REVIEWS: Dollhouse: “Vows” (Season 2, Episode 2)

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The previews made it look rather 'meh', but this was actually a very well-done episode from start to finish, and it ended up rather impressing me.

PLAY BY PLAY

Topher tells Ballard that he’s amazed himself - he’s managed to reprogram a brain in such a way that the brain reprograms the body, and this might change the world. He won’t say what he did, and it’s an oddly expositional and extraneous scene, so you know it’s going to come back in the third act in some capacity.

Meanwhile, Echo has been assigned to a guy who reminds me a lot of Scott McGuiness, the guy who played all those good looking, obnoxious upper-class preppie types in those early 80s movies ( http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0569372/ ) You know the guy - Uhura forced him in to a closet at gunpoint once. Anyway, it’s not him, but it looks like him. Echo, it turns out, is now lactating, and capable of nursing baby Jack.

The next morning, Echo and The Man Who Would Be Scott McGuiness have a very awkward not-quite breakfast, and he beats feat for work. Echo and the baby go to the park and meet with Sierra, and discusses her increasing paranoia that something’s up with her husband. She’s seen a black van lurking in the background - it’s actually her handler, Paul’s van, but she doesn’t know that - and suspects he’s having an affair. Sierra appears to talk her down, but then Echo goes through her hubby’s desk and finds a bunch of pictures of him with another woman. She confronts the guy when he comes home, and, thinking fast, he tells her (Truthfully) that he was married before he met Echo, and she died, and he’s not over it, and doesn’t want to talk about it, but he’s sorry, and he should have told her. Placated and chagrinned, Echo goes sleepy-bye, and her husband calls the dollhouse to complain about her and how he wants her out of there, and he’ll get rid of the baby.

Echo hears this, and attempts to escape with the kid just as Ballard and pals arrive. She gives them the slip, and goes to the police, who take her in assuming this is a domestic dispute thing “Ah, how are they going to get her out of this,” I was wondering, but it’s surprisingly easy: Hubby goes in with Paul, says his wife is dead and Echo is a crazy lady who’s kidnapped his son. Paul flashes his FBI ID, and - bang - case solved.

The Scott McGuiness-looking guy goes home with the kid. Echo isn’t responding to her handler in the programmed fashion, and after she’s wiped, she KOs Topher (hooray!) and escapes, still in her inactive doll state. They quickly realize that though they wiped her mind, her hormonal, glandular, lactational memory - really - overrode this, and caused some of it to be backed up in her mind.

Once again, she goes to steal Baby Jack, but Jack’s daddy talks her down, and she walks away just as Paul and pals show up. She tells Paul that she can’t remember everything they’ve programmed in to her, but she feels it.

Meanwhile, in what appears to be this season’s new Helo Plot, the senator from last week is looking for proof that the Rawson corporation is doing illegal medical research and a zillion other things, but since he made his speech, all his friends have gone to ground, and he’s lacking all but some financial proof. A mysterious package arises, inspiring him to continue.

Meanwhile, in Subplot B, “Mellie” from last season returns - looking to have packed on some LBs in the off-season, and is doing quite well for herself. She’s now among the idle rich. Her and Paul have an awkward run-in. Well, it’s awkward for him, she has only the most fleeting memory of him, and explains how she came to be a doll, but now she’s free again and happy.

OBSERVATIONS

First up: cute baby! The baby stuff was done much better on this show than on most, and it was an adorable little smiley kid.
We’re told that the senator’s info last week came from the NSA, but that his ‘inside man’ has gone to ground since the speech. This tracks with Mr. Dominic’s story - as you’ll recall, he was a mole for the NSA, who periodically reported back to them as part of their ongoing effort to get Dollhouse tech for themselves.

Presumably the mysterious person who left another file on the senator’s doorstep was Alpha.

The senator’s wife is more than likely a doll on a long, deep cover assignment, just like “Mellie” was with Paul.

Just for those not paying attention, the client this week lost his wife in childbirth, and blamed the kid. He couldn’t bond with his son, so he hired a doll to be a mother so the kid could feel loved and develop normally in the first couple months, then he’d put the kid up for adoption because he blamed the baby for the death of his wife. All the stress with Echo caused him and the kid to bond, ultimately, however, and he’s keeping the baby. I’m assuming the Dollhouse probably gave him his money back, too, since they really screwed the pooch on this one.

Here’s what I don’t get - the client hired one doll full-time on a long term (Several months) engagement, and another doll - Sierra - as a part-timer. That’s got to be screamingly expensive. What did this guy do to afford this? I mean, the house is big and nice, but certainly not ostentatious. He didn’t look or act or seem like the kind of guy who could afford to drop 5 or 10 million for this sort of thing.

I admit I jumped when Echo took out Topher. Did not see that coming.

Doctor Whiskey/Saunders was not in this episode. Did she just go for a drive last week, or did she run away? Also, Boyd was conspicuously absent - I say “Conspicuously” because he’s the security guy, and there were a lot of things needing securing this time out. Is he chasing Doctor Whiskey? If so, this tracks: he wasn’t around to do his normal job and everything in the dollhouse went to hell.

Hey, I just got that: Doctor Saunders used to be “Whiskey.” That makes her a “Whiskey Doctor” - slang for a drunken or otherwise disreputable doctor who’s trading his services for safe passage or room and board or whatever, and more-than-likely is just one train ahead of a lot of people who want his blood. It’s a fairly common theme in the Old West. That’s really funny!

They promised Mellie that she’d loose her pain if she did a hitch for the dollhouse, and they’d make her rich, too. She’s out, and happy, and rich, so they kept their end of the bargain, but: why is she happy? If she was nonfunctional from mourning when they put her soul in the jar, shouldn’t she still be nonfunctional from mourning when they take it out of the jar and put it back in her body? Did they adjust her in some way to take away her pain, but leave the memories? That seems most likely, and perhaps implicit in the dialog. But if so, how? Topher told us that he can’t whittle on a non-wiped mind without damaging it. Is he lying? Or did he whittle on Mellie while she was “In the jar” so to speak?

Later on, Topher offers her some new aps he’s been working on, and she declines, but wouldn’t that mean - again - that he can do more stuff to a working, non-wiped brain than he let on to Paul? Is he lying, or is this just sloppy writing?

Wouldn’t the neighbors notice that our McGuiness-looking guy who just lost his wife suddenly has a new wife who’s claiming to be Jack’s mom? Just a note on plausibility, there.

Oh, hey, hats off to me for predicting Mellie would turn up again, huh? My penchant for predicting Whedon plot twists remains. So does my penchant for assuming they’ll be much later in the year and of far greater importance than they actually are. I’m accurate, in a wildly inaccurate kind of way.

This is the second long-term assignment in a row for Echo.

It wasn’t openly stated last week, but this week they did: Paul is still trying to take the dollhouse down. I was going to make a Paul Young joke, then realized that was “Treehouse,” not “Dollhouse.”

Is there any significance in the final dialog between Paul and Echo taking place while they’re looking at a playground?

I'm pretty sure Topher's reprogramming to affect biology wouldn't work, because hormonal cues are triggered by body events which are independent of the brain. For instance, it isn't the brain that tells the body it's pregnant, it's the other way 'round. Still, it's an interesting thought, and we've already seen that he can reprogram people to be nearsighted or farsighted, and with a lot of very specific muscle and proprioceptive memory - playing the piano, for instance.

Dunno if the actress is getting better, or if it’s become more of an ensemble show, or if it’s just better direction and editing, but I’m liking Eliza Dushku a lot more this season than I did last.

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