TV REVIEW: Dollhouse: "Stage Fright" (Episode 3)

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Echo is programmed to be an ass-kicking backup singer for a Riana-like singer that someone is trying to kill. Sierra, the blonde Japanese girl, is assigned as her backup. They infiltrate the singer's agency separately and with no real difficulties, until it becomes apparent that Rianna *Wants* to die, and is encouraging her stalker/executioner. Said whackjob kidnaps Sierra, and so Echo endangers the singer to rescue the other active, and save the day. This they then do.

Meanwhile, in the Helo plot, Paul the FBI guy gets set up by his Russian Mob informant, and is shot and hospitalized.

The end.

OBSERVATIONS

Perhaps it's just that I like Helo, but the Paul moments of this show have consistently been the high water mark. Today was the highest of the high water when he takes a bullet and THEN takes out three mob gunsels. We also find out that his Dollhouse assignment is "The nicest kind of fired" the FBI offers - permanent assignment to a case that is more-than-likely an Urban Legend.

The big twist in the Helo plot - and the best part of the whole episode - is when Paul's Russian Informant, who we've met 3x in 3 episodes, turns out to be a Dollhouse Active named "Victor." He's occasionally programmed with the Russian personality specifically so they can keep tabs on Paul's investigation, and mislead or otherwise neutralize him. I suspected the fat girl across the hall from Paul filled this role, but no, it's the Russian. They got me.

He's also got a great scene where he says he knows the Dollhouse exists because the technology exists, and humans always pervert technology for evil purposes. "It's our nature."

And, hey! Was that a Seth Green cameo in there?

The A-plot was stilted and uninspired, almost like imitation Whedon rather than the real thing. There is an unsettling "Jem and the Holograms" feel to the procedings, as though the plot is deliberately being aimed specifically at 12 year old girls who aren't all that bright. Of course the entire purpose of this show is wish fulfilment and living out your fantasies (Or living out other people's pre-packaged fantasies), which is realistically what being a 12 year old girl is all about in our society (More's the pity), but if this is an attempt at a meta-textural commentary, it falls flat. A lot in this episode falls flat, so really, they may have been going for that and just missed it.

The twist that Rhianna or Rianna or however you spell it secretly wants to die is nice enough, but it's not really the shocker it should be. She's not exactly established as anything other than a moody vapid factory girl (By her own admission) so when she decides to die, that's just another random decision made by a moody, vapid factory girl who's every decision seems random. I'm going to kill myself. And tomorrow, new drapes I think. Then I think I'd like to sleep with a sailor. And then I'll smoke a lot of opium. Whatever.

The whole thing lacks any kind of heft or feelign of peril or even consequence. Yeah, sure, Sierra gets kidnapped, but so what? Aren't they monitoring these Actives? Don't they follow them or trace them or otherwise know pretty much where they are at all times? It doesn't really ramp up the plot any. The resolution seems rather hodge-podge and confused, too. It works, but it's sloppy.

There are, however, elements where even this works:
- I like the vibe of Echo and Sierra being best friends and partners who are continually meeting each other for the first time, with no memory of it. They're the whackiest buddy cops in history, in that sense.
- The "Friends help each other" line is much nicer and better done than last week's goofy "Shoulder to the grindstone" device.
- I do like the fact that the Actives follow their programming to the best of their ability, however imprecision in programming might result in the objectives shifting. When Echo realized the real threat was Rhianna herself, and not the stalker, she shifted focus from protecting the singer from an outside threat to deliberately recklessly endangering her in order to frighten her in to protecting herself *from* herself. While the way this played out in the episode was pretty freakin' hackneyed, the *idea* behind it is good.
- She freakin' hit that girl with a chair! A chair! Ah, man, I loved that!
- I like the discussion about how Echo is special because she holds the ability to assemble the pieces they give her in the most effective way possible.
- I also like the notion that 'special is dangerous.'
- The officially dead-yet-obviously-still-alive Alpha gets a namecheck.

That said, man, the dialog was bad, particularly the whole "What were you? Made in a lab?" discourse which is supposed to be trenchant and insightful, but is just cringingly bad. And there's something offputtingly girly about the procedings tonight.

I don't mean 'girly' in the sense that, say, Kaylee from Firefly was Girly (And adorably so. She was the heart and soul of that show), I don't mean *real* girly, and I'm certainly not talking about (sigh) empowerment. No, rather, it's all girly in the disturbingly false aime-at-Jr.High-Girls sense, where people talk about political activism a lot, but are really talking about various breast containment devices and suchlike.

With that in mind, the show feels a bit like a conventional undercover detective show - not unlike any of them, really - the only angle being that the undercover cops don't realize they're undercover cops. But frankly this whole thing could have played out just as well as a first season episode of Remington Steel, with Miss Holt being the one going undercover. We don't really need the high concept here. And while I"m sure the High Concept SF angle is here for a reason, and it's going somewhere, episodes like these last three don't seem to really be making good use of it.

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