Here it is, the first episode of Dollhouse. I won’t lie – this is not the best episode that Joss Whedon has ever written, and it really drags in the beginning, but it picked up in the second half and has definite potential. Come, give it a try. Three episodes and I’m hoping Joss will have us hooked.
The episode starts with a slightly grainy video of Echo (Eliza Dushku) and a woman whom we will later learn to be the head of the Dollhouse. It seems that the woman is trying to get Echo to sign up and Echo (whose name isn’t really Echo, but I didn’t catch her real name) doesn’t really feel that she has much choice. The minimal exposition that we’re given makes it sound like this is the only way that Echo can get out of some kind of trouble.
We then cut to the present to see two motorcycle riders racing through the streets, cutting in and out of traffic. One cuts down an alley as a shortcut and wipes out. The rider rips off their helmet for no discernible reason and we see that it’s Echo. She picks the bike back up and speeds off to catch the other rider. After a few more cutscenes of racing through traffic, they race up what seems like a pedestrian mall in Chinatown, into a restaurant/club and right onto a dancefloor. Inane banter and flirting with the guy who was riding the other bike then leads into lame dancing. Finally, the couple leave the dancefloor. The guy tells Echo that he’s had a great weekend and he’ll never forget it. Echo kinda scoffs at the implication that she’ll forget. The guy just looks at her sadly. He gives her a gold chain with a heart pendant and says that he’ll be right back with some drinks. She wanders off smiling to herself and suddenly her face goes blank and she walks out of the party, down the pedestrian mall, and up to a black van. Her handler opens the sliding door and she gets in gushing about the boy she met
As the van pulls into a garage and they both get out, Echo is still gushing and asks if she could go back after her treatment. The handler says he’ll wait right here. Echo smiles and gets into an elevator. As soon as the doors shut, the handler rolls his eyes like “yeah…right”
Echo gets off of the elevator and goes into the lab of what I assume is the Dollhouse’s resident mad genius. I’ll learn everyone’s names soon, I promise. Echo begins to tell him about the guy she met, but he just brushes her off with a condescending “that’s nice”. She lays down on a modified hospital bed and he hooks her up to some machine that downloads her memories into a hard drive. As it’s running, we see her memories in reverse, from the dancing to the racing to her first meeting with racerboy and even childhood memories that were implanted. When it’s over, Echo has a blank look and wanders out of the lab to get a physical from the doctor.
Scienceboy pulls the harddrive with the impanted memories and takes them into another room where Echo’s handler is standing. The handler asks if everything went okay and scienceboy makes some douche-y joke about asking Echo, but her not remembering.
I think Scienceboy is supposed to be the snarky semi-villainous guy in this show, kind of like Spike was, but he’s not even remotely amusing. Until this changes, I’m not even going to bother reciting his snarkiness. At most, I’ll credit him with a douche-y comment. You’re on notice.
The doctor (Fred!) discovers that Echo’s knee is bruised and tight from something heavy falling on it. Echo insists she has no idea what fell on her knee (IT WAS A MOTORCYCLE!) and is somewhat freaked out by this. The doctor tells her that it will be okay and she’ll be taken care of. Echo touches the doctor’s scarred face and asks who takes care of her. I think those scars will be significant in a later episode, so just remember about those. The doctor pulls away and tells Echo to go to the massage room to have her knee worked on.
Echo wanders out of the doctor’s office and notices flickering lights in Scienceboy’s lab. She goes to investigate and sees Scienceboy and many assistants standing around a screaming girl on the gurney. Scienceboy herds Echo out of the lab and she asks him why they’re hurting the girl. Scienceboy (in a very condescending tone, because he can’t seem to help himself) that this is her first treatment and thus is a bit harder, but when she’s done she’ll be just like Echo and be named Sierra. This is when the doctor finds Echo and tells her that the massage room is ready for her. Scienceboy gives the doctor a “WTF” look and I get the impression they don’t get along very well.
Taking a break from the Dollhouse for a moment, we see a young girl talking to her father on the phone. The girl tells her dad that she finished her homework and wants to see TV. The father refuses, but tells her that her gift for finishing her homework is knowledge. She jokingly tells her father that she hates him, hangs up the phone, and flops down on her bed. Just then, four men appear out of the darkness and zip her into a bodybag. The last thing she sees before it closes is a man with a mask.
The father goes to the woman who we previously saw getting Echo to sign up and a guy who I assume is like her head of security or whatever. Really, he seems to exist just to be a dick to his underlings and be generally annoying. The boss lady tells the father that they’ll help him however he wishes. He says that he’s willing to pay the five million dollar ransom, but he needs someone to negotiate the transfer. The woman tells him that they’ll contact him as soon as they have what he needs.
We then cut to an FBI office where two men are dressing down Helo from Battlestar Galactica. The two men are pissed that Helo is pursuing the Dollhouse too vigorously and pissing off too many people on what they think is a myth. They’re particularly pissed that he’s interfered with a human trafficking investigation because he thinks the traffickers are involved with the Dollhouse. They tell him to back the hell off and asks if that’s clear. He agrees, but this argument is intercut with scenes of Helo kickboxing with this huge dude that looks like Dave Batista from WWE. No, I will not explain how I recognize Batista. Back up off me, people. That’s not really the point, anyway. Helo is getting the crap beaten out of him at first but then comes back and knocks the dude out. I think this was supposed to illustrate that Helo don’t give up.
Sure enough, he later tracks this apparent high-roller down in a club and ambushes him in the restroom.. Helo tells him that he wants to know what the guy’s mob family has to do with the Dollhouse. If the mobster can give him that information, he’ll never see Helo again. Back to the main plot, Echo shows up at the father’s house in a business suit and glasses and introduces herself as Eleanor Penn and says their mutual friend recommended her. Apparently, it’s a big no-no to mention the Dollhouse to ‘Actives” when they’re in a role, since they don’t even remember the Dollhouse and reminding them can cause glitches in the programming and whatnot.
The handler, listening in, asks Scienceboy what’s up with the glasses. Happy to gloat about his genius, he explains that a flaw makes them more believable. He then goes on to explain that they can program anything, including muscle memories, disabilities, knowledge, and entire life histories. In fact, Echo’s current personality is cobbled together from several actual women who work in hostage negotiation. This is also important later.
The father is skeptical that they sent the right person, feeling that a grandfatherly type, like Edward James Olmos, would be better suited to this negotiation. Echo throws some knowledge at him, though, and convinces him that she can handle this.
The kidnapper calls and initially tries to bully Echo, but she shows him who’s boss and even gets them to let the father talk to the girl. Just as the girl is about to tell her father something, Echo cuts her off and asks to speak to the kidnappers again to set up the hand-off. The father is enraged at this, but Echo explains that if the kidnappers thought he knew where they were, they’d probably kill the girl and make a run for it.
The father is less than convinced and wants her to convince him by giving some background on why she’s qualified. In the midst of this, he references the Dollhouse several times. She has flashbacks to her treatment and starts to freak out, but recovers enough to give the background of her personality, including being kidnapped when she was little. The kidnappers raped her and left her for dead, but she survived. Again, this is important later.
The father, finally convinced, agrees to go with the plan.
The next day, the hand-off occurs. As the kidnappers are loading the money into their boat, though, Echo recognizes one of them as the man who kidnapped her (or, actually, one of the women that make up her personality) and freaks out, telling the father that they won’t give the girl back; they’ll keep her in the hopes of getting further ransom from him, but the man who Echo recognized will kill them all for the money, then rape the daughter and kill her.
The father tries to chase them to get his daughter, but the kidnapper shoots him and Echo’s handler, watching through a sniper rifle, shoots the kidnapper. The others get away and Echo is extracted.
On the way back to the Dollhouse, though, Echo keeps talking about the man who kidnapped her and the handler realizes that they may still be able to save the girl. He goes to the bosses to get them to let him and Echo try to save the girl, but they’re more interested in covering their butts. He finally convinces the boss lady to let him do it, but he’s pulled off of the case and replaced with her right hand dickhead.
They realize that one of the kidnappers is the daughter’s teacher and track them down to his sister’s house. Echo goes in alone and, through her insight into the practices of the killer, convinces the others to let the daughter go and run. The killer isn’t down with that, though, and a firefight ensues. The killer is… killed and the others tell Echo to take the girl and go. Just as she’s about to leave, though, Sierra bursts through the door and kills the surviving kidnappers.
Back at the Dollhouse, Echo and Sierra pass eachother and smile blankly like the previous assignment didn’t happen, but Echo gets a confused look on her face, like there’s a memory just out of reach.
The bosses congratulate themselves on getting out of the kidnapping mess without being discovered, but the right-hand douche says they have another problem and hands his boss a folder marked “Alpha”.
We close on a scene of a man sitting among dead bodies mailing pictures of Echo to someone in an envelope marked “Keep Looking” and watching a video of her pre-Dollhouse.
This episode picked up in the second half and wasn’t painful to watch, but I still wasn’t very impressed. I really hope this series gets better with time and Eliza Dushku can pick up the acting range that I think this role requires, otherwise this will be another early cancellation.