Dollhouse 2.7: "Meet Jane Doe"

(Note: This review covers the first half of the two-episode event that aired on 11 December, 2009. This review was written without prior knowledge of the events in the second episode. A subsequent review will cover the second half of the event.)

This episode feels like a natural pivot point, summing up the fallout of the first half of the season while setting the final stretch into motion. By jumping ahead in time, the writers make it possible to bring the story closer to the beginnings of the apocalypse seen in “Epitaph One” while maintaining the connective threads to what has come before. It is all a fairly logical progression of the various plot and character beats, even if it seems like some elements are glossed over to make it all work.

It’s now quite clear that Echo is a distinct personality, as implied in the previous few episodes, and she has developed the ability to call upon the knowledge and muscle memory of her former imprints. It’s not an easy process, and it is having a physical toll in the form of headaches, but it’s not clear if there is a solution. After all, Echo is essentially immune to the wiping process, which means that any fix through that technology would be temporary at best.

It’s interesting to see Ballard struggle with the knowledge that Echo is now her own entity. Ballard’s ongoing mission to take down the Dollhouse network is now complicated by his personal interest in Echo. He doesn’t want to be the kind of person who would use a Doll, even if he already has, yet he has struggled with his attraction to Echo all season. Now the question emerges: does Echo have the right to Caroline’s body? What rights would Echo have in any real sense?

This is a classic science fiction question, usually reserved for artificial intelligence. If computer software becomes so advanced that it appears to have free will and the ability to exceed its programming, there are plenty of arguments for treating that new intelligence as a being with rights. But in this case, this is the result of the melding of deliberately generated false human personalities. Echo is more than the sum of her parts, and she was “born” within Caroline’s body. Does she have equal right to Caroline’s body, especially in Caroline’s absence? Or is her every action just as much a violation as the actions of the programmed personalities?

This is not an idle question. With Topher’s creation of the technology that will allow innocent people to be reprogrammed remotely, the separation of mind and body becomes real. It leads directly to the situation in “Epitaph One”, where there is a constant question of identity and integrity of self. If someone like Echo can emerge out of the programming, it’s not as clear cut as “original” and “program” anymore.

Even so, Echo herself seems to understand that she is still influenced by the demands of her programming. While the imprints give her an array of skills and a knowledge base that makes her a powerful asset, it also comes with all the rest of the baggage. All those romantic engagements leave her with an aggressive sexual appetite and a desire to be loved (and in love, one would imagine). It sounds like fan service on the surface, but it’s actually a logical consequence of the process that led to Echo’s creation.

With Ballard and Boyd still working together to bring Echo back to the Dollhouse in the hopes of bringing it down, there’s some small sense of hope for a positive outcome. The audience is given reason to think that it will be a challenge, but that it’s possible for the right people to win in the end. Of course, we know that’s not the case. “Epitaph One” made it plain that the future is far from bright, and that whatever gains are made are minor victories in a lost war.

Topher is already crushed by the fact that he has given Rossum a means of taking control of the world, and it’s evident that this will begin his downward spiral. Being betrayed by Adele can only contribute to the descent. He’s already well aware of the fact that Bennett is more than capable of unleashing his invention on the world. I’m not sure it would take much more to push him over the edge.

I understand that Adele did what was necessary to take back control of her house, but the price was high, and I’m not entirely sold on the idea that she would be given back her old job so easily, even after handing over the plans. The hierarchy has no vested interest in doing so. The house was running efficiently under the new management, and Echo was still at large. Perhaps she is still being watched carefully, and that explains her cold attitude regarding Echo. She may be playing a part. Even if that is the case, why wouldn’t she be forced to ship out Sierra and the others Dolls selected for Dubai?

I was pleased by something that Boyd said to Adele. Adele is uncomfortable with how the Dolls are being treated. She doesn’t like the fact that the Dolls are seen as expendable, as though it is perfectly moral to allow the Dolls to be hurt or killed if the client so desires. Boyd chides Adele, pointing out that they have always known what kind of business they were in, and what it meant. It’s just that they can’t lie to themselves about it anymore. I never bought into the notion that the writers were trying to say that the characters were right to do these things, so this was a nice confirmation.

Some have suggested that this, with a little retooling, would have made a much better starting point for the series. I can understand the sentiment. It resolves one of the main problems with the first season by giving Echo a distinct personality. It’s something that the story has been building towards since the first episode. I can understand how the writers would see that process as an interesting story in and of itself, but I wonder if this iteration of the status quo would have been a more popular choice.


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