Sunday 29 August 2010

Dollhouse – I’m going to make you an offer.

Dollhouse: 1x07 Echoes.

The titular sentence of this episode – “I’m going to make you an offer” – stands for everything the Dollhouse pretends to be. It’s Adelle’s justification for what she is doing. It is the pretence of a choice, of a required consent to what happens to the Actives. In the beginning of the episode, we see more of the scene that started the show, Adelle talking to Caroline, in a situation where she is the one making the rules, where Adelle is the one with all the power. In “Echoes”, we learn a bit more about how she ended up there (the second part of that story is told in “Getting Closer”). Adelle needs this more than Caroline because she functions in this environment only if she believes that what they are doing is not completely wrong, morally (I firmly believe that her disgust with Nolan in “Belonging” is  honest and heartfelt).
Adelle: “I’m going to make you an offer.”
Caroline: “I told you all I wanted was to be left alone.”
Adelle: “We both know we’re past that.”
Adelle: “My offer is this. Your life for your life. I get five years, you get the rest. You’d be free.”
Caroline: “Is that you talking, or the Rossum Corporation? Why me, why did you pick me?”
Adelle: “Caroline, you picked us. This is a good thing, Caroline.”
Caroline: “I know what I saw. What started this.”
Adelle: “You and I have been doing this dance for almost two years. I thought you’d have learned by now: nothing what it appears to be. “
The promise of freedom is just as empty as the promise that a clean slate is possible. We know now that the man in the suit upstairs has ordered Adelle to bring in Caroline at all costs, and that there is no alternative to her joining the Dollhouse because she has been made out to be the future, the saviour.

It’s significant that this episode also offers an insight into Adelle’s reasoning when she is less inhibited because of the drugs.
Adelle: “We make choices. I’m well aware there are forces beyond our control but even in the face of those forces we make choices, and then we live with them. And then we die with them. I know why Echo went to Freemont.”
Topher: “To punish you?”
Adelle: “To let Caroline punish me.”
“In my dream, I’m stronger than you know.”

It’s interesting how early into the show Ballard’s role as the hero of the story was so thoroughly deconstructed. He tries taking care of Mellie, now that he is unemployed and she still suffers shock from having been attacked (and subsequently killed the man who did attack her), but this doesn’t go as far as losing sight of his one and only aim in life, which is bringing down the Dollhouse and rescuing the princess. I suppose we are still meant to cheer him on at this point, especially since we read Mellie’s attempts to stop him not as concern, but as her programming, but it is still difficult to like a character that is so single-minded (I have the same issues with Caroline in this episode and until the end of the show). Mellie is equally single-minded, but in her case it’s the programming. We see how frustrating it must be to be programmed to feel this way about somebody, and then witness how Paul is still obsessing about Caroline (“Are you ever gonna shut up about her? Is she what you think about while you’re on me? Would you let me die Paul, would you be relieved? Ow.” – is the first thing she says in the Dollhouse, once the drugs start having an effect on the dolls as well)

“I have to go. I have to help him.”

“Man on the Street” is also a turning point in the show because from now on, the focus is not on how Echo retains information that should be gone after her treatment: it’s the fact that Caroline’s character trait of wanting to help everybody at all costs is something she instinctually has to fulfil as well. When she sees what is happening on the College campus that Caroline, incidentally, also went to, she knows that she has to help, although she no clear memories of why, and the biography of her imprint does not match her instincts. When Boyd follows her there, not knowing that he is putting himself in danger because everybody who isn’t an Active is influenced by the escaped drug, her instinct to help even overwrites what we are meant to believe is her most basic programming. He asks her if she wants her treatment, and she breaks the script and says “no”.

The interesting concept behind making everybody who isn’t an Active into a potential target for the drug, and therefore helpless and dependent on the Actives, is the role-reversal. Eventually, those with the Active Architecture will again be the saviours of humanity, and this is just a little insight into that possibility (also, the Dolls are also affected by the drug: they remember their most traumatic memories which they shouldn’t even have, and we find out that Victor used to be a soldier). It’s also an interesting idea to have this episode right after Mellie was revealed to be an Active, because it basically ends some speculation about who else might be one: We see Boyd, Topher, Dominic and Adelle affected – but Claire is mysteriously absent from the episode…

Essentially, the traumas that the people in this episode can not get over or forget are what makes them who they are. Sierra and Priya will struggle with the rape for the rest of the series. Victor / Anthony will always be a soldier. Echo will always have Caroline’s instinct to help the helpless – Echo’s story parallels the events that lead to Caroline sitting in this room, opposite Adelle, making a choice that isn’t really one. In the end, Adelle is recruiting again:
Adelle: “I'm someone who can give you what you want.”
Sam: “And what do I want?”
Adelle: “A new life. A better life.”
Adelle: “Your mother, Antoinette Jennings of 483 Helena Street. I understand she's experiencing some financial difficulties. In fact, she's about to lose her home.”
Sam: “Do not threaten my mother.”
Adelle: “Quite the opposite.”
Adelle: “Once you sign these papers, your mother will begin receiving a monthly stipend large enough to solve her financial problems. It will continue for five years, and at the end of that time, you will be quite capable of supporting her all on your own.”
Sam: “How?”
Adelle: “I'm going to make you an offer.”
Random notes:

This is the first time that we see Ambrose. Topher’s reaction: “I might throw up. That’s a compliment.” Adelle’s is different:

Adelle: “The Rossum Corporation is why we exist and I believe in the work we’re funding. I also believe that the only reason why I don’t have Clive Ambrose’s jobs is because he couldn’t handle mine.”

Of course Topher would give Victor an imprint that outranks Mr. Dominic’s just for the fun of it.

Topher and Adelle “under the influence” are comic gold. Joss always uses some kind of excuse to bring out the most ridiculous sides of his most sober characters (Giles and Joyce in “Band Candy”, the new and improved Wesley in “Spinning the Bottle”), and who could be better suited than Adelle DeWitt.

Adelle: “Are you making any progress?”
Topher: “I'm working! What are you doing, besides ... being ...”
Adelle: “Being what?”
Topher: “Wait a minute.”
Adelle: “Sarcastic? Unfeeling? British?”
Topher: “It's an animal.”
Adelle: “Where?”
Topher: “No! The word!”
Adelle: “Still you have to admit I am very British. I don't say hard ... Rs.”
Topher: “You know what I like? Brown Sauce? What's it made of? Science doesn't know!”
Adelle: “It's made of brown.”
Topher: “Brown...mined from the earth by the hard scrabble brown miners of north Brownderton!”
Adelle: “Oh my god, I find lentils completely incomprehensible.”
Topher: “Our problems are huge and indomitable.”
Adelle: “Oh, I could eat that word. Or a crisp. Do you have any crisps?”
Topher: “You haven't seen my drawer of inappropriate starches?”
Adelle: “Oh my god, I’m having such a terrible day.”

I also love that they decided to go back to Topher’s trampoline in this episode (and Adelle is using it) – and the looks of complete awe at the beauty of Boyd’s piano song is something to behold.

It’s sad that we didn’t get to see more of Dominic. I still find it difficult to reconcile the person we see in season one with the Dominic that is later stuck in the attic – but at least he gets a bit of redemption by making a complete fool of himself here.

Mr. Dominic: “I’m so sorry I tried to kill you.”
Echo: “It’s okay.”
Mr. Dominic: “No, it’s not okay. I tried to burn you to death. Who does that?”

Echo’s response, by the way, was incredibly reminiscent of “Buffy”, but I couldn’t find out from which episode. Eventually I’ll watch the show again. (Oh: In “Angel”, “Hey, no big. Water... over the bridge, under the  bridge...”

“You know. Water. Bridge. Under.”

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