Dollhouse Episode Five

Congratulations Dollhouse writers, you very almost got through an entire episode without any sexual violence. Unfortunately, this episode fails because you couldn’t think of any way to make the cult leader a ‘Very Bad Man’. Please, please, please, either write an episode completely free of sexual violence, or an episode where you take that sexual violence seriously, and say something about it, rather than use it as a minor plot-point.

So if internet rumour is right then the next episode of Dollhouse Changes Everything. So I thought I’d review this week’s episode by talking about the characters and where they were at.

Echo: I’m glad things are changing up next week, because every episode since the pilot has ended with her carrying on a realisation from her engagement and it’s getting a bit formulaic. I’m all for Echo killing Laurence Dominic, believe me, but (and feel free to call me a hippy for this) I much prefer it when her realisations are about art or relationships, than about violence. I worry about the sort of person she’s going to end up being.

Sierra: I love the character and the actress. I hope we’ll see her on her own engagement before the end of the season. I was sad we got to see so little of her, and none of her and Echo.

Victor: I’ve no idea where his sexual attraction to Sierra is going, but I’m interested. I’m missing his role as Paul Ballard’s CI though.

Adele De Witt: We’re beginning to see the many layers beneath the ice (or something I may be mixing metaphors). I think Olivia Williams is very good at showing us that there is more going on, without letting us know what that is. Her wardrobe is getting more ridiculous though.

Laurence Dominic: Evil, evil, evil, evil. It’s quite fun.

Boyd: Really needs some layers.

Topher: Man reaction? His discomfort around penises is hilarious, and nicely done.

People have compared Topher to Wash and Xander, and I think this comparision is one of the reasons I enjoy the character so much. I think the connection goes beyond the smart-ass wise-cracking-ness. The way Xander and Wash treated women made me uncomfortable, there was possession and objectification, but we were still supposed to think they were loveable. I feel like Topher is making that point for me, we’re not supposed to love him – we’re supposed to find his comments about women sleeping together for his enjoyment repellent. It’s very refreshing.

Dr Saunders: Amy Acker rocked the scenes with Topher this week – perfect comic timing without showing us she was doing it. I wish Claire was doing more than just sparing with Topher though. I feel like her character’s relationships are under-developed, or yet to be revealed.

Paul Ballard: I’m finding him less boring, but I’m still not convinced. His plot lines are paint by numbers (I get the point they were doing with the end scene with the ATF guy, but we’ve really seen this before). Tahmoh Penikett is bringing very little to the role.

Mellie: At this stage I’m really hoping she’s an active, because I’m finding her painful to watch. If she isn’t an active one of her friends should sit her down and play her The Saturday Boy.

Overall this wasn’t one of my favourite epsiodes – I wasn’t interested in the bits of the Cult story they chose to tell. I think I could have been interested in the story if they’d actually explored the cult in any depth. As it was I felt the focus was all over the place. The actual plot and change happened with Boyd and the ATF guy, while Echo was in the cult and we had little more idea about the people around her at the end of than at the beginning.

But I’m looking forward to next week.

PS – I’ve read some interesting discussion about the way blind people are portrayed in popular culture, but don’t know much about it. I can definately imagine that there’s a saint/crazy evil dichotomy going on. I’d be interested to see what people have to say about how that played out in this episode.

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9 Responses to Dollhouse Episode Five

  1. 1
    Roberta Lipp says:

    I just finished watching this episode. I know that I would never have made it this far (or possibly even through the first episode) were it not a Whedon creation. I don’t need my subtleties spoon-fed, but I don’t understand one single character’s motivation for doing what they’re doing or being how they are. Not one. And this is not sweet, well-timed torture. It’s just annoying. Maybe it’s just all too ambitious, with too many characters that are all a little too separate from one another. This is no scooby gang, y’know?

    Thanks for breaking them all down. I still don’t even know all their names.

    And to me? Topher is really more Warren (early, bot-building Warren, not fully-crossed-over-to-homicidal-psychopath Warren) than anyone else. Though he certainly does fill the Xander/Wash position.

  2. 2
    Esme says:

    I definitely see some similarities between Topher and Wash, but in a lot of ways he reminds me most of Warren – physically, in his posture and mannerisms, but also in the way that his ego seems to blind him to the consequences of his actions. He is a genius, he can do these things, and therefore he doesn’t feel the need to ask himself whether it is moral to do so. I guess Topher is closer to amoral than Warren, who was just eeevil, but the similarities are there.

    Topher interests me a great deal, and I’d be interested to read a comparison of him to Wash and Xander. Do you have any links to that discussion?

  3. 3
    DonaQuixote says:

    Let me join the chorus – Topher is more like Warren than Wash or Xander. Though I agree that it’s nice to see the unappealing sides of this character type really brought to the fore and exposed for their evil implications. Specifically for me it’s the way these characters usually treat things super-casually, in what seems to me like an attempt to avoid responsibility, that was so annoying in certain scenarios (and also lovable in others, but that didn’t make up for it in my mind). I get the entitlement part too (goes hand in hand).

    However, look for Topher to either get inflated into big badness (which disappointed me with Warren, since the “I’m really a nice guy, nevermind the femme bot in the closet” style evil is just as insidious and makes for a much more interesting character) or to get an ethics makeover and become one of the good guys. If the show survives, it’ll be due to the popularity of some of its characters, and if it ever develops a real fan base, Topher will be a big candidate for fan fave. While I liked the way they did this in Buffy with Spike (again with the blindspot, I’m besotted, sorry), it was also pretty clear that they were working him in to the show because he was so popular; the characterization to justify his ongoing presence and relationships with other main characters sometimes felt like it was doing catch-up. By the time he showed up in Angel, it was sort of like, yeah, we know, just go with it. I fear for Topher’s future as a morally inverted (or exposed) Xander/Wash if that should ever happen to him. And I wonder how they’d do this in a world that has to play more by realistic rules. Wait, I know — he’ll upload a new personality for himself.

    For the same reason (tendency to give fans a bit too much of what they say they want), I worry about what is to come for Sierra. Hoping to avoid seeing the sexualized Asian female stereotype. In a setting where all the major female characters are sexualized, though for plot/premise purposes that make sense to me, I wonder where the line would be for me between sexualization as plot and sexualization as marketing. Line is pretty blurry in the show right now, which makes me wonder how much the premise is fooling us into a morally gray area on purpose (which I think was partialy the point of the rock star plot last week).

    Am now going to re-watch the episode and think on the question of how it handles disability. Says something that this question didn’t occur to me first time around (and my family’s closest friends as I was growing up were a family of mother-father-son who were all blind, so you’d think I’d be at least a little sensitized to the issue).

  4. 4
    Lene says:

    Whether it’s blindness or disability in general, there’s definitely a madonna/whore thing going on. We’re either saintly creatures beatifically wafting about – oops, sorry, no wafting. Hard to waft in a wheelchair (that’s always that awful hospital variety, never the kinds we actually use) – sitting passively over by the plant being all heroic for managing to get out of bed or the disability is an outer manifestation of inner evil (see: every Dan Brown book written). And then, every now and again, there’s some weird sort of combination of the two where some nasty piece of work gets Transformed by the cripple-ness, leaving evil behind and embracing the natural state of Goddness automatically acquired when becoming disabled.

    It’s beyond boring. Oh, for a show that showed people with disabilities as real people. Oh wait… CIS does. The coroner.

  5. 5
    Maia says:

    Re: Topher – I know I’ve read the comparisons to Xander and Wash a lot at Whedonesque, but couldn’t point to threads exactly. I also see the Warren, but a likeable Warren. I think it’s great that they’re making him such an objectifying, amoral dick, but still having him engaging.

    Lene – yes that’s what I was thinking about. It’s either that diabled people are the epitome of goodness, or their disability is a sign/cause of depravity (BSG gets a fail on this one). And I wonder what to make of Esther in that context, particularly her ability to see. Because in a way it’s playing on that trope, by having the dollhouse use the fact that disabled people are seen as noble.

    I certainly felt they could have done a lot worse with the premise, and was worried about the idea of Echo as a blind person going into a cult.

    On another note I think at this stage dollhouse may have had more non-white people in speaking roles than Buffy did during the entire high school years.

  6. 6
    Turtle Wexler says:

    You don’t see Topher as as Wesley Windham-Price? Both him and Adelle, actually. (I loved Wesley; he was by far the most (maybe only) interesting, well-developed character on Angel.) He was morally complex — though more good than Topher or Adelle, doing really terrible things for what he was convinced were good reasons — even half-convinced he was doing good things. There are some differences, and I see the Topher/Warren connection, too, because the personality characteristics are there but I think Wesley did morally grey very well, and I hope that Topher and Adelle stay in that area for some time.

  7. 7
    micah says:

    I’m also a big Wesley fan, but I don’t see Topher as Wesley at all–he’s too much of a wise guy. I could see him as Warren, but I think even S5 Warren had a somewhat more sadistic bent than Topher. I think he’s Andrew, in the sense that he’s just so absorbed in going “wow, this is cool” that he forgets to turn on his morality.

    The idea that Adele is a Wesley-archetype, on the other hand, I find intriguing. The difference, of course, is that we see Wesley’s justifications before the fact…

  8. 8
    DonaQuixote says:

    I agree that Wesley was wonderfully complex and his actions often morally gray. On the other hand, even his darkest moments were motivated either out of misguided goodness or out of dispair or anger arising out of love. Those acts are treated very differently in the moral universe of Angel, and I expect it would be in this show as well. As far as we know, Topher is mainly motivated by greed or narcissism. It would be interesting to discover hidden motivations, but I haven’t seen a hint of it yet. Adele or the Dr. are far more likely to emerge as characters with Wesley-type moral grayness. I agree with Micah, though – Andrew is a great comparison with Topher. They are both just too interested in the coolness of things and their own attempts to be cool to notice the people suffering around them. Though there again is a character who got an ethics implant later in the show.

    I re-watched the episode with the issue of disability in mind, and I came away feeling like “blind” was being used pretty overtly here to set up a series of seen/unseen parallels (the viewing of the showering dolls, Echo “seeing perfectly” who attacked her, the feds covert surveillance). Everyone on the other side of each equation is “blind” to the fact that they are being observed. So again, just like with the sexual violence issue, the issue of blindness seems very abstracted from a regular personal or social context. That’s irritating to me when they do it with mental illness (and don’t get me started on the way shows depict people with mental illness as either tortured genius or homicidal madman, or the way hospital wards for mental illness are depicted). I imagine it might come across as taking a very real and human condition and treating it like an abstract concept to play around with, as if the symbolism you attach to it never in turn accrues to the real people who have that condition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I could see it being problematic.

    It’s also clear that Esther was accepted into the fold partially because she fit the blind=saintly stereotype. I didn’t get the impression that the show bought in to that stereotype, especially since it was being used to fool a lot of people. I did find the dialogue when Esther first appears to be irritating — the “I can feel the sun so I know you’re going south” “by the way did I mention 3 times already that I’m blind???” stuff. As if someone with a disability has nothing else to talk about. I know it was to set up the character but dude, you had me at hello.

    I fear that this show will be doomed when it’s highly anticipated Episode Everything Changes goes up against BSG’s finale.

  9. 9
    Piers Cawley says:

    Can we talk about episode 6 yet? Because, you know… wow.

    I’m not comfortable with the whole “Topher is Willow, Dr Saunders is Giles, Adele De Witt is the Walrus” school of analysis. Topher is Topher, Dr Saunders is Dr Saunders, Adele de Witt may very well be the walrus.

    Reducing people (even fictional people) to ciphers just doesn’t sit well with me.

    Of course, reducing people to ciphers is what the Dollhouse is all about, for the life of me I can’t understand why apparently moral people like Boyd and Saunders can work there.