EPISODE REVIEW: Dollhouse: “Vows” (Season 2, Episode 1)

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When last we saw the Dollhouse, as you may recall, Paul Ballard had finally managed to crack it, but unfortunately let Alpha in. Higgaldy Piggaldy ensued, during which “Mellie” was freed, Paul struck a deal with the Dollhouse, Alpha escaped, Victor was sliced and diced, and we discovered that the doctor was a former doll with a fake personality.

I admit some misgivings about tonight’s episode: As strong as last season ended, it took for freakin’ ever to get going, and it was openly embarrassingly crappy for the first four or five episodes. Added to which, I’ve never quite bought Eliza Dushku in the main role (Which, to be fair, is a hard-as-hell roll), there’s the rumor that Fox chopped the budget for the second season, and as funny as Megabot was http://www.atom.com/funny_videos/megabot_1/ I’m still mostly annoyed by Topher. So, though I’ve been looking forward to this for some time now with some eagerness, there’s also been some dread. There were just so very many ways it could have gone wrong.

The good news is: It didn’t!

PLAY BY PLAY

We pick up more or less immediately after the conclusion of the last episode, with them wiping Echo’s mind of the Sibyl-gestalt mess that Alpha put there. Topher is frazzled by the whole incident, and the doctor - who now knows she’s a doll - is deliberately screwing with him. Boyd expresses some concerns over Echo’s new assignment, which he says “Is just sick,” and we see Echo getting married to Apollo (Jamie Bamber) from Battlestar Galactica.

Cue the new opening credits, which are pretty much like the old credits, but worse. Clips from the first couple episodes here, and the last season, playing over the ‘da-da-dahhh’ song, same as before, replacing the fashion-model scenes from last year. Meh.

Ok, as a brief aside: I’m experimenting with the concept that you guys don’t actually want nauseatingly exact synopses of these shows, so I’m just going to play it fast and loose and treat this as a refresher rather than one of those six page rundowns of everything everyone said, did, thought, and wore, like some sites do. Not a criticism, just I’m personally finding those sorts of things increasingly tedious, but if you like that sort of thing, shiny! More power to you. So, please let me know if you want more detail or less, let me know, and I’ll expand or shorten this section of my reviews accordingly. It is an experiment, after all, so give me some feedback, ok? Anyway…

Here’s the deal: Paul’s “Deal” with the Dollhouse was to use Echo to help him crack a major arms dealer that Paul failed to crack three or four years before, prior to his Dollhouse obsession. Echo thinks she’s an FBI agent who’s been partnered with Paul for all that time, and she’s working as a mole. She’s made Apollo love her, and they really are married. They have unrestrained intercourse half a hundred times, which eats at Paul quite badly, both because of jealousy, and because he’s using Echo.

Meanwhile a senator or representative gives a press conference about how the Dollhouse’s parent corporation is suppressing medical information that could save lives and cure diseases. During one of her check-ins, Ms. DeWitt asks Paul to become her handler, and he refuses. She points out, clearly, that Echo was skitchy before, and she’s likely to go buggy as hell after all she’s been through. If it goes too far, she’ll go to the attic, but DeWitt would prefer to have someone who really cares about her watching her, and she - DeWitt - is curious to know what Echo is evolving in to. Paul turns her down. Echo, meanwhile, is having flashes of previous assignments when in non-active state. She remembers making out with Whiskey at a party while the doctor (Who used to be whiskey) is giving her a pelvic exam. (ew.) She calls the doctor by the name “Whiskey.” It’s uncomfortable for both of them.

Meanwhile, the doctor continues to screw with Topher, alternately by pranking him and attempting to seduce him. This culminates in a kind of joint meltdown for both of them, when he explains why he built her the way he did, and she explains why she hates him like she does. Boyd, meanwhile, attempts to befriend the doctor, but she shoots him down.

Apollo’s security good has figured out Echo is working with Paul - surveillance photos - and he smacks her around with a couple blows to the head, during which she starts to remember previous assignments. Apollo realizes she’s a mole, and is about to kill her, but Echo manages to very nearly talk him out of it with a surprisingly effective little speech, and then calls him by the name of one of her previous johns.

Awkward!

Paul calls this in to Topher, who spots that something’s wrong, even though her handler didn’t catch it, and fearing for Echo/Caroline’s life, he tries the desperate tactic of turning himself in to Apollo at the airport where Apollo is…well, I don’t know what, really. He’s got a briefcase full of atomic bomb detonators. He’s got a jet. Is he going to do an arms deal? Drop Echo out of the plane? Drop Echo out of the plane strapped to the nose of an atomic bomb like Major Kong? Who can tell. Echo is skitching bigtime, however, not clear on where she is, dropping in and out of various accents (including her NBK “Mallory” southern death chick from the season finale), when Paul comes in and starts screaming at her and slapping her around until - for no real reason - she resets on her kung fu fightin’ mode from the Chinese restaurant last year, and kicks everyone’s ass and takes down Apollo in a very Frank Lupo/Stephen J. Cannel 1980s action/adventure kind of way.

With Apollo behind bars, and the doctor now capable of leaving the Dollhouse on occasion, all seems fine. Echo confesses to Paul that she remembers all the people she’s been, but doesn’t know who she is, and asks Paul to help her find out. He agrees, and signs on as her handler.

THE END

OBSERVATIONS

It goes without saying, but there was no “Helo Plot” in this episode. Just like in Galactica, from whence it came, Helo has been allowed to move to the primary dramatic location. Also, just like in Galactica, Apollo is there. Stunt casting, baby! I’m sure we’ll see more of this.

Said it before, say it again: Tahmoh Penikett is a surprisingly effective leading man, and I’m glad to see he’s effectively the male lead of the show now. He’s a good actor, and I’m glad he’s finally getting showcased. Also, the ladies seem to like him, which can’t hurt the ratings any.

I was also really happy the doctor is finally getting more to do. I felt she was largely wasted last year, though of course I now understand why they were keeping her in the back of the crayon box and not really drawing with her. The scene of Boyd befriending her - or was he hitting on her? - was well handled, and the increasingly crazy glimpses of her leading up to her attempted seduction of Topher was well done, too. I was a bit up in the air about that scene, actually. It’s a bit long, and expositional, and could easily have been spread out through several scenes instead of one lump. On the other hand, there’s some emotional rawness to it that would be lost if you kept cutting away from it. On the whole, I liked it, but I feel like it could probably have used at least a slight trim. Her jealousy of Echo is interesting, too.

I don’t like Ms. DeWitt’s new haircut. Do you? She was looking a bit saggy ‘round the arms to me, too.

Just for the record: Jamie Bamber *IS* English, but the accent he was using tonight was no more his real one than Apollo was. Bamber was kind of a ‘meh’ villain tonight, it really could have been played by anyone just about as effectively, there was nothing that really screamed ‘we need this guy for the part’ aside from stunt casting. That said, no matter how badly Galactica crashed and burned at the end, no matter how the last season and a half of that show just held fans down and defecated all over them, Bamber is a good actor, and I can’t tell you how glad I am that he’s getting work, and hopefully will avoid typecasting.

So did Paul tip off the senator? Probably not. Did Alpha? Almost certainly.

Now that Mellie is out, I wonder where she is, and how she’s doing? I predict we’ll see her again in at least one episode this season to answer just that question. You’ll recall that she was pretty messed up from loosing a child when she signed on.

Very Echo/Paul centric episode tonight, so a lot of the other dolls got shorted, however Sierra gets a hilarious scene as a racist English woman dressed like Jackie Kennedy who just can’t stand ‘Orientals.’ “It’s not a racist thing, it’s just that your culture isn’t…you know.” There’s no explanation for it, no context, it just comes out of nowhere, starts out funny, and goes steadily uphill, peaking when she invites the asian woman she’s insulting to tie her up and spank her.

Victor - last year’s breakout character/actor - is having extensive reconstructive plastic surgery to fix his scars. I’m looking forward to more Victor in the show.

Boyd takes his new job duties - which were Mr. Dominic’s old duties - very seriously. I’ve never been entirely sure that Boyd is on the level, but I do think he’s a good man, and I enjoy watching him on the show. I’m glad to know he’ll still be a major continuing presence this season.

A lot of time passes in the course of this episode: Echo meets Apollo, they fall in love, they get married. Even with a whirlwind romance, that takes a while. I mean, there were hundreds of people at that wedding. How long was the assignment? They mention that it was long term in the ep, but what are we talking here? A month? A season? What? I’m figuring about three months.

As plots go, it was entertaining and diverting enough, though it felt a little…isolated? Drifting? Like “Oh, crap, we got a 2nd, season, and we ended with Paul making a deal with DeWitt, which sounded all cool and ominous, and I didn’t feel like I’d ever have to fill in the blanks on that one because I was sure we’re dead, but now I need something fast because Terminator 2.5 died for this…crap…ok, heretofore unmentioned, never-to-be-mentioned-again personal demon from Paul’s past…yeah, that’ll do. Phew. Rough 11 seconds there. Wow.!” Still, as place-holder plots go, it was so very much better than that damn “Deadliest Game” debacle from last year.

Are Echo’s skitches caused by what Alpha did to her, or an extension of whatever was going on with her last year. What *IS* she evolving in to?

Much as Miss Dushku put me off last year, I found her quite good in this episode, by the way.

Why the hell was Topher crying? Why the hell does Topher live in the dollhouse, in the server room? Why the hell does Topher have no personal belongings whatsoever?

No apparent signs of budget cuts in this episode. Also, the Jonas Brothers apparent sex-addiction gag was pretty funny, if disquieting.

There seemed to be one or two clues or tells for this season’s arc. I wonder if one of them might be Tophers “The contract is” speech. Another might well be Echo’s “Help me” speech to Paul at the end, which was so perfect as to have been orchestrated by DeWitt.

There’s still a spy in the house of love, you know? Mr. Dominic did *NOT* send that message to Paul at the Chinese Restaurant. Someone else did. Who?

So: Bottom line: Good episode, good re-launch of the series, misgivings aside, I eagerly look forward to next week’s babynapping episode.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Oh, God, no! What, are you kidding me? “We’re pimps and killers, but in a philanthropic way.” Absolutely no way in hell!

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