Dollhouse 2.3: "Belle Chose"

I’m not sure why, but it’s pretty clear that this episode was aired out of order. It should have aired immediately after the premiere, especially since it doesn’t make any sense for Adele and Boyd to be worrying about the disappearance of Dr. Saunders now when they ignored it in the previous episode. Also, this is a much stronger effort.

After seeing “Epitaph One”, I had little doubt that the writers understood many of the unsavory aspects of the premise. They were noted here and there in the first season, but they’ve become a lot more apparent. Minear goes for the jugular in this episode, forcing the audience to consider layers of morality and immorality throughout the story. Even if Adele and Topher can see a line they should not cross, are they drawing it in the right place?

Terry, the serial killer, abducts women and forces them to dress up and play roles in his fantasy world. When they don’t perform to expectation or resist, he kills them. That there are “survivors” is quite beside the point. What he’s doing is clearly wrong and more than a little sick. Even the administrators of the Dollhouse can see that, even as they struggle with the self-interested aspects of helping a well-connected client with an errant family member.

Yet the Dollhouse treads awfully close to the same immoral ground. This is driven home by the unnerving scene in which Terry’s demented psychological state is revealed, right down to his use of the abducted women, as Echo performs her programmed seduction of a sexually-perverted college professor. All the build-up seems designed to pull the viewer in, attract them with a slutty and ditzy version of Eliza, and then expose the ugly truth of that deviant interest.

The story also paves the way to “Epitaph One” by demonstrating how changes to the hardware and software can remotely and quickly download a new personality into someone. In this case, the rewriting effect was limited to a glitch and a specific delivery system within each Active, but the results are hard to argue. This is foreshadowing of the technology that Topher will eventually develop that will allow remote imprinting of unwilling subjects, an advancement that leads to the end of civilization.

As always, as strong as the message may be, it’s mixed at best and hypocritical at worst. The audience is still meant to drool over Echo and fantasize about her. The opening credits and the promotional materials are all about Echo’s sexual and violent exploits. Even Eliza enjoys posting teaser pictures of herself in sexy outfits on Twitter to generate some targeted interest. From the beginning, the show has been about questioning how actors, actresses, and celebrities are used by a consumer culture to fulfill certain fantasies, yet they use those same questionable tools and practices to sell the show.

Getting back to the story itself, I still think the overall season has been weakened by the constant “Echo is glitching” plot element. I can’t imagine how, in the wake of the Alpha crisis, Echo would be allowed to run around with so many issues. Or at least, not paired up with an inexperienced handler on top of it. There’s really no justification for her to be given so much latitude. (And the relative lack of concern for Dr. Saunders and her whereabouts makes no sense at all.)

Despite the overall issues with the writing and plot development, I must give Minear and the rest of the gang credit for putting together the best episode of the season so far. The message behind the episode may be heavy-handed, and just as mixed as ever, but the entire cast worked overtime to sell it. The writers may have a lot of work to do, but the rest of the production seems more than ready to run with the ball.




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Oct 13, 2009 1:36AM EDT

Great review, and this episode was aired out of order.
I think a lot of the problem is that, once again, Whedon and Co are constricted by the TV conglomerates. No doubt Eliza and others are contractually obligated to market the show however the Money deems fit, even if it's completely contradictory with the message of the show. Apparently, last season was insane because the network wanted MORE sexy action scenes and less philosophical ones. It's a damn shame, and I wish "Dollhouse" could get the budget to film straight to the internet like the HUGELY successful "Dr. Horrible", and then WE could actually see the Whedon/Minear genius fully realized.
As for the actual plot, I TOTALLY agree with you about the writing issues, but I was just as thrilled to see some allusion to "Epitaph 1", which was (in my opinion) the best episode hands down (2nd best was the introduction of Whiskey. I did not see it coming.) I can only hope for more of that story line, because the ethical and moral implications of imprinting are the real meat of the show, and now that Mellie is out of her contract, we can see firsthand how a former Doll (who isn't put in the Attic) feels about the experience.
Either way, I'm watching.


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Oct 13, 2009 8:59AM EDT

This show is less about how sexuality and celebrities rule our world blah blah blah, and more of a discussion about the question "what is a soul?"The ethical questions raised are around getting what you want no matter what, and what that costs others and ourselves.
I don't find it hypocritical at all for sexuality to be part of the marketing scheme, and to say it is seems to be a gross misjudgment of the questions being asked in this show.

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