Fans of Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku rejoice, because I think that Dollhouse has finally found its stride (and its heart) with the latest installment 'Man on the Street'.
As most will know, there has been a lot of cancellation talk in relation Dollhouse (despite the fact it has only been on air a few weeks) and much of the criticism leveled at the show has been valid but episode six of the new series has instantly injected more life into the show than all the previous episodes combined. Up to now, much of the shows content has been set up. We've gotten to know the ins and outs of the mysterious Dollhouse, its inhabitants, its employees and clients. We've been shown the mostly fruitless efforts of FBI Agent Ballard, in attempting to expose and shut down the eponymous organization. The show has been lacking the emotional content that often is what attracts viewers. The dolls, including Echo, were hard to relate too by the very nature of their characters, Agent Ballard appeared obsessed and unlikable, and even those characters whom a viewer could empathize with such as Echo's handler Boyd Langdon or the Dollhouse doctor Claire Sauders only received sub-plots with little time for viewers to really get to know them.
In 'Man on the Street' the emotions are ratcheted up in more than one area of the story. Two of the most significant changes are in relation to the dolls and the Dollhouse clientele. In a truly harrowing story line it is revealed that one of the dolls, Sierra, is being abused by her handler. While this is in itself horrific, one of the biggest claims against the show is that a viewer cannot relate to the dolls on any level because of their personality changes. For me, there was an attachment to the character of Sierra herself, despite her ever changing personality. It is possible to care for the dolls as you would a character in any other drama. The second change, for me at least, was the evidence that not all the dolls assignments are for crime, violence or sex. The assignment that Echo goes on for the internet millionaire Joel Maynor and the story that he tells Agent Ballard is affecting and it does give some truth to the claims that the Dollhouse can do good in more way than one.
To add to this, there is also the (rather sudden) change of Paul Ballard from fairly unlikeable, obsessive to actual human being. With his relationship with his neighbor Mellie going in the right direction, we're thrown into turmoil with the (unsurprising) revelation that she is in fact an active from the Dollhouse herself.
While there was other important things in this episode which advanced the plot and deepened the mystery, for me, it was the emotional content that made this episode rise well above any previous installment. Up to now, Dollhouse has been good, and compelling, but ultimately a little cold. This has all changed in the space of about 48 minutes or so. I can only hope it's going to get even better.