Saturday, May 2, 2009
Alpha male: Some meditations on Dollhouse
Note: "Dollhouse" spoilers below
For those tragic few of you who, like me, have been sucked into Fox's fascinating but low-rated Joss Whedon drama "Dollhouse," last night was a big night. We finally saw the mysterious and deadly escaped doll Alpha (Alan Tudyk, who starred as Wash on Whedon's excellent but short-lived drama "Firefly") and Agent Ballard made his way into the Dollhouse for the first time. It was a pretty terrific episode, and it has me psyched big time about next week's season finale. However, I did have a few thoughts/questions during last night's episode. Perhaps you can help me out with them?
THAT'S Alpha???: OK, I know the revelation that Tudyk's character (a wonky environmental engineer) would turn out to be Alpha was all over the Internet. Yet, somehow, I managed to avoid seeing it, and was completely surprised when Tudyk's character, Stephen Kepler, suddenly slashed up Victor's face. Of course, I probably should have guessed that the character was secretly Alpha, even without the benefit of spoilers. Seriously -- Ballard just HAPPENS to find this guy who can lead him to the Dollhouse just as Alpha resurfaces with a message for former security chief Dominic? Big coincidence, no? Yet I didn't really think Kepler could be Alpha, mainly because of Tudyk's appearance. Don't get me wrong. Alan Tudyk is adorable in a "My science teacher is so smart he's sexy"-sort of way, but he's no fantasy object. And fantasy, as we've been told many times, is the Dollhouse's business. He's also, I believe, a bit older than the other dolls (he certainly appears significantly older than Eliza Dushku, who plays Echo) But heck, maybe I'm being silly. Maybe a lot of Dollhouse clients have sexy schoolteacher fantasies, making Tudyk's Alpha a hot commodity.
At any rate, Tudyk was great, as both the phobic, whiny Kepler and the coldly vicious Alpha. Good to see him on screen again.
The Whiskey Made Me Do It: OK, we need to talk about that scene when the Dollhouse staff implant Victor with Dominic's personality. As Saunders goes to sedate him, Victor/Dominic looks at her and says "Whiskey." It's assumed he wants a drink instead of sedation, but I think otherwise. "Whiskey" fits the naming template for the dolls. Perhaps Victor/Dominic wasn't talking about booze but about Saunders. Maybe she's a doll! Think about it: she gets slashed by Alpha, putting her out of commission for any fantasy engagements. But, instead of killing the damaged doll or letting her out of her contract (I'm convinced the five-years-and-out deal is a total sham, aren't you?), they implant her with a doctor's personality, and put her to work. That would explain why she seems so negative about the Dollhouse, yet never openly defies it. It would also explain her creepy encounter with Alpha. He asks her if she's always wanted to be a doctor. She says yes. He calls her a liar, then forces her to describe the first time they met. Though terrifying, there was something a bit off about that moment. If Alpha is really fixated on Echo, why would he care about Saunders' past? But, if Saunders is a doll, then the moment makes perfect sense. Alpha is toying with the doc, mocking her, and she doesn't even know it.
Obviously, this is all speculation at this point, but I think it's a plausible and interesting possibility.
Welcome Back, Dominic: Fun to see Victor taking on Dominic's personality. And am I crazy, or did Enver Gjokaj (Victor) sound exactly like Reed Diamond (Dominic) in this scene? It was uncanny to the point where I wonder if Diamond's voice was actually dubbed in. If not, great work by Gjokaj.
Who is Echo This Time?: Can't wait to see what personality Alpha imprinted Echo with at the end. It's pretty clear that it isn't Caroline. So who is it? And why did he pick Echo? We still haven't learned anything about Alpha's fixation on her.
The Dollhouse Heals the Children: One last quick note. I was struck by the irony of this episode's Mission of the Week. Echo has to help a little girl who has been the victim of sexual abuse. Topher, in a clever move, imprints Echo with a "healthy" version of the girl's personality, and has Echo walk the girl through her recovery. In her mission, Echo and the little girl discuss the lack of female empowerment in the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. Echo's persona tells the little girl that, perhaps the prince didn't save Sleeping Beauty. Perhaps Sleeping Beauty's subconscious conjured the prince up. Perhaps she saved herself. Later, we'll see both Ballard and Alpha attempt to become Echo's prince. But here's what struck me as odd about this story: The Dollhouse helps sexual abuse victims? This is a business that actually CREATES sexual abuse victims by basically forcing the dolls to have sex with strangers. It's hard to believe that Topher and co. actually care about healing the psyches of others, given their line of work. Yet maybe that's the point. Maybe this mission was about Topher and other Dollhouse employees acting on their guilt and trying to offset their evil deeds. Or maybe I've overthinking.