Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dollhouse Recap: Instinct

With the new status quo in established in Vows, the episode Instinct is our first glimpse of what an “average” second season episode will look like.  While this episode is far from perfect, I have to admit that I liked it more than I thought I would based on the trailers.

First episode she was a bride, in the second a mom.  My how time flies!

The episode begins will Paul Ballard walking around Topher’s lab.  Specifically, he is checking out The Chair.  He sits down on it just when Topher walks in and asks him if he would “like a treatment?”  After a little banter, Topher begins talking about how much of genus he is (as always).  Specifically how he was able to alter Echo “on a glandular level” for her new assignment.  Topher believe this is a major breakthrough possibly leading to a cure for cancer or at least seafood allergies.  Paul seems skeptical.

Topher also reveals that the chair cannot be used to fiddle with the minds of non-Actives.  He couldn’t just fiddle with certain memories on a normal person.  They have to be wiped clean first, and that the new memories added must be part of a complete personality.

Meanwhile, the camera pans across piles of discarded clothing, which is always a good sign that Echo is about to make an appearance.  Sure enough, Echo is in a bed with her client, although both are asleep.  Echo wakes up and quietly makes her way through the house until she reaches the nursery.  Seeing her “son” Jack is awake, she decides to nurse him.

So, you can see what Topher was so worked up about.

The next morning Echo, imprinted as Emily Jordan,  is making coffee. You get your first good look at her creepy husband Nate.  Why creepy?  Well Nate has a tendency to pop up around corners unexpectedly and he can’t seem to stand spending more than a few seconds around his own son.

Later in the day, Echo is taking Jack for a stroll and talking with Sierra who is apparently imprinted to act as Echo’s friend “Kelly”.  Echo expresses her concerns about Nate’s lack of any bond with Jack and with his continuing absence around the house.  She also begins to fret that he may be having an affair.  Echo even worries that Nate might be involved in something illegal because she sees a black van parked outside all the time.

Great work at being subtle Paul.  I hope you were better at stakeouts when you were with the Bureau.

Sierra does her best to dismiss Echo’s concerns, as she is undoubtedly programmed to do.  Echo pretends to agree, but as soon as she gets home she begins rifling through her husband’s desk (seems to be a theme).

That evening when Nate gets home he finds Echo waiting for him in the dark.  She confronts him with pictures of Nate and another woman.  Echo demands to know who she is, even holding up a picture of Nate and the mystery woman at the place “we went on our honeymoon!”

Nate is visibly shaken as these are obviously photos of him and his real wife.  Still he manages to calm Echo down by telling her a near truth.  Basically, Nate admits that she was someone he knew and loved before he met Echo and that she died.  Nate convinces Echo to get some sleep and that they will talk about it in the morning.

Echo takes his advice, but is awakened by the sound of Nate talking to someone angrily over the phone.  She goes to investigate and arrives just in time to hear Nate telling whoever he is talking to to just “get rid of her” and “I will get rid of the baby.”

Back at the “Residence of Senator Daniel Perrin Alexandria, Virginia”, we get to see Senator Perrin looking over several papers dejectedly.  He is bemoaning the fact that since he had his press conference, all of his sources against Rossum Corporation have dried up. 

Senator Perrin seems a bit despondent about this turn, but his (very political) wife Cindy does her best to bolster his confidence.  Their talk is interrupted by the doorbell, which she goes to answer.  When she returns, she tells him than no one was there, but is holding a mysterious package that was left behind.

Also out and about is Adele DeWitt.  She is going to visit Madeline a.k.a. November.  Apparently Madeline is now rich enough that she doesn’t have to work anymore and she is seeing someone special.  That is not what Adele is there for though; she is there because Madeline hasn’t been in for her diagnostic.  After a little bit of somewhat antagonistic chatter, Madeline appears to agree.

Back to Echo, she is attempting to leave the house surreptitiously with Jack.  Nate is waiting for her though, and and manages to keep her from leaving.  First Nate suggests they have breakfast together.  When that doesn’t work he uses a succession of lies to keep her at home.  Nate also tries to take Jack with him for some “man time.”  Echo doesn’t buy any of it, claims Jack needs a feeding, and retreats back to her room.

Lacking options, Echo calls her friend Kelly and begs her to drive over and pick them up.  Echo waits anxiously, and is visibly relieved when she sees Kelly come up the driveway.  Well, at least she is until Kelly is met by a black van and she passively gets in it.

Paul Ballard walks into the house and follows the sound of the crying baby to the nursery.  He knocks on the door and asks her if she would like a treatment.  It is all for naught though as he is only hearing the baby monitor Echo left behind.  Jack and her are already out the window and driving away in Kelly’s minivan.

Back at the Dollhouse, Nate is understandably upset that Echo kidnapped his son and that he paid a lot of money for that “privilege.”  Adele attempts to calm him down, reminding him that Echo thinks she is Jack’s mother and would never harm him.  She also reminds Nate that he hired Echo in the first place because he couldn’t bond with his son after his real wife died in childbirth.  That he was hoping that this bond would help Jack feel loved through his formative months.

Yes, it is somewhat clumsy exposition, but I guess they feel it necessary to explain the plot to anyone who didn’t pick up on what was going on earlier.

Meanwhile, Echo parks the minivan so she can raid the ATM.  When she turns around though, she sees she is being followed by one of the Dollhouse’s comically conspicuous black vans.  She sees some police officers and explains that she is being followed and that her husband is trying to kill her.  The take her back to the station.

Once there Echo is giving her statement to a female detective who is obviously sympathetic to her.  Just when Echo thinks she is going to get the help she needs, she sees Nate and Paul walk in to the station.  The female detective notes that they are talking with her captain and goes out to see what is going on.

Echo gets suspicious of how long they are talking and goes out to confront them.  However, the cops are obviously now aware that Echo is not Jack’s real mother.  One of the cops manages to get Jack while Paul and an officer drag Echo away from her “son”.

Back at the lab, Madeline is getting her diagnostics done by Topher.  When she is about ready to go Paul Ballard drags a struggling Echo into the room.  She breaks loose and knocks Madeline down in her attempt to escape.  Echo doesn’t get far before security swoops in and tranquilizes her though.

Ballard is surprised to see Madeline there and takes her down to see a doctor.  The two talk for awhile and Paul is surprised to find out about her background, especially her dead daughter.  He is even more surprised to find out that Madeline is apparently content about her time as an active since she “doesn’t remember a thing.”

Back in the lab Topher wipes Echo.  Something obviously is wrong though because she knocks Topher unconscious when she wakes up.

At the “Residence of Senator Daniel Perrin Alexandria, Virginia”, we get to see Senator Perrin overwhelmed by the evidence about the Dollhouse that was left on his doorstep.  Realizing that Rossum is up to much worse things than mere medical misfeasance, he briefly wonders if he should quit the pursuit.  After talking things over with his wife though, Senator Perrin decides his goal to bring Rossum down is more important than ever.

Back at the Dollhouse, Paul Ballard, Topher Grace, and Adele DeWitt are attempting to figure out what went wrong with Echo.  Paul suggests that when Topher “changed her “on a glandular level” that he created a maternal instinct that was too powerful for a standard wipe.  While she might not remember Jack’s name or her own, she has a need to be with her child that is overwhelming. 

Paul makes his way to the Jordan household where Nate finally seems to be warming up to his son.  He gets a call from Adele telling him to leave the house, but like any good horror movie it is too late for a warning by the time he gets it.  He rushes back to Jack, only to find Echo holding him in one hand and a knife in the other.

There is a creepy lighting filled scene where Nate attempts to reason with an increasingly irrational Echo before she hurts either him or his son.  He confesses that he knows that she loves Jack and that this is all his fault.  He also tells her about his real wife Karen and how she died in childbirth.  Echo gives Jack back to Nate just as Paul and his Dollhouse cronies walk in.

Outside Paul and the (semi-) wiped Echo talk about her experience.  Echo explains that she is very sad, that she had a baby and now she doesn’t.  Paul tells Echo that he can let Topher know what is really going on with her so that she will forget.  Echo refuses this option though, saying that feeling nothing would be worse.

The Good

I enjoyed most of Eliza Dushku’s performance this time around.  I thought the scene where she confronted Nate about the photos was especially good. 

I was also glad to see Echo run to the police when she thought she was being followed.  I also liked the police.  The cliché would have had the cops dismiss Echo as crazy, instead they seemed both rational and helpful without seeming like “super-cops”.

The Bad

I felt that the “I changed her on a glandular level” excuse as to why she wasn’t wiped was a bit lame.  On the other hand, since it might have been hokum Paul Ballard was spinning to keep them realizing how badly Echo was glitching, it might not be that bad.

I wasn’t a fan of the scenes with Madeline a.k.a. November.  Her dialogue seemed completely unnatural and the scenes with Paul lacked any chemistry they had last year.

Also, after this episode, why hasn’t Adele decided enough is enough and sent Echo to the Attic?

In Conclusion

Ultimately, the first “average” episode of the second season is thoroughly average.

3 out of 5 dolls