Monday, May 04, 2009

Dollhouse: Briar Rose

I like fairy tale re-imaginings and I like parallels, but I'm less fond of being hit over the head with them. Briar Rose was a little heavy-handed, which is unfortunate because it was a really interesting way to handle this penultimate episode.

I want to like this episode, because there's a lot of great things that it does. We get an epic fist-fight between our two moral compasses: Paul, trying to be the outside world's morality check, and Boyd, trying to be the House's morality check. Icing to this tasty cake is that both of these compasses are somewhat broken, and their battle is so much more violent because they desperately need to feel they are Right. (Could have laughed out loud at Adelle's comment of there being enough righteousness to go around, if I wasn't still muttering about the Mystery Fail.)

Congratulations to the writers for finally getting it right with the identity issues. Putting Mr. Dominick in Victor's body with the awareness and revulsion of it having happened finally makes a comment that a viewer can take seriously. Thank you for at last showing us the kind of psychological damage that imprinting would cause in an aware victim.

We also get Topher discovering his powers of awesome can be used to do really great things for the world, and that it's a nice feeling to help people while proving how clever you are. Aww, our little genius is growing up.

Cut to the WTF of this episode, because there's a great bloody deal of that to go around. Topher does something genuinely Good and he's punished by having Paul taser him. I have to believe this happens to prevent Alpha from hacking Topher into little genius pieces, because otherwise I conclude if you do good things in the Dollhouse universe, you're punished for it. If you do horrible bad things, you get rewarded with hot doll action. Unless you do them to the House—that wins you a trip to the Attic.

Also Mystery Fail, Whedon. You don't introduce someone in the second-to-last episode who we've never seen before and declare them to be the Big Bad. Or at least you didn't used to. Either way, it's still cheating. Thus, I didn't find the Alpha reveal satisifying—just disappointing and utterly WTF. While it doesn't take away the fun that I had with my friends discussing theories and evaluating possibilities, it's not encouraging us to play along for season two.

Paul as Alpha would have been a much more interesting story twist, but the writers likely would have failed to use it to its full potential. So again, are we headed for Doll Paul or Handler Paul? Or a Paul and Boyd team up to lecture Alpha into surrendar by appealing to his moral ambugity with their own?

It's not like next week's trailer gives us any indication. Instead, it implies an EchoCaroline/Alpha/BlondeCaroline S&M threesome, which I have little interest in seeing. I think Alpha's creeptastic and the Caroline imprint in Echo isn't her actual personality but tweaked to be what Alpha wants. While I love the possibility of more identity exploration, I'm skeptical that it won't sink into leather-clad nonsense instead of answering real questions like are Topher and Victor ok or why is Alpha extra awful to Dr Fred?


Sarah K said...

I pretty well agree with you here. I think I said it on the last post: there's little to no point in concealing the identity of our villain if there is no surprise involved in the villain's identity. As soon as I saw Alan Tudyk in the credits, I knew who Alpha would be.

Which isn't to say that he didn't do an incredible job of it. Because, wow, he really did. Alan Tudyk is a phenomenal actor, and I truly hope that he gets to come back as Alpha in the future [provided there is a second season of course].

My beefs: everything was too convenient. It was too easy to get in, even though Alpha has clearly been engineering things so that Paul would provide a distracting cover for Alpha to re-infiltrate the Dollhouse.

But the end result is what? Alpha wanted Echo to be his girl? All that crazy and vicious violence, and that's what we get for it? I was able to put up with the heavy handed fairytale duality, I was able to forgive the not surprising reveal of Alpha, but the motive?


And for most viewers, it wouldn't matter if it all makes more sense next episode, or if there's more to it than that [which I'm certain there is] because most viewers would look at that ending and think 'uh, kinda lame' and not bother to watch how it becomes not so lame.

We've invested ourselves into eleven episodes of compelling story that forces us to analyse ethics and the grey that exists in between black and white morality, we've been questioning from the get go who's right and who's wrong, and its been exposing gender and equality issues through a devastatingly cruel lens.

And as thanks we get "I said I'd come back for you baby".

That is so not the story I thought I was signing on for.

I'm also frustrated that I have to wait until next week to find out if Alpha killed Dr. Fred and Victor or if he just left them incapacitated. Because they are some of my favourite characters.

And the plus side to Paul having tasered Topher is that Topher did have to go through the horror of seeing Alpha again. At least someone who had a bad time of the first 'event' did have to relive any of that trauma.

"Thank you for at last showing us the kind of psychological damage that imprinting would cause in an aware victim."

I wanted to comment on that because I thought that scene was incredible - Enver captured Dominic's voice so perfectly I actually am left wondering if it was a voice over of Reed Diamond.

You are right that there is psychological damage in imprinting an aware victim, but also consider that they scanned Dominic immediately before doing whatever process it is that they do before sending them to the attic. Which means that unlike the other aware victims [the actives who signed a contract and know this is what they are signing up for] Dominic never signed the dotted line for wiping. When they upload Dominic into Victor, the first thing he's going to remember is the last place he was, which was in that chair being forcibly wiped. That entire scene was there less to show the damage to an aware victim, and more to show the damage of an aware victim who's personality is in the obviously wrong body. It's not almost the same thing, but I see the slight difference between the two as having huge ramifications.

Chandra Rooney said...

Oh my god, yeah, Alan Tudyk was amazing. To go from so completely harmless to bat-shit insane with such a seamless brilliance? Awesome. I am scared of Alpha.

The guy who plays Victor is easily the most versatile and best actor on the show. I never quite stop seeing Eliza as Echo imprinted as someone else, but I believe Victor is the people he's been programmed to be.

Can I explain aware? Because I think we're saying the same thing but we having a word issue. By "aware" I meant that Dominick knew who he was and that he was in a different body. The actives are never aware that they've been imprinted. They're wiped, so there's no implication of what being in the "wrong" body would do to someone. Because even in "Haunted" they didn't really explore what it was like other than for comedic purposes.

The actives may have signed a contract but the knowledge of that acceptance and awareness vanishes... because the dolls aren't the same identities as the people who agreed to become dolls.

That Girl said...

I now wonder if everything was too convenient for a reason and if there is some sort of mindblowing twist coming next week... partly because hope springs eternal and partly because it's written/directed by Tim Minear, who is pretty much entirely made of awesome.

Alpha is fucking *terrifying* (Major kudos to Alan Tudyk, who I only knew as Wash from Firefly before -- i.e., pretty much the diametric opposite of Alpha. I will be watching next week's episode from behind the couch), so for his motivation to be to come back for Echo is particularly lame.

I maintain that this concept would have worked so much better as a J.J. Abrams show.

Chandra Rooney said...

If JJ had written this, Paul would have been Alpha.

That Girl said...

If JJ had written this, not only would Paul be Alpha, but Adelle would be Caroline's mother and in a special Sweeps reveal we would learn that Caroline's boyfriend is still alive and working for the Dollhouse's parent company.

Chandra Rooney said...

And Topher...?

That Girl said...

Topher would just be Topher. He's the Jossverse equivalent of gadgetmaster Marshall from Alias.

Chandra Rooney said...

NSA spy. If we're going for the WTF, I declare we go all out.

Sarah K said...

I thought you meant aware as in: The people that signed up for being actives are aware. It wasn't even a word issue, I think I thought you were applying the word to something else.

So, yes! We agree!

I think I was trying to say something about the difference between Margaret and Dominic but then I got all confused. Margaret was willingly being scanned and was aware the day might come when she was brought back in a different body. There was also a gap between her final moments alive and the final scan. For Dominic coming back in Victor's body it would have been seamless, or nearly seamless. Which, I think, would add a layer of trauma to the whole thing. One second he's struggling against this horrible thing happening, in the next everyone's calm, and he doesn't realise what's going on until he sees that the hands he's looking at aren't his.

Which, by the by, he knew who's body he was in just by looking at the hands. Awesome tidbit, I thought. I know that Victor is the only male active we've really gotten to 'know' on the show, but still. It makes me wonder if he could tell because of looking at his hands, or if it was because he knew about Adele's favor for Victor. If anyone would have known, it would have been him.

Mr. B. teased me after Victor got slashed. He knows that he's my favourite and that I find him attractive, so he took some glee in speculating about Victor's usefulness as an Active now that his pretty face is marred. :(

On the issue of things being too convenient: I'm positive that there's going to be either explanations or ramifications in the next episode that will make that all mind-blowing; my issue is that it doesn't get to be mind-blowing in this episode. It's not an obvious cliffhanger, so making me wait for that particular pay-off is just counter-intuitive to keeping me interested in the show. I just feel like I was sucker-punched, and I'm not sure I want to stick around for another cheap shot.

I will though, because I'm not talking about myself here, I'm talking about the non-fanatical viewers who aren't interested in the series as a Work Of Joss, but as something diversionary to watch on the teevee.

You know, considering all the awesome that happened in this episode (Topher's Pride Parade, Ballard breaking Mellie's heart, Alan Tudyk in general, Victor being awesomely Dominic) it pains me to say this is probably my least favourite episode. How can something that had so much awesome on it have left me feeling so blah at the end?

Sarah K said...

Oh, and add "Medicinal carrots" to the list of things that were awesome.

Chandra Rooney said...

You feel blah because Briar Rose breaks the contract between writer and viewer/reader.

Plot and conflict and tension escalate to a climax where they are satisfyingly resolved. If you start at awesome then you need to be a OMG AWESOME by the end.

Briar Rose is Gurren Lagann if at the end Simon and the Anti-Spiral had solved their conflict with a game of tic-tac-toe.

Rachel Vincent said...

I'm sad that we're going to lose Victor. He's my favorite.

I loved the actor who plays Alpha, but I agree with your assessment that he should have been introduced earlier.

I'm glad Topher wasn't damaged. At least, hopefully not permanently.

Love seeing Paul and Boyd meet.

Chandra Rooney said...

I think Sarah put it best, Rachel, there's so much GOOD in this episode... which is what makes the Alpha reveal so disappointing. Obviously it's not the show's focus, but it really felt like it was supposed to be. :(

Sarah K said...

We're losing Victor? We don't know that yet! He's not dead, he's just slashy faced! They can fix him!


Chandra Rooney said...

There's a whole thing in the TV Guide synopsis about how a doll is going to die and another is going to have their past revealed.

Obvious answer would be Victor is going to die and Alpha's past is going to be revealed. :(

Sarah K said...

But he didn't have life threatening wounds! He's just face slashied! Not to mention that Enver Gjhoweveryouspellit is probably the best actor on the show. Sadness.

I'm gonna pout. Lots.