Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dollhouse 2.1 "Vows"

"Vows", was everything I wanted from the first episode of Dollhouse's second season. It delved right into the mythology of the show and didn't spend any time playing catch up. Speaking of catch up, if you haven't seen the first season or need a refresher, this is a great video to watch:

The episode was rich in plot, in fact both A and B plots were given equal screen time. I ended up caring more about the inner happenings of the Dollhouse than what was going on with Echo's engagement and I attribute that to Whedon's excellent use of Amy Acker in the episode. Acker is beginning production on ABC's Happy Town and is therefore unable to appear in more than three episodes this season. She was arguably given the best dialogue of the episode and I was with her every beat. She was definitely at her "best", bringing an intensity and unsettling nuance to the character we had not yet seen. I can't wait to see what else is done with her character.

I thought the episode had more in common tonally and structurally with the unaired pilot, "Echoes" (available on the Season One DVD) than the rest of the first season, which is absolutely a good thing. It is darker, more serious in nature and most importantly more intriguing. Each character interaction offered the audience more tangible reasons for following their stories. We care. The preview for next week's episode, "Instincts" seems to uphold these notions. Whedon has upped the stakes for this season and I expect great(er) things from the rest of season and series as a whole.

I appreciate the use of non-diegetic music in this episode, more so than in previous episodes. On the levels of lyrics and tone, I thought the following two songs worked particularly well. "Hazy" was played in the scene crosscutting Echo's wedding night with Jamie Bamber's character and Paul Ballard's cool and eery contemplation of Echo's actions. The latter, "The World" played as Topher sat alone on his bed pondering his creation, Sierra and Victor shared a moment and Dr. Saunders/Whiskey drove away-"running out" and having "[run] out of excuses."

"Hazy" (feat. William Fitzsimmons) by Rosi Golan on The Drifter and the Gypsy
Rosi Golan - The Drifter and the Gypsy - Hazy (feat. William Fitzsimmons)

What if I fall and hurt myself?
Would you know how to fix me
What if I went and lost myself?
Would you know where to find me
If I forgot who I am,
Would you please remind me oh?
Cause without you things go hazy

"The World" by Earlimart on Mentor Tormentor
Earlimart - Mentor Tormentor - The World

Oh, the world is all around us,
Have you noticed me?
Yeah, the world is all around us,
Now it's plain to see
That the world has overshadowed me.

Here is the preview for Dollhouse 2.2, "Instincts":


Kj said...

I also was very very pleased with the season 2 premiere. Especially, since I re-watched 'Epitaph One' right before and there were totally references to that episode (or rather, this episode foreshadowed Epitaph One's events)- particularly Topher saying "I know what I know"

What did hugely disappoint however, was the Echo/Jamie Bamber sex scene which felt totally gratuitous since we didn't know or care about those characters- just felt like awkward, un-sexy "SEXY" scenes. Would have been better if it just showed the married couple together in bed the next morning, then cut to the shot of Ballard alone on the stakeout sofa. Would have said so much more about the relationships- without the grody muscle make out scenes devoid of feeling or intelligent storytelling.

Also, I have PROBLEMS with the whole Ballard beating up Echo to trigger her into being a weapon/defending herself. I just don't think its okay or acceptable to show men brutalizing women. Culturally, its just way too loaded to have that be part of entertainment.

But those are issues that are pretty connected to the shows themes- and someone could argue that my discomfort is what was intended- but if so, those scenes are so poorly integrated compared to the rest of how the show works. Basically, those feel like the "FOX" scenes; violence and sex for entertainment, rather than as truthful storytelling. I'm not against violence and sex in film- but is it honest? These scenes felt pornographic, in the sense of being objectifying and without integrity.

Hopefully Joss will hold down the fort and keep it about character and narrative from here on, not just ex-Battlestar Gallactica actors getting down and dirty.

And Amy Acker astounded me. Utterly.

Ian said...

I too had issues with Ballard's actions to make Echo remember. In fact, I don't know how exactly he knew a violent strike would jar her personalities into alignment with each other. I would have liked to see him grapple a bit more with that decision.

You're right, it is connected to the narrative, but I'm not sure of Ballard's actions were well enough distinguished from the head-table-slam Jamie Bamber's character did to Echo to be deemed acceptable.

The sex scene was definitely gratuitous-I mean, we kind of "know" how a wedding night is supposed to go right?

On top of that, even though the dialogue later made it explicitly clear that there were no microphones in his house, the way the scenes were intercut-the warm, yellow tones of the lovemaking session and the cool quality of Ballard's isolation still lent a sense of voyeurism and uneasy proximity to this private moment. That said, is any sex act the actives perform really "private"?

All that to say, Ballard's actions in this episode further contributed to viewing his character as having an unhealthy obsession with Echo. Neither the violence nor the seeming objectification of Echo's body were justified, narratively or culturally.

I'm not on his side.

Amy Acker's? You bet.

Kj said...

Brilliantly noted, Ian.

Kj said...

Ooh- also- I thought of you a lot during the Doctor's conversation with Boyd around scarring- helpful material, yes?

Ian said...

Oh yes! Absolutely. How much better can you get than Saunders/Whiskey saying "I love my scars"?

The more I read and write about the phenomenon, the more I love this paper-which, eventually, will be an actual paper.

chris said...

I'm a big fan of the show, and I thought Dr. Saunders dealings with Topher were great. I always find the handler/active imprint very touching.