Monday, October 5, 2009

Dollhouse 2.02: "Instinct"

“Perhaps triggering lactation was a bridge too far. Live and learn.”


Opinion on Friday’s episode of Dollhouse seems to be very mixed. People either love it or hate it. I was on the “hate it” side for about the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the episode, but by the end, I was firmly in the “love it” camp. This is the first standalone episode that I can really say that about. Although it was very mission-centered, and I generally prefer more mythology-based episodes that feature the whole ensemble, Eliza Dushku’s performance was too good to ignore.

The episode begins with Paul taking a walk around the Imprint room, checking out the chair, and finally sitting in it. There’s some humorous banter with Topher, and we find out that once again, Echo is on a mission that’s even more morally ambiguous than usual. It doesn’t take long to find out what exactly that mission is. Echo is a mom.

Echo as a mom is very paranoid and perhaps a little too smart for her own good. She picks up on a lot of things that are normal about an engagement, but to someone who doesn’t know an engagement is going on, could look like something awful is about to happen. She sees the black Sprinter van parked outside her house constantly (by the way, how creepy are Sprinter vans…maybe it’s just the way they look like they’re about to tip over). Her husband is oddly distant, from both Echo and “their” son, and he spends long amounts of time at work. Then she hears him say on the phone that he wants to get rid of both Echo and the baby. She confides her fears to her “best friend,” who just happens to be (how very helpful!) Sierra.

When Echo hears the scary phone call, she hides in one of the many rooms of Nate’s mansion (I guess a mansion makes sense considering dude’s got enough money to pay for two Dolls) and calls Sierra. Sierra arrives quick as she can, only to be quickly taken in by her handlers. Echo sees this happen and becomes even more panicked. She pulls the classic teenage prank of making herself a makeshift rope to climb out the window. Now she’s on the run. With somebody else’s kid.

Meanwhile, we get a chance to see a side of the Dollhouse business that hasn’t been shown before. Adelle goes to visit Mellie/November/Madeline (we’ll call her Madeline, since that’s her actual name). The life of a former doll who has been released from her contract seems…empty. She lives in a gorgeous, spacious, modern apartment that is so clean it feels like nobody really lives there. She’s wearing a flouncy dress with an A-line skirt that doesn’t look especially comfortable. She speaks with a very careful, deliberate cadence. Adelle is worried about how Madeline is adjusting back into non-Dollhouse life. Madeline isn’t thrilled about the fact that she was let out of her contract and put back into the real world so soon, but she agrees to Adelle’s request that she stop by the Dollhouse for a “diagnostic” just to make sure everything is okay.

Echo, now on the run, eventually finds herself at a police station, and this is where the episode really ramps up and turns from an episode I thought was sort of…bad…into an episode that was well worth an hour of my time. Echo is telling a female police officer about her situation, and the officer believes her and is ready to help. All of a sudden, Nate and Paul barge into the station and start talking to some of the higher ranking officers. They make a bit of a scene. The female police officer goes out to talk to them, and Echo starts to panic. The scene ends with what is possibly Eliza Dushku’s best work on television- certainly her best work on Dollhouse. Echo is dragged out of the police station by Paul, frantically begging for “her” child.

Madeline has the misfortune of being at the Dollhouse for her diagnostic just as Paul and Topher are trying to force Echo in the chair for a treatment while she’s still screaming for her child. After Echo is sedated, Paul takes a minute to talk to Madeline. He has to get over the shock of her not remembering him, but they have an interesting conversation. Madeline tells him that the reason she signed up for the Dollhouse in the first place was because she lost her daughter to cancer and just couldn’t get past the grief. Paul wants to know if her time at the Dollhouse actually helped. She’s not exactly happy now, but she’s not sad anymore, and she’ll take that. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. Echo is crying out desperately for a child that isn't even hers, while Madeline has decided to no longer feel anything for the very real child that she lost.

Echo’s new found maternal instinct is so strong, however, that a simple wipe won’t solve the problem. Not fully aware of what she’s doing, since she’s in her Doll state, she goes back to Nate’s house. Topher is kind of proud of the fact that he has been able to alter Echo so fundamentally. This seems like kind of a step back in characterization from last week. I thought his ordeal with Whiskey had taken some of the sass out of him, but apparently not. Armed with a rather large knife, Echo demands the baby. Nate, no longer acting like a douche, is actually decent and contrite, and he tries to explain to Echo the truth of her situation. He explains that his wife died and he couldn’t handle it. He explains that he hired Echo to take care of the baby since he couldn’t. Now he’s realized that the baby is all he has left of his wife, and he is ready to be a father. Echo is no longer ready to attack. She’s just sad. “Can I be his mommy?” she asks.

At the end of the episode, Echo and Paul sit on a bench near a playground, discussing what just happened. Echo tells Paul that not only does she remember all her imprints, she feels what they feel. She is devastated by the loss of that child. Remembering what Madeline told him, Paul asks her if she would like for him to tell Dollhouse brass what is going on so they can give her a more thorough wipe. Unlike Madeline, however, Echo doesn’t want that. “I’m awake now,” she says.

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