Sunday 18 July 2010

Dollhouse - Here’s a promise: all this scary, painful stuff—you won’t even remember.

Dollhouse: 1x04 Gray Hour.

Why would anybody hire a doll as a mid-wife? All these ideas contribute essential bits and pieces about Echo’s slow self-realization, but they require an amount of suspended disbelief that is a bit too much for a new show trying to find its stride. I’d actually never seen any of these early episodes more than once because there was nothing in them I thought I wanted to see again: I still remembered the bits and pieces that were salvageable later, but the glue that keeps it together, the stories, were never intriguing enough to return to.

The beginning of the episode is intriguing because it’s about reversed roles: Echo, as the mid-wife, tells the mother that she “won’t remember the pain”, which is exactly the same empty promise the dollhouse gives the more willing Actives – the promise of the possibility of a tabula rasa is what keeps the Dollhouse running. Of course, the very next moment the initial premise is already coming apart at the seams, as Echo, Victor and Sierra “group” together, which they shouldn’t.
Topher: “They’re eating lunch together, man friend. Same three. Even the same table. They’re grouping.”
Boyd: “Are you saying they remember each other?”
Topher: “No, no, no, no. No. The wipes are clean. This goes deeper than memory into instinctual survival patterns. Flocking. Whole mess of sparrows turning on a dime. Uh, salmon trucking upstream. This isn’t a book club, man friend. This is the herd.”
Boyd: “They’re not bison, Topher.”
Topher: “They’re a little bit bison.”
Boyd: “Well, they didn’t used to be.”
Topher: “They volunteered for this.”
Boyd: “So we’re told.”
The idea that some instincts go deeper than where Topher can reach with his magic chair returns in season two, with “Instinct”. Topher never learns his lessons, and his hubris in watching Echo evolve yet still thinking that he has it all under control because of the big brain of his is what will eventually bring about the end of civilization.
The heist itself follows all the genre convention: a team of thieves, all with their own specific areas of specialty, naturally mistrusting of each other. The thing that literally blows apart the art heist and the conventions that come with it is the first employment of a remote wipe: Taffy’s self-assuredness disappears, and the girl waking up underground has no idea how to get out.
Topher: “That’s not… Uh-uh. That didn’t happen. How do I know that didn’t happen? Because that can’t happen.”
Adelle: “Topher, what can’t happen?”
Dominic: “This goes nowhere good.”
Topher: “I’m pretty sure… I’m kind of positive, actually, that something happened. The exact same thing happened, except without the chair.”
Adelle: “You’ve stated that remote wipes aren’t possible.”
Topher: “I’ve said they’re untested. I’ve said they’re a very bad, bad idea. I’ve said I can’t do them.”
Adelle: “How do we undo it?”
Topher: “We - don’t? Somebody out there figured out our frequency, hacked into our call, and that’s not even the hard part. I mean, we’re talking about someone… I could not have seen this coming. This is not my fault.”
This one’s broken.

Even in her disturbed state after waking up as Echo in the vault, she still contains everything that will be so important in the future. She sees a portrait by picture and recognizes that it looks “broken” (Echo sees things that are broken and tries to fix them).

Echo: “It doesn’t look right.”
Walton: “It’s not about looking right. Art’s about feeling right and you… have no idea what I’m talking about.”
Echo: “She makes me feel funny.”
Walton: “Well, that’s ‘cause these other guys… they painted what they saw. But this guy, he painted what is. That’s what art’s for: to show us who we are. And this one - it’s saying how we start off whole, then somewhere along the line, the pieces start to slide. We get broken.”
Echo: “That’s sad.”
Vitas: “No, it’s weak.”
What a beautiful summary of one of the most used trope on any Whedon-show: people starting out whole, falling apart.

It only takes Echo a couple of minutes in this episode to turn from the fragile Active who needs to be helped to the resourceful hero of the story who is perfectly able to help herself.
Echo: “I’m not broken.”
Boyd: “No. You’re not”
While Echo’s self-realization (in this episode, she paints a broken face in the mirror after being wiped) is at the centre of the first season, another equally important part is seeing how the establishment reacts to what she does, how Adelle adapts to the new situation. After “Gray Hour”, she has to deal with both Echo’s changed status (“Michelangelo believed his sculptures already existed inside the marble, waiting to be freed.” – which is exactly what Echo is, and by the end of season two, more than one person works to free that person, but for different reasons) and the fact that Alpha is bringing her house in disorder from the outside. She admits to Topher that Alpha is not dead. Adelle telling Topher the truth about Alpha and asking him to help deal with the situation is what starts so many things. Topher, when he realizes what Alpha’s technology is, sounds incredibly frightened but at the same time, in complete awe.

Random notes:

Blue skies, Five by Five. It’s the special handshake of a small and select group.

It’s really a wasted opportunity that we didn’t follow Sierra to more engagements. This is actually the first time that we see two people playing the same characters, and I think Dichen Lachman does a great job (of course I appreciate that they went a more traumatic route with Priya, but Sierra had a lot of potential in these first few episodes that wasn’t used).

There’s also something about Paul and Lubov this episode, but frankly I didn’t pay much attention. APPARENTLY THIS IS ONE OF MY LEAST FAVOURITE EPISODES?

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