Thursday 14 January 2010

Dollhouse - I Wish We Had More Time

Dollhouse: 2x11 Getting Closer.

Three years ago

It’s a nice turn of events that we get to go back to past before we follow our newly found team of unlikely heroes descend into the depths of Rossum. The flashback to Caroline’s first glimpse of the Dollhouse (on a security monitor in Adelle’s office, when she broke in three years ago) finally complete Caroline’s quest which Echo has now vowed to finish: from when her obsession really started, when she found a way into Rossum (in the shape of a promising young student on a full Rossum scholarship, Bennett Halverson), until she finally ended up in the part  of Rossum  that we haven’t seen yet: the room behind the curtain, where the founder resides, whose face not even Adelle knows.

“Then let’s bring down the building, see what’s underneath.” is what Caroline says upon seeing the Dollhouse we now know so well. She is a self-proclaimed terrorist, and Adelle calls her “something worse [than evil]: an idealist” – just as Echo stares at the video of Caroline that fed Paul’s initial obsession with her, seeing a stranger, someone she fears but must now literally let into her head to bring down Rossum.

Caroline / Bennett

The little we’ve seen of Caroline’s past with Bennett was a piece of memory from Bennett that we immediately doubted. “Getting Closer” fills out this memory, utilising the same method that “Dollhouse” employed all over the past episodes: incomplete information as a tool of manipulating the viewer, and in some cases really only the viewer, not the characters. If we assume that Adelle made the decision to fight Rossum at some point during the three months the show skipped over, which is apparently when she found out that the company intended to “sell the souls” of Actives, then the many twists and turns she took over the past episodes were indeed manipulations of the other characters – the way her ultimate intention of recruiting everyone to her personal revolution, was finally revealed, only manipulated us, much in the way that the “Dr Saunders came up with the idea”-scene at the end of “Needs” did.
I wonder whether we would have seen more of Bennett and Caroline's relationship if “Dollhouse” had gotten a little bit more time to close the gaps to the apocalypse of “Epitaph One” – if the idea that Caroline started using Bennett, but also really cared about her, could have been a bigger part of who we understand Caroline to be.
We see their relationship progress through a handful of scenes: first there is the initial moment when Caroline gains her trust by helping her out with some bitchy students, and the next time we see them, they are already best friends and room mates – and Caroline is preparing Bennett for her first day at Rossum, not unlike the way Echo would be prepared for an engagement (“ready for your treatment?”)
Caroline: “You’ll still be you, just more you.”
Bennett: “I often thought I’d like to be less me, and more like..well, you actually.”
Caroline: “Me? I’m still undeclared.”
Bennett: “You know who you are. You are so fearless. I’d love to get a look at your amygdale.”
Caroline: “You’d have to buy me dinner first.”
Bennett: “No one has ever done this for me before.”
Caroline: “Washed your hair?”
Bennett: “Taken an interest?”
Now this scene is so heartbreaking because Caroline sees the important access card for the Rossum lab just in that small moment of intimacy between the two, and we realize that Caroline, once again not that much unlike Echo, is all about the objective – just that Echo, in this episode, tries to steer away from using the people she likes for her own causes when she sends away Anthony and Priya just before the Dollhouse goes into complete lock-down.
In the next flashback, Bennett has already found out about the files, and we see Caroline change from the nice friend to the focused “terrorist” that we knew before, as she explains herself.
Caroline: “I saw you were valuable to them, and that made you valuable to me.”
Bennett: “I thought you were my friend.”
Caroline: “I am.”
Bennett: “Then why won’t you let me help?”
Caroline: “You’re not pissed because I used you?”
Bennett: “I’m hurt that you won’t.”
Even without Caroline’s memories, she denies Anthony and Priya when they offer their help, while Caroline decides to implicate Bennett. They try to blow up the lab, but Caroline sees a part of the lab that isn't on the map, and, against Bennett’s warning (“Caroline. When you get curious, you get dead” – which, in a way, is exactly what happened to Caroline afterwards), explores it. She finds a terrifying Frankensteinian lab (reminiscent of “Alien: Resurrection”, the unfortunate fourth part of the Alien saga), where we see what the Dollhouse is in essence if you take away all the nice furniture and post-engagement activities. The last scene is interesting because we know that this is the truth now, it is not a memory, it is a flashback to what actually happened, and it is interesting to see how the entire meaning of Caroline leaving Bennett buried under the remains of the lab changes with so little additional dialogue:
Bennett: “No you can’t leave me I’m with you.”
Caroline: “No, you’re not.”
Bennett: “Don’t leave me.”
Caroline: “Sorry, sister, I stay, we both get napped, and I’m gonna make sure it’s just me.”
Caroline’s denial of “I’m with you”, when she remembers that the last person she pulled into this died (her boyfriend) is possibly the reason why Bennett rewrote this memory, but sadly, we do not see what happened to her after that, how she gradually became the person who tortures Echo because she looks like Caroline in “The Left Hand”.

Caroline is missing

In their discussion of the game plan (what do we call them? Team Echo? Does it even make sense, as they fall apart so completely in the course of this episode?), it’s interesting to note that Ivy, the most unlikely member, asks what will happen if they imprint Echo with Caroline. She notes that it probably will make a difference since Caroline is the original personality (and in Echo’s reaction to Topher’s “She might fight back”, Echo answers “She’d lose”, which is one of the moments in this episode where Echo shows how much Bennett’s memory of Caroline has shaped her own perception of her). In the end, the moment to start the battle is delayed, as the Caroline wedge Ballard saved at the end of “Omega” is gone.
It’s also Ivy who has to explain to Topher why Echo might have a reason to steal the wedge:
Ivy: “Because she’s become a real girl, and if Caroline were to come back, she might cease to exist, or wind up nuts, or very confused.”
The allusion to “Pinocchio” after the fairy tale nightmare of “The Attic” is just another beautiful moment.

Paul / Mellie

The piece of Paul that is missing, that Topher exchanged for his ability to walk and talk, is his connection to Echo (in an expected romantic twist, love makes parts of your brain all shiny, shiny enough for the complicated procedure Topher used). It’s another blow for Echo, although in her conversation with Boyd, she alludes to the fact that Echo was always just a stepping stone towards finding Caroline for Ballard (“Paul never believed Echo was a person, even when he cared. Now he’s just waiting for Caroline to kick me out.”). In this episode, Paul states that he does not know Echo anymore (when she agrees with Adelle that they need poor Mr Dominic to return to the Attic against his will, once again proving that she is willing to sacrifice other people for the endgame), and he decides to save Madeline, who has become a doll in the DC Dollhouse. This culminates in Adelle’s decision to let her come along as Mellie, and the gut-wrenching scene when Mellie actually returns, the person who absolutely trusted Paul and is such a completely different character than the hollow “I’m not sad” Madeline. For Paul, Mellie was always more real than Madeline (and for us, she was always easier to like, for obvious reasons).

Bennett / Topher / Adelle

After kidnapping Bennett (with just another scary use of the technology, remote imprinting a doll in the DC Dollhouse), her introduction into the LA Dollhouse is also interesting: when we first saw the DC Dollhouse, the comparison to LA was meant to show us how much worse this could be, if even less morally concerned people ran it. Bennett manages to even slightly shock the usually unshakable Adelle:
Adelle: “I’m certain I’ll be kicking myself come holiday bonus time”
Bennett: “I’m sure you’ll be dead by then.”

Bennett: “It’s a very open space. Quite a lot of beige. You left them room. They roam like free range chickens. We keep ours more like veal.”
It’s difficult to accept that this is the same geeky Bennett that emerges after Topher tries so hard to regain her trust without concluding that she has dealt with being left behind by her “best friend” by splitting herself up into more than one person. She is still focused on her other goal, even when she falls for him again (cue the awesome “geek mating dance” theme), and insists to find out whose imprint she is helping to recover (as they are working on the wedge that Alpha destroyed after kidnapping Echo in “Briar Rose”) – and when she finds out that it’s Caroline, she beats Topher up (“Actually, if anybody asks, don’t tell them that I got beat up by a one armed girl.”). It’s only after Echo has found Bennett’s one weak spot (when she offers to “hold the bitch down” while she allows Bennett to do whatever she wants to Caroline, once they’ve recovered the important piece of information) that she complies and actually allows herself to fall for Topher.

Claire / Boyd

Quite possibly, not a lot of people were actually surprised when Boyd walked into that hotel room to find Claire Saunders waiting for him, in a stunning dress and  with dinner prepared. What does surprise us, however, is how collected and okay she seems to be: that there are no visible marks from “Vows”, that this is a completely different person from the doll who drove away from the “Dollhouse” into a world she didn’t know and was programmed to fear. My initial interpretation of the scene has a lot to do with who Boyd was portrayed to be: The trustworthy father-figure to Echo, the one person who truly understood her as Echo, not as Caroline. In a show that lacked morally sound characters, Boyd was the one guy to cling to, even after we found out that he knew how to dispose of bodies and had the phone numbers of questionable people stored on his mobile phone. On “Dollhouse”, we’ve learned to question everybody, except Boyd, because his motive of protecting Echo seemed so sound (and he did this so much better than Paul). Watching this scene a second time, it is obvious how much this looks exactly like an engagement – like a client playing house with a doll. But at this point in the story, with the information we have, we assume that Boyd’s trustworthiness, his good character, have in some magical way “fixed” Claire (and I think we want to believe this because we want Claire to be okay, after everything that happened to her).
She shows how different she is when she returns to the Dollhouse, and the first person to require her help is Topher (after getting beat up by the one-armed girl): and she is kind to him, takes care of him, which is such a stark contrast to her actions in “Vows”. She says: “Less talking means less bleeding, and I mean that in so many ways.” – a sentence that makes much more sense after the end of this episode.

Our trust of Boyd gets confirmed when he is the one to help Echo through the idea of allowing Caroline back into her brain, and dealing with the one person who has planted the idea of Caroline’s evilness in her head.
Echo: “We need Caroline.”
Boyd: “We need you.”
Echo: “I keep thinking there is a me, that I’m real, but every time I talk to someone, they act like I’m doing tricks. Paul never believed Echo was a person, even when he cared. Now he’s just waiting for Caroline to kick me out.”
Boyd: “That’s never gonna happen. Look, I never met Caroline Farrell, but I know she drives DeWitt about as crazy as you do, so I figure she can’t be all bad.  But I know you. I watched you grow. I watched you build yourself form scratch against all odds, against us. You’re stronger than everyone here, even Caroline. If she gets in there, I think she’ll be proud to know you.”
The meaningful hug at the end of the scene that is followed by Echo proposing to Bennett that she can do whatever she wants to Caroline seals this trust: although we later find out that Boyd told a very specific lie here, when he said he’d never met Caroline Farrell.

Claire / Topher

It’s a well-known trope in the Whedonverse that a moment of happiness usually does not lead to good things, but never before have these two things been so directly connected. Bennett kisses Topher, there is hope for a future after they “prevent the end of the world” – and then, just as Topher leaves for a moment, Claire comes in, as kind as before.
Claire: “He’s in love with you.”
Bennett: “I’m sorry?”
Claire: “Claire. Claire Saunders: I was the house doctor. I used to be Number One.”
Bennett: “Oh,. I see. Yes, Topher mentioned there’d been... It’s nice to meet you.”
Claire: “Is that Caroline? DO you really think you’re gonna be able to get her back?”
Bennett: “I’m confident of it. Do you really think he likes me?”
Claire: “I didn’t say likes.”
Bennett: “He’s remarkable.”
Claire: “I honestly didn’t think he was capable of admitting the existence of another human being, let alone loving one. I think you are the remarkable one.”
This dialogue reveals two things about Claire: she refers to herself as “the doctor” (Claire Saunders) and “number one” (Whiskey). The process of finding out whether Bennett has finished her job is similar to what the little girls does in “Epitaph One”: she asks whether the magic chair can transfer her into another body, and when she has that valuable piece of information, she kills the messenger. But Claire waits, and in a way overwrites her primary goal of collecting information: and then she takes her revenge on Topher in the most brutal way possible. I’m not sure whether Boyd actually told her to kill Bennett, or whether she decided to do this on her own, once she realized how much Bennett meant to Topher, but whatever she was supposed to do here, it is definitely her own decision to wait for Topher to return to the room before killing Bennett, spraying him with her blood. She wants to break him, and she has waited for this chance ever since finding out that he was the person who made her, who she could not abide.
We find out that Topher’s transformation didn’t just happen because his tech caused the apocalypse: it’s more complicated than that. One of his creations destroyed the person he loved, and it’s heartbreaking how Adelle becomes the mother figure we saw in “Epitaph One”, trying so hard to make him functional again because they need him to get Caroline (and how he is then forced to work in his office, with Bennett’s blood covering all his instruments) – and when she uses the one sentence that destroys all hope, even for the genius who managed to bring back the dead: “there is nothing left to map”.  It’s in this state of mind that he decides to send away Ivy to safety, and when he already seems to know what is going to happen to him: “don’t become me, Ivy”.

“Trips to see our director are generally one way”

And then, Clyde 2.0 turns out to be a really nice guy, and the man stepping out from the darkness is none other than Boyd.
Clyde 2.0: “My partner and I have been quite eager to meet you.“
Boyd: “Because you are very special. You’re going to help us in way you can’t understand.”
Caroline: “Not likely.”
Clyde: “You don’t have a lot of options.”
Caroline: “So I’m gonna be one of your zombies. Put out my brain like the rest of them?”
Boyd: “You’ll never be like the rest of them. You won’t be harmed in any way. You’re far too valuable.”
Caroline: “And I’m just gonna trust you?”
Boyd: “With your life.”
Random thoughts:

It’s probably important to keep in mind that Boyd, in his subtle ways, told Adelle to man up and fight Rossum, so this is exactly what he had planned, almost as if he knows the future (a “what happened before will happen again” after a short period of “who are the final five”-esque tension on “Dollhouse”? Intriguing)

Tim Minear stated in an interview that Boyd was decided to be the head of Rossum after “Epitaph One” was shot.

Caroline’s “I see all the things they have to offer, and I figure, once I settle on one thing, I’ve excluded everything else. And there are a lot of things I’d like to be.” About not deciding on a major yet, foreshadowing Echo.

Caroline’s playful “ready for your treatment” before doing Bennett Bennett's hair – and thousands of femslash writers started to type. Eliza Dushku has done it again.

Did anybody catch what the man in the Tucson lab says after singing “La Donna È Mobile”? I think it’s German, and it sounds something like “Was euch so fremd vorkommt”, but I’m not sure.
Upon extensive research on the internet, I have come to the conclusion that this is from a German translation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and it’s “Eben darum, weil es euch so fremd vorkommt, so heißt es als einen Fremdling willkommen. Mein guter Horatio, es gibt Sachen im Himmel und auf Erden, wovon sich unsre Philosophie nichts träumen lässt”, which in a more common translation of the text goes something like „So heißt als einen Fremden es willkommen. / Es gibt mehr Ding' im Himmel und auf Erden, / Als Eure Schulweisheit sich träumt, Horatio.“

Topher’s super-awkward “You showed me yours, let me show you mine”, with Adelle cringing as if she was watching her teenage son humiliating himself in front of a girl.

Another great moment: When Adelle takes so long to realize that Claire Saunders presence in the “Dollhouse” is something new, as if she became part of the inventory the second she entered her office – and after the big reveal this episode, this begs the question of how many things really do escape Adelle’s attention.

Topher: “OK am I the only one thinking we’re getting maybe a little bit too much of our intel from the “Matrix”, or probably “Tron”, given the outfit?” (NO! it’s a homage, not a rip-off. There’s a difference. But it’s funny that Topher is channelling the reaction from the fans here)

I love how cynical Adelle is in the face of extinction: “Well, I guess we can agree this carpet’s done for” when Boyd kills Ambrose (or at least one version of him) and his bodyguards, later “I just had that replaced” when the Dollhouse is breached and the pane of her office gets broken.

Topher: “You know I always had a crush on you. Even when I thought you were a dude. This is better.”

Really. WHAT IS IT ABOUT always spraying people with the blood of their loved ones to push them over the edge? Willow ("Your shirt"), Wesley, now Topher?

I like how the elevator once again becomes the instrument that leads you to the truth, just like in “Angel”, when the elevator to hell stopped right back where Angel started from.

“Rossum” is a reference to the 1921 play “R.U.R” (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Czech playwright Karel Čapek. The play ends in the extinction of the human race by rebellious, sentient robots, who then try to find a way to self-duplicate, which they only manage when two of them fall in love.

So… is everything that is happening now part of Boyd’s endgame? Why is Echo special (was she programmed to be?). What kind of future is Rossum trying to create?

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