Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dollhouse 2.08: "A Love Supreme"

“That’s what I love about the British. Your talent for understatement. Also Python.”


“A Love Supreme” was a stunning episode of Dollhouse in many senses of the word. It was stunning in an artistic sense, as it plays expertly with the viewer’s emotions. It was stunning in the sense that it ended with a hell of a twist. Overall, it was yet another beautiful episode that will make me truly miss Dollhouse when it ends in January. I like television that makes me think and makes me feel, and Dollhouse, and this episode in particular, most certainly did both. Add in yet another commanding performance by Alan Tudyk, back in the creepy persona of Alpha after a brief stint as Dale, the creepy sleeper Visitor, in V (I’m kind of sensing a theme here), and you have my TV nirvana.

A man is sitting outside his trailer in a dusty desert town, telling his story about how he blew all his money on engagements. He still loves the Active he hired, and that love is all he has left. We then see the person he’s talking to- it’s Alpha. Alpha, being Alpha, ends up killing the guy with a hunting knife. Clearly his Echo obsession is still in full force, and it’s going to be quite an interesting ride.

Meanwhile, Adelle is indulging in quite the sadistic streak herself. She has Echo in solitary confinement, withholding treatments. The severe headaches persist as Psychiatrist!Victor questions her. Boyd and Paul observe from a window outside the cell, and Paul is incensed at how Adelle has been treating Echo since their return. Boyd isn’t thrilled about the situation either (as he says “I looked into her eyes and swore to protect her, same as you. Before you.”), but he’s determined to let practicality win the day. Adelle is torturing Echo specifically to make one of them, probably Paul, squirm and tell her the truth about what’s been going on with Echo. Boyd believes that silence is the best way to protect Echo in this situation.

Topher has independently come to the same conclusion that Adelle shouldn’t be trusted. He lies to Adelle about Echo’s brain scans, saying the scans are perfectly normal. Next thing we know, he’s confronting Paul and Boyd about the scans, telling them they’re the craziest scans he’s ever seen. Boyd spills the beans- Echo has become her own person. Topher’s reaction is one of my favorite moments of the series to date. His child-like curiosity takes over. He wants to know, in detail, exactly what Echo thinks and feels. As he preps for Echo’s upcoming romantic engagement (yet another Adelle tactic to make Paul squirm), Topher repeatedly asks if Echo is various previous imprints, and Boyd keeps answering “Yes.” When Echo actually enters the imprint room, Topher actually treats her like a person instead of a biological computer. To me, it was the greatest Topher moment since the reveal in Epitaph One that he suffered a complete breakdown and couldn’t deal with the fact that his tech caused the end of the world. Topher speaks directly to Echo, explains the engagement, and asks if it’s okay with her. It turns out Echo doesn’t even need to be imprinted- she can just call up the imprint from memory since it’s a repeat engagement.

The client is named Frank, and Echo is his sister-in-law who Frank wishes would suddenly realize that marrying Frank’s brother was a mistake. Paul is uncomfortable being Echo’s pimp again, but he has no choice if they want to keep up the ruse and eventually bring down the Dollhouse. What happens when they arrive at Frank’s house is right out of the classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Passion.” Echo follows a trail of rose petals into the dining room of Frank’s house only to find Frank sitting at the table, long dead.

Echo, still stuck in her imprint, is absolutely hysterical, and Paul can’t break her out of it. It’s so bad that he calls Boyd. I do really enjoy seeing Paul and Boyd working together. It was a fun, reluctant partnership back in the first season finale “Omega,” and now it’s a real partnership, forged due to their mutual desire to protect Echo. Paul and Boyd are eventually able to bring Echo back to herself, and Echo immediately realizes that Alpha is behind all of this. There’s a note with some of the flowers that references “number one.” Whiskey was number one until Alpha went on his knifing rampage way back when and Echo became number one. After some more sleuthing back at the Dollhouse, Paul and Boyd realize that a surprising number of Echo’s past romantic engagements have recently died violent deaths.

It turns out that Alpha’s scheming goes far deeper than anyone imagined. Sierra returns from an engagement (where she was right out of the 1920’s), and before Topher wipes the imprint, Sierra tells him that her client’s name was Alpha. This instantly sets off alarm bells (as it should). Adelle suspects that other Dolls might be affected as well, so she orders all engagements suspended and all Dolls wiped clean. There’s a huge line waiting to get into the imprint room, that’s for sure.

There’s a clue that the next person to be killed will be someone who “ages well.” Boyd figures out that this is probably Matt, the guy from the beginning of the pilot episode, who hires Echo every year on his birthday. He and Paul head out with a full, armed security detail, but they’re too late. Alpha has Matt strapped to a bomb on the roof of the building. All this because Matt said his time with Echo was “a blast.” Boyd and Paul try to talk Alpha out of killing Matt, but it’s obvious that’s a tactic that will never work. As Alpha says, “There are many parts of me that know that this is wrong. None that care. And six that just find it funny.” He is truly a psychopath, and Alan Tudyk plays him to creepy perfection. Paul realizes just in time that the bomb is about to go off, and the team ducks for cover. Matt, however, does not survive. I find it interesting that Fox has no problem with violence- we see Matt become “pink mist” (to use a term from old-school Grey’s) right before our eyes, yet they have problems with the implication that what goes on at the Dollhouse is indeed prostitution. I think this is really a problem inherent in our whole country, though, not just the Fox network, and it’s a rant probably better saved for another forum.

The only one of Echo’s past romantic engagements still not accounted for is Joel Mynor, the software entrepreneur from Season 1’s game changing episode, “Man on the Street.” Paul has to go find him, and the result is absolutely hilarious, considering that the last time Paul and Joel met, Paul was still an FBI agent obsessed with bringing down the Dollhouse, and now Paul works for the Dollhosue. Joel pretty much says as much, and he pretty much says that’s pathetic. Topher explaining the situation to Joel back at the Dollhouse is also pretty great. Joel can’t believe just how bad the situation is- Alpha broke out and back in, you say? Indeed he did. And, what do you know? He’s broken in a second time as well. He walks out of the bathroom in Adelle’s office to give Adelle a rather unpleasant surprise. The rest of the Dollhouse is alerted when Paul looks at a security monitor and sees Alpha with Adelle in Adelle’s private elevator. Sounding the alarm doesn’t do much good, though. Alpha has a device, enabled by a virus that spread when Adelle ordered all of the Dolls wiped clean, that makes the Dolls turn on their handlers. It’s complete chaos.

The chaos reaches the imprint room as well. Topher had been in the middle of wiping Victor, and when Victor wakes up, he punches out Topher. Now, I have grown to appreciate the character of Topher as the series has progressed, but Victor punching him out was strangely satisfying, maybe because Topher is most directly responsible for what Victor has endured for almost five years. Soon after Topher is knocked out, Alpha arrives at the imprint room and looms menacingly at Joel.

Paul arrives in time to help Topher back up, but it turns to be a pretty bad move. All this time, Alpha has been setting up a bait-and-switch. It’s Paul he’s after, not Joel. Alpha straps Paul into the imprint chair. Alpha stalked Paul and Echo the entire three months that they were in Texas, and he has become convinced that Echo loves Paul. He backs up his claims with photographs. This incenses Alpha, because he wants Echo to love only him. His big plan is to sort of crack open Paul’s brain to figure out what makes him worthy of Echo’s love. Alpha gets quite carried away with himself and zaps Paul until Paul is brain dead.

Meanwhile, Echo, who has broken out of solitary confinement but doesn’t realize Paul is in trouble, saves Adelle from the advancing murderous Actives. Echo, Adelle, Joel, Boyd, and Topher conference in one of the sleeping pod rooms. That’s when Joel reveals that Alpha was actually after Paul, and Echo runs off quick as she can. Topher and Boyd have their own mission. They’re going to the manufacturing room to get one of Topher’s new remote wipe devices. When Echo gets to the imprint room, it’s too late. Alpha is sitting in the imprint chair, and Paul is slumped on the floor. Alpha, in his smarmy, self-important way, tells Echo that her “boyfriend’s dead” and promptly propositions her. Echo’s ready for a fight and doesn’t hesitate to attack Alpha. Alpha wins the day, however, thanks to imprinting himself with Paul. Just as Echo is about to deliver the killing blow, Paul’s voice comes through, begging Echo to end Alpha!Paul’s life. Hearing Paul’s voice, Echo just can’t bring herself to kill Alpha, and Alpha escapes.

Topher and Boyd have more success. The remote wipe device works to reset all the murderous Dolls, and Topher using it as Boyd covers him with a real gun is a pretty hilarious picture. They eventually make their way back to the imprint room, where they find Echo sobbing over Paul’s body. This image is extremely powerful, although I think it would be more powerful if there had been a chance to devote a few more episodes to the three months Paul and Echo spent training in Texas. Without that background, Echo’s pain doesn’t have the emotional impact for the viewer that it would otherwise.

At the end of the episode, Echo tries to give Joel some peace. She channels the imprint of Rebecca, Joel’s late wife, and tells Joel that Rebecca would want him to be happy and continue on with plans to marry the new woman in his life. I think Dollhouse as a show has really taken off since making Echo a fully realized character in her own right. I’ve kind of gotten to like her in these past few episodes, certainly more than I liked Caroline, the person who originally inhabited Echo’s body. Even as she tries to give comfort to Joel, Echo herself is still grieving- after Joel leaves, we see Echo return to Paul’s bedside, where he’s still brain dead, now on a ventilator.

No comments:

Post a Comment