Posted by: mzbitca | March 22, 2009

Dollhouse…has the tide turned?

This Friday was the Dollhouse episode “Man on the Street” that was supposed to be the ONE! WE! WERE! WAITING! FOR!.  I watched it Saturday morning, as I was getting drunk on Friday night and I have to say that although it wasn’t as great as they were saying it definitely felt like a Joss Whedon show.

Unlike the others this show didn’t focus on Echo being set out on one assignment. Instead there were tons of subplots out there and it focused more on what the Dollhouse is, what it wants, and how fucked up everything is.

There were two major moments in this episode for me and how they worked together that helped me boost my faith that this show is NOT a misogynist wet dream.

Sierra’s storyline was the first and brought up a huge issue.  The previous episode it was noticed that one of the doll’s, Victor, had developed a “crush” on Sierra.  This episode shows their first interaction being Sierra isolating herself and Victor placing a hand on her shoulder to ask if she was okay.  Sierra’s response was the scream and fall out of her chair.  They examine Sierra and realize that she has had sexual intercourse since she returned from her last engagement and they assume it was Victor.  Boyd does not quite believe this is the case and stages a stakeout which involves the discovery that Sierra’s handler has been taking advantage of her and uses the tagline “Do you trust me?” which, due to her programming Sierra must answer with “With my life.”  Boyd catches them and punches the Handler through the window.  When being interrogated the Handler challenges Adele and her judgement of him due to the fact that what they do when they send them out on engagements should not be viewed as less than his actions just because they trick the actives into believing that they are in love with their clients. Adele doesn’t “send him to the Attic” but sends him on a mission to assasinate Mellie, FBI agent Ballard’s neighbor and new love interest.

This is where the second part came into play.  Mellie is lounging around her new man’s house in a t-shirt and underwear, waiting for him to return with chinese food which Hearn (the Handler) enters and attacks her.  This scene starts off incredibly disturbing and has shades of the Jenny Calendar situation, which is a women fighting for her life but being completely overpowered.  However just has Hearn has Mellie on the ground and is choking her, Adele calls and leaves a message that plays on the answering machine “There are three flowers in the vase. One of them is green.”  This is apparently a hypnotic trigger as Mellie’s eyes flash and she quickly fights back and snaps Hearn’s neck.  Adele then states “There are three flowers in the vase. One of them is yellow” and she transforms back into “Mellie”.

These two scenarios were important.  The first is because it  hit home the fact that the Actives are basically children and completely innocent and that, even though Topher tries to claim that they have a “good” life they are not truly safe and are not always happy.  Also, Hearn’s discussion with Adele states that there is no difference between his behavior and her’s was important because it mirrors the difference between the scary rapist behind the bushes attacking the innocent and the way people justify things like date rape as saying the victims are complicit because they may have consented before, or felt like they were safe.

The second part is awesome because it is vintage Whedon.  Taking the trope of the career obsessed cop/agent who’s g/f, sister, etc becomes the innocent victim in order to send him a message or further along his plot development.  Instead the woman wins and is also more than just a love-sick neighbor.



  1. Word.

  2. I was somewhat bothered by the way the abuse of Sierra was treated as a really surprising thing, when in fact it is only too probable that rape and abuse of “dolls” would happen all the time.

  3. Well, with the background checks and surveillance, it really does seem like something that shouldn’t happen.

  4. I totally did not catch that Ms. DeWitt’s answering machine message was supposed to be hypnotism. I was wondering how Mellie got the upper hand so suddenly, but I assumed that the phone messages were supposed to be codes communicating with Hearn (although that doesn’t makes sense either, since presumably it would be easier to communicate with him by cell phone or walkie-talkie). If she wanted him dead, why would she send him out to attack Mellie when she could have just had him killed right there at the Dollhouse? Was it just a message to frighten her and Agent Ballard off the case?

    • Jess,

      One, I think she wanted to dispose of Hearn in a way that would take any suspicion away from their agency. Now he’s killed in a suspected break in. 2. It was intended to scare Ballard to perhaps make him think twice about his investigation and to get him kicked out of the FBI.

      Others suggest that it perhaps Adele implanted the message that Echo gave to Ballard as a way to make him think he needs to get fired and to beat into his head that the Dollhouse is on to him and he needs to lay low for awhile to be affective. I’m not a fan of that idea but we don’t know for sure.

  5. That was my impression of the message from Echo to Ballard- that it was sent by DeWitt or someone high up in the Dollhouse rather than from someone trying to take down the Dollhouse. I thought that partly because it seemed suspicious that Boyd was temporarily taken off his role of being Echo’s handler and Topher apparently lied to Boyd about her mission being something innocuous like life coach.

  6. Another thing I really liked about the episode was the way the client was handled. He obviously missed his dead wife terribly – so on the anniversary of her death he commits rape. Being pathetic didn’t make him any less a rapist, which I think Echo’s reaction (as Rebecca) underscored nicely: “Is this about porn? Are you a porn man?”

  7. this was such a kick-ass episode. i’ve had faith in joss all along, but it was nice to see this finally.

    JessSnark: i feel like it’s either dewitt or the doctor (amy acker’s character) sending the message. i can’t tell if boyd is involved or not, though it’s obvious that they want us to think he is.

    • My guess is for Topher or Ivy as the mole. Ivy because she’s new and we haven’t seen much other than Topher screwing with her. Topher because he knows the technology, just recently received new secruity clearance, aka: found out info that messed with his world view. and he seems like the type to not want Boyd around if he’s doing something wrong, even if Boyd might not notice.

      The only thing that makes me think it’s not Topher is that someone on another blog said they saw that when Topher returned to the room a door was opened that had been closed. SO many questions, but in a good way!

  8. Jess/MsBitca: it was also apparently the first test of that technology, from the way they talked about it. when the security guy came in, dewitt made a point to mention that the remote active worked just fine.

    • it was also apparently the first test of that technology
      That’s another sign of how cold and calculating Adele is. IF that hadn’t worked Mellie would be dead right now. She was obviously wiling to risk that which makes me think she is not as concerned about the Active’s safety as she claims. Although she appears to be taking an interest in Echo and has it looks in the previews, Victor as well. In other words, she seems more interested in the dolls who are compositing their events and fighting the system

  9. Trav and I think it might be DeWitt! If so it was very clever to do things the way she did, now douchebag is dead and FBI is off the case.

  10. Word. I have to say that I was kind of blown away by the episode, mostly because I was so expecting a Jenny/Angel/Tara/Doyle situation, wherein only right after there is some modicum of happiness found is that happiness ripped away with big nasty death/soullessness/sent to hell (in retrospect, Angel should probably be there twice). I was cursing at the television screen during the commercial break when DeWitt sent Hearn after Mellie and prepared to seriously consider writing off Dollhouse. Now, I’m more in Whedon’s clutches than ever before. Kind of pathetic, really.

  11. Good post! And good points! I think this was a turning point for the show, as well. I found myself feeling really overwhelmed and sorry for Ballard. I thought that for sure Echo was sent by Adele, as a way to get him to quit and give up. I’m not sure I buy that there is a mole. Wouldn’t Topher have to be it, or at least be complicit? Because he implants the actives with their roles, it seems like it would be hard to pull the wool over his eyes and somehow change the active’s implant before he gives it to them. So I definitely saw Echo as being used by the Dollhouse to appear like a mole, not an actual mole.

    And knowing that Mellie is also under control, somehow, of the Dollhouse*… can’t this guy catch a break? His informant was a doll, too! Except for his disbelieving FBI colleagues, everyone around him is fake. And now he doesn’t even have the FBI…

    But I’m hooked. And I agree with your assessment of the Sierra situation.

    *Does this mean Mellie is an active? Or maybe the Dollhouse has levels of control over “real” people who aren’t necessarily dolls?

  12. […] “Dollhouse”, “Fringe” and “The Mentalist” :…Dollhouse…has the tide turned? « What a crazy random happenstance…The Spoiler Roundup 03.26.09 | The TV Remote…Watch Dollhouse Season 1 Episode 2 | Dollhouse S01E02 […]

  13. [came here from feministe sunday shameless promotion] Thanks for this. now i want to watch ep 6 again with these new perspectives in mind.

    on the subject of mellie, i really don’t see how the way that scene with hearn played out, is really any different than the ‘loved one – girl of course – gets killed to get to the guy’. mellie may have killed hearn, but she did not do so of her own volition – she did so under the command of another. that fact that she was commanded by a woman doesn’t take away the fact that mellie has no autonomy – she’s still a slave.

    i did wonder whether mellie is a full-on doll or is at some intermediate level, so i’m glad to see someone else wondering that same thing too.

    i really want to see how echo advances, how much self-realization she develops. it’d be cool to see her get into a test of wills with adele. clearly, even when she is under control of an uploaded personality, she can think for herself; that was clear to me even by ep 2, when she went from being the hunted to being the hunter, and was able to flip the “do you trust me” script around with boyd, which not only turned her around to becoming the hunter, but also seems to have been a factor in boyd being able to survive his wound – he did not have the anxiety of wondering if echo would be safe – he just knew it.

    • I agree that no matter what the dolls do, as long as they are dolls they are still acting without their own motivation. When I talked about her not being killed I was more referring to what the audience would expect to happen. Which is she would die to teach Ballard a lesson.

      I am interested in seeing the next episode where it looks like multiple dolls composite at once.

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