Review: Dollhouse 1.03 Stage Fright -- A Britneyesque singer is stalked by a crazed fan. Are we sure this isn't a reality show?
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/
Since the first episode of Dollhouse, tentative fans have expressed doubt over the premise. If the actives can be hired out for any fantasy or mission, dosen’t that make the owners of the Dollhouse nothing better than pimps?
In episode 1.03, Stage Fright, the show’s creators seem to be holding a mirror up to the audience.
The plot centers around Echo’s newest mission: bodyguard for pop diva Rayna Russell. Russell in this episode seems to be a Britney Spears archetype, complete with a Disney pedigree. According to her agent, Bill “Biz” Zarella, she has had death threats ever since her days of singing for “The Mouse.”
For this assignment, Echo doesn’t realize that she’s supposed to be a bodyguard. She thinks that she’s just a scrappy little singer from South Boston who just got her big break. She and Rayna form a fast friendship, and Echo feels protective of the diva.
Rayna is a sort of mirror twin to Echo. In an ironic statement she claims to be a manufactured person: Someone that her agents and the record label have created to sell albums. In a twist that delivers a mental sucker punch to Echo, it is revealed that the very person that she has to save Rayna from is herself. Tired of the publicity, Rayna has been in touch with her stalker and is encouraging him to kill her.
If by this point viewers of Dollhouse are squirming in their seats, that’s probably what episode writers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen were aiming for. Because if Rayna has been pimped out to her eager fans by her producers, then she’s kind of a high-priced whore and her fans are unthinking, eager johns. So if Dollhouse is selling entertainment and Echo is the whore, who is the john? Is it the wealthy clients who solicit her services, or is it the viewers who are watching?
Just to ram that connection home “Biz” Zarella is shown to be friendly with Adelle DeWitt in a way that is unconnected to the Dollhouse. Whatever DeWitt’s connections to the entertainment industry were prior to working in The Dollhouse, they seem to underscore the point made in the episode.
Echo also gets backup in the form of a second active, Sierra. Echo and Sierra have struck up a friendship in The Dollhouse, and the two of them have agreed to watch out for one another. This comes into play later, when the crazy and murderous fan takes Sierra hostage and demands that Rayna surrender herself.
Last week Echo’s keepers failed to anticipate that her client was a crazy killer. This week they didn’t spot that the consumer was suicidally crazy.
Despite the curveballs thrown her way, Echo shows adaptability that makes her handlers at The Dollhouse nervous. She takes Ryana captive and threatens to kill her if the crazy fan doesn’t release Sierra. While everything works out in the end, it leaves Echo with both allies and enemies in The organization. Chief of security Dominic wants Echo to be put in the attic (no word on what that is, but it doesn’t sound good.), while Sierra’s handler is watching Echo to make sure that the two actives don’t grow closer. Meanwhile, Dr. Saunders and Boyd Langton both become almost parental in their protective feelings toward her.
Dr. Saunders reveals that while Echo is currently the most requested active in The Dollhouse, that dubious honor was once held by the missing active Alpha. Echo seems to be showing Alpha’s ability to think outside the box. Saunders warns that around the organization, standing out isn’t a good thing.
We know that Dr. Saunders and Echo both survived Alpha’s escape while many other actives and employees did not. Perhaps Alpha spared Echo because she formed a bond with him similar to the one she seems to be forming with Sierra. Perhaps Dr. Saunders survived the encounter with superficial scarring because she watched after Alpha. Maybe her scars are Alpha’s retribution to her for participating in his captivity but her life is his gift for taking care of him.
A little of the pervasive nature of The Dollhouse is also revealed when it’s shown that Ballard’s chief snitch is actually an undercover active. For those fans who read spoilers, this turn of events is unlikely to be surprising. The actor who played the snitch was first announced as another active. In later re-writes his role was changed. It’s likely that the repercussions of this will be felt in Ballard’s increasing paranoia and obsession with Echo. Ballard had built a level of trust with the active only to later be betrayed and wounded. Now that he knows how deeply The Dollhouse can insert an active and how completely they can fabricate his or her background, it’s unlikely that he will trust anyone. Especially his pretty neighbor (who I think might be another active anyway).
My favorite scene in this episode as in the last one was the last scene. Here it seems that Echo is aware of the factions keeping an eye on her. In the last scene of the episode, Echo waves Sierra away from approaching her so that they avoid suspicion of their handlers.
In a show that centers on a character who is at the mercy of her handlers, it’s nice to see her rebel in little ways. I look forward to seeing that rebellion grow as she becomes more self aware.
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