Review: Dollhouse 1.02 The Target -- If Echo dies in the woods, would anyone care?
Tracy S. Morris is the author of the award-winning Tranquility series of Southern paranormal humor mysteries.
Morris's story Fish Story will appear in the Baen anthology Strip Mauled
Her new novel Bride of Tranquility Is available now from Yard Dog Press.
Her website is http://www.tracysmorris.com/
In a TV landscape populated by reality shows in which guys with tattoos and goatees do everything from making motorcycles and cakes to make things blow up, you've got to be inventive to stand out. No where is this more true than the Friday night death slot on notoriously hatchet happy Fox.
Fortunately (at least for Joss Whedon fans), no one is more inventive than Joss. And the second episode of Dollhouse, The Target proves this.
It's a risk building a show around a character who is basically a blank slate. Because her mind is wiped after every assignment, the chance for character development is slow in the initial days. Instead the focus shifts from Echo to the characters around her and how her presence affects them.
This is even truer when the character is dropped into a life or death situation, as Echo was in this episode. A billionaire hires the Dollhouse to provide him with the perfect outdoors woman girlfriend. What he doesn't tell them is that he plans to take her out into the woods and reenact The Most Dangerous Game.
Much of the conflict in this episode revolves around Echo's handler, Langton. For Echo, Langton is the most important person in the world. Yet he has no faith or trust in her. Instead he sees her as nothing more than an empty vessel.
This seems to be a common attitude with the employees of the dollhouse. In that 'Tis Pity She's a Whore kind of way, the actives are both pitied and hated openly. Possibly because they inspire so much fear, guilt and self-loathing in their handlers.
Even as a viewer, the temptation is there to objectify Echo. It's hard to invest in a character who has nothing in them other than what someone else has placed there. When Echo is in a life-or-death situation then she will live or die based on the skill set that the dollhouse has given her.
Like the proverbial tree that falls when no one is there to hear it: If Echo dies in the woods, would anyone care?
All of this changes when Echo starts to remember the other lives she has lived. The knowledge helps her to rise above victimization and adapt to her situation. At that point, when the viewer suddenly has something invested in Echo's struggle, the most-dangerous-game starts to feel genuinely tense.
The payoff is pretty spectacular as well. While one of the immediate questions is resolved: Dr. Saunders got her scars when a Doll named Alpha escaped due to a “composite event.” But in finding this out, we have even more questions. Why did Alpha let Echo live? Is he trying to have her killed now? Or is it someone in the Dollhouse? Is Echo headed toward a similar composite event?
This second installment marks a return of the Whedon brand of winking satirical humor. It's not as gratuitous as it was in Buffy, but there are memorable lines that will probably be repeated by fans at future conventions.
I enjoyed this episode of Dollhouse quite a bit. But I look forward to the day when Echo becomes self-aware on a more permanent basis. Until then, it's hard to invest in her as a character. Especially when she, as the shows name implies, is constantly being treated as a plaything.
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