Monday, December 21, 2009

Dollhouse 2.07: "Meet Jane Doe"

“Thirty-six personalities and not one of them can cook?”


“Meet Jane Doe” continued the excellent run of Dollhouse episodes leading up to the series finale, which will be broadcast in January. The plot has really sped into high gear. The Dollhouse crew is trying to tell us as much of the story as possible while they still can, and for the devoted fan, the investment is paying off in spades. This episode alone could be the basis for an entire season of the show, albeit with the show’s premise turned on its head a bit. One of the things I generally appreciate about Joss Whedon’s work is his “slow burn” style of storytelling, where the puzzle pieces come together gradually, and you really get immersed in the world. That obviously can’t happen here. I’m torn between whether I miss that style or whether I’m grateful to know as much of the story Joss had in his head as possible. I’m leaning towards the latter, because the story being told is indeed fascinating.

The episode opens with a brief moment of comedy before things start to get heavy. Topher is recapping what happened in DC for his assistant, Ivy. He’s fixated on Bennett’s betrayal, telling Ivy that he’ll “never trust another woman.” This line takes on added meaning after what happens at the end of this episode. He goes on to relate how he knocked Bennett out, when Ivy really just wants to know what happened to Echo. She’s still missing, and, as we see by the end of the teaser, surviving by scrounging for garbage.

Echo finds herself in a grocery store in middle-of-nowhere Texas (Boyd has speculated to Adelle that Echo left the DC area via hitchhiking). She grabs an orange, and the grocery store manager rudely tries to throw her out. She sees someone in similarly dire straits- a Spanish-speaking woman trying unsuccessfully to pay for her groceries with food stamps. Echo decides to take action- she grabs some bread and runs out of the store- trying to give some of the bread to the other woman. The shop manager calls over to the nearby Sheriff, and things get chaotic fast. The woman, whose name is Galena, is arrested. Echo manages to escape thanks to timely flashes back to her fighting skills. We later see that this was a moment of awakening for Echo. Something about the fight and Bennett giving her a memory of Caroline formed Echo into a whole person.

Adelle, however, is not so empowered. Since the DC debacle, she’s been kept under the thumb of Mr. Harding, a Dollhouse executive higher-up than she is. He’s reduced her role basically to just arranging the engagements that he picks and chooses. A lot of changes have happened around the Dollhouse. Actives are being sent on more dangerous missions, they’re doing jumping jacks instead of tai chi, and Topher is the new golden boy. Mr. Harding is very excited about some of the tech Topher could be capable of inventing. Adelle is the subservient little girl in all this, serving tea, or inclining her head whenever in the presence of Mr. Harding. It’s very unlike Adelle, and it’s a fascinating transformation. The only thing kind of amusing in all of it is that Topher is using Victor and Sierra as his assistants for his experiments. Victor and Sierra are always entertaining.

Whatever clicked in Echo’s brain following the fight triggered her to call Paul’s cell phone for help, and now the two of them are living in Texas, cooking up a plan to free Galena from jail and training for Echo’s inevitable reentry into the Dollhouse. Echo is using information from an old imprint to work as a nurse, and nurses from this hospital often treat patients at the nearby county jail where Galena is being held. Echo cons her way into being the nurse to go to the jail, and she gives Galena some medicine that will be part of the escape plan.

When Echo gets home, she’s attacked as soon as she walks into the apartment. It’s not a big deal, though. It’s just Paul. He’s being the Cato to her Inspector Clousseau, for you “Pink Panther” fans out there. Echo offers to make dinner, and we get some insight into the kind of odd mind of Paul Ballard. He thinks food and sex are intertwined. This explains why Mellie was so effective, and perhaps even show the extent to which the Dollhouse had researched his psyche before trying to stop his investigation. Despite this flirtatious conversation, Echo and Paul have actually not slept together. Not for Echo’s lack of trying, though. Paul makes it very clear the he doesn’t believe he “has the right.” They relieve the tension with an intense training session. Not only can Echo fight like a machine, she can draw blueprints to the jail on two white boards simultaneously. Oh, and Boyd is in on this whole plan, too. I can see this show’s “Scooby Gang” starting to form, and that is only strengthened in the next episode.

Echo needs to free Galena and return to the Dollhouse soon, because the headaches she’s experiencing (I guess due to lack of a Treatment) are getting more intense. It doesn’t take long to set the plan in motion. Galena is brought to the infirmary due to the medicine Echo gave her, and while she’s there, Echo gives her an injection that slows down her heart. The whole time, Echo uses one of her imprints to speak Spanish to Galena, because Galena understands Spanish and the Corrections Officers don’t. Echo makes the Corrections Officers believe that Galena has died, and because Galena has some pretty severe bruising, the jail could be in big trouble if word of her death gets out. Echo offers to cover up the death, but there’s a ticking clock. The drug Echo gave Galena to slow her heart will only last for four minutes, and convincing the COs to go along with the cover-up has already used up one of them.

The plan doesn’t really work as hoped. They run out of time as they’re going through some outer doors of the jail because the security procedures took too long. At first the CO escorting them is freaked out by Galena suddenly coming back to life, but soon everybody jumps to action and Echo and Galena are thrown into a holding room. Galena is concerned, but Echo says it’s “just a hiccup. She’s about to try and break them out when she gets a killer headache.

Things are going from bad to worse for Adelle as well. She’s brought into a meeting of (all male, coincidentally) Dollhouse big-wigs, including Mr. Ambrose, who is every bit as gregarious as when he was portrayed by Enver Gjokaj in "Epitaph One." A new Dollhouse is opening in Dubai, and Adele is told that she must send a few of her Actives there. Even futuristic brothels have to have an expansion draft when a new franchise gets started, I guess. On the elevator after the meeting, Boyd tells a frustrated Adelle that she must take back the House. When Adelle asks him why, Boyd says that the Adelle he knew would never need to ask that question.

Topher, still playing the part of Harding’s golden boy, is ready to show off his new and improved tech, a remote wiping device. And we once again get an appearance from the always entertaining Kilo, played by Dollhouse writer and Joss Whedon’s sister-in-law, Maurissa Tancharoen. Her persona in this demonstration requires to use what is described in “Commentary! The Musical” (a special feature on the DVD of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) as her “bedroom voice,” aka a super-ghetto chick. Topher successfully remote wipes her into her blank Doll state. Victor and Sierra (still in their scientist imprints) kiss in the middle of all the excitement, and an embarrassed Topher quickly remote wipes them, too. Mr. Harding tells Topher not to worry about it- grouping is a common phenomenon, and the problem can be solved by sending Sierra to Dubai.

Back at the Texas jail, Echo finally manages to pull herself back together and access a variety of imprints to free herself and Galena. The getaway requires an assist from Paul as well, who channels his former FBI agent self and acts as an agent investigating prison abuse. He blackmails a CO to let Echo and Galena finish their escape. Later, Paul and Echo give Galena a new identity and take a brief moment to contemplate their next move. They end up kissing passionately, but Paul breaks away. My current theory is that he is still feeling some residual guilt over what happened with Mellie. He’s wary of being involved with a Doll again. Before they have a chance to talk things out, Boyd arrives. It’s time to go home.

It turns out that Paul, Echo, and Boyd’s timing couldn’t possibly have been worse (except for the pesky fact of Echo’s headaches requiring a Treatment). Shortly before the big homecoming, Topher approaches Adelle with a gamechanger. He realized Rossum was having each Dollhouse build a small piece (the remote wipe was Topher’s piece) of a much bigger, more sinister device- a portable device that can imprint anyone, even if the person doesn’t have Dollhouse architecture in their brain. Topher has, of course, figured out how to make the whole device, and Topher wants Adelle to keep the plans a secret. Adelle, now fully in self-preservation mode, almost immediately betrays Topher’s trust and gives the plans to Harding in exchange for Harding backing off.

When Topher finds out what Adelle did, he’s furious, and he actually fights back a little, calling Adelle “the coldest bitch on the planet.” Adelle has fully regained control, though. She wants Topher to do nothing more than imprint Actives until further notice. She says Topher was playing when he developed the tech that will soon end the world (if the future in "Epitaph One" comes true)- the “Topher is a child” well is one she draws upon often when arguing with Topher. Paul and Boyd choose this moment to bring Echo in. Newly once again assertive, Adelle wants to know what the heck was going on. Neither Paul nor Boyd will give the full story, so she’s putting Echo in isolation to see how long she can withstand having those headaches.

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