I felt a little uncomfortable with the pacing of tonight’s episode of Dollhouse. As the task of a second season premiere isn't just to start the ball rolling on the new season but also to hopefully draw in new viewers, I thought they might have crammed a bit too much into this first episode.
Tonight’s season opener followed Echo as she played two roles as an active. On the surface, she was the blushing bride of Martin, played by Battlestar Galactica’s Jamie Bamber who sported his native British accent for the role. Echo’s true mission was to play an undercover agent posing as the love interest of Martin while she investigated him and his arms dealings. Ballard was working with her, playing the role of her partner of three years and friend. Echo went through the act of marrying Martin and even consummating the marriage while Ballard brooded and did pushups as he kept an eye on the situation. Echo’s “character” had a Faith-esque attitude about sex and teased Ballard about his romantic notions about the act of two bodies rubbing together. Then she went back to the Dollhouse to get a treatment and have her lady-business checked out.
While Ballard’s continuing on with the deal to work for/at/with the Dollhouse and serve as a sidekick to Echo’s job, he’s not her handler and this is something DeWitt wants to change. She sat down with Ballard and talked to him about his attachment to Echo, pointing out that he seemed ok with letting go of November/Mellie, who was released of her contract with the Dollhouse thanks to the deal Ballard made (trading himself for her freedom). Ballard didn’t seem that receptive to the idea of taking over as Echo’s handler but he did continue to monitor Echo while she was on her assignment with Martin.
When Echo was attempting to break into Martin’s desk to find proof of his weapons dealings, her husband caught her and confronted her. After being tipped off by some of his people that she might be an undercover agent and now finding her trying to break into his antique desk, he proceeded to yell at her and beat her up. She kept the act up, even after Martin showed her a photo of her with Ballard. She was very convincing as she told him that she knew he wasn’t just a financier but that she married him for him and not his job. Just when it seemed like Martin was willing to believe her, the injury Echo sustained when he smacked her head against the desk caused her to glitch and she went back to being semi-wiped Echo.
While Echo’s handler was off doing who knows what, Ballard called in to Topher to check up on Echo’s brainwaves. He saw some activity on the screen that led him to believe she was in trouble. Ballard then allowed himself to be apprehended by Martin’s people and brought into the airplane hanger where Martin and Echo were about to board the plane. During the confrontation, Ballard did the only thing he could think of to get Echo to remember some of her old personas. He started to punch her, while also reminding her of certain things she’d been through, including the time she beat him up in the Chinese restaurant (last season). The violent tactic worked and triggered Echo’s fight-mode. She proceeded to attack Martin’s men, with a little help from Ballard, who brawled with Martin until Martin managed to get to his car. He might have gotten away if Echo hadn’t ended up on the hood of his car as he drove from the hanger. She chucked one of his bombs into the front seat, resulting in Martin jumping from the car just before it exploded. The action sequence seemed a bit dramatic for my taste but again, first episode of the new season. Gotta throw in a car chase and an explosion, right?
Echo restrained Martin and the mission was over with her and Ballard still in one piece. Their portion of the episode ended back at the Dollhouse where Echo told Ballard she wanted to find Caroline and also find the rest of the dolls’ original identities. Afterward, Ballard took her to the lab for her treatment and held her hand, which leads me to believe he’s going to accept the role as her handler. Given that her own handler, who I don’t think we ever saw managed to miss the fact that her life was in danger, it’s probably best if someone with better observational skills take over this glitchy little doll for now.
While all of that was going on, Ivy’s been handling more of the treatment responsibilities while Topher’s stalked by a very unstable Saunders. Seeing Ivy have to put up with Sierra, still in active-mode, stating she’s not comfortable with “orientals” and then offering her the opportunity to spank her was probably one of the most amusing moments in the series to date.
A lot happened with Saunders in tonight’s episode. When it came out that the scars Victor sustained due to Alpha’s attack could be healed, Saunders stated that she wasn’t interested in having the procedure done on herself. In a later scene, she was examining Echo when Echo had a flashback of an almost-makeout scene between herself and Saunders aka Whiskey. She mentioned it to Saunders, adding that she knew Saunders was number one. Saunders reminded Echo of what Alpha did to her face but Echo, being in post-treatment mode didn’t really respond to that.
Saunders also had a conversation with Boyd about all of the excuses she had for why she didn’t leave the Dollhouse. She, unlike the other actives, wasn’t on a leash. Her confinement was self inflicted. Well, sort of. Now that she knows she’s an active, she also knows that her fear of the outside world is all part of her programming. Still, that doesn’t make it any easier to want to brave the sun, crowds and open spaces that exist beyond the underground sanctuary that is the Dollhouse.
After spending too much time being the creepy stalker-lady that haunted Topher’s work environment (messing with his monitor, releasing rats into his office and inevitably climbing into his bed), she and Topher had a heart to heart where it came out that while Topher did make her into the person she is now, which filled the job-opening for a staff physician, he never programmed her to hate him. He made her the type of person that would question things and fight for her beliefs but hating him was a choice she made on her own. Struggling with her own fake-identity, which she clings to despite knowing she’s trapped in a body that isn’t really hers, Saunders inevitably decided to take the leap and at the end of the episode, she left a note for Boyd that said, “I’m running out… of excuses.” Cut to Saunders driving a convertible out in the open road.
Personally, I think all of the Saunders stuff is what screwed up the episode, which is unfortunate as I thought it was the best of what the season premiere had to offer. The problem with it wasn’t so much the story arc itself as it was ill-timed, considering the season is just starting. It might have been better if they held on to this bit of character development for a while or at the very least, introduced it in this episode and brought it out fully in a later episode. Just my opinion but jumping between that and the stuff Echo was going through felt a bit forced to me and it made it a little hard to keep up with everything that was going on.
In other news, the latest threat to the Dollhouse comes from a Senator who’s making claims that the Rossum corporation is withholding valuable medical advancements from the public (the kind that could be helpful to Alzheimer’s victims). Given the way the technology that programs the dolls works, I think this is a very interesting twist to add to the series. And what’s more, the Senator is played by Buffy/Angel alum Alexis Denisof (yay! Wesley and Fred in the same episode… unfortunately, never on screen together but still… yay!)
So yeah, call me a bit underwhelmed by this first episode of season 2. I’m not saying I’m ready to walk away from the series. There are so many reasons to hang on but I’m hoping they’ll slow the pace down just a bit and build up a little more momentum before they continue pushing the overall story arc forward.