Dollhouse 2.5: "The Public Eye"

(Note: This review covers the first half of the two-episode event that aired on 04 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.)

“Dollhouse” has been flirting with a purpose since the beginning of the series, and seemed to find it with the combination of “Epitaph One” and the first four episodes of the second season. The immorality of the Dollhouse is no longer a matter of debate; the writers are openly addressing the fact that the technology is being abused to subvert free will and eliminate identity. One gets the very strong impression that this is much closer to the kind of show Joss Whedon was trying to create.

Being the first part of a two-part story, it’s hard to evaluate this on its own. But it does have its own share of revelations, so it’s worth looking at it in isolation. This is the episode that reveals the truth about Senator Perrin, and it is completely in line with something I raised in reviews for the first season.

It makes perfect sense that Rossum and the Dollhouse network would want to take control of key government figures, and use those connections to protect their own interests. Senator Perrin cannot be the only example of a government official under Rossum control. It’s also telling that they left the basic personality and memories intact, changing only the aspects they needed for their long-term goals.

It’s that goal that seems a bit hard to fathom. The current “crisis” appears to serve two different but complementary interests for Rossum. First, it allows them to control the amount of information that reaches the public, while setting up selected individuals (such as the Los Angeles branch) as the only group that can been traced (using November). Second, it forces the Los Angeles group to take action to protect itself, therefore exposing those who would be willing to break protocol to do so. This gives Rossum the justification they need to act against Adele and her people.

In essence, Senator Perrin is a programmed agent for Rossum, designed to sniff out any leaks in the Dollhouse network. The extent of his research is a direct measure of the risk of exposure. But with everything feeding into his office, it is also the easiest way to contain the problem until it reaches a certain “critical mass”.

And that is the one thing that doesn’t quite add up at this point: why would Rossum ever let the situation go this far, to the point where November is making public statements and Perrin is making the link between Rossum and the Dollhouse network? It seems like a foolish risk to take. Even if it were somehow designed to place all the blame on the Los Angeles branch, the documented evidence linking to Rossum has been mentioned to the press.

One possible scenario is that Perrin was meant to reveal this much, so that it would prompt justifiable action against the Los Angeles branch. Once the action was taken, Perrin could be eliminated (or exposed as a Doll) and his documentation destroyed, leaving only information pointing to the Los Angeles personnel. Rossum could then claim that they were being blackmailed by the Los Angeles Dollhouse, which could be claimed to have been the only one.

If it is all about the Los Angeles branch, then the resolution would have to be strong enough to allow the Los Angeles branch to survive, perhaps by holding enough cards to bring down others. Or it may have nothing to do with the Los Angeles branch at all, and there may be a completely different endgame in store. Whatever the case, this is one of the most interesting situations to date.

As good as the intrigue was, it also represented a bit of an evolution for Echo. Echo has been slowly but surely integrating all of the lingering pieces of her former personalities, but there has been an inherent conflict between her “former selves” and her current identity in every case. This time, it seems like her saucy call girl persona (complete with super-revealing wardrobe) somehow managed to semi-consciously make use of skills from previous engagements. If that trend continues, Echo is going to be remarkably formidable. (And if nothing else, should Caroline be restored, there is now every reason to think that she would retain all these attributes.)

In other words, the second season seems to be more than just the process of how Caroline regains her core personality. It also seems to be the process of how the Dollhouse inadvertently causes the end of the civilized world, while also inadvertently creating the perfect resistance leader to bring the world back out of chaos. After all, if the integration process continues on the same pace, Caroline/Echo would be all but immune to remote wiping/reprogramming.

As if that wasn’t enough, this episode also introduced the uber-disturbing (and disturbed) character of Bennett, played by Summer Glau. Bennett appears to be the DC branch’s version of Topher, but with a lot more mental instability and an obvious cruel streak. What she might know about Caroline should prove to be quite a revelation, but it’s also possible that her intentions towards Caroline/Echo could jump-start the whole memory integration process.

This episode was simply stuffed to the gills, so much so that every moment is worthy of consideration. I especially liked the conversation between Paul and November, where she pointed out that his insistence on saving her was just another kind of control over her choices. The irony, of course, being that the Dolls are never quite themselves again, so November’s personal choice to board that plane may not have been her choice at all. The writers keep coming back to that same central question: do we really know who we are and what we want? The disturbing truth is that the answer may be “no”.


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