Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dollhouse 2.03: "Belle Chose"

“Topher has ethical problems! Topher!”


Friday’s episode of Dollhouse was the most enjoyable to watch of the season so far. It didn’t exactly pack the emotional punch of more serious episodes like "Needs," "Epitaph One," and "Vows," but it was, like last season’s “Echoes,” extremely entertaining. On another positive note, I think I found the more serious part of the episode to be more satisfying than the more serious part of “Echoes” which I mostly just love for the scenes where Adelle and Topher are high and bouncing around Topher’s office.

The first act of “Belle Chose” is interesting because it doesn’t include any of our regular characters. It instead focuses on Terry, a psychopath soon to turn killer. Soothing elevator music plays as Terry adjusts clothes on what appear at first to be mannequins in a croquet game scene. Soon it becomes apparent that these women are not mannequins. They are real people who have been drugged, painted, and dressed up to appear as mannequins. One of the women is starting to come out of her drug-induced paralysis. As she tries to crawl away, Terry chides her for breaking the rules. And whacks her in the head with a croquet mallet. Terry, now in need of a new “Aunt Sheila” strolls nonchalantly down a Hollywood street. He seems to have zeroed in on a good prospect when all of a sudden, he’s hit by a car.

It turns out that Terry’s uncle is on the Board at Rossum, the Dollhouse’s parent corporation. Terry is in a coma, and he has been placed in the Dollhouse’s care. While figuring out if he can help Terry, Topher makes a startling discovery. Terry’s brain is similar to the brains of the country’s most notorious serial killers. Time for a new plan.

Meanwhile, Paul is adjusting to his new life as a handler. Paul’s first few scenes really show why this episode should have been left as episode two, where it was originally intended. Paul seemed competent enough as a handler in Instinct, but in this episode, he was treated as a complete rookie. He was awkward when going to fetch Echo from the communal shower, and he was awkward when he went to take her to get wardrobe for her engagement. The most amusing thing about Paul’s role in the early part of this episode was his distaste for waiting while Echo chose clothes. I loved his little exchange with the other handler where he replied to the handler’s statement that he wouldn’t wait like this for his wife with “I was trained at Quantico.” And I loved that when Boyd appeared to take over the engagement so Paul could go help deal with the Terry situation (Adelle needed his background as an FBI profiler), Paul was elated to get out there. I’ll overlook the squick of Paul drooling over Echo when she stepped out of the shower and when she appeared in her “Kiki the Sorority Girl” outfit.

Adelle’s new plan is to put Terry’s imprint in the body of Victor, so Paul can interrogate him and find out where these women are and if any of them might have been behind the car accident. This is really Tahmoh Penikett’s best work of the series. It’s rare that Paul gets to be the competent, in charge FBI agent that he likes to think he once was. Terry’s uncle throws a wrench in the plan when he sneaks Terry!Victor out of the Dollhouse during a break in the interrogation.

Clearly naive about what his nephew is capable of, Terry’s uncle doesn’t last very long once he and Victor are outside the Dollhouse. Victor cracks the uncle’s head against the steering wheel and crashes the car before wandering off. Paul comes up with the idea to use the GPS in the uncle’s car to locate Victor (Victor’s own GPS strip was taken out when his facial scars were surgically corrected). Finding Victor doesn’t prove to be as easy as Paul thought it would be, however. There’s a subway station right next to the scene of the accident.

Meanwhile, Topher thinks he has a plan to fix the situation. Or at least make Victor not a serial killer anymore. He’s going to try a new type of remote wipe, going directly through Victor’s biolink. He calls Boyd to warn him that the biolink will be shut down for a few seconds so he won’t be worried about Echo (whose engagement is to be a naughty student for a professor’s amusement). Boyd does become worried, however, when he sees a car peel out of the parking lot where he has been waiting.

Boyd goes inside to find that the teacher has been stabbed in the neck and the word “whore” has been painted in blood on a mirror. It’s soon clear what happened. Terry’s imprint is now in Echo. The question now is what happened to Victor. Exactly what happened to Victor soon becomes apparent, in yet another performance that shows Enver Gjokaj is fearless. Victor is now none other than…Kiki the slutty college student. Kiki!Victor dances happily around a night club, working the DJ booth like a pole, and hitting on some guys. The guys don’t exactly appreciate Victor’s advances. Luckily, Paul finds Victor and steps in before things get ugly. Words cannot really describe how absolutely hilarious this scene is. We think Victor has been punched, but it turns out that the other guy is the one on the ground. His punishment for “hitting a girl.” Victor then hangs on Paul for the rest of the night until Paul can get him back to the Dollhouse.

Meanwhile, Terry!Echo has found her way back to Terry’s lair in Beverly Hills. The women are all free from the drug’s influence, and some of them are most definitely ready to fight back. Especially once they realize that Echo wants them dead just as much as Terry did. Echo is able to temporarily shove aside Terry’s imprint and tries to warn the women. She wants the women to kill her to keep Terry from hurting them. She is able to tell one of the women in detail how Terry stalked her. Just as the women really are about to kill Echo, a Dollhouse team led by Paul arrives and saves the day. Echo, however, will never truly be rid of Terry. That imprint is now one of the many still swimming around in her head.

It’s interesting that in an episode that seemed to be trying to say something about female empowerment, between Echo’s professor liking the Chaucer character Alison (the Wife of Bath), Terry’s need to be in control and blaming the women for all the problems in his life, and Terry’s prisoners vowing to fight, Paul is the one who rides in on the white horse (or black-clad Dollhouse operatives, as the case may be) to save the day. Maybe the message would have been better served had Adelle taken a more assertive role in fixing the mess.

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