This episode is simultaneously much better, and much more disappointing than last week's debut.
We start off with a flashback scene to three months ago when one of the Actives goes whacky and kills a skillion other Actives and guards in the Dollhouse. He leave Echo alive, however.
In the present, a rich guy hires Echo for a river rafting rock climbing adrenaline junkie kind of weekend seldom seen outside of the exciting lives that people live in chewing gum adds and the occasional feminine hygiene commercials ("You can do anything!"). Echo and John. (I don't remember his name, and really all her dates are Johns anyway, so henceforth let's just save ourselves time and call them all that).
Echo and John eventually get around to bow-hunting a deer, and then make the kind of sweet, sweet love that can only come from serious mamalian bloodletting (I'm not being facetious, that's a theme deliberately running through this episode), and then "John" announces that he's going to hunt and kill Echo, and he'll give her a five-minute head start.
Really? Seriously? That's all you've got, mister Whedon? We're not even halfway through the second episode of your new show, and you've decided to turn it in to The Most Dangerous Game? Since first published in 1924, Richard Connell's short story, "The Most Dangerous Game" has become the single most wildly ripped off plot device in the history of visual media. From Gilligan's Island to Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity, it's been used at least FORTY-SEVEN TIMES according to Wikipedia, and probably far more than that, since Wiki isn't exactly exhaustive in it's research. Hell, I'm have-certain the Brady Bunch even used this one once. Honestly, I could not be more disappointed.
Anyway, since anyone who's ever owned a television and has at least one working eye knows what happens next, there's no real point in boring you with the main plot, so we'll just ignore that and get to the more intersting subplot details.
The plot is intercut with a series of flashbacks that tell us the story of Boyd Langdon, an ex-cop who's been assigned as Echo's handler. We're introduced to him joining the organization after "Alpha" freaked out and killed all those people, including, evidently, his predecessor. We see him meet Echo for the first time, and some of the bonding procedures that the Actives and Handlers go through so that the Actives will always, instantly, totally trust their Handlers under any circumstances.
In the present, Langdon and his driver are in the woods monitoring Echo's date when it goes horribly wrong. They get jumped by a fake cop who kills the driver, but Langdon subdues him and tries to pump him for information, then goes off to rescue Echo. He gets arrowed in the process, but gives Echo a weapon with which she ultimately saves the day, and in the process he finds that rather than her bonding with him as she's supposed to, he is bonding with her.
Also in the present, FBI agent Paul Ballard (Helo, from Galactica) is still tracking the Dollhouse. He investigates the shot-up house from "Ghost," and confers with longtime Whedon actor "Badger" from Firefly (Also known as Romo Lampkin the lawyer from Galactica), who plays a presumably-recurring role as a cop. Badger/Romo is getting a lot of character work these days. I saw him on Burn Notice just last week. Good for him!
Anyway, someone anonymously gives Ballard a picture of Echo from before she joined the Dollhouse with her real name written on the back ("Caroline"), encouraging him to keep looking.
The Stern English Lady who runs the Dollhouse ("Adelle DeWitt") and the Dollhouse Security Cheif discuss wether Paul should be killed or not.
After the depressingly derivative plot ends, Echo is deprogrammed, but she's kept one mannerism from her ordeal - a "Shoulder to the wheel" motion that's kind of like a roman salute.
This is the second week in a row that an "Assignment" has gone horribly, horribly wrong. If they're never going to have a business-as-usual week, this show is going to get as tedious as a marathon of Holodeck and/or Transporter Malfunction Episodes pretty damn quickly.
Topher Brink, the tech-guy still reminds me a lot of Wash from Firefly, only stoned. A mildly-stoned Wash.
Miss DeWitt mentions that she works for someone higher up. Who is it? Who owns the Dollhouse? And what's it for? Clearly it's not to make money because even if they're charging people a million dollars a date, just *look* at this place - they're bleeding money! They lost a dozen Actives before the opening credits, and own at least three assault choppers. What is the *real* business of the Dollhouse? Miss DeWitt said last week she felt they were making a difference. How? By getting fat rich guys laid? Unlikely. There's something going on below the surface here, and that's all that's holding my interest at the moment.
Last week's episode ended with a naked man in a room full of dead people watching a video of Echo/Caroline and dropping a picture in an envelope. Obviously, this is the guy who sent the picture to Paul, and just as obviously, this guy is "Alpha." He's trying to use Paul to get to lead him to Echo for whatever reason. Love, I guess. Echo was the only Active around that Alpha didn't kill during his rampage. We're told Alpha was later killed by security, but Boyd clearly doesn't believe that. And neither should we.
Alpha would appear to have retained bits and pieces of memories from his different assignments over the years, stuff that survived the mindwipes. This aggregated, and then interacted in unpredictable ways, causing him to go psychotic. The final scene with Echo is obviously intended to suggest this is happening to her as well, albeit gradually.
Clearly there's a rival Dollhouse out there. The "John" in this episode was obviously an Active, and was clearly programmed specifically to kill Echo at Alpha's behest. Why? Again, dunno. the only interesting question is did Alpha *Start* the rival Dollhouse, or is he merely their thrall?
Ellie, the girl who lives across the hall from Paul - how much you wanna' bet she's an Active assigned to watch him for Dollhouse security?
The scenes of Echo remembering bits of her Caroline past as well as earlier assignments were interesting, but kind of poorly done.
I went easy on this show last week becuase Pilots are rough, and frequently not all that representative of what the show will end up being, but I feel I can rough it up a bit here because I feel like I'm getting more of a sense of what the show is, and there's a number of problems here, most of which revolve around Eliza Dushku.
On the face of it, it's a great idea because she gets to play a different character each week. Wonderfull showcase for a wonderful actress, but I'm not sure that we've got a wonderful actress here. We've got a hot chick who's pushing thirty, and I'm not sure she's got the range to pull this off. Her Adrenaline-Junkie hippie chick from this week was really no different from her motorcycle-racing slutty-dress-wearing chick from last week. Her 'personality' last week really didn't work at all for me. I could be wrong, I hope I am, but she's simply not appearing versitile enough for the role.
And even if she is, there's an inherent problem with a show where the main character is essentially a guest star every week. Obviously they intend for her to evolve an underlying personality like Alpha did, so that may not always be the case, or even be much of an issue, but as for now it's not compelling me.
In the two episodes we've seen, every single character has been more interesting than the protagonist, and that's never a good thing.
I remain intrigued by the politics below the surface, however. What is *really* going on here? Because the illusion the show is giving us is deliberately fake.