Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dollhouse 2.11: "Getting Closer"

“Hello, Carrie at the prom! Off the chart smart. Bet you could kill me with your brain.”


While I certainly had a very enjoyable viewing experience (yelling at my television, laughing hysterically, the whole nine yards) watching “Getting Closer” Friday night, the ultimate judgment on the quality of this episode can only really come after the final two hours of Dollhouse are broadcast. This episode did not really tell a stand-alone story- it was all about moving the pieces on the board towards the endgame and shocking us with unexpected twists and reveals. It’s the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix of the overall story arc, if you will. Whether or not this is an episode I will look back on in awe or with loathing will really depend on what comes of the shocking events that took place. There are a lot of directions the show can take from here to get through those final two hours, some undoubtedly genius, some trite and clichéd. At the moment, I’m right where Joss likely wants his viewers- anxiously waiting for more. No matter what, I will say this: no other show I’ve watched but Lost has pulled off big twists and shocking reveals quite so effectively.

There was more to “Getting Closer” than just mind bending twists, however. There were also very intriguing flashbacks into Caroline’s past and a couple of fun Firefly shout outs thrown in for good measure. The flashbacks explain Caroline’s relationship with Bennett in more detail, and I think these flashbacks do a better job than past flashbacks of fleshing out Caroline’s character. I still prefer Echo to original Caroline, even though it’s becoming apparent that some of what makes Echo able to do what she does is likely a bit of Caroline’s sheer force of will left in the brain Echo is using. The first flashback, which happens to contain the first Firefly shout out (the Quote of the Episode), takes place in Adelle’s office three years ago. Caroline has begun her vendetta against Rossum following the lab incident at her college, and she has convinced a security guard to let her into Adelle’s office. She handcuffs the security guard to the desk and starts going through Adelle’s files. She finds her own file and the file of Bennett, who at the time was just a promising neuroscience student and recipient of a Rossum scholarship to Tucson Institute of Technology.

Caroline thinks she can use Bennett in her quest to bring down Rossum, so she enrolls at Tucson Tech. She befriends Bennett by getting some mean girls to leave a cafeteria table so Bennett can eat. Bennett doesn’t seem to be used to people being nice to her. This is only reinforced by a later flashback to when Bennett and Caroline were roommates. Caroline is giving Bennett a bit of a make-over before Bennett’s first day of work at Rossum. Bennett remarks that nobody has ever taken an interest in her before.

It turns out that Bennett is pretty important to the current-day LA Dollhouse crew, too, and not just because of Topher’s residual crush on her. Echo’s plan to “meet Caroline” has run into a bit of a snag. The wedge with Caroline on it has gone missing. Or at least Ivy says it’s gone missing. Despite an extremely touching scene between Topher and Ivy (more on that later), I still don’t entirely trust her. Topher has a back-up copy, but it’s been severely damaged. The gang cooks up an incredibly devious and amusing plan to salvage the damaged back-up. Bennett has a reputation for salvaging severely damaged wedges, so Topher, Ivy, Paul, and Tony work together to abduct her from the DC Dollhouse. Topher and Ivy set up a “ghost chair” program so they have control of Bennett’s imprint chair in DC. They imprint an Active to hold Bennett immobile as Paul and Tony enter the DC Dollhouse to abduct her. I think what I like the most about the scene (other than Topher’s dorky concern for Bennett’s welfare), is when Tony quickly says “gingersnap,” and the newly programmed Active releases Bennett. Before they leave, Paul spots Madeline (now once again November) on the view screen. Paul decides she has to come back to LA too.

The middle of the episode is dominated by entertaining, kind of sweet character interactions. Sort of like we were all being lulled into happy complacency before the chaos of the final act. There’s also plenty of speculation (including by Echo herself) about what effect the incorporation of Caroline could have on the entity everyone currently acknowledges as Echo. Bennett certainly brings a different vibe to the LA Dollhouse. She describes the differences between the LA and DC Houses in a manner quite in keeping with the times. She says “You let them roam. They roam like free range chickens. We keep ours more like veal.”

The first pair of characters to lull viewers into happy complacency would be Topher and Bennett. Topher is happy and nervous to see Bennett again (the last thing she remembers about him is his punching her in the face, remember), and he goes out of his way to try and make her feel welcome. He wants to show her around the lab. It’s classy to show a girl some hospitality before you ask her to resurrect her arch nemesis, I suppose. Things are going well until Bennett realizes that the wedge Topher wants her to restore is Caroline. Guess she didn’t appreciate the classiness. Topher ends up with a split lip, and Bennett ends up in the interrogation room.

Topher’s injury leads to a big reveal and more happy, sweet romance. Dr. Saunders is back! And where has she been? Living with Boyd. That’s why he was so disinterested in the goings-on at the Dollhouse while Echo was Atticked. As they said in that one episode of Lost that would probably make my all-time worst episode list if I were to create such a thing, he had “something nice back home.” Claire patches up Topher’s injury as the rest of the Dollhouse crew express their surprise at seeing her again.

This episode once again showcases Topher’s amazing character growth over the past two seasons. Echo has realized that something is up with Paul. He doesn’t seem to be paying attention to her in the same way that he used to. Echo confronts Topher about it, and Topher is actually contrite. He’s not entirely sure what Paul lost in all the reconfiguring he had to do, but Topher suspects it’s his connection with Echo. Topher said he needed the brightest neural pathways to successfully rewire Paul’s brain, and he thinks those were all about Echo. What shows Topher’s character growth is how truly sorry he is that it happened. It’s even obvious in his body language.

On the other hand, I’m feeling the need to go on a bit of a rant about Paul. I feel like this “Topher took something away” plot has made the character completely regress. In season 1, there wasn't much to him. Paul was kind of pretty, but pretty dumb. Then, in early season 2, some layers were added. I loved his "I went to Quantico" exasperation at taking Kiki!Echo for wardrobe in “Belle Chose,” and I loved his kicking ass interrogating serial killer Terry in the same episode. His connection with Echo and the conflict he felt about that connection during the time they spent in Texas made him even more interesting. Now it feels like he's back to being the kind of oafish character he was before. The fact that he’s been paired back with the dull, doesn’t-do-anything-but-cook-Italian-and-moon-over-Paul Mellie (Adelle imprinted Madeline with Mellie so she would trust Paul implicitly) certainly doesn’t help things, either.

Things get more serious, but also interesting, when we get a new perspective via flashback about why Bennett hates Caroline. Bennett realizes Caroline’s been using her when she finds Rossum files among Caroline’s things. Bennett isn’t upset that Caroline is trying to take down Bennett’s employer, though. She’s upset that Caroline doesn’t want her help. Caroline does accept Bennett’s help, and while they’re trying to blow up Rossum headquarters in Tucson, Caroline makes a startling and grisly discovery. Rossum has a secret basement lab where they’re experimenting on people. Things go even more downhill quickly. Bennett’s already started the countdown on the explosives, and the delay Caroline’s discovery caused isn’t good at all. To make things worse, Adelle and Domenic and an LA Dollhouse security contingent have arrived. The bomb goes off before Caroline and Bennett can get out of there, and that’s where Bennett’s arm is injured. Caroline’s abandonment of Bennett isn’t as cruel as it appeared to be in The Left Hand, though. She wanted to get caught so that Bennett could be left out of the whole mess, considering Bennett had a legitimate reason to be in the Rossum building.

I think what makes the Rossum incident told from Caroline’s perspective interesting is the light it sheds on Bennett. Caroline wasn’t maliciously abandoning Bennett to some horrible fate. Bennett was just devastated that Caroline was abandoning her at all. A few years of time passing hasn’t changed Bennett’s feelings about it, either. After a pep talk from Boyd, Echo goes into the interrogation room to convince Bennett to help Topher restore the Caroline wedge. Echo succeeds, basically by offering to let Bennett torture Caroline again once they’re done saving the world.

Adelle knows too many shenanigans are going on at her House to escape Rossum’s notice, so she puts the house on lockdown. She wants to give every Active their memory back and set them all free. Before the lockdown can be completed, Echo escorts Tony and Priya out of the building. She wants them to have at least one night together before the “war” against Rossum really starts. Considering that Paul’s kind of a zombie and later events in the episode, it seems like kind of a bad idea that Echo sent away her two closest friends and allies. I’ll be interested to see if that comes back to haunt her next week. It turns out to be an especially bad idea that Echo sent her friends away when she closes the door and out of nowhere pops up Domenic, who has escaped from the Attic with a warning. Rossum’s on to Adelle’s little rebellion, they’ve killed Attic!Clyde, and they’re coming sooner rather than later. Adelle hears the warning, but she decides to send Domenic back to the Attic, figuring that’s where he’ll be safest.

Domenic isn’t wrong. Mr. Ambrose and some security goons arrive, and Mr. Ambrose basically tells Adelle that she’s fired and the LA Dollhouse is being closed. Since being “fired” in Rossum-speak generally means death or worse, Adelle’s not going quietly. Boyd shoots the security guards and Ambrose himself (probably not a big deal since Ambrose’s imprint is likely in several other bodies), but he gets shot as well in the process. Adelle’s new plan to escape from the mess is to blame everything on Boyd when she talks to Rossum higher-ups. Meanwhile, Boyd will go on the run and stay hidden. Boyd and Claire share a tearful goodbye, lifted almost exactly from “Epitaph One.”

Compared to Boyd and Claire, Topher and Bennett are better than ever, sharing kisses as they work on restoring the Caroline wedge. This is a Joss Whedon show, though, so the happiness can’t last for long. Topher goes to the next room to get a tool, and when he returns, Claire shoots Bennett and basically blows her brains out. It’s hard to tell just what Claire’s motivation was here. My current theory is that it was her ultimate way of lashing out at Topher, continuing her spiral from “Vows” when she just couldn’t deal with being a Doll. She was talking with Bennett about Topher’s love for Bennett (and mentioned that she hadn’t realized Topher could love) right before the shooting. Maybe she couldn’t deal with the fact that Boyd was leaving her while the person she despises most in the world was experiencing new love.

In the aftermath of Bennett’s death, Topher is in shock, childlike as in his iconic scene in “Epitaph One.” I thought this was the beginning of the end- that Topher was destroyed. He managed to pull himself together, though. This time, at least. I’m nervous to find out what horror leaves him in that state permanently. As the Rossum soldiers cut the power to the Dollhouse and begin their attack, Topher asks Ivy to leave, telling her that she has a remarkable brain and he thinks it should stay in her head. He then gets to work finishing the restoration of Caroline.

As Echo is set up in the imprint chair and the gunfire starts, Topher tells Adelle to escape too, saying she’s their general. She leaves safely thanks to Boyd randomly showing up again and breaking a security guy’s neck. We see a final flashback as Caroline is being imprinted upon Echo. She’s been brought “upstairs” at the Rossum headquarters in Tucson following the explosion. First Caroline meets Clyde, or some version of him at least. Then she meets the elusive co-founder of Rossum. It’s Boyd. And there’s really not much to say about that at this point, other than I can see a lot of scenarios playing out from here, and I can’t wait to see where this journey goes next.

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