3. Belle Chose
What’s been sadly lacking from Dollhouse so far is a sense of wit or satire, which, given the influence of show-runner Joss Whedon, is somewhat surprising.
But out of the blue, the Tim Minear-written Belle Chose not only has some wry humour but actually makes fun of many Dollhouse conventions.
It’s never been explored before, but within the Dollhouse there is an outfitters where the Dolls go to be prepped for their assignments. It’s run by the excellent Matt Winston (Enterprise, John From Cincinnati, Scrubs) as the chirpy style guru Franklin, a man whose mission it is to make the outside of the Doll match the inside they’ve just imprinted.
Early in the story Ballard takes Echo there after she’s been imprinted to be a student that a professor can have a relationship with, without the caveat of being dismissed. If this sounds fluff, and it’s huge duvets of it, then the balancing narrative is about Terry, the nephew of a major shareholder in the Dollhouse who also happens to be a sociopath and serial killer.
In the first scene we see he’s created an idyllic family croquet with himself and four drugged women he’s dressed and posed. Before he kills her, one of the women manages enough movement to inject him with the same drug he’s used on them, and in his confused state he wanders outside to find a replacement, sees Echo, and then, before he can get to her, is run over.
Standard medical science can’t fix rich killer Terry Karrens, but maybe the Dollhouse can, and they might even be able to find the three surviving victims.
However, soon the Dollhouse realises the true nature of Terry, and even they have moral issues with waking him up. Their solution, which seems packed full of pitfalls from the outset, is to imprint Terry’s memory onto the perfectly healthy Victor.
The actor who plays loopy Terry at the start is quite good, but he’s soon eclipsed by Enver Gjokaj’s version of him, who is nuttier than a Snickers factory.
Unfortunately, we’re dragged (kicking and screaming) back to the lustful Professor Gossen (Ayre Gross) as he tries to seduce the implausibly naïve Echo. Maybe there is an overlapping theme of control, but frankly. I wanted more of the psycho and less of the letch.
I should also mention that Michael Hogan appears (yes, Saul Tigh from Galactica) as the concerned Uncle Karrens, not that he’s given much initially. He’s stupid enough to think that all Terry needs is a chat with his uncle, and takes the imprinted Victor out of Dollhouse. Big mistake, and this is compounded by Victor not having a GPS implanted in him since his surgery for the injuries Alpha did to him.
It’s a race against time: can Ballard find and stop Terry? Can Topher wipe Victor remotely? Can randy Professor Gossen get Echo?
Meanwhile, Terry is stalking Hollywood looking for a replacement ‘Aunt Sheila’, in the sorts of Hollywood locations that pander to those personalities.
Then remote wipe goes horribly awry, and in a completely unpredictable way. The remote wipe transfers Terry to Echo who attacks Gossen, but much more amusingly ‘Kiki’ goes to Victor, who becomes a veritable dancing queen before Ballard extracts him. This is the first real plot twist that Dollhouse has delivered so far this year, and I defy anyone to have predicted this.
Unfortunately, I think it’s rather squandered when, as Echo goes back to Terry’s victims, she switches between various personalities, including his, before she’s overpowered.
The question left unanswered is do they unplug the real Terry or send him back to Mercy hospital? Whatever the official plan, Ballard unplugs Terry to make sure he never comes back. Except we know he’s still alive in one sense, now one of the resident personalities in Echo.
This was probably the most watchable Dollhouse for some time, and it worked best when it was trying to be funny. I hope Matt Winston returns as Franklin, as he’s so watchable.
What it didn’t really do is move the larger story arc on in any meaningful way. But we’ve been promised that the next story, which I’m told is Sierra-centric, gets deeper into the whole Rossum/Dollhouse relationship.
Read our review of episode 2 here.