Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dollhouse 2.05: "The Public Eye"

“I think her bad guys are badder than my bad guys.”


First, some housekeeping business. My good laptop had a close encounter with a cup of hot tea last night while I was working on this post, and I’m waiting for it to dry before I attempt to recover any data. If this post is missing some important plot points, it’s because the tea-induced computer crash destroyed my notes, and I don’t really have the time or inclination to rewatch the episode yet again at the moment. I’m currently using my fairly beat-up Dell that I got through my law school’s laptop program back in 2006, so delays in blog posting for the foreseeable future should be expected, either until my HP laptop miraculously comes back to life or my unemployed self somehow comes up with the money to buy a new one.

Anyway, Friday marked the beginning of Fox’s Mid-season Burnoff Theatre airings of Dollhouse, my favorite show currently on the air. Since I gravitate towards quirky genre shows, it should come as no surprise that I’m no stranger to Burnoff Theatre. I became familiar with the Summer variety when ABC aired the final three episodes of Pushing Daisies on three Saturdays in June. It was wonderful to be transported back to the magical world of Papen County one last time. It was bittersweet then, and it’s bittersweet now, because both shows certainly don’t pull any punches on the way out. “The Public Eye,” was not the stronger of the two episodes shown this past Friday, but it was by no means bad. It was mostly set-up to the payoff in the second episode, “The Left Hand.”

The episode opens with a major press conference called by Senator Perrin (played by Whedon alum Alexis Denisof). Senator Perrin, who has made it a top priority to police medical research companies, believes he has definitive evidence linking the Rossum Corporation to the Dollhouse. Up until now, most people regarded the Dollhouse as an urban legend. That definitive evidence is one Madeline Costley, aka November, aka Mellie. Madeline tells the world about how she lost three years of her life to the Dollhouse, and she says they made her do things so horrible that she never could have even dreamed of it.

Boyd, Paul, Topher, and even Echo are watching the press conference on TV in the LA Dollhouse, wondering why Rossum is allowing such an event to take place and surprised Perrin and Madeline haven’t been taken out already. A bit of news footage provides a lightbulb moment. Senator Perrin is talking about his wife, Cindy, and he says “it’s like they made her just for me.” Echo adds “she’s not right” when looking at the footage of Cindy. Adelle says what everybody’s thinking: Cindy must be a sleeper assassin Doll, like Madeline was when she was Mellie. In fact, it’s seeing pictures of her work as an assassin that got Madeline to come forth and participate in this press conference. She’s horrified at the idea that she killed someone.

Madeline’s motivation is mildly surprising to me. I mean, I’m sure it is a horrible thing to realize you’ve taken a life, but the guy she killed was a rapist Dollhouse handler who took advantage of his Active (Sierra) when she was in her vulnerable Doll state, plus he was attacking Mellie when her assassin mode got switched on. It’s not exactly a huge loss. I think Adelle felt the same way. Paul wants to infiltrate the Perrin safe house, and to bring him up to speed on the capabilities of a sleeper assassin, Adelle shows him the video of Mellie’s attack. Adelle quickly tries to take the moral high ground by saying “he was a serial rapist.”

Adelle has a different mission in mind for Echo, and it’s one she doesn’t plan to tell Paul about, even though Paul is Echo’s handler. Boyd offers to take the job, but Adelle says that any interim handler will do. I’m wondering why, except for the second episode of the season (which really should have been the third), we haven’t seen Paul acting as Echo’s handler. There’s always some excuse to have Boyd or an interim take over. It may have made more sense to leave Boyd as Echo’s handler, since that was one of the best dynamics of the first season, and make Paul head of security. On the other hand, that would be too sensitive of a position for a fairly untrustworthy rookie Dollhouse employee. Either way, it would be nice to see how successful (or unsuccessful) Paul is at his actual job. I’m curious.

Echo’s mission is soon apparent. She’s been imprinted as a prostitute, Bree, and she’s supposed to embarrass the Senator. He had gone to sleep after a phone conversation with Cindy that ended on their ridiculous call and response about how he’s her “white knight” and she’s his “beautiful damsel.” There’s a reason behind the patter, but it’s still cheesy as all get out. The Senator wakes up in the middle of an…interesting…situation. Echo/Bree is videotaping him. Perrin quickly realizes that Rossum sent Bree and she’s really a Doll. He wants to take Bree to his wife, which sort of confuses Bree. She’s not used to Johns wanting to take their hooker mistress to meet their wife. Bree’s cool with it, though, as long as Perrin realizes she charges extra for threesomes.

Paul’s mission isn’t going as planned, either, even though he’s armed with a new device Topher likes to call a “Disruptor.” Topher’s demonstration of the Disruptor was great, by the way, and featured writer/actor/wife to Jed Whedon Maurissa Tancharoen as “Kilo.” Madeline doesn’t go quietly when Paul infiltrates the safe house and finds her. She knows Paul had something to do with what happened to her while she was a Doll, and she doesn’t trust him. She screams, and soon Paul is surrounded by Cindy and some handlers.

Just as the standoff is going down, Perrin and Bree pull into the driveway of the safe house. Paul hits the button on the Disruptor, and Dolls start going down. Madeline, Echo…and Senator Perrin. Cindy is still standing. Paul is confused by this. Cindy takes away the Disruptor and remarks that it’s tech she’s never seen before. Outside, Echo is driving away as fast as she can with the Senator in the car too. Topher, Adelle, and Boyd see what’s going down, and they’re not pleased. They figure out some important information, though. The Senator is actually a Doll of sorts, and Cindy is his handler.

Daniel Perrin was indeed born Daniel Perrin, but that Daniel Perrin, although part of a major political dynasty, was in danger of becoming a complete wash-out. He was a party boy well into his thirties. He barely made it through Yale. I personally enjoyed the rather blatant comparison to our most recent ex-President, although I realize your mileage may vary. It gave me a chuckle. So when Perrin goes a bit nuts and insists that he must be Daniel Perrin, he’s not wrong, technically. Echo sees the situation getting out of control and calls Adelle, as she’s been programmed to do. Perrin takes over the phone conversation, but before Adelle can convince him to come into the LA Dollhouse, Cindy shows up.

What follows is one of my favorite fight sequences of the series to date. After getting Daniel out of the way (there’s still a part of him that loves Cindy, even though he knows it’s all programmed), Echo gets into a knock-down-drag-out fight with Cindy. Each of her moves is tied to a flashback of a past fight, and the editing work to make it all come together is really amazing. Echo and Daniel manage to get away, but not for long. Cindy catches up to their car and uses the Disruptor on them.

Meanwhile, Paul, who was quite badass himself getting away from Cindy’s minions (she had instructed them to dump Paul in the LA River), makes a last ditch attempt to save Madeline. He approaches her at the airport, and Madeline agrees to talk to him, even though there’s no way she’s going with him. He tries to explain their relationship as best he can, emphasizing that he was actually an FBI agent when she was Mellie, and the Dollhouse played him too. Madeline questions why Paul would work for such an organization. Madeline’s best point is yet to come, though. When Paul tells her she’s making a mistake by going to DC to testify before a Senate subcommittee, she reminds him that people who are free are allowed to make mistakes.

Daniel and Echo end up at the DC Dollhouse, which has some very interesting differences from LA. The design is sort of classy and more upscale when compared to the LA Dollhouse’s new age spa look. The Active names are all Greek gods, instead of the LA Dollhouse’s NATO phonetic alphabet. The programmer, or “Topher,” of the DC Dollhouse is a woman named Bennett, played by none other than Summer Glau, another Whedon alum (she had a guest spot as a cursed ballerina on “Angel” and was River Tam on “Firefly”) who is fast becoming a genre icon. Bennett seems normal at first, but it’s quickly apparent that she’s not quite all there. She gets very upset when her imprint room isn’t set up exactly as she requested. When she sees that the second Active brought in along with Perrin is the woman who was once Caroline, she gets devious. Apparently Bennett and Caroline have some sort of history, and Bennett can’t wait to continue their story. By using the imprint chair to cause Echo horrible, horrible pain.

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