It’s a bit of a tough week in the Dollhouse. The fifth round in the Friday night battle, “True Believer,” actually had a lot going for it. We got another good look at how management looks at the actives, some new questions about the wiping procedure, confirmation of a villain among the villains, an explanation about how the Dollhouse stays under the radar, and an engagement that made sense for Echo to be involved in. Unfortunately, all that good stuff was wrapped up in a rather dull and dated rehash of the Waco story. Not the worst idea ever, unless you are a show desperate to attract, and retain, every last viewer you can.
Infiltrating the cult did bring with it some positives. To start, it offered a reason that someone would seek an active for an engagement. And it also answered one of the big questions about the Dollhouse. The operation stays in the shadows thanks to good old fashioned corrupt politicians. The lives of the cult members make for a pretty solid parallel to what we are seeing with the actives as well. Because of all that, I think the episode will hold up, down the line when it’s being watched on DVD, etc.
But that is then, and this is now. And there are very real ratings concerns that the show is dealing with. If this episode is one of the five pilots that is supposed to hook viewers, I don’t think it’s putting the best foot forward. At its core, this is a high tech spy show filled with beautiful people. Yet, here we are, spending half the episode with a cast of characters that look like they were outfitted at an Amish garage sale. It doesn’t help that they go from standing around a dirt lot to hanging out in a dull commune. Or that the biggest piece of high tech gadgetry is invisible. That’s not the best impression to make.
That high tech gadgetry, invisible as it was, did set the stage for a couple other interesting bits. First, Adelle didn’t seem too concerned with the dangers the procedure posed to Echo. It takes us right back to the scene from the pilot where she is talking to Caroline. What kind of assurances are prospective actives given? I’m guessing they aren’t told that the company will be trying experimental brain surgery. The failing camera also brought us back to the emerging Caroline story. When Jonas slapped Echo, disabling the cameras and restoring her sight (and miraculously not sending her into a seizure), the change was very evident. It wasn’t Esther that stopped Jonas from hitting her again. And it certainly wasn’t Esther that said God’s plan was to move your ass. That’s the next step toward whatever composite personality Caroline is going to end up with.
Elsewhere, we have Ballard and Dominic as the proverbial two sides of the coin. Ballard is convinced that he has to save Caroline from the Dollhouse, and it was good to see him making real progress this week. Meanwhile, Dominic is doing all he can to remove her. I can’t decide if leaving her to burn alive instead of just shooting her means he is really stupid, or really sadistic. I’m leaning toward stupid though, because that’s how he comes across when he is with Adelle. He’s not nearly as clever as he thinks he is, and she’s on to him. It doesn’t bode well for Dominic.
Then we have Topher and Dr. Saunders. The woody gag was a little groan worthy in places (something’s come up), and it does call into question pretty much everything about the way Dollhouse HQ operates. Why do they have open air co-ed showers to begin with? Better yet, why do the blanked actives interact at all? It’s not a big feat of problem solving, after one rogue active butchers a building full of people, to think, “Hey, individual rooms, with locks and stuff… not a bad idea.” The actives don’t require socialization. And they could still shoot video of Dichen Lachman showering every week. More than anything, it feels like ‘cool set’ trumped ‘logical story.’ That being said, even if they decided that the appearance of Sierra is what is causing the troubles with Victor, the fact that Dr. Saunders is concerned about repeat engagements reinforces that the imprint process is far from perfect.
Overall, a bit of a mixed bag this week. The progress on the bigger picture Echo/Caroline/Dollhouse story was great, but the engagement missed the mark. Ultimately though, I’m not sure it matters either way, considering that so much has been made of the next episode. Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku have both said that is where things really get good, and now the network is telling us, “Forget what you know… Forget what you’ve learned.” That last bit seems a little odd to me, but I am looking forward to seeing what episode six brings.
Trivia — Esther was reading from chapter three of the book of Daniel.
Update: Ratings are in. The show gained viewers this week, finishing with 4.42 million, but the demo stayed at 1.5. That’s not the best news, but at least the numbers are moving in the right direction heading into episode six.