Saturday 12 December 2009

Dollhouse – You really are a shell.

Dollhouse: 2x06 The Left Hand.

It’s a coincidence that FOX decided to air two episodes per week – “The Left Hand” feels exactly like it was meant to accompany “The Public Eye”, it’s the conclusion to new set-up. The show leaves the confines of its own concept, where we only left the Dollhouse itself for Engagements, and “The Left Hand” shows us a different Dollhouse – a glimpse of what happens when these kind of resources fall into the hands of people who are even more ruthless and unhesitant to break the basic rules of the contract forged between the Actives and the Dollhouse.

Bennett / Caroline

Bennett Halverson (Summer Glau), the girl with a broken arm, presents another alternative version of the Dollhouse. We already saw the horror-movie Dollhouse that Alpha created – with the slasher flick aesthetics of the imprinting chair – and the psychopath version created by the serial killer in “Belle Chose”. Bennett uses the imprinting chair to take revenge on a person who doesn’t even exist anymore. The point that Echo is not Caroline has been firmly made in the confrontation of the two in “Omega”, but Bennett only sees the shell of a person, and she wants to take revenge at all costs.
Bennett: “What’s interesting to me is that you don’t call out to god. It’s not a question of faith, it’s just vernacular. Anyone in this much pain prays or at least curses, but we take god from you too. You really are a shell.”
Echo: “Why?”
Bennett: “Now is not the time for why. I like this void. This feeble simple world. Just pain. […] You can’t even pass out. We shut down everything that stands between you and blinding, searing pain. […] When we get to the why, that’s when it gets really bad.”
To properly take revenge, Bennett needs Echo to know what Caroline has done, and of course she has the technology to really communicate that information: she imprints Echo with her own memory of Caroline, who used to be her best friend and left her behind (we assume this happened during on of her attacks on a Rossum facility), trapped under a collapsed wall. The memory we see is, much like most of the fragments of “Epitaph One”, not the absolute truth: it is Bennett’s perception of Caroline, and doesn’t fit in very well with the person we’ve seen before (although we don’t really know Caroline very well, either). When Echo wakes up, she can’t use her arm – in order to understand why Bennett is broken, Echo needs to become her, because this is the logic of the Dollhouse, of how learning works – there is no subtle empathy when you can just imprint memories and emotions.

“You don’t want to remember who you were” - Cindy

Cindy meanwhile explains a different concept to Senator Perrin: He was a nobody before, and everything he is now proud of is something the Dollhouse added. “We took a spoiled, pampered, selfish child. And we made a man outta him, a man the people could trust.” The idea that the Dollhouse could create “better” human beings out of those who don’t measure up is also a new one (“what is the purpose of the Dollhouse?”)
When Bennett lets Senator Perrin and Echo escape, they first go to the place where he grew up, and he realizes that not being a real doll, but a different version of himself, is even more complicated than what Echo is going through (“how can I ever entangle it”) – and in remembering his past, before he got the ambition and idealism, he also realizes what both Echo and Whiskey are going through. Echo is “afraid of Caroline”, and Perrin doesn’t want to become the man he was before the Dollhouse. The symbolic scene of liberation in which Echo shows Perrin how to remove the tracker (a weirdly sexy scene, not unlike the scene in “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” in which John checks Cameron’s radioactive core) is nothing more than a gesture. Cindy manages to track them down, but Bennett’s plans for Echo kick in before anything else can happen: she truly is “god”, she gives him a purpose (cutely named “puppies”, but actually a trigger for Terminator-mode), but the person who ends up dying is Cindy. The moment in which Daniel Perrin realizes that he has just killed the person he thought was his loving wife (fittingly, Topher manages to turn off the killer switch seconds after) is the one where the viewer and Echo think that he has crossed the necessary line to follow Echo – but instead, in the end, he doesn’t.

The geek mating dance

Bennett would be a simple character if it wasn’t for the scenes with Topher. The single-minded attempt at revenge is immediately followed by a strange (the music!) scene in which the two geniuses of the Washington and the LA Dollhouse meet each other: Both admire each others work, and we’ve spent so much time in the past to see, in little scenes, how alone Topher is in his world of references that nobody understands (“less talk, more show”). The tragic thing about the immediate connection the two make (which Topher later hilariously relates to Victor who is literally taking over his position at the Dollhouse while he’s gone, imprinted as Topher) is that both are secretly betraying each other. Topher is hacking into her system to get a brain scan of Senator Perrin, Bennett intends to have Echo killed by Active. She is “almost perfect” (“Imagine John Cassavetes in “The Fury” as a hot chick. /
“Which you know I often have.”) – but in the world of the Dollhouse, that barely ever is a good thing. It’s an interesting decision to show Topher, and the viewers, that she definitely isn’t a doll (Topher tries to tazer her with his own Disruptor, as he sees similarities between her and Whiskey).
In the end, the only person that really gets Topher, and the only person that he can trust, is himself, and that person goes away when Victor (Enver Gjokaj gives a genius performance once again, copying Fran Kranz’s Topher perfectly) is back on the imprinting chair.


The Washington DC Dollhouse lacks everything that redeemed the LA Dollhouse for some of the more unbearable things the Dollhouse does. We see how Adelle and Topher get there, and there is a strange sense of seeing a slightly dysfunctional mother-son relationship here (“There is no margin for error. So I would suggest that you expand your comfort zone immediately.”). We saw Adelle try to stand up against Nolan in “Belonging” (and in the end, it was Topher who decided to do something about his moral issues).
It’s the kind of place where the Rossum Executive we saw in “Epitaph One” probably didn’t have any trouble to find eternal youth. In a confrontation between the Stewart (Ray Wise), head of the Dollhouse, we finally see Adelle return to her old strength, after we mostly saw her lose and hit the bottle over the past episodes.  The scene in which she proves to him that she does indeed have a poker face, and knows her strength well, is rewarding (because the bad guy loses an argument in a very painful way), but it’s still important to keep in mind how docile she’s is whenever confronted with Harding – with someone who is a superior (it’s the Washington DC head of the Dollhouse who reminds her that they might both end up as “bunk buddies in the attic” if Senator Perrin’s engagement goes wrong).


Just a quick points here: The idea that Topher was developing technology based on Alpha’s remote wipe was terrifying enough, but now the tech has moved to a place even more dangerous than the LA Dollhouse: the hands of an even greater genius, who has already figured out how to “improve” people without creating conventional Actives. If that’s not the end of the human civilization via tech, I don’t know what is.

Madeline / Perrin / Echo

In the end, Perrin decides it is more important to forget about killing the one person he thought he loves, and to remain the “improved” person that he is. He does exactly what Rossum expected him to do: exonerates them in front of the Senate Committee (and, as Topher notes, he has greater ambition than to remain a junior Senator – Rossum is aiming at higher, more presidential things). At the end of last season, Paul decided to grant November’s freedom, and now that one glimmer of hope is gone. In the end, betrayed by the Senator she trusted, she is in the hands of the broken genius, in Bennett’s chair (November’s tragedy was hinted at in “Epitaph One”) – while the other princess from the fairy tale wanders the world alone. Echo has left the Dollhouse, and she managed to break free all on her own.

Some quick notes:

Favourite piece of Bennett-babbling: “No, you’re very pale. White. Pinkish white. I mean, you skin. Your skin is like a pig. Because it’s pink. People assume that pigs are bad, but I love them. I mean I like them.”

The idea of forcing actors to play each other is well-rooted in the Whedonverse. It made me want to rewatch “This Year’s Girl”, although the only conclusion we could draw from the two Tophers was that not even Topher can stand himself for long. By the way: there were no visible marks left from “Belonging”, but maybe we’ll see the fall-out in a later episode.

Victor/Topher calling himself “Me-Man”.

“It wouldn’t be a second opinion. It would be the same opinion, twice” – Topher when denying Victor/Topher to hang around for a while for the analysis of Daniel Perrin’s brain scan.

Topher swooning over Daniel Perrin’s brain scan (“the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen”), then being ashamed about Bree’s (“she was kind of a hooker”).

Topher’s jacket / Bennett’s skirt – matching materials. So awesomely geeky.

Is Bennett Halverson a completely new role for Summer Glau, or were there some River Tam / Cameron elements? (but after seeing the episode of “Big Bang Theory” that was about how “normal” she is in real life, I wasn’t much looking forward to seeing her play an uncomplicated character.)

Two or three “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” moments: Cindy hunting down Echo and Perrin (standing in the middle of the street with the disruptor), the scene in which Perrin and Echo remove their implants, and Perrin going into assassin-mode.

The DC-Dollhouse Actives are named after Greek gods. Which is interesting because for some seconds when Cindy called Bennett a god, I really thought she might be an Active.

Adelle of all people referencing a “fascist take-over” after finding out about the presidential ambition. I guess that might be a little bit more prophetic than she thought when she said it, hm?


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