“Man on the Street”
March 20th, 2009
Airing against the epic scale of the final episode of Battlestar Galactica and CBS NCAA coverage kept it from gaining any ratings momentum, but the much-hyped sixth episode of Dollhouse’s first season has come and gone with solid traction. Or, more accurately, it has come and stuck around in a way that no episode previous had really done. There is nothing procedural about “Man on the Street,” nothing that feels as if it will be wiped away and considered a drop in the bucket, nothing that makes us feel like we’re watching this show through a lens that is constantly changing.
What’s strange is that it’s not like it’s rocket science: the elements present in this episode missing from others were not found in some sort of secret potion, or a high-profile guest star (although I do love Patton Oswalt), or in some abstract framing structure that we’ve never seen before. The episode wasn’t even that surprising, its twists either fulfilling earlier speculation or rather deliberate staging mechanisms. Joss Whedon is a strong writer of television fiction, and the episode was littered with some strong humour amidst its plot development, but the strength of this episode wasn’t in its subtleties.
Rather, it was in the fact that the majority of its development was entirely independent of the actives themselves, and as such is development that has a profound effect on the actual universe of the show. By narrowing focus onto Paul Ballard, and by expanding our knowledge of the Dollhouse institution and how it operates, we are finally gaining information that can be logically tied to what we’re seeing on screen. While the philosophical morality of the Dollhouse has been a central point of contention in the series, it never really hit as well as it did with the street testimonials, real people reacting in real ways, or in the misuse of trust we saw displayed in the episode. The show, and its very premise, felt far more real in this instance, and as a result far closer to its original potential.
It makes one wonder why this wasn’t the show’s pilot, as any logic to keeping it this far back seems to be countered by a fairly logical argument that this foundational structure would have been even more rewarding.