Hollow Men episode review

Jan 17, 2010 19:25

Man, Lennix just drips with condescending patriarch this episode, starting from the word go.  His “you’re quite the supersleuth” to Echo is such a smarmy head-pat, I can’t believe she didn’t bite his hand off.  (To Dushku’s credit, her “Imma bite your hand off” face is as convincing as it ever was.)

The show does, however, really pound home some important notes that I was worried they’d miss, and it starts here.  Boyd’s slick assertion that he could kill her and “not a soul will notice” is frightening and true, and now we and Echo know something that Caroline didn’t - you really can’t do it on your own.  They really are too powerful.  I absolutely love that the question of blaming the victim has been removed from the equation - Rossum drew her blood because she was doing something she should have been able to depend on doing, trying to help someone, and they can do whatever they want to her.  Moreover, the idea of individual choice has itself been problematized.  Rossum gets your biomedical information by taking advantage of you when you are sick or hurting, and it’s how they rope you into their service, too.  It isn’t weakness, it’s a necessary reliance on someone who has something you need.  Caroline didn’t just walk away from herself the way Alpha alleges.  It was that, or certain death.

I love that we know Tony and Priya are making a choice.  I’m also pretty sure that they, even more so than Echo/Caroline, accept their Doll selves as part of their real selves.  As a note in passing, it’s good that the show gave them both such notable accents, because we know when we’re talking to them versus Sierra and Victor.  There’s totally an awesome post in there about differences making us individuals and assimilation of appearance, language, or culture makes us all a little more Doll-like, but this is getting massively long, so pretend I wrote it, k?  However, I do not approve of the way Priya seems to have just passed on getting ninja skills in favor of letting her handsome prince protect her.

Mellie handles finding out she’s an imprint better than anyone else.  But what happens to Madeleine?  They’ve deserted the Dollhouse and they can’t very well be carting around original personalities, no?  Mellie and Paul’s relationship is an interesting inversion - instead of him yanking her around to his way of being, he’ll have become hers.  Moreover, we learn one last nice thing about Paul - that while he wants someone to protect, he doesn’t wish dependence on anyone.  Mellie, who’s built to spec to be Paul’s perfect woman, is tech-savvy and smart on her feet, and ready and able to act to save him or herself (in apparent contrast to Sierra, who despite her passivity gets to live).

I absolutely love the use of Whiskey as Clyde.  Acker plays corporate evil so convincingly.  Her “swaggering dudely CEO putting the moves on a pretty underling” is dead fucking on.  The lean in, the seat too close on the couch, the spread legs and confident swagger, the privileged usurpation of personal space - it’s pitch perfect.  And it’s such a gut wrencher to see someone we’ve cared about and then pitied and then been shocked by as someone completely different.

But best of all, I love it because it makes use of what we know of Whiskey as a character.  Echo was number one because she can resist imprints, because there’s a spark of something wonderful and real behind everything she does.  Whiskey is her mirror image - she was number one because she disappears completely into an imprint.  Claire chooses to leave the Dollhouse, no easy feat for the personality or for a Doll, because Whiskey became Saunders to the extent that she couldn’t give herself up.  So when she becomes Clyde, there is nothing under Clyde for Echo to reason with.  She is a cold, selfish killer to the very core.  Compare with all the other Actives we know - November can fight down a sleeper, Victor and Sierra (along with other dolls in other houses) group powerfully.  Perrin can accept that he’s a Doll, and for a time fights off his compliance to his programming - eventually he was brought back in by human grief and not by tech.  Alpha became self-aware.  Whiskey, in contrast, may be the blankest slate there is.  If we’d had more time, I suspect even more strongly than I did after the last episode that she was much like Caroline in that she was recruited because she was unique.

There’s a lot to love from both Tophers this episode, not least of all that we got a return of Victor!Topher.  Topher 2.0’s surprise that “Boyd has been working for Rossum?” is so funny and out of place - because as far as Topher 2.0 knows, Boyd has always been working for Rossum, and so has he.  Neat little continuity nod, too, because it pretty much has to be the Topher scan that’s been in Victor before.  It’s also great to see the scientist be the voice of reason (usually a given, but not on Dollhouse, have I mentioned lately that I LOVE MY SHOW).  It’s not tech that’s the problem.  It’s the abuse of the tool.  Priya’s right to be afraid, but Topher’s right that it’s worth the risk.  Meanwhile, 1.0 does the sweetest thing we’ve seen him do, which is to give Bennett credit for fixing the wedge, even though he finished it.  He loves her and he’s letting their work stand tribute.  And what’s the button Boyd pushes to get him to finish the weapon?  That nobody else has to get hurt.  Oh, ouch.

How much do I love Adelle in this episode?  So, so much.  Adelle’s finally done the right thing and she’s being offered the self-preservation she craves.  She’s the one refusing to leave folks behind, not Paul.  What does she do when presented with salvation by one of her former charges?  She stays on mission and tries to get to the man.  Not to mention the piles of awesome which show up once she’s been taken hostage.  Such as the moment she made me wonder if there is an Emmy category for Most Awesomely British Facial Expressions in Television History.  Because if so, Olivia Williams wins forever.  That lemon face at Boyd’s patronizing lecture is flawless.  You can just hear her inner monologue.  “I can’t believe I didn’t see through him.  Absolutely off his nut.  And now I have to listen to him pontificate like this forever.  God, I hope they shoot me now.  And really, have they no manners?  I offer my hostage refreshments and a freakish, twitchy little loverboy, and yet here I am on a chair made out of a hinge.  Bloody colonials.”  She says all that in one frame.  With one facial expression.  If they ever have to democratically elect the queen of the post-apocalyptic world, I can see no other rational choice.

And then she gets all coolly rational and defiant staring down the barrel of a gun to save Paul’s life.  PAUL.  She’s double dog daring Boyd to shoot her in the fucking face, when she knows that he is directly and indirectly responsible for tons and tons of deaths.  And here is the even more awesome thing about that  - it’s not just the brave thing to do, it is the smartest thing she could have possibly done.  Because what is she doing when she tells him to bite her?  She’s reminding him that she’s useful to him.  She’s telling him to keep his head.    She reminds him of Bennett’s murder (“brains splattered all over Topher”), hoping that the thought of Claire might distract him a bit, and also reminding him that driving Topher into a fugue state is not a good idea either, because the only acceptable replacement is dead.  She’s playing up the characteristic that has impressed Boyd the most.  She’s living to fight another day in the most pragmatic, least bloody way possible.  Makes her utter terror in the face of Alpha back in 2.8 all the more awful, no?  Or maybe Adelle is just one of those people who does best with the unexpected.

And oh, how I hate that we didn’t get more than one episode of villainous Boyd.  Lennix brings back the convincing, earnest, deadpan funny guy that we met back in Ghost and makes him not just truly menacing, but also deeply funny.  His surprised “I love you guys!” is one of the funnier moments of the last few episodes, even though you have absolutely no doubt that he is still willing and able to blow every one of their heads off.  His casual wave of the portable imprint device - he’s as happy to wipe Topher as not, even though Topher is family - is horrifying, but his big-security-lug act is right on key when he tells Topher it doesn’t work.

“Except for Paul.”  HAAAAAHAHAHA LOL BALLARD.  Boyd really fucking hates this person he’s been playing for two years.  Or, more interestingly, it’s a comment on the conflict between government and industry.  Ballard represents civic ethics through all of this, even when he claims not to believe in due process any more:  bring the Dollhouse to light, let people decide, put the baddies through the justice system if at all possible.  Boyd is all about burning through every one of those moderating influences, let catastraphy or utopia follow in your wake.

I wanna be really clear:  what I’m about to say does not erase all the fascinating, intellectually sophisticated, good work Dollhouse has done on gender issues.  Really!  I stand behind every word of it!  That said, herein their lies such a huge fail that it’s actually taken away from my enjoyment of the series.  Why?  Because this is the second episode in a row that the girlfriend gets a bullet in the brain.  FAIL, FAIL, FAIL.

There’s no narrative or dramatic explanation that can make that decision okay.  If it was so important to kill November, if neither she nor Mellie could ever live knowing she could snap and kill Paul at any second, then the show should have planned for that and let Bennett live.  The November/Mellie death has narrative resonance, particularly in an episode with the image of Suicide Bomber Doll Boyd, and Echo fighting her imprint and barely able to save herself.  It works in the episode.  But twice is a pattern.  If someone made one comment, one pointed glare, about how much more disposable women’s lives are to paternalistic POS like Boyd, I’d be dealing with it.  (And he is taking an unnecessary risk there with Mellie’s life, because really, if he wants Ballard dead he just has to shoot him.)  As it were, this is about “it’s unrealistic for there not to be casualties, and these women are disposable.”  I’m so angry about this, I’m having trouble thinking about the other 95% of the last two episodes, which I really enjoyed.

Particularly since developments in this episode - namely, Boyd taking specific responsibility for Bennett’s death; Saunders being annihilated to make room for Clyde so Whiskey/Claire never has to deal with what her body did - the only thing Bennett’s death does, as far as we know, is upset Topher.  I GET THAT SUMMER GLAU LOOKS WOUNDED AND ADORABLE IN A FRIDGE BUT SHE DOES NOT NEED TO BE THERE!  Even then it’s unnecessary because Topher is upset enough about having ended the fucking world!  Yes, Topher descending into madness alone and in his pod is tragic.  But - if Bennett matters; if the woman’s end of a het relationship matters - how much more tragic is it if he goes down anyway and Bennett, who loves him, has to watch him go down?  If she has to give up and walk away?  If they drag each other into madness and their twisted love is what keeps them from being heroes?  That is rare and fresh and DH-worthy.  As it stands, this was crap.  If this is clarified somehow in the next episode, I’ll still be really unhappy with the outcome (two dead ladies, both of whom I liked), but I’ll feel a lot less like I’ve been unknowingly dating a Republican.

And really, way to kill the disabled girl and the “fat” girl!  GOD.  I suppose that is what you GET for being a PHYSICALLY DEFORMED FREAK OF A LADY-BEING, especially one that has the GALL to be loved anyway!  Sierra and Echo are just lucky they’re pretty is all I have to say!  MUST BE THAT SPINAL FLUID.

And it’s really too bad that the show ruined Mellie/November’s death for me, because it should have been really sadly beautiful and interesting.  It hurts even though you know it’s coming the minute the trigger plays.  Just like who-killed-Bennett last week, the question this week is who killed Mellie/November/Madeleine?  Sure, we saw her pull the trigger.  But what happened?  Paul’s staggered, convincingly-Doll-like “Adelle killed her” to Boyd is, at first, just to remind us that he has no idea what’s going on - Boyd played the trigger, not Adelle.  But Adelle is the one responsible for making Mellie into someone who would do anything for Paul because she loves him so, and she’s also the one that insisted November be imprinted with Mellie instead of Madeleine.  Topher seems to have forgotten, unbelievably, to take out the sleeper agent in November, or (like the rest of his tech) blithely concocted something he could never un-make.  Paul himself talked her down from killing him, which he was of course right to do, but didn’t know or want to know what the consequences would be.  Or was it something intrinsic to Madeleine coming through?  Every time we’ve met her, she has been sad and alone, and getting into the chair is a pretty strong metaphor for suicide.  She’s struggling against Paul - a Doll like herself and her reason for being - and also having an epic battle between at least two of her personalities.  Maybe she was just done fighting with herself.  I would really, REALLY have liked to have been able to engage with that.  Thanks for breaking it, ME.

Speaking of Mellie and Paul, it is a tribute to Tahmoh Penikett’s heretofore unknown senses of irony and timing that “what did I miss?” is, at that horrible fraught moment, certainly amusing and almost funny.  It’s also the tragedy of Paul’s whole story.  We’ve seen him next to Echo time and again after the apocalypse.  He’s stepped up a dozen times now for people he hates.  Given all the information, given a free and real choice, Paul does the right thing.  If you trust him, you’ll be rewarded.  He’s shockingly level-headed with all the guns we see at his head this episode.  He keeps the mission in mind.  He’s respectful of his comrades.  If you just tell him, he’ll get it done.  In fact, he’s the solid guy we were told Boyd was when we met him - it’s not an accident Boyd hates him.  I think I really do like Paul when he’s not mooning over Echo.  He’s like Perrin - they saved his life and made him better.  But he’s getting a choice.

A thing I did appreciate was the way the nihilism of Boyd’s plan is dragged out into the light, and brutally so.  His threat to kill Echo is absolutely not an empty one.  While it’s true that he doesn’t need her alive, it’s also true that if she dies, so does her spinal fluid eventually.  He’s perfectly willing to dry up the fountain of eternal safety.  The anti-corporate statement can’t get any more explicit - he got his, and while he’d rather have some fun with his family, everyone can go die.  That means no more ability to experiment if things go wrong, no more expansions of the team.  The death of Echo would be the death of Boyd’s humanity, the closing of the family, and the end of humanity itself.

What is astounding was the utter unscrupulous frivolity of Boyd’s plan.  I mean, really, he was the head of goddamn security.  He could have killed a couple of handlers, hired a couple of people who knew what was up, detached the security in one room of the Dollhouse, and then started the extraction process.  Hell, he could have hired her out on an engagement, knocked her out, and done it.  Add that shit to the Evil Overlord List:  If I can mindwipe the resistance and get what I need from them, I will not instead allow them to learn and grow while forming a little army!  They can all be my friends later, because if they’re mindwiped, they never have to know.  I don’t buy that he needed his “family” all separated from the herd and distraught for it to work out.  He could have wiped Claire and gotten her to call them all in for vaccinations, for chrissake.  Why let it get this far and give himself away?  There’s not really an answer except that he’s deranged.  He wants the apocalypse.  He expects his little family to be so happy and grateful to be chosen that they’ll overlook all the trivial mass slavery and murder.  Also, I wish his last line had been “friends help each other out” instead of “I try to be my best.”  TWIST THAT KNIFE.  TWIST IT!

And my God, the feminist allegory is as powerful as it’s ever been.  What makes her special isn’t her heart or mind, but her physical self, which must be controlled and protected!  Boyd drains eternal life from her body!  From her spine - like courage!  Because, you see, men gain their power in life and their ability to procreate through the oppression of women!   And they call it familial love and not mind-numbing servitude!  And it doesn’t matter that she loves him and he loves her - you have to break with the relationships you love in order to call the patriarchy quits, because it will never, ever protect you over itself.  I mean, smashing the mind-washing main frame (patriarchy) and exploding the structure (structural oppression)?  I like my metaphors like I like my self and associates coffee:  unsubtle and feminist.  So I’m into it.  But this is probably the kind of thing where mileage varies.  A bit.

Unfortunately, I’m not totally sold that that was the actual endgame.  There’s a chance that Boyd injected himself already, waited until Echo left, and then wiped someone else to hold the bomb.  Yeah.  Or, the quip about “Topher 2.0 ” and all the Clydes running around are a reminder that there can be a copy of anyone out there.  Just because Boyd has kept his initial self doesn’t mean that he hasn’t had a copy made.  The hubris it would take not to is in character, but the pragmatism that would seem to require it is also part of his character.  So that can go both ways.  It’ll be more interesting if he didn’t, of course, because then the last episode will have no villains, just good to okay people trying to fix the mistakes they may have made.

Two nitpicks about the end scene.  First, I hate that “hero running away from the fire” shot, not because I’m a special effects snob, but because we know she’s going to live, so it’s a waste of a few minutes that could’ve been better spent anywhere else with these characters.  Second, why the hell are they still talking about Saunders?  Saunders is gone.  There is no such person as Saunders any more.  If they wiped Clyde, they got him of her too.  They were right to help Whiskey.  But that’s who they were helping.  Not Saunders.

I feel like I’m getting a good movie version of an even better book.  These last few episodes are, with the unfortunate and probably unforgivable exception of the pile of physically nonconforming lady-bodies, uniformly fantastic.  And I am totally in love with how quickly this is happening - the Dolls were in the Attic last night, and it was only a day or two before that Victor was set free.  But part of it is this false feeling of speed that I’m getting from being rushed towards a conclusion that needed years to build up to, or at least another nine episodes.  Which is strange in and of itself, because where the story is right now, it could still go on for years.  As far as the rest of the world knows, nothing has changed - there’s been another bombing at Rossum, sure, but even all of the Dollhouses are still intact.  Even if Boyd really is dead, which is certainly a possibility but would be a ridiculous assumption, Clyde is still everywhere and out from under his thumb, and nobody else knows to look for Boyd.  In fact, we know Our Heroes have to go back to their Dollhouse to clean up for the apocalypse.  Safe Haven still hasn’t happened.  But still, this was clearly always meant to be the storyline of the last season, with a lot more time to fill it in, and it’s artifically holding the story back.

The execution of this episode is really strong.  Last episode kept the adrenaline pumping with revelation after revelation.  This one we don’t find out anything we didn’t know - I suppose if you’re a Boyd fan your hopes were dashed, but other than that - and we know our main players will live and that November is probably screwed.  Thanks to E1, there was no live-or-die suspense except as to how Big Bad Papa Wolf was going to bite it.  And yet I was still on the edge of my seat.  That’s impressive.

Deep Thoughts
  • I TAKE BACK EVERYTHING A GOOD DEAL OF WHATEVER I EVER SAID ABOUT TOPHER.  BEST MOMENT EVER.  In my notes, I totally have “I hate Boyd!  Wipe him first!”  (Yes, I typed that out.)  AND HE DOES.
  • You know what I love?  A heroine with the good sense to wear flat shoes to the apocalypse, is what.
  • Buffy comparison I really never expected to make:  Boyd is coming off a little Angelus, and Adelle would be horrified to find out she’s not a small bit Spike.  She likes this world, it’s just that she’d rather be in charge of it.  He wants to bust it wide open and watch it bleed.  JW is the modern master of the fight-picking, wise-cracking, self-interested anti-hero with the deeply buried core of gold.  I know he’s really known for greying the heroes, but personally I much prefer the idea of bending the self-interest towards the common good.  DISCUSSION QUESTION:  does this make Dominic Drusilla?
  • Have y’all seen the preview for E2?  I don’t think it’s any kind of spolierage or news in any way to think that ME all looked at each other and went “Subtlety?  This word, is it English?  WHAT DOES THIS STRANGE SOUND YOU MAKE MEAN?”
  • Not just non-Jossed, but even more more canon-compliant than I thought it was.  Hooray!
  • So does Echo’s Spinal Fluid of the Future keep her looking 27 when she’s pushing 40? She’d better hope so, because otherwise, she’ll sleep with Ballard and end up DEAD.

dollhouse, episode review

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