Discussion in 'Science Fiction & Fantasy' started by DigificWriter, May 19, 2013.
And Buffy's didn't??
I'm back with reviews of Echoes and Needs.
My top two favorite seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are Seasons 6 and 5, in that order, and Echoes reminded me very much of three episodes from them: Tabula Rasa, Blood Ties, and The Weight of the World, as well as the Fringe episode Jacksonville, all of which are similarly centered around the theme of lost memory. The episode's plot also contained elements that reminded me of Beer Bad, Band Candy, Halloween, Restless, and the Angel episodes Spin the Bottle and Life of the Party.
I kind of alluded to this earlier, but this ep made me fall totally in love with Adelle and Topher. Fran Kranz and Olivia Williams are tremendous actors and took to the episode's quintessentially Jossian humor and off-the-wall narrative elements like ducks to water.
Beyond the episode's humor, I really liked the way the episode explored and dealt with Echo's resurfacing memories; it was the perfect way to set up and subtly telegraph the events of the very next episode, Needs (more on that subject in a bit).
I'm giving Echoes an enthusiastic 9.5 rating for the themes it explores and its quintessentially Jossian humor.
Needs honestly felt like the second part of a two-part story (with Echoes being the first part), and consequently reminded me very much of the same batch of Buffy, Angel, and Fringe episodes as Echoes. The ep also reminded me of Out of My Mind, Fear Itself, The Initiative, Primeval, As You Were, and the TSCC episode Allison from Palmdale.
Claire Saunders' suggestion, although ultimately rather totalitarian, was actually pretty smart and savvy, and the way it is revealed was brilliant, not only because it's a quintessentially Jossian twist, but also because it's not even remotely telegraphed even though Topher does tell Echo that they're running a test on her.
Echo was clearly the main protagonist of the ep, which she should've been, but it was also great to get some info on Sierra and Mellie/November's pasts as well, and to get payoff not only for Victor's romantic interest in Sierra, but the unresolved trauma of her abuse at the hands of her handler Hearn.
I was initially wondering why they even bothered to put Paul into the episode at all since his story really wasn't connected in any way to the rest of the narrative, but the episode's ending dispelled all those doubts with the reveal of him having received a voice message from lucid Echo.
Needs, just like Echoes, gets a 9.5 rating from me, although I actually think it's just slightly better overall because of its narrative and the themes it explores.
It's episodes like those last two that makes me wonder if Whedon knew how he wanted the series to end. We're clearly supposed to identify with Ballard, and Langdon acts as the audience surrogate in these first few episodes (because he's new to the Dollhouse, and therefore asks a lot of questions for us).
Let's face it. Stupid premises is how Whedon works. "A blonde meets a vampire in a dark alley and kicks his ass." "Cowboys in space speaking Chinese." "Vampire with a soul hunts other vampires" is the least stupid.
The most stupid is Dollhouse, which is dedicated to an indentured servitude/brainwashing operation that does nothing but teach cute people to do stuff that more experienced normal people already know how to do. Need a hostage negotiator? Rent a doll! Or, you know, hire an actual hostage negotiator! Need a bodyguard? Rent a doll! Or, like, consult a private security firm! Need somebody to fuck? Is it seriously so hard for rich people to find just the right high class hooker or gigolo that you have to wipe people's minds just to provide them?
One of the biggest mysteries in the history of television is why Fox gave this show a second season after seeing any episodes of the first.
I'm still in the process of watching A Spy in the House of Love and Haunted, but wanted to say that I just (re)read two articles that IO9 had on their site back in 2009 and with which I'm very slowly but surely coming to be in 100% agreement.
Dollhouse really offers something that is unique because it starts out as largely devoid of Joss' typical storytelling style and slowly becomes more familiar but without losing the things that initially set it apart from Joss' other projects.
You have a point about bodyguards and hostage negotiators, but you're completely missing the point with the dolls used as sex partners (which I'm willing to bet is the majority of the assignments). Sure, they could rent a prostitute, but it's not the same thing. The prostitute is doing it all for money - she or he may fuck you, pretend to be sexually attracted to you, pretend to love you, dress up as your fantasy, pretend to be someone else - but they're doing it all for the money. They are just pretending. A doll is not pretending: they really are that person at the time, they really do want you and love you, at the time. In a way, it's all real, as Adelle explains to a client in one of the episodes (she did in the unaired pilot and the scene was re-used in another episode, I'm not sure which).
And then there are other, very specific assignments where it was necessary for the doll to truly be that person and feel genuine emotion: as in the season 2 episode "Instinct" where
a widowed man needed a "mother" who will believe she is his baby son's mother and to genuinely love the baby, which he wasn't able to, because he reminded him of his wife's death at childbirth.
In other assignments, the clients had decided that it wasn't safe enough to hire a person who would just pretend to be whatever, because they believed nobody was such a good actor and the targets would see through the lie, so they needed someone who was 100% genuine, as in the episode "True Believer". If I'm remembering it correctly, something similar was the case with the hostage negotiator episode, since Echo was not just supposed to be a good hostage negotiator but it was also instrumental that she had a specific memory.
You're my kind of person.
^ With regards to Eleanor Penn (Echo's persona in Ghost), the fact that she had a connection with one of the kidnappers wasn't something that anyone knew anything about until it made itself manifest, but, yes, they did need someone who genuinely had the hostage negotiation skills required to get the client's daughter back and who wasn't connected in any way to the police or another governmental agency.
You're also correct when it comes to the usage of the dolls as sex partners; the point ultimately isn't the sex, it's the connection, as both Man on the Street and A Spy in the House of Love make rather clear (more on the latter when I review the ep).
Sorry for the double-post, but I just finished A Spy in the House of Love and Haunted and needed to get my thoughts down while they were fresh.
A Spy in the House of Love
First off, whoever came up with the title for the ep is a freaking genius.
Andrew Chambliss' name might've been the one on the ep, but Joss most definitely had his hand in the final product, as his stylistic fingerprints are everywhere, from the plot of the episode to the way it was edited.
In light of the recent discussion concerning the logic of the series' premise, the thing that stood out for me in this ep was actually the 'B' story involving Adelle. We don't learn much in the way of specific details about her, but what we do learn is that, in parallel to the themes explored in the next episode, she knows just how dangerous loneliness can be, and, as touched on a bit earlier, demonstrates that the practice of using the Dolls as sex partners isn't so much about the sex as it is about connection. Despite knowing that 'Roger' wasn't real, Adelle was about to give into the fantasy and accept and embrace the human connection the persona offered permanently, but wilfully and rather reluctantly pulled herself back from the edge.
The 'A' plot of the search for the spy and 'C' plot of Mellie/November going back to Paul and basically shattering his world for a second time were as equally riveting and executed as the Adelle story and provided some excellent quintessentially Jossian twists and turns, particularly the reveal of Dominic as the spy and Echo's role in exposing him.
Speaking of, I couldn't help but feel as if the significance of Echo actually asking to be Imprinted wasn't played up as much as it ought to have been, especially given that it represented the resolution of the mini-arc involving her and Dominic that started back in Stage Fright.
Ratings-wise, I thought this ep was the strongest of the season, and am giving it a 9.8.
The very first episode of a Joss Whedon show that I ever watched was Buffy Season 2's Killed by Death, and this ep very much reminded me of it, primarily because, like KbD, it's more or less a 'Jossified' take on a classic Noir murder mystery.
I would've liked to have seen more of the original Margaret so as to have a bit stronger of a connection to her as we watch her try and solve her own death, but Jane and the 'other Whedons' (Jed and Maurissa T.) are still able to make us care about her 'avatar' guise as Echo by using her family members and Adelle as prisms through which to reflect her.
Given what Adelle learned about herself in the last episode, the 'B' plot of Topher celebrating his birthday by creating a virtual best friend takes on a lot more poignancy than it might've otherwise, and also serves as the perfect juxtaposition for the episode's moral message concerning the nature of mortality and the possibility of the Imprinting technology being used to effectively create artificial immortality.
You also have the heartbreakingly painful and ongoing breakdown of Paul as he forces himself to deal with the fact that, as he found out in the last ep, she's a Doll and he's become the very scum he'd been trying to bring down, made even more powerful by Tahmoh's skills as an actor.
This ep, like its predecessor, gets a 9.8 rating that couldn't be more well-deserved.
You're going to love Season 2, then.
You're already seeing it with these last two episodes, but the central overarching conflict for the series is starting to come to light... the episodes are starting to become less standalone, and more about what the Dollhouse really stands for, especially in the season 1 finale.
And in the dialogue - Chambliss has revealed that Joss wrote all of Adelle's lines.
That means that a significant chunk of the episode must have been written or rewritten by Joss. I wish I had known that when I first heard about Chambliss being chosen to write for Buffy season 9. Me and several other people got excited thinking "This guy wrote Spy in the House of Love, he must be really good". And then his writing for the comics turned out to be really unimpressive.
The 'A' and 'B' plot in the episode were connected through Adelle, due to the unresolved sexual tension between her and Dominic, which was hinted with her suppressed-emotion reply that she hasn't lost anything. She's heavily guarded with "real people" and she was only letting herself go and being vulnerable in the fantasy with a "person" who only exists when she allows it. Now she's even more sure she can't trust anyone.
Which reminds me.
The actor who plays Victor (can't remember his name right now) was fantastic in this episode. As is he in almost every episode of this show. In the first few episodes, when he's introduced as the Russian mob character, we really believe that's his character. Then he's Victor, then he's DeWitt's lover, and in Season 2 there is an episode where he gets:
Spoiler: another character's personality
Topher is downloaded into him!
He's really one of the best actors on the show.
I've said this already, but there really hasn't been a single episode so far in the season that I'd call a standalone, which is another thing that makes the series unique among everything Joss has done.
His name's Enver Gjokaj, and you're right that he's one of the best actors on the show.
Spoiler: season 2
He was amazing as Topher.
And as Kiki the party girl!
Enver Gjokaj is an imressively versatile actor who is just preternaturally great in season two of Dollhouse. He was nearly cast as Rex Matheson in Torchwood, and would IMO be an inspired choice for a pivotal role in its parent show (not that that's ever gonna happen).
Just finished Briar Rose and Omega, and have to say that it's official: Dollhouse is the greatest thing Joss Whedon's done to date. With that out of the way, let's get to the episode reviews.
The most interesting thing for me about this episode is that it inverts what had become the standard formula for this show ('A' story involving Echo and/or one or more other Dolls, and 'B' story dealing with other story arcs such as Paul's hunt for the Dollhouse), with Paul's hunt being the 'A' story and the story involving the Dolls being the 'B' story. Another interesting thing about the episode is that, for the first time ever, the storyline involving Echo was more or less inconsequential in the long run, and was mainly there to give Eliza something to do. That's not by any means a complaint, though, because what it does is introduce us to one more personality for her character ahead of what happens in the season finale, so although it might be inconsequential to the actual storyline of the episode, it does end up having some merit, albeit in a rather roundabout way.
I first became aware of Alan Tudyk through Firefly, and have to say that I can't think of anyone better suited to playing somebody like Alpha - or his assumed alter-ego Stephen Kepler - than him.
Jane Espenson has written or co-written some of the best episodes of Buffy, Battlestar Galactica, and Once Upon a Time, which is a testament to her talents as a storyteller, and this episode has to rank among the best things she's ever written. One of the things that most stands out about the episode is that it didn't remind me of anything else that she'd written.
I'd thought about awarding a couple of earlier episodes a perfect 10.0 rating, but I'm glad I held off because Briar Rose truly earns that rating due to its inversion of the by-now-standard Dollhouse narrative formula and the ways in which it continues to demonstrate Jane Espenson's massive storytelling talents.
I've never really been that big a fan of Tim Minear; the man has talent and has written a ton of great episodes for Joss Whedon series over the years, but he tends to get a little bit too cerebral and dark for my tastes. Having said that, though, I have to give him props for writing and directing what is not only the best episode of Dollhouse thus far, but also one of the best episodes I think I've seen in any television series EVER.
There's so much going on in this episode that I'm not entirely sure what to talk about first, so I think I'll focus on three main threads:
1) Paul working with Boyd to find Alpha
2) Alpha using Echo to create an Ubermensch, Omega
3) The revelations concerning the character of Dr. Saunders
Tahmoh Penikett and Harry Lennix are great on their own, but when you throw them together and force their characters to work together - especially after having them beat the tar out of each other in the previous episode - you've really hit paydirt. It was also great to get to see Ballard's reactions to seeing what the Dollhouse does up-close-and-personal.
It was kind of hard at times to wrap my head around exactly what Alpha's whole goal and modus operandi was, both in the present and in the flashbacks where we discovered his fascination with Echo, but Minear ended up making everything work, especially once Alpha initiated the composite event in Echo and unleashed the Omega personality. It was also a trip - and a treat - to get to see Echo interact with her original self, Caroline, although I think I would've chosen a different actress to play Wendy, the girl who becomes Caroline's 'avatar'.
Amy Acker is one of my favorite actresses EVER, and once again proves why with her acting in this episode both as Whiskey and as Dr. Saunders. The reveal of Saunders being Whiskey was perfectly scripted and edited, and, although totally different than what I was expecting based on the brief glimpse of her character in the Alpha flashback in Ghost, the flashbacks telling her story and showing how she came to be scarred were perfectly structured. The scene where she discovers - as Dr. Saunders - that she used to be a Doll was also perfectly written and acted, and led to what I thought was one of the best parts of the episode: her giving the scarred Victor a lollipop just like the original Dr. Saunders used to (which, I might say, was a brilliant little character trait for Minear to slip in).
It's really not possible to give this episode anything other than a 10.0 rating, but even that doesn't really do justice to just how impressed I was by it. As I said at the start of my review, it really is not only the best episode of the series, but also one of the best episodes of any television series I've ever seen.
Now for a review of the season as a whole.
Dollhouse Season 1 Review
I REALLY liked the first season of the series, and didn't think there was a single bad episode in the lot (and yes, this includes Stage Fright, which, if you'll recall, I awarded an 8.8 to).
The prevailing opinion I've seen is that the season starts out somewhat slowly, but I have to vehemently disagree with that sentiment. Yes, the early episodes appear on the surface to be more standalone than the later episodes and can therefore seem to delay the 'true' start of the season's main story arc, but, as I noted earlier (twice), I really don't believe that there's a single truly standalone episode in the entirety of the season, and actually think that the fact that the early episodes seem like standalones but aren't actually standalones is one of the things that makes Dollhouse stand out as something unique in the pantheon of Joss' works and, as noted, his greatest work to date.
What Joss does with Dollhouse is give us a series and story that starts out being very much outside his usual milieu, both in terms of subject matter and stylistic approach, gets a little bit more recognizable, and then finishes up by going back to what it started out as.
I'll be back later with reviews of Vows and Belle Chose, the first two episodes of Season 2.
Uh, you haven't seen the season finale, Epitaph One may not have aired on Fox but it is very much part of season 1, you can't do a review of the season as a whole without it.
Actually, I can and did. Omega was aired as the S1 finale and serves as the perfect capper to it. It resolves everything that the season dealt with in terms of its overall narrative arc, and sets the table, as it were, for Vows.
Plus, I already made it clear that I would be watching the show chronologically.
You can watch the series chronologically (doesn't make sense to create an order that wasn't intended by Joss Whedon, but whatever, it's your decision) but you can't do a review of an entire season without watching the entire season, that's just not possible.
^ Ghost to Omega does constitute a full season, but whatever; it's pointless to argue about this.
Chronologically according to what? Air date? In that case, you would have to skip Epitaph One altogether, since Fox in their infinite wisdom, also known as stupidity, chose not to air it at all. But why would you want to do that to yourself? Epitaph One is the season 1 finale, it's an extremely important part of the show, and without it you won't understand the series finale. Plus it's one of the most awesome episodes Joss has ever put his name on.
Separate names with a comma.