Thursday, September 1, 2011

"Stop-Loss"

Dollhouse - Season Two
Airdate: December 18, 2009
Eliza Dushku, Harry Lennix, Fran Kranz
Tahmoh Penikett, Enver Gjokaj, Dichen Lachman
And Olivia Williams
Created by Joss Whedon
Written by Andrew Chambliss
Directed by Félix Alcalá

I've had complaints about each of the last few episodes, but they were all at least enjoyable on a superficial level. This episode, on the other hand, is basically the opposite. There's some interesting stuff in here, and we can talk about that, but generally speaking the episode isn't very good.

I've never been entirely comfortable calling "Dollhouse" a science-fiction show, though obviously it has science-fiction woven into it's premise. I suppose I have to admit that it is a science-fiction series, but I think of that almost as a technicality. Yes, this show is built around a big sci-fi plot-device, but for the most part, it uses that device to tell stories that typically don't have any sci-fi elements to speak of. Or, at least, that was the initial idea. This episode is pure sci-fi, and in my opinion, that is not a good thing. Once again, this episode is largely concerned with playing with the series mythology.

The story involves the end of Victor's contract with the Dollhouse. He is restored to his original personality, Anthony, and released. There's just a hint of a story about soldiers re-integrating back into civilian life, but it's minimal and has nothing to say. We see that Anthony is having trouble sleeping in a bed, and instead sleeps in the shower, the implication being that he's more comfortable sleeping somewhere that resembles the accommodations he does not remember. That's a nice beat, and it the director underscores the point with a nice cross-fade, but it doesn't really say much. Then, when offered the opportunity to join a strange independent pseudo-military unit, he agrees instantly, without even knowing (or thinking to ask) what objectives they'd be pursuing. That's weak.

The unit is made up entirely of ex-dolls, and something about having active architecture allows them to share a single group consciousness. There is merit in this idea, as it is a great (and greatly exaggerated) depiction of unit cohesion. But tonally, it's all wrong for this show, and the script does nothing to explore the idea thematically. It's just a story-of-the-week.

The episode does have some interesting things to say about dolls, but you have to read between the lines a little. First of all, there's more stuff about the transcendent power of love, as Roger (the Victor-imprint that Adelle has been sleeping with) is aware that he's in love with some other woman he cannot remember. Ok, fine, whatever. But the interesting thing here is that everyone suddenly stops giving a shit about Victor and Sierra and suddenly becomes more concerned about Anthony and Priya. At the end of the episode, Echo sends Priya away with Anthony rather than returning her to the Dollhouse. This is an important character point for Echo, who realizes that her plan to use Victor and Sierra to help bring down the Dollhouse would make her no better than the Dollhouse itself. But it also means that Victor and Sierra are, for all intents and purposes, dead. The script smooths this over by demonstrating that unlike Echo, and despite the persistence of their feelings for one another, Victor and Sierra are not distinct individuals in their own right.

Adelle spends much of the episode drunk, and that's always good fun. At the end of the episode, she gets her shit together in time to trigger an outstanding cliffhanger, which at least means that this rather poor episode ends on a high point. Sobered up and back in charge, Adelle sends Echo to the attic, and that is where we will rejoin her tomorrow...

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