I’ve stuck with Dollhouse, after every fibre of my body wanted to walk away after the first episode. Last week’s was better, marginally, but the story Stage Fright actually hinted at something much more interesting than has been presented so far.
Yet, right at the start of the story, I got a horrible seventies TV flashback, where Jaime Sommers, The Bionic Woman, must become a musical performer to infiltrate a narcotics ring, or something as painfully concocted. Because in the first five minutes that’s exactly the type of plot we’re given, and I almost switched off then.
Echo is given dual personalities of both aspiring singer and a protector, and sent to look after a Beyoncé Knowles-style pop diva, Rayna, whose biggest fan wants to kill her live on stage. Yawn.
Even brushing over how it seems implausible that a memory implant could make you sing well, this didn’t sell well, and I was very concerned that Dollhouse was about to entirely tank in front of me.
But, amazingly, by the end of this story an entirely new layer was revealed to the greater story arc that made me wonder if this show might have legs, and not just the long ones of Eliza Dushku.
Initially the plot runs like I anticipated, as Echo gets an audition as a backing singer, and as a backup, they make Sierra the winner of a competition and star-stuck fan.
We also get glimpses of the young man who has an obsession that just doesn’t end with buying Rayna’s records or seeing her shows. His first attempt on her life ends with a backing singer in flames, giving Echo her opening to be a replacement performer.
In the meanwhile, the parallel story of obsessive Agent Ballard really heats up. He has a Russian mob informant, Victor, who he’s been leaning on for information about ‘Dollhouse’. But, in a lovely twist, we discover that the information he’s feeding the good Agent is slightly tinted by the fact he’s a Dollhouse Active, and the personality he’s got is an implanted one! He lures Ballard to an old hotel where three mobsters try to kill him. He is shot, but survives. The guess is that this is the work of Laurence Dominic, although it’s not clear if anyone else at Dollhouse knows how he’s dealing with this threat.
But back to Echo. She stops the attempt on Rayna’s life only for the diva to fire her; she’s actually in cahoots with the assassin who takes Sierra hostage and threatens to kill her. This sequence is slightly messed up, because no explanation is presented as to why and how everyone is watching this live video feed on their computers for him to make this threat. But they are.
And then Echo knocks Rayna unconscious with a chair then abducts her, which throws a monkey wrench into the works. Panic ensues at the Dollhouse, as they think Echo has gone off mission in an Alpha-type way. Actually, she hasn’t; her instructions were to protect Rayna, and that includes from herself. Doing this she induces the obsessed fan to exchange Sierra for Rayna, and then kicks the crap out of him. My only concern was that I saw no point in Sierra being there, as she didn’t seem to have any imprint that allowed her to protect herself or Rayna? Not sure what was the idea there. It was never explained or elaborated.
In the end, Sierra and Echo pass each other in the Dollhouse and clearly they have a rapport that shouldn’t exist in their passive state, so they’re becoming more than was intended. Both Boyd and Dr. Saunders have noticed this, although the good doctor suggests that it might not be a good thing for Echo. Actives that can’t be used go to the ‘attic’, whatever that’s a metaphor for.
Other positives about this story included much better dialogue this week. There was a really amusing exchange between Topher and Lawrence where the former described the latter as ‘a security guard in an expensive suit’. It was also pleasing to see Kevin Kilner join the show as Sierra’s controller Hearn, as I really liked him as Boone in the first and final seasons of Earth Final Conflict.
Overall, this was a much stronger episode, and hints at what Dollhouse might become if this progress continues, so I’ll stick with reviewing it for now.
Check out our review of episode 2 here.