In this week's Tim Minear-scripted episode of Dollhouse, Echo's imprinted with the personality of Esther Carpenter, a blind religious zealot led by the Lord to a religious compound in Arizona. Unbeknownst to Esther, the Lord who sent her on this pilgrimage is Topher and she's only blind due to the fact that her eyes are being used as cameras in an ATF investigation.
Besides being one of the show's strongest episodes yet, "True Believer" was also extremely topical. No, I don't think it's 1993 and we're in the wake of the Waco siege. I'm talking about the eye cameras. You may have read about San Francisco artist Tanya Vlach. Tanya lost her eye in a car accident four years ago and has issued a challenge to engineers, via her blog, to develop a webcam as a replacement for her prosthetic eye.
More important than that is the quality of this week's episode. Of the five episodes we've seen thus far, "True Believer" had the best balance of standalone one-off and serialized arc storytelling. Agent Ballard's storyline really heated up and even with an extremely limited amount of screen time, Victor and Sierra's characters were given something to play with in their non-imprinted state. Maybe I shouldn't have said, "something to play with" considering their storyline concerned well, Victor's man reaction.
We're introduced to the cult when they arrive at the local general store in their creepy non-psychedelic version of The Partridge Family bus. If I'm remembering correctly from my own days spent in a cult, they filed into the store all singing the hymn, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms." After the followers disappear in their bus, their shopping list is discovered on the counter with the words "Save Me" scrawled on the back. But more importantly, what was up with the shopper in the blue hat shielding his face from view? More on him in a bit.
So, what to do of this cult? The complaints have now reached fever pitch and with this note signaling trouble, something must be done. Good thing the citizens of Arizona have Senator who's a client of the Dollhouse. Up until now, the cult has been left alone. This plea for help combined with pressure from his constituents has allowed for a 48-hour window to gather information on the cult.
Despite Laurence's continued anti-Echo campaign, Adelle believes her to be the best Doll for the job. Laurence has made no secret that he believes Echo to be a loose cannon on the way to Alpha-ville, who would be best served by being put away in the The Attic. Adelle, on the other hand, believes she's "demonstrated a talent for adaptability." Echo's the perfect Doll for this surveillance mission. Using cutting-edge technology, Echo's eyes will be fitted with cameras allowing the ATF to monitor what she sees after infiltrating the compound. The catch? Echo will be rendered blind during her engagement. Once imprinted as Esther, her handler Boyd acts as a Good Samaritan giving the hitchhiker a ride to her final destination, the cult's secluded compound.
Once there, Esther walks onto the grounds where she's met by the group and their leader Jonas Sparrow played by Brian Bloom, veteran of Minear's short lived Fox drama Drive. Esther explains that while she might not be able to see, she still had a vision of Jonas telling her to come to the group. Like any good cult leader, Jonas accepts Esther into the fold and uses her story to his advantage.
At the Dollhouse, the disadvantages of co-ed showers are beginning to show. And apparently they're difficult to miss. After a brief glimpse at the shower's security monitors, Topher notices Victor is having what he prefers to call a "man reaction." Topher takes his concerns to Dr. Saunders. While she believes this impossibility to be a result of repeated imprinting for romantic engagements, the two must do more research to pinpoint the cause. To the security logs! It's concluded that it's not Victor's engagements but Sierra who is causing the anomaly.
While his followers may be naïve, Jonas is anything but. Despite the reception in front of his followers, he takes Esther into a darkened room for further questioning. When a flashlight in the eyes elicits no reaction, Jonas tries one last thing to test his newest follower: a gun in the face. Once satisfied she's actually blind, he welcomes her to the temple. While Esther may not be able to see it, the ATF is quite aware of the arsenal of weapons that surround her.
Ballard spent much of this episode waiting for the results of an FBI database search for faces similar to that of Caroline in the picture he received from a mysterious source. Unfortunately, the photo leads nowhere. But maybe the video will. Mellie, Ballard's neighbor and could-be girlfriend, brings her favorite FBI agent a videotape along with his meds and some leftover manicotti. Yeah, sure. "Leftover". Maybe if she started with a 10-foot long manicotti. Okay, enough about her food. I sincerely doubt the manicotti will be fueling the storyline for second half of the season's run. The tape on the other hand, is a very significant piece of Ballard's journey. It's of Caroline in the video yearbook we last glimpsed in the pilot episode.
Now that the ATF has the evidence they need, the assault on the compound can begin. Laurence, not surprisingly, turns down Langdon's request for an extraction of Echo before the siege begins.
After the agents tip Jonas off to their arrival, his wrath turns to Esther. Demanding to know if she's the one who brought them there, he slaps Esther across the face causing the cameras to malfunction. While the ATF may not be able to see, Esther now can. It's a miracle!
Channeling the Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, Jonas is determined to hold onto his control until the bitter end. Either that or he's really starting to believe his own B.S. As the book of Daniel told him, only the unworthy will be taken. Why not test God's power and set fire to the building his parish is holed up in?
Using his detective skills, Langdon returns to the general story where this whole thing started. He requests to view the security tapes of that day. Turns out ATF Agent Lilly, who's been trying to take down Jonas Sparrow for years, was the man in the general store obscuring his face from view. He's responsible for the "Save Me" note.
Also due to the magic of video, Ballard finds a lead of his own. Never letting a siege go to waste, the news crews have reached the religious compound and the agents of the FBI in Los Angeles apparently have nothing better to do but watch the coverage. In a fleeting moment, Ballard catches a glimpse of Caroline on-site at Waco II.
The once-meek Esther realizes Jonas is trying to take out the parish. To break his hold over them, she knocks him out and ushers the sheep out the door to safety.
After taking out Jonas, an obscured agent reveals himself to be Dollhouse head of security, Laurence. He's there to put an end to the problems Echo's been causing for him. He knocks her out and leaves her to perish in the flames. Luckily Boyd comes through again by saving her just in time.
Unluckily, Ballard arrives at the compound too late for information on Caroline and the Dollhouse.
I know I'm a little short on analysis this week but that in no way is representative of a negative feeling about this episode. It was just a very straight-forward narrative, I thought. Besides the parallels between the cult and the Dollhouse, there just wasn't too much to read into or dissect.
It was so rewarding to see Agent Ballard catch that glimpse of Caroline at the compound. I was convinced he was going to just miss her or something. It seems like it's finally Paul's time to shine after weeks of being stuck in a rut. I can't wait.
Topher: If she were any more relaxed, she'd be ooze.
Victor: It feels nice.
Esther: God brought me here and he has a message for you. And that message is, "Move your ass!"
OK, so, I know anyone reading this blog is probably aware of next week's "game-changing" episode. Topher knows I've been talking about it for weeks. But here's what I'm going to tell you to do: forget about it. Not about the episode itself. Just about the expectations being set for it. Who knows? Maybe it will be the best thing to ever spring forth from the mind of Joss Whedon. But maybe it will simply be an extremely satisfying culmination of these first five episodes, which will also lay the groundwork for the rest of the season to be built upon. We need to remember that if this is the episode when Joss really took control, than it's this episode that starts his vision, not defines it.
That's not to say that I myself am not dying to see what they cooked up. I just don't want people to stop watching if it doesn't blow them away on the level of say, "Hush," "Serenity," or "A Hole in the World."
We've put in our time and energy with these characters. We know the players in and the rules of the game. Now let's start playing.
In this week's Tim Minear-scripted episode of Dollhouse
, Echo's imprinted with the personality of Esther Carpenter, a blind religious zealot led by the Lord to a religious compound in Arizona. Unbeknownst to Esther, the Lord who sent her on this pilgrimage is Topher and she's only blind due to the fact that her eyes are being used as cameras in an ATF investigation.
Besides being one of the show's strongest episodes yet, "True Believer" was also extremely topical. No, I don't think it's 1993 and we're in the wake of the Waco siege. I'm talking about the eye cameras. You may have read about San Francisco artist Tanya Vlach. Tanya lost her eye in a car accident four years ago and ...