In this highly touted, game-changing episode, Agent Ballard's quest for the truth finally came to a head this week, while the Dollhouse staff investigated the abuse of Sierra.
If you're reading this, you're no doubt interested in the public's overall opinion of the show. It's clear that the chief criticisms of the program are its lack of Whedon wit and the standalone nature of the stories coming from the writers' room.
While just this week Joss spoke with TVGuide.com about the lack of funny, the knocks on the show's pacing have been around for quite some time. For weeks, the Whedonites on the web have been saying that it's this episode, "Man on the Street," when the reins were loosened on Joss & Co.
While there will no doubt be some out there who are disappointed, I found the episode to be extremely satisfying. I tried to avoid setting expectations too high in last week's column by pointing out that, based off the production buzz, it's this episode that starts Joss' true vision. Not defines it. All I was looking for in this episode was a culmination of many of the threads set up in the previous five episodes and even without the involvement of Alpha, the writers managed to fulfill that expectation.
The episode's framework involved "man on the street" interviews of the denizens of L.A. commenting on the Dollhouse, which has been an urban legend in the city since the late 80s.
"Victor likes to pretend. He pretends we're married."
Victor notices Sierra does not sit with Echo and himself as she normally does and instead, sits alone. He places his hand on her shoulder to invite her over and she begins to scream in terror.
Dr. Saunders gives her a physical examination and determines that Sierra has had sex since returning from her last engagement. Combined with her comments about Victor and his man reaction from "True Believer," the staff's concern is that Victor is a ticking time bomb. Sierra's handler, Hearn, pushes for Victor to be thrown in The Attic. Echo tells staff members she hears Sierra cry in their pods at night.
Could Sierra and Victor have known each other before being brought into the Dollhouse? There was a knowing glance exchanged between Boyd and Dr. Saunders in these early scenes. This look could have been in reference to the previous incidents between Victor and Sierra but I don't think Boyd was privy to those situations. Perhaps they were lovers in their previous lives and that just can't be erased.
"Am I right? I'm right. Am I right?"
Paul is right. He's tracked a large payment made by Gabriel Crestejo (last seen in the pilot episode, "Ghost") around the time of his daughter's kidnapping to The Mayfair Fund. Alone, this means nothing, but combined with the receipts of a similar payments made every year on the same date by computer mogul Joel Mynor's (Patton Oswald) company, Ballard believes he has enough to go on.
Confused? Maybe Mellie can do a better job...
"The one fund got transferred to the other fund, and that's the same as the other other fund, and that's all important?"
Ah, Mellie. If only they had written you like this all season then nobody would've suspected you were a doll. I'll admit they had me doubting it when Adelle ordered Hearn to have her killed. Actress Miracle Laurie really brought Mellie to life. She was funny, pretty and charismatic, but I couldn't get the Stepford-ized version out of my head. I figured this was an attempt to either throw us off the "She's a doll" track or get us to like her before her life will be perilously close to the edge. Turns out it was both.
"Is this a porn man?"
Ballard and Echo/Caroline finally came face-to-face this week. Her most recent engagement is playing the part of Rebecca Mynor, the "resurrected" spirit of Jerry's dead wife. Rebecca 2.0 is called out of work early by Jerry (just as 1.0 was), who wants to surprise her with the news of his business success and the gift of a home. 1.0 was killed in a car accident on her way to the new house.
2.0's trip doesn't go as planned either, but at least she made it into the kitchen for a celebration. A celebration that Ballard interrupts. When Rebecca hears he's from the FBI, she accuses her husband of hitting it big in Internet porn and questions whether Agent Ballard is a "porn man."
In the first of three amazing fights of this episode, Ballard takes down two of Mynor's personal guards after being tased. Unfortunately, while he's busy, Boyd runs in and doesn't ask if Rebecca is ready for her treatment. He tells her she needs it.
"They're all broken."
Once he's returned to the Dollhouse with Echo, Boyd continues his investigation into what's going on with Sierra. After noticing an unmonitored closet in the Dollhouse and using the instinct he's "worked" for, he tells security to isolate Victor and his handler.
Turns out Boyd actually made that up to lure the real abuser from hiding. It works, too. Sierra's handler, Hearn, is punched out by Boyd just before taking advantage of the Doll for the fifth time. But let's be honest, is what Hearn has done worse than what most of their clients have done? And to what degree is Adelle culpable?
Adelle, Adelle, Adelle.... While Boyd is given a bonus for his efforts, he's also reprimanded and told never to act on his own authority like that again. Yeah, I'm sure that will happen. Instead of sending Hearn to The Attic, Adelle gives him a chance to redeem himself. They've been monitoring Ballard's apartment and know that Mellie has amassed quite a large amount of info on the Dollhouse. She's willing to let bygones be bygones if Hearn kills Mellie.
At this point, let me pose a question about The Attic. Why imprison former Dolls? Why not wipe their minds clean and return them to their original states with no memory of where they've been for years? I'm going to go out on a limb and guess the Dollhouse has not perfected the personality restoration process.
"I think they're ready for a second date."
The second fight sequence in this episode featured an all-out brawl between Echo (imprinted as unknown?) and Ballard in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant. I haven't seen a kitchen destroyed like that since Top Chef.
After the fight spills out into an alley, Echo gets the upper hand and informs Ballard that the Dollhouse is real. According to this imprint, there's a person on the inside who corrupted her while the programmer wasn't looking. She tells him that the Dollhouse is more connected than he knows and that they're going to have him removed from the case.
If Ballard is to get anywhere in taking down the Dollhouses, he has to let them think they've won for now.
So, yeah, nothing much there.
Oh, wait... except did I write Dollhouses?! Caroline informs Ballard there are more than 20 of them around the world with connections that go way beyond Los Angeles and the FBI's scope. Fantasy is their "business," but that is not their purpose, she teases.
The plot thickens. So, do we believe the imprint's story about there being a man on the inside? Was this just an attempt to get Ballard to ease up on the Dollhouse for now? Let's think about who was in Topher's room before the imprint: Ivy and Boyd.
"There are three flowers in a vase..."
Back at Ballard's apartment, Mellie awaits her spring rolls. Unfortunately, she's not going to get them. If only that were the worst news of her day. Heard has shown up to carry out his assignment from Adelle.
While watching the attack, I noted that this must be one of the most brutal deaths of an innocent character in a Joss Whedon show. But while the eventual death in the scene may have been brutal, the victim was hardly the innocent of the two characters.
How did it all go down? Adelle's voice rang through the apartment on the answering machine, activating Mellie and giving her some of the best fighting skills we've seen on the show yet. She effectively cleaned up the Dollhouse's mess.
But, what about the message on the machine? Will Paul hear that? Can he trace the call? Not now that he's been suspended for all the rules he's broken in his investigation.
"It isn't finished."
Echo's interest in painting has continued since her imprint as safecracker Taffy was cut short in "Grey Hour."
While she painted a home with a happy couple in front, she told Adelle that "it" wasn't finished — and she wasn't talking about the painting.
Echo was talking about her engagement as Joel Mynor's wife, Rebecca 2.0.
Memorable Lines & Moments:
Laurence: I don't think they're as ignorant as they're supposed to be.
Adelle: No. We're working on it.
We learn the Dollhouse has a kitchen, and Topher likes the almond-crusted salmon.
"There's only one reason someone would volunteer to be a slave and that's if they are one already. Volunteers?! You must be out of your f---in mind!" I think that could be a very big clue about the pasts of any or all of the Dollhouses' volunteers.
Ballard: Really? I thought it was Rick.
Mellie: Oh, his name is Rick.
Heard: Why don't you go paint something?
Man on Street: Just once. Nothin' queeny.
Mellie: Weeping, and moping and texting?!
I'm interested to see the talkback for this episode. I suspect there will be quite a bit of disappointment from the fans. If they aren't feeling the show, then there's nothing I can say to that. Your taste is your taste. Perhaps some just can't get past the lack of humor. And that's your right, but (as Whedon said) that's just not this show. I mean, these are all very damaged characters in difficult situations. Imagine the psychological darkness of Angel's fourth season or Buffy's sixth, but given a shiny buff to make everything on the outside pretty.
I have to point something out for a moment here: Did anyone notice the words "shiny buff" in my last paragraph? Those references to past Whedon projects were not deliberate upon typing. How cool.
In any event, I believe this episode delivered on story, twists and action. It featured numerous allusions to past episodes proving the path to get here was not for nothing.
Please post your thoughts on the episode and how it impacted your view of what Dollhouse can be.
Be sure to check out next week's episode, "Echoes."