I’ve said previously that the Dollhouse concept – that they’ve spent millions of dollars developing this amazing brain-modifying technology only to use it to produce custom hookers – is plain stupid. So it came as something of a shock that cyber-hookers weren’t daft enough for this story, and in the first five minutes of Instinct we realise that they’ve used it to make Echo lactate so she can breastfeed the baby of a rich executive. They then make Sierra an imprint friend for Echo, so she can vent her concerns about the lack of bonding her ‘husband’ and the baby are achieving.
But it soon becomes apparent that the pitch here is that messing with women’s hormones and mother instincts is dangerous ground, which seems entirely predictable for anyone with half a brain, although it doesn’t occur to Topher.
Things go really wrong when Echo overhears hubby Nathan talking to the Dollhouse about how it isn’t working, and that he’s going to get rid of the baby.
Before we get too focused on that, we’re whisked away, first to introduce the senator who’s trying to investigate Rossum Corporation. Wwho, unless I’m wildly off base, has his own personal Doll keeping a close eye on him.
Then we follow Adelle who is calling on November to see if she’s acting rationally since being released from the Dollhouse. She asks Madeleine, November’s real name, to return to the Dollhouse for a diagnostic, which she agrees to do.
Meanwhile, Echo’s paranoia is reaching new levels when Nathan won’t let her take the baby out of the house, and then she sees Sierra with her handler and Ballard emerging from the black van that’s been parked outside their home. Echo and baby are on the run, a situation that’s rapidly spiralling out of Dollhouse control.
Echo ends up in a police station, telling her increasingly desperate version of how her husband and an army of people are pursuing her. Surely it will be sorted out if Ballard can give her the trigger phrase, “Are you ready for your treatment?” Except he does pretty much everything but that, confusingly. Echo and the baby are separated.
Back at the Dollhouse, November’s diagnostic is going swimmingly until they bring Echo in, who is going quite ballistic at this point. November ends up being thumped, and meets Ballard, who she only remembers from being there when she left previously. Echo is tranquilised, meaning Topher can’t wipe her till later.
Possibly the most interesting part of this story is the conversation between Ballard and Madeleine, where she explains why she came to the Dollhouse and how it worked for her. Last season we got to find out some of this, about the daughter she lost, but here she lays it out completely, and how the imprinting removed the pain of that loss. Except, is this all true, or are her memories of those events fictitious? This show would be better if she’d murdered the child, or it never existed, not that I’m trying to give the writers ideas they haven’t already had.
Back with Echo and Topher, she is wiped, much to his relief. Except she isn’t back to normal and knocks him out with a single punch to the nose when she awakes. It was his stupid idea to make her lactate, so I had no sympathy for him. She heads back to get that baby, and she’s not going to let anything get in her way. But the twist is that Nathan, who up till now has seemed entirely selfish and uncaring, somehow transforms into a totally different person, with the sensitivity to talk Echo out of hurting him or baby Jack. This was a convenient about face, in the extreme.
The only upside to this is that it provides a counterpoint to the Madeleine conversation, where Echo talks about the emotional burden of her different personalities and how that remains with her. Ballard offers her the possibility of a complete wipe to take away the pain, but she rejects that idea. She’s lost enough.
I’m not sure where this story took us other than to play devil’s advocate with the moral ethics of the Dollhouse, which are pretty twisted anyway. It also worries me that the senatorial storyline appears to be a parallel of the Ballard one from last season, unless I’m mistaken.
My instinct is that this show needs to get more interesting, or it won’t make it all the way through the ordered episodes.
My biggest disappointment this week was the lack of an Amy Acker (Dr. Saunders, Whiskey), who can act better than any of the other female cast members. I’ve been told she’s not to appear in many stories this season, which given the work she did in the season opener, seems terminally dumb.
Read our review of episode 1 here.