There are three plot threads in the tenth Dollhouse which, disappointingly, have no common ground. One is the ‘main event’ and the others fall into the categories of ‘minor distraction’ and keeping the larger story arc simmering on the back burner.
I’ll cover these aspects first, because, unlike the makers of Dollhouse, I find flipping back and forth irritating when I’m trying to relay proceedings on Geek.
Arguably the weakest story element in Haunted, is one where Topher asks for the use of one of the actives for ‘diagnostics’. That’s a metaphor for turning Sierra into a like-minded gaming pal for him, and they play computer games and eat junk food in celebration of his birthday. It’s the part of Dollhouse I don’t really accept, that inserting a personality into someone’s brain is so consequence-free that you can use it for whatever trivial excuse they can come up with. Boyd thinks like me, but Adelle allows Topher his downtime once a year. But actually she likes to bend whatever rules exist when she wants, so this isn’t much of a surprise, really.
There is a November and Ballard sub-plot, but it doesn’t really go anywhere substantial either. Its only real contribution is for Ballard to get her fingerprints, which he then uses to convince his female friend in the FBI that he’s not criminally insane, and that the Dollhouse might be real.
What occupies the rest of the running time is a reasonable, if convoluted, murder mystery, which begins when a wealthy woman out for a ride on a racehorse is found dead.
A month before painfully rich Margaret died, she visited her friend Adelle at the Dollhouse where her imprint was taken and stored. This is then imprinted onto Echo so that Adelle can take her friend to her own funeral, and get her life in order before dying a second time.
This seems another totally unjustified use of Dollhouse technology and abuse of Echo, until Margaret discovers that her death wasn’t accidental and turns sleuth to reveal her own killer.We’ve seen this type of story a million times before, but Dollhouse does a half decent take on the Murder She Wrote playbook.
Except, in hindsight, Margaret isn’t Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher or even Daphne Blake. She manages to get the wrong culprit, reveal her true identity to the killer and nearly gets Echo killed. But even with this level of ineptitude it all works out in the end.
What I really liked in this was that she got to see a side of her family that you could never see as Margaret, which revealed plenty of interesting dimensions to people she believed she knew. In the end, she didn’t know any of them, and with the possible exception of her young husband they didn’t know her either. The fact that the three weeks before her actual death are a blank to Echo could have added more unknowns to the proceedings, but that aspect isn’t explored.
They also didn’t snapshot her memories before wiping them from Echo, which seemed a rather obvious action given how the ‘rules’ had been so far treated.
I thought what Eliza Dushku did in portraying Margaret was interesting, and better than many of the imprint characters she’s played. Yet, at the back of my mind a nagging doubt is emerging that episodes like Haunted are actually just testing out ideas for a direction the show will ultimately take rather than trying to be different each week. But another concern is that there are only two more stories left in this season, and I don’t see any preparation for either winding this phase up, or preparing for the now highly dubious possibility of season 2.
This was extra annoying because at the start of the story they did a recap of the previously strong story arc episode, and then at the end you wondered why they did this, because almost nothing in that one had any bearing on these events.
When this was made was the assumption already made that the series was toast, and stand-alone stories were the best way to wind it out?
I guess we get to find out next week, when Echo starts thinking of herself as Sleeping Beauty, I’m told. Maybe Eliza Dushku will wake up and realise that she’s in a TV show that’s on the edge of an abyss.
My guess is that the bigger story arc in Dollhouse will never be remotely completed, and when that happens those who chose to use up one the few episodes it did get with a whodunit might not feel so smart.
Check out our review of episode 9 here.