Dollhouse – “Stage Fright”

dollhousetitle

“Stage Fright”

February 27th, 2009

One of the problems with Dollhouse is that there are a lot of variables, too many if you ask me. It’s as if each week Eliza Dushku is a singer, but she doesn’t get the lyrics until she’s about to go onstage, knows none of the choreography, and doesn’t know what song the band is going to play until the music starts. The show builds around her each week, but at the same time the premise of the show means that it’s happening to her, more often than not: she’s not there to fix a situation so much as to sit there waiting for the situation to happen to her.

And watching Eliza Dushku come to slow realizations while more or less a sleeper agent isn’t actually all that interesting: unlike last week, where Echo was placed into actual danger and she began to see past actives and past events in ways that questioned the very nature of this process, this week we’re forced to be concerned about a stuck-up pop singer. And much like with the show’s pilot, where the kidnapping plot felt like something out of a very basic procedural, this one spent too much time (if not the entire episode) being pedestrian, and when it did finally try to become something more it was in one of those trite, on the nose parallels between the case of the week and our recurring characters.

It’s a sign that, no question, this is going to be a rollercoaster of sorts: on weeks like this one, we’re going to be looking back to last week’s episode and wishing that someone would try to shoot Echo with a bow and arrow again. And that’s going to be a balance issue the show’s going to have to confront with time.

As the episode goes along, the better it gets: when you learn that Rayna actually wanted to be shot (to get away from the life she was forced to live by “the man”), that she actually knows her stalker, you start to see this is more complex than we realize. There’s a great scene at Dollhouse where we see the higher ups having a conversation wherein they learn that Sierra has been kidnapped and yet their reaction is a contented smile – it was their plan all along. It’s really the same situation: Rayna is choosing to make herself like the Actives, having felt like she was something created and programmed all along, and chooses to place herself in danger because she feels no one cares about her. The Actives, of course, don’t really have anyone to take care of them either (except Echo, who has Boyd), and they don’t have the same sense of agency.

As the episode escalates into something a bit more interesting, you begin to see how both sides of this coin can’t handle deviations from the plan: Sierra can be kidnapped, as it’s something Dollhouse can handle, but Echo kidnapping Rayna isn’t in the plan, isn’t a contingency that they can deal with. You begin to ask the question of how far is too far: they are willing to let an Active get kidnapped, but Echo is going too far off task, off mission if you were. But there is some doubt about this: considering that they’re supposed to be the ultimate tool, they need to be able to adapt. The argument is that Echo, of course, took the parameter and did it even better. She does things that no one else does, with an approach that most people might not have thought of. The argument would seem to be that, much as no one would think of using these actives over a normal hire, their actions are also unorthodox and potentiall problematic.

But in the beginning, this was just a boring tale of Eliza Dushku, who can at least actually sing, making her way through the paces protecting someone unknowingly. It was all very vapid, very uninteresting, and just not fun to watch in the least. And this show needs to be fun, or at the very least eventful: the stuff with Paul Ballard was technically serious tonight, but his near death episode lacked anything even close to dramatic weight, and they’re going to have to do something other than making his informant an Active (which the promotional images kind of gave away, no) to bring this story into something approximating relevance.

Instead, we’re left to pick up on small moments, like the episode-closing event wherein Sierra is about to interact with Echo but the latter shakes her off, noting that her handler is watching them. Early in the episode it seemed as if the Active’s wanderings around the Dollhouse were too boring to be considered eventful, with the tabula rosa making them even more boring than the rest of their missions, but that little moment was the kind of thing that makes you want to keep watching. Let’s just hope that the overall episodes can do a little more of that lifting in the future.

Cultural Observations

  • I love Echo’s pre-treatment rants: “But can I kick that guy’s ass first?” was a lot of fun, and her and Boyd’s brief interactions are great as well. We need more of this, no doubt about it.
  • I found Topher better this week as well, actually, needling Boyd about name shifts and defending his “genius” to claims that Echo has gone off-mission. I also felt like he had a good balance of humour and intelligence: his explanation of the program and the parameters was quite clear, and gave us at the very least a good expansion of how the actives can work, if not an interesting scenario in which this could happen.
  • Watching the night’s episode of BSG set a pretty high bar for musical integration, but ignoring its mind-blowing synergy I thought the use of music here was solid if unspectacular. Dushku held her own, the actress playing Rayna held her own, the show held its own – holding pattern about describes it.
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3 Comments

Filed under Dollhouse

3 responses to “Dollhouse – “Stage Fright”

  1. Hal

    What is the name of the song Echo sings during her audition?

  2. Anthony

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2009/2/27/

    This comic and the acompanying blog post pretty much sum up my feelings. I will continue to watch but, so far, I haven’t started to care about this show enough to be devestated by its inevitable cancellation.

  3. She is without doubt my favorite movie star right now. What a superb performer. Just brilliant!

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