibility of the show is called into question by this very episode:

It’s frustrating enough when we have to follow Echo on a mission when she has no idea who she really is, but this one added an additional layer of self-deception: Echo not only doesn’t know that she’s really Caroline, but she doesn’t know that she’s really there as the singer’s bodyguard. I felt even less connection to her than I usually do.

And the always awesome TV Squad have an excellent conspiracy theory that Agent Ballard might actually be the elusive Alpha (although we don’t agree on how the name should be spelled!)

I am now open to the possibility that Ballard is, in fact, Alfa. They caught him, reprogrammed him as Paul Ballard, and are keeping tabs on him. Further evidence can be determined by his ability to take out a couple of Russian agents despite being shot. His across-the-hall neighbor Mellie is likely a handler. It did seem somewhat odd to me that she visited him in the hospital

To sum up, a really enjoyable episode. Unlike Alan above, I’m really starting to come around to the premise of the Dollhouse. I like the upstairs/downstairs corporate politics on one level and the action between actives and handlers. I’m certain there are more twists to come and place my trust in Whedon that they’ll be good ones!

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