He wasn't fooling around.
I'm stuck in this self induced cycle of figuring out if the "Man on the Street" was actually that good or if the first episodes were just that bad. To be fair, they weren't all bad and to be fairer still, there have been only five episodes. But, all things considered, and comparing Dollhouse to no other shows on TV right now, this episode was amazing.
Yup. I said it.
But there's a danger in why it was so good tonight, and we'll get to that later. First let's go through the events that happened, because happen they did in spades packed in kung-fu grip action.
The episode starts off a little slow and stereotypically TV. A news reporter is asking people on the street if they've heard of the Dollhouse and if not, what they'd think of a place that can program human beings to do whatever you want. It's the responses you'd expect and it was the worst part of the show. There have been very few movies or TV shows that ever do the man-on-the-street bit with any credibility; it smacks of production and the average folk come across like bad actors and not real people. In fact, I find it hilarious that a TV show doesn't know how to make something look like a fake TV show. In the end, despite the title tie in, that wasn't as important as it was probably meant to be. The idea was that the Dollhouse was being close to being in the public eye and linking it to average citizens' vernacular tried to accomplish that.
When we left the Dolls, Victor was crushing on Sierra and Echo was remembering bits of each engagement but not enough to build a big picture; not yet. We also know that Agent Ballard is dangerously close to finding the Dollhouse, having seen the missing Caroline on the news and being just hours behind her in Arizona.
Ballard gets some information about some financial movements on one Mayflower group. He has his FBI friend Loomis do some legwork and they find that there are in fact large transactions going back and forth but one specifically happens every year on the same day and the next day is immanent. He also has a run in with Agent Tanaka about this being a dead case. The transaction comes from a dot com success Joel Mynor played by Patton Oswalt. He waits at a modest house while his private security sweep the area. Then Echo shows up. Agent Ballard sneaks in and busts Mynor and Echo in the midst of an odd domestic dream sequence of buying a home. Ballard hesitates and it's enough for the security guards to step in. It also allows Boyd Langdon to come in and get Echo out of there. Ballard dispatches the security and then has a lengthy talk with Mynor about his fantasy. Mynor relays a story about how after years of sticking with him through rough financial times, he bought a house to surprise his wife but she was killed while en route to see it. Every year he recreates the event with Echo. It's a sweet story and yet another scenario in which a Doll could be used.
Ballard can't do anything to Mynor because he basically broke in without a warrant so he has to leave him. Back at his place, his neighbor Mellie is hearing about the story and helping Ballard ice his yet again shirtless muscles. (Seriously, this guy loves taking his shirt off.) And, whoa! They kiss. She says don't kiss her and think of Caroline and they try to go back to being neighborly. Quick shot of Mrs. DeWitt's office and they have a surveillance camera in Ballard's home.
And speaking of surveillance, the Dollhouse has an internal problem for which they're checking the security tapes. Sierra has had sex, and not on an engagement, but recently and while at the Dollhouse. Victor is the prime suspect but Dr. Saunders and Boyd don't really buy it. At one point Sierra screamed and recoiled at Victor's touch. The Doc says there's a difference between liking someone and having sex with them. Too right, Doc. Boyd wanders around looking for holes in the security camera coverage, calls Laurence Dominic and has Victor's temporary handler and Victor taken away in front of everyone. Hearn (Sierra's handler) tells Boyd good work.
But it was a setup. A group of Dolls including Sierra walk down a hallway and into the gap in security cameras. Sierra goes into a room where Hearn is waiting. He tells her he's ready to play, she says she doesn't like it but knows to keep quiet and he starts to take his clothes off, and that's when Boyd punches him through the glass door. He saved the day but is put on probation, with a bonus, for doing a good job, but being so violent about it. Topher later is creating the ultimate badass imprint for Echo but lies to Boyd about her assignment.
Mellie and Ballard are recovering from a bout of love making (that was fast) and Paul asks her to help him with his case, she agrees. She's adorable and their banter is FINALLY some Whedon-esque material. He goes for Chinese food. Mrs. DeWitt has Hearn in her office with his wrists zip-tied. He's shouting about them not thinking that marching all these super hot zombies around would lead to this kind of abuse. She offers him a choice; be sent to The Attic or go kill someone who's getting to close to the Dollhouse, this person being Millie.
Ballard is at a Chinese food place when he catches a reflection of Echo in the kitchen, he goes in and she begins kicking his butt. They fight for a LONG time, throwing pans at each other, moving into the alley and fighting all over a parked car. Finally Echo gets the upper hand and starts relaying her message. He's getting close to the Dollhouse, but he has to stop trying and let them back off. They have someone on the inside, someone who corrupted the imprint on Echo while the programmer wasn't looking. There are 20 Dollhouses and they have ties to everything. Fantasy is their product but it's not their goal. They need Ballard to find out what that goal is, but first he has to back off and let them win. Then she tells him people he knows could be in danger.
Mellie answers the door and it's Hearn in a mask and he begins beating her up while the sound is drowned by orchestral music and everything is in slow motion. Just when I'm ready to say, "I told you so" and chalk up another character killing to to Whedon, the phone rings. We see Agent Ballard trying to call while running back, but it's not his voice on the answering machine, it's Miss DeWitt. She says, "There are three flowers in a vase, the third one is green." Hearn hears this and hesitates but Mellie's eyes light up and she begins kicking Hearn's butt all over the apartment. When she's dispatched him, Mrs. DeWitt says, "...the third flower is yellow." Mellie returns to her previous self and freaks out. DeWitt watches it all on the security camera.
Laurence congratulates Adelle on her playing a good hand and all the loose ends are tied up. Victor is back, Sierra is not screaming, and Echo is painting a house. Adelle talks to her and Echo says the painting isn't finished, but we get the idea she doesn't mean the painting. The painting is a recap of the scene in front of the house with Joel Mynor. Paul Ballard is suspended from active duty, turns in his gun and badge, much to Agent Tanaka's delight.
Before we go any further, there's a character I've neglected to mention from this and the previous episode. Her name is Ivy. She's an assistant to Topher and so far has been relegated to bringing him food when he's hungry, organizing the lab and making clever one liners. I didn't think she was that important. I should be ashamed for thinking that, knowing how shows like this work. I knew Mellie was important - actually I thought she'd be killed, I didn't see this coming. But Ivy now has a unique opportunity to be the mole on the inside.
Because who else could it be? No one has the programming ability to alter what Topher does. They all know generally how the set up works, but not the technical aspects. He has the keys to that kingdom, and as we say in the network administrator world, he's a single point of failure. So is Ivy the mole? I'm not sure. Reason being is not because she's unassuming, but something in the way she acts (not character wise, I mean the actor) just doesn't seem like she could command the camera to be in that large of a role. That may not be fair, but it's a gut feeling.
Also, we're assuming Echo's message was compromised and wasn't a big ploy by DeWitt and Topher to through Ballard off. They could keep using Echo to delay and distract Ballard as long as they want. They used Victor for the same reason, this is just another way to get to him. Having the girl he's been tracking for so long confirm everything he's been after and then say to wait until he's contacted again is a brilliant move. It was my first thought, in fact, that it was all a ruse to get him to back off.
Only time will tell.
But time won't tell us that this was a great episode. As I alluded to earlier, it's a dangerously good episode because Dushku was not the main character; Agent Ballard was. There were three distinct stories this time and Echo was only involved at a cursory level. She played her femme fatale role at the end quite well, but if I were Joss, I'd be worried that the bit players on the show are more interesting than the main character. But she's not really a character, is she?
Still, four and a half creepy doll heads. There are times I want to slap Topher and his abbreviated words, and Dr. Saunder's scars are hanging on just a little too long. Next week looks fairly entertaining as well.