“Dollhouse” Recap: Episode 1.3

Well, this is just swell. I promised myself I wouldn’t get attached. Wouldn’t get hurt again. But there Dollhouse goes, making me start to care for it something fierce. And I just know it’s gonna end up one day being gone, like an active’s memory once the mission is complete. Then again, if Echo’s any indication, maybe there’s a chance, just a slight chance, that the show isn’t necessarily going to go that way. Which is a relief: after all, how many shows reference both Britney Spears and Isaac Asimov in the same hour?

As to the Britney: this week’s mission centered around Echo playing Kevin Costner to Rayna Russell’s Whitney, albeit one with a lower profile. Since Rayna hates bodyguards, her manager (a longtime Dollhouse client with a penchant for twins) fills two needs with one girl: a backup singer (persona) who instinctively wants to protect the lead at all costs (parameter). Those parenthetical words are important, as they provide an easy explanation for Echo’s dual role this week as well as give an insight into why Echo’s starting to go a little “off” during her missions.

Now to the Asimov: in the mid-20th century, sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov developed the Three Rules of Robotics while writing the short story “Runaround.” These rules inspired countless other works of fiction in addition to one terrible Will Smith film. There are as follows:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2.  A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3.  A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

dollhouse23.jpgIn essence, they governed the way robots behaved in order to prevent them going all Skynet on the lot of us. I think it’s safe to say that Dollhouse programmer Topher would have read some Asimov, which means he should have remembered the later addition to the Three Rules, one that overrides them all: the Zeroth Law, which states that, “a robot must not merely act in the interests of individual humans, but of all humanity.”

In Echo’s case, the impetus towards friendship and the bonds between them override her inherent programming. Sierra is an individual, to be sure, but indicative of a greater series of interactions that form a lasting relationship between two people. Both Echo and Rayna are unable to have such a bond, surrounded constantly by people but connected to none of them. And by episode’s end, that status simply isn’t good enough for either of them.

Grown and bred much like a doll herself, Rayna has felt isolated for the better part of a decade. The only way she can feel anything is to feel in danger. Thus, enter Crazy #1 Fan, who apparently answers the question, “What would happen if Jake Gyllenhaal and Clay Aiken had a baby?” The two conspire via fan letters and phone calls to fulfill a fantasy of destruction by which Rayna is released from her emotionless prison and Jaiken can destroy that which he loves more than anything.

For her own part, Echo seems inherently resistant to the forced dialogue that poses as conversation between the dolls inside their lair of elliptical machines and koi ponds. Tonight’s episode was bookended by two encounters between Echo and Sierra to show the contrast before their extended mission time and after. Before, they are together but detached, spouting words with functionality but no meaning. By episode’s end, it’s clear at least Echo is playing dumb, and Sierra has at least some recollection of their forced friendship on mission. How do we know this? She smiles, in contrast to her blank face at the episode’s outset.

mv5bmtyzmdewndqzmv5bml5banbnxkftztcwnta1mjmwmg_v1_sx500_sy395_.jpgBut again, it’s important to recognize that Echo isn’t working outside the system; she’s reworking the parameter. The word “parameter” suggests a boundary, but also implies a space inside that Echo has room for maneuverability. As Adelle notes near the end of the hour, Echo stayed on mission: she just zigged where programming dictated she should have zagged. She’s developing the Zeroth Law of Dollhoustics. (I know. Catchy phrase.) Dr. Claire insinuates this nascent skill will either make her a target, or the second coming of Alpha. A little of both could be fascinating to watch develop.

In the B-story tonight, the Ballad of Paul Ballard took on an interesting turn as we learned his “inside source” in the Russian underworld was actually a doll himself. Didn’t see that coming, I will admit. The double-cross gave new intrigue into his storyline, making his investigation more credible through the Dollhouse’s interference. It also allowed the show to feature him kicking some butt in a non slo-mo kinda way. And normal-speed butt whupping looks good on him. My prediction: Laurence is running this op behind Adelle’s back, under the guise of “need to know basis,” with Boyd eventually lending a hand from the inside.

A few more items about tonight:

  1. The scene between the stalker and Sierra, where he forced her to sing Rayna’s song under a harsh lamp light, was the first genuinely creepy moment of the show’s history. Just fantastically well done.
  2. That being said, shouldn’t Sierra’s “parameter” have kicked in about eight times tonight? Her handler suggested it would kick in during an “extreme scenario.” I hate to see their version of “extreme” if tonight doesn’t qualify.
  3. While I didn’t mind the parallelism involving Rayna and Echo’s detatchment, the show HAS to stop finding ways to slip in non-subtle entendres in which characters tell Echo about her true nature as a doll. It’s getting old fast.
  4. “You’re gonna get married and have scowly babies.” Heh. Ah, Jed Whedon. Nice one. And yes, I’m on board with Claire and Boyd having awkward smoothies at some point in the near future.
  5. Boyd nervously worrying about Echo’s first night performing? Adorable. I hate to compare to other Whedon works, but he’s clearly the Giles of the show. That’s his place.
  6. I scribbled down, “songs taking up too much ep time” while watching, but then caught my wife grooving to them on the couch. So I guess that, plus the insane amount of flesh on display, was put in to attract the American Idol crowd. If, if that gets us to a second season, fine by me.

While I wasn’t a fan of the stalker plotline as an idea, it played much better than I had feared it would. Throw in Echo’s newfound (and newly remembered) friend, forward motion on the Ballard storyline, and a hint as to why both Echo and Alpha are “special,” and you had yourself a solid third outing.

What did you think about tonight’s episode? A step forward, or a step back? Did Sierra recognize Echo on a conscious level by the end? Does the Laurence/Topher combo have a hidden agenda? Is the Ballard storyline worthy of screen time or just filler?

Ryan is is own number one fan over at Boob Tube Dude.

One Comment

  1. mri
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    i heard you snort all the way down here at “I’m a Southie.”


    i’m psyched. i saw a lot of skin tonight, but it was a good start. i too wondered about when Sierra’s bad-assed-ness would kick in. was her protocol protecting Echo???