EPISODE REVIEW: Dollhouse: “The Hollow Men” (Season 2, Episode 12)

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Last week we learned that Boyd was the founder of Rawson, the corporation that runs the dollhouse. What could follow on the heels of a revelation like that? Let’s find out, shall we?

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Two years ago - 2008 - Caroline has been captured, and is being interviewed by Boyd. He explains that his company first noticed her several years earlier when she had her blood tested to see if she’d be a viable marrow donor for her sister, who had leukemia. She’s unique, or at least very special, on a microscopic level. He wants her as a doll so they can monitor her chemical development - don’t worry, this’ll mostly make sense later - and he promises to protect her.

In the 2010, Victor and Sierra return to the dollhouse, and find the place trashed, with the security cameras wiped so they have no idea who killed all the guys who were invading the house. They find Topher’s chair with a hand written note saying “Press here.” After some debate, Victor sits in it, and turns into…Topher 2.0, the same one we’ve seen before. He’s pretty freaked out since he’s not aware of any of what’s been going on in the last week or three.

Meanwhile, on the roof, a chopper is coming to pick up Adel, Paul, Echo, Topher, and Boyd who’s real nature is still unknown to them. Echo is all wonky and freaking out and incoherent, so they knock her out, and debate their next move. They decide to go to the corporate headquarters in Tucson, and just walk right in, since they have Echo, which is all the company is really interested in for whatever reason.

This they then do, but they’re met at the gate by Whiskey, who’s now Clyde 6.0. She’s evicted Saunders, and Boyd seems a bit upset by this. They’re captured and put in holding cells.

Meanwhile, back in LA, they’ve checked out Topher’s secret camera footage which he installed to find out who was stealing his turkey jerky. They see Boyd dropping a syringe in the garbage in the office, and realize he’s working for Rawson. Topher 2.0 hits on the idea of giving Victor mad killing skills when he vacates the body.

In Tucson, Topher mentions he left himself behind to give Victor and Sierra a heads up. Boyd excuses himself to phone his commandos, but Victor instantly kills them. Paul and Mellie get some weapons, and decide to destroy the mainframe by knocking out the cooling system. A recording of DeWitt’s trigger phrase plays over the PA, and Mellie tries to kill Paul. She resists her programming, however, and kills herself.

Topher and Boyd come to a lab, and discover weaponized dollification guns. Boyd says to get one working so they can use it to escape, and Topher does. Boyd says “An army of scientists couldn’t figure that out, but you did it in ten minutes. I’m glad I chose you!” He starts to pull something out of his waist, when Echo tackles him and beats him to the ground. Then Whiskey/Clyde pulls guns on them all and shuts the whole party down.

Boyd explains that the Doll tech is already out of control, and that the world is doomed, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it, not even Rossun at this point, you simply can’t put the mushroom cloud back in the bomb. Their hope is simply to survive: Rossun discovered some time ago that Caroline’s chemistry is odd, and they wanted her Dolled so they could monitor it, and experiment with it. Every time she was imprinted, her body made antibodies that resisted the programming, and made it sketchy. They hoped to use these antibodies to make people - some people, anyway - immune to Dollification. Society is screwed, of course, but Boyd hoped to make a kind of Noah’s Ark club of people who’d just walk right through the end of the world.

He also says that he’s not going to kill any of them because they’re his family and he loves them.

They take Echo to have her spinal fluid drained, but Victor and Sierra bust in and save her. She sends the two of them to rescue the others, while she’s going to finish what Caroline started two years earlier, and blow up the building. Before she can do that, however, she has to get in a choppily-edited fight with Whiskey/Clyde. Boyd, meanwhile, turns a corner and finds Paul, who he thinks is gonna’ shoot him, but Paul hasn’t been around for any of these revelations, and thinks DeWitt caused Mellie to try to kill him. He wants her dead. Boyd agrees to take him.

They bust in on Echo in the server room, and Boyd immediately takes Paul hostage. Echo recaps the plot so far for Paul’s benefit, then shoots him in the leg and tackles Boyd. He gets the upper hand since her programming won’t let her kill him. “I wanted to save you because I like you, but I don’t actually need you alive,” he says. “I loved you,” she says. “I know,” he says and starts to pull the trigger, just as Topher zaps him with the dollification gun. He goes into doll state immediately.

She wraps him in C4, and tells him to go into the server and blow himself up, which he does as they evacuate the building. “Did we just save the world?” Paul asks. “Yeah, I guess we did,” Echo replies.

In 2020 - we see the world is devastated, and civilization has ended.

To Be Concluded…

OBSERVATIONS

Ok, first the bad stuff:

This episode lacked the visual pop of the last several. Most of it takes place in bland concrete service corridors with florescent lighting. We’re just moments before the end of the world here, but it feels like most of the episode was filmed in the sub-basement of the Fox studio. It’s cheap, it’s boring looking, and really the only thing it’s got going for it visually is that it’s a little bit claustrophobic, but no more so than a State University Engineering Building. I can’t help feeling a bit cheated by that. The cinematography is very pedestrian, and doesn’t suit the story, and, again, the end of the world deserves a bit more panache, a bit of flash, something more impressive than an outdoor scene that feels like it was filmed on top of the Fox Studio Parking Garage.

I also felt the fight sequences were poorly done. They were rather flat and bland, and nothing we haven’t seen before - she kicks, he blocks, he kicks, she blocks, he punches and connects, she punches and he blocks, then she punches again and connects - it’s all pretty dull and paint-by-the-numbers. They try to inject some energy into this by using a lot of quick jarring jumpcuts, but mostly the big Echo/Whiskey fight just feels disjointed, and the Echo/Boyd fight is pretty flaccid as well.

And I have to say that Boyd’s plan doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense. Echo’s got blood laced with MacGunninerol, The Plot Device Hormone. (TM, Pat. Pend.) Swell, I can accept that. He wants to whore her around a bit so she’ll generate more MacGuffin hormones or antibodies or whatever. Ok, fine. That I’ve got. Having him be her handler doesn’t make much sense, what with him being the super-secret head of a Fortune 500 company, but, ok, I’ll let that one slide. He doesn’t appear to have much to do with his time, frankly. If he wants to be Henry V slumming with the troops, so be it.

But why *push* Echo? It seems that she’d be developing Plot Device Antibodies whether she’s going sketchy, or if she’s just sitting around eating fried chicken. If it’s an inherent function of her biology, then she’s doing it every time she’s imprinted, it doesn’t matter if it’s a difficult mission or not, now does it? I’d accept that sketchy hazardous missions might cause her to produce *more*, but they never actually say this.

And why would Boyd - who only wants her for her spinal goo - give a damn one way or another about her gradual evolution into the fully-integrated Multiple Personality Disorder Superwoman that she’s become? Ok, it’s interesting, he’s along for the ride, and it’s more fun than revising the company prospectus (“Investing in Rossun: The End Of The World Company!”), but the one doesn’t logically follow the other: If they just want her sweet, sweet spine goo, then they wouldn’t be interested in the difficulty of her missions, just the frequency, and they shouldn’t care at all about her malfunctioning status.

It also makes no sense for him to allow her to figure all this out and start a revolt when he could just have his people take her at any time, milk her bones, and be done with it.

The plan is hopelessly, hopelessly Byzantine, and even if there’s some thread that I’m missing that would make it all make sense, riddle me this, Batman: Why does Boyd *LET* her escape from the cell and cause all kinds of higgledy piggaldy in his headquarters? He knows how dangerous she is, he knows nothing good will come of it, and it would have been a simple matter to keep her in there, but no, he lets her run around unsupervised at great risk to himself and his project.

Again, it makes no sense. Even his little Sie müssen Hammer oder Amboss sein speech isn’t all that rational. It’s kinda’ badass, but not exactly sensible badass. It’s more like the kinda’ badass that develops 3AM in the dorm, gathered around the bong after a poetry slam, when the hot goth chick who won’t sleep with you starts babbling about Nietzsche, which she doesn’t really understand, but that doesn’t stop her from being all pretentious about it.

Look, I’m as much in favor of Boyd being Satan in this little retelling of Faust as anyone, but this was a kind of sloppy retcon.

Ok, now on to the good stuff:

Enver Gjokaj is freakin’ brilliant! He was good as Topher the last time they pulled this gag, but here he’s vastly better. It was positively eerie. The man is easily the best actor on TV today. I’m in awe of his abilities.

Topher has grown on me. He was all annoying and no substance in the first season, but now he’s actually got a character beneath the attitude, and I like him. Playing a genius is really hard, and a polymath is even harder. Think about it: How do you even approach playing a character that’s smarter than you, yourself are? Very few people can pull it off, and Fran Kranz certainly wasn’t up to it in the first season, but he is now. He’s grown into the part, and does some great stuff with it.

The Paul stuff is interesting. He’s sort of become a supporting character rather than a lead in the last five episodes or so, but here he had a lot of good scenes, and the tension between him and Mellie was very interesting. It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t remember his love for Echo. It’s interesting that he *does* remember his love for Mellie, and he’s reached a kind of rapprochement with the whole doll thing. He resists her affections out of propriety, but he pretty clearly shares them, and he’s clearly badly hurt when she dies.

I loved the live by the doll/die by the doll way they killed off Boyd. I loved even more that the whole mission was a pyrrhic victory. They won the battle and lost the war.

QUESTIONS:

Who killed the commandos attacking the Dollhouse? They set that up as a big thing, but my hunch is that it’s a dropped thread.

Where’s Alpha?

Why were the initial Victor/Sierra scenes in the ruined Dollhouse played so frivolously? It totally didn’t match the tone of the rest of the episode.

Did Echo kill Whiskey? They didn’t say. I assume she didn’t, but I don’t know.

I’m not convinced that a person with a dozen punctures in their spine, leaking spinal goo, could really kickbox on the level we saw tonight.

So, bottom line, it was a barnburner of an episode, and a suitable intermezzo between last week and the finale, but it never quite made sense, and you could see the last minute suture marks on the script where they tried to tie up too much stuff in too little time, at too much cost to logic. Granted, it makes more sense than the last half dozen Russel T. Davies Dr. Who scripts, but I'm holding this show to a somewhat higher standard.

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