Saturday, February 14, 2009

Percolated Recap: Dollhouse: Ghost (Episode 101)

Recapper's Note: I didn't do an instacap for this episode because I wasn't 100% sure what exactly my impressions were. But that's all right because Travellingone did it for me. After months of wondering what the hell was going on with this show, between the press, it airing on Fox, and the behind the scenes drama, I wasn't sure what I was getting into. To be honest, I'm still not sure, but the pilot left me intrigued enough to wade into the Whedonverse and its fans, which I haven't done since the event that occurred after the statement "I'm a leaf on the wind." If you don't know what I'm talking about, you're probably a happier person for it.

Recapper's Comment She Promises Never To Mention Again: Is it just me or did Joss Whedon make a bet with himself to put together the most bizarrely named cast, ever?

Flashback / Intro / Establishing the Concept: Adele Dewitt, the leader / den mother /modern version of Madeline from Nikita of the Dollhouse is talking to a young woman, Caroline, about how lovely life would be if there weren't any consequences. Obviously, whatever Caroline did was bad enough to make her want to forget everything for a minimum term of five years. Of course, what she's forgetting is the question. It might be something so tragic like an accidental death, or perhaps it's a bad break-up like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Whatever it is, it's a mess Caroline tries to justify with such lofty reasoning as taking her place in the world.
From the way I see it, I'm willing to bet one of those things they will make her forget is how it is only supposed to be five years. Whatever the Dollhouse is, it isn't against praying on people's weaknesses or wiping there minds so I'm guessing that morality isn't high up on their list of business priorities.

Oh, and then I get whacked over the head with the thousand pound anvil of foreshadowing when Caroline says, "You ever try and clean an actual slate? You always see what was on it before." Not only is that an anvil of foreshadowing, it's the premise of this entire series.

Considering this is the first scene of the series, I'm completely underwhelmed. I didn't want to know Echo's real name. A name is such an identifier that it sort of cheapens the whole search for her identity for the audience. At least, it did for me because I wanted to be able to ask myself the question, she's an echo of whom?

Oh yes, and the use of the phonetic alphabet for the names of actives, highly amuses me. Let me digress for a moment and mention that a good portion of my childhood involved me hearing the phonetic calls on the radio, although I was nearly 10 before I realized my Gram's call was actually "Delta Mike November" as opposed to my Grandfather's version "Damn Mighty Nice." Plus, I can't wait to meet the guy they call Oscar, or Papa and learn to which gender would they ascribe X-ray?

Active Engagement the First

Dear Diary,

Today, everything in my life is perfect. I met this guy a couple of days ago and he's really adventurous, both in bed and out (even I won't tell you, dear diary, what we did that involved ropes). I get to race around LA on this cool motorcycle, but the crash I had, totally not cool. The way I see it, I've had my boo-boo for the night, so now I can totally ride without a helmet! Hee! My hair looks way better like that.
After the race (which he won because he's so perfect, even though I teased him about cheating) we wound up at Matt's (that's Prince Charming's name) birthday party where all his cool friends and I danced the night away. I was dressed perfectly for the event because we were dancing to Lady Gaga and, just like her, I wasn't wearing pants, only what should be classified as a short tunic top! That was okay though because it meant I kept flashing my ass at Matt and giving the Fox censors a heart attack. All was good.
He thinks I'm exciting too, like I pick up men I find inexplicably hot and have random weekends of hot sex and racing. I'm not as perfect as he thinks I am. I sound a little like a tougher version of Paris Hilton. No one can be perfect if they sound like that.

Stupid treatments! They are getting in my way of some really hot sex. Hopefully they aren't going to take very long because Matt is the perfect man. I bet he never has to pay for a woman to programmed to like him! Hey, where did that thought come from!? I'll ignore it. Who wants to think about bad things? Instead I'll look at this pretty heart necklace he gave me. Isn't he soooo sweet? He even parties in the prettiest places. It's all red and gold and the lanterns remind me of a firefly set in space.
So my night ended with Boyd taking me to see Topher. Boyd's promised to take me back to the party once my treatment is over, but the treatment sort of pinches and wait, I dropped my necklace while having a weird flashback of the weekend (and even earlier) -


Echo, in her inactive state, reminds me of a servant in an old Victorian novel, all pliable, willing and polite, with little personality of her own. Sure, she's nice enough as she asks to leave, but it leaves me with the impression that what the dolls think in their inactive state is the mental equivalent of bland oatmeal.

Thus this scene teaches me something far more important than Echo's natural state: Boyd and Topher have the potential to be infinitely fascinating characters, without the assistance of technology to program them to be so. Boyd's concerned about Echo's well-being, while Topher sees himself as a scientific god. He doesn't say so, but while watching over the dolls meditate and wander around in a utopian stupor, he talks about making people happy and fulfilling dreams. It's a little meglomaniacal of him.
Crestejo Residence

If there's one thing I've come to expect from a Whedonverse show, it's perfect casting. Sure, sometimes he can be a bit insular and go with actors we'll recognize from his previous endevours but they're still well cast. (In fact, I'm wagering at least 10 appearances from previous Whedonverse people before Fox cancels this show. Anyone want to take me up on that?) Take little Davina and her father, Gabriel, this week's important guest stars. In the space of a minute, as Davina tries to convince her father to let her watch the thinly veiled Survivor some reality TV show, I care about these two. For instance, I really care when Davina is taken from her room by several kidnappers, including one masked man, and I don't the Lone Ranger.
Opening Credits: They are rather disappointing with fairly generic-sounding music and images representing how Echo can be used as a doll. Buffy's opening credits were better. Plus, the vocals are some woman singing along to the music. Come on TPTB, you couldn't write lyrics for this one?

Okay, the music box notes at the end while the dolls are enclosed in their sleeping pods, is both fake and creepy, like the actives' lives.

Logically, when I want to get my kidnapped daughter back from money-crazed psychopaths, my first thought would be to get a negotiator programmed for the job. Okay, maybe not but it is Gabriel Crestejo's reaction. I guess he's hired out enough of the actives over such a long period of time, he always gets exactly what he wants, even if it means putting one doll's life in danger while the doll turns over five million dollars.

Hey, it's Reed Diamond! That makes me happy as I've always thought he's been horribly underused by the industry since Homicide: Life on the Street went off the air.
We get a few little tidbits about how the whole process of engaging and active works. There's a risk involved of the doll reverting if the Dollhouse is mentioned. There's also a confessional where the clients, I'm guessing, must leave their specific programming requests.

After we pan through the Dollhouse, watching perfectly formed people work out and get massages to keep themselves that way, we settle on Echo getting a physical from Whedon alumna number 2, Dr. Claire Saunders, AKA, Fred. Before anyone yells at me that she wasn't really Fred at the end, she'll always be Fred to me.

Dr. Fred is looking a bit worse for wear. While she's all concerned about Echo's hurt knee - and bothered that Echo isn't bothered about not remembering a massive motorcycle falling on it, I'm concerned that some doll went crazy in the past and attacked her while accidentally doing the mark of Zorro backwards.
While Dr. Fred is organizing a massage for Echo's bad knee, Echo wanders off, right towards the treatment room. She witneses a new active getting her tissue mapped, which looks a lot like electrified acupuncture. It is, as painful as it looks. Luckily, the actives in their inactive state have the IQ of a dormouse. Take this conversation as evidence:

Echo: Something fell on me

Topher: I bet it was something great.

While Echo recognizes the new active, Sierra's pain, she doesn't pick up on the awkward explanation from Topher or significant glances of annoyed worry between Dr. Fred and the technician. Echo also doesn't notice that at this moment, Topher is what Xander would've become if he was as smart as Willow and as morally bankrupt as Jayne Cobb.

Federal Office / Symbolic Flashback

Agent Paul Ballard is getting chewed out for messing up a human trafficking case involving the Russians while he is investigating the impossible to solve Dollhouse file. This entire scene comes off as a bit forced because even though he's being yelled at for potentially screwing up other cases while in search of something the agency isn't even sure exists, he immediately establishes that his superiors are just blowing smoke. Someone way more powerful then them wants the case to continue being investigated. They can't order him off the case but they can ask him to back off.

The scene is inter-mixed with another scene where Paul Ballard is getting the crap kicked out of him in the fight ring. Near the end of the fight, Ballard finds a second wind, stands up and repays the favour to his opponent. Thus we're supposed to see it as symbolic of how he investigates cases. He will never give up. Even if everything looks hopeless and everyone around him will think he's beaten, he will not back off.

That is, he won't back off unless he's asked by his so-called superiors who he could probably snap like a twig. Um, so the point of the previous scene was what?
It is to imply that he'll allow himself to look beaten, only to reveal his supersecret plan? Unlike earlier when we were hit with the anvil of foreshadowing, this is like thinking we're going to be hit by the 2x4 of symbolism, only to find out the board is really made of soft cotton.


Echo's in treatment to be programmed as the negotiator requested earlier. Topher is so unfailingly polite to her, that I wonder if he genuinely has a crush on her, because he likes his women brainless, or is just overwhelmed by how hot she is that he forgets to make sarcastic remarks.

In Adele's office, Boyd is being briefed on the engagement by Adele and Dominic. If anything even smells wrong, he's to pull Echo out to make she she isn't discovered. Also, the kidnapper, who likes ironic nicknames and calls himself Mr. Sunshine, isn't to be brought to justice.

Active Engagement the Second

This engagement is best related by pulling a few days out of Miss Elinor Penn's dayplanner.

Elinor Penn's Planner Day 1

Appearance: Serious power suit and include shoes that could double as a deadly weapon. Hair best described as "naughty librarian."
Do not leave home without: 1) My glasses, since my vision isn't the greatest. 2)My inhaler, since no one takes a wheezing negotiator seriously.

Afternoon: Meet with Crestejo and give my qualifications. Include how I have done this my whole life and do not be overly reassuring since there is never a 100% guarantee of success in this case.

Action Plan: Confirm that I'm as business-like and analytical as the people who broke in and took Davina. Also confirm that Edward James Olmos is not the right man for the job. Leave out mentioning it's because he's not quite done with Battlestar Galactica yet. Sci-fi geeks don't tend to be taken seriously in the business world.

Van / Dollhouse

Boyd and Topher explain to the new audience how there will always be flaws when and active is programmed. In this case, asthma and poor eyesight. Since the imprints are made by combining the traits of real people, there are always going to be flaws. Even though Topher claims there needs to be a balance in any imprint, I'm not entirely convinced he doesn't do it on purpose, just to see how far he can take things. For instance, he's given Elinor Penn a very nasty past that I don't think was entirely necessary for her to get the job done.

While this discussion occurs, Topher is briefly intrigued by both Sierra running and Dr. Fred doing her job. Yes, yes, we get it, there's something more going on here. The significant glances aren't necessary. This is a Joss Whedon show. There's always something else going on under the surface.

Elinor Penn's Planner Day 1

Evening: Establish a report with the kidnappers. Make it clear that I'm the one in charge by insisting on the formal title of Miss Penn and offering 3 million more than the original ransom demand of 5 million. Also make it clear to both the kidnappers that I know my profession and by rationally explaining why I am handling the transaction and not the devastated father.

Make a mental note of anything odd the kidnapper might say like "You're the school teacher now." Arrange for the kidnappers to call again in 40 minutes (time to calm everyone on my end down) and let Davina talk to her father.

I will probably need to make the time to put on my most officious voice to tell father and his security head to cut the posturing crap and do what I tell them. I have already figured out there are probably four people involved, since that's SOP and I'm hotter than both of them so when I threaten, it will come off as a bit sex-kittenish. Intelligence and sex-kitten behaviour often intimidate men into shutting up.

Ballard's promise to back off was bullshit. Not that we didn't already realize this from the fighting scene, but I think the whole purpose of this scene was simply to make a rubber glove up the ass joke and establish Lubov as and idiot since he talks very loudly about everything. Somehow, I don't think that's a good quality for anyone involved in human trafficking.

Elinor Penn's Planner Day 1

Night: Hang up on the kidnappers when they ask for even more money. While this may seem counter0intuitive because it will certainly piss off everyone from Crestejo to Mr. Sunshine, it demonstrates both my power and my ability to think rationally.

Note to self: Ignore all the threats from the kidnappers. They are professionals and want money. They also don't want to be caught so do not let the victim give away too much information. I want the potential for the reward to outweigh the risk of being caught, otherwise Davina will wind up as fish food.
Day's reflection: Introduction and acceptance when smoothly, considering the stress everyone is under. Make sure in future to use the correct preposition when explaining I'm good "at" people and not "with" people, even though the preposition is really just semantics as the connotation is still the same.

One puzzling moment that was unexplainable occurred when Crestejo implied that I might have been "a clown in a circus" and that my traumatic childhood memory of being abducted and abused might be "all made up." It caused both an asthma attack and an odd memory or what looked to be electrified acupuncture. I will have to sleep on it and reflect on it further once this job is over.

Just in case we need more clarity on Lubov's douchebaggery, as he heads off to the little boys' room, he tells the waitress to bring the "good stuff" to the ladies at his table, until they're pissed enough not to be able to tell the good stuff from boxed wine or moonshine.

Once in a very compromising position, probably a little reminiscent of his earlier story of the immigration officer and the rubber glove, Lubov, all hung out, is offered a deal. If he helps find out the truth about Dollhouse, his bosses, and himself will be safe. Unfortunately, this comes at the price of peeing on his shoes. Okay, Joss Whedon, now that you've done both and ass and a piss joke with Lubov, what body part that 8 year-olds find hilarious, is going to be played with (literally or metaphorically) next?
Elinor Penn's Planner Day 2

Appearance: Similar "naughty librarian" like the day before but make sure to wear a pantsuit, in case running is involved. Wear slightly more practical shoes as, through the magic of television, I will be able to run in heels, if necessary.

Noon: Receive the phone call and the instructions from the kidnappers as arranged the previous day. Do not worry about anyone actually seeing this event as it would just be poor plotting to show something that has to happen and has already been effectively discussed yesterday.

Afternoon: Meet with the kidnappers at the dock and let ignore any lewd comments in my direction. (Note to self: in the future responses like "Please, this isn't your first time," must be rethought, to avoid any potential snarking for poorly done double entendres.)

Have Crestejo give show them the money after we see Davina. Get Davina back and finish the job with a reunited family and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Afterthought: Make an appointment to get my rare type of asthma looked treated by a medical professional. Unfortunately, as I suffer from what is known as TA (Television Asthma), meaning my attacks are brought on only by emotional stress, and seeing my childhood abuser certainly qualifies as emotional stress. Due to my sudden attack of an asthma myth, I am unable to prevent what happened - 3 of the kidnappers getting away via boat with Davina, Crestejo getting shot, and one of the kidnappers being shot by my security while all I do is sit there on the dock and babble about being unable to fight a ghost.

Yes, I didn't mention how Topher and Boyd were on the comms during the last scene, but now I have so it's done. Personally, I want to forget the whole traumatized babbling part of the van scene, so let us just pretend I covered it in great detail. Essentially, Echo pulls out every stereotypical traumatized TV female shtick ever. I am not amused.
Now, I'm not saying it wasn't well performed, but the dialogue was very River Tam-ish and the only important bit of information mentioned we have already figured out: the ghost plans on killing the others and keeping Davina for himself.

The only good thing is that Elinor Penn pulls her out of the past and starts thinking rationally. Putting together the pieces, she realizes what most of us figured out as soon as Davina talked about the mask - she knows one of her kidnappers. Miss Penn believes once she's done her treatment, they will all go back out and find the kid.

Once at the Dollhouse, Echo is escorted inside and Dominic stops Boyd from following her. The shit is reigning down on all sides and everyone's hoping there's enough TP to cover their asses.
Topher's trying to justify that there is nothing wrong with how he amalgamated the various personalities into Miss Penn as everything that happened at the exchange was all Miss Penn's baggage.

In Adele's office, Boyd pleads to give Echo more time, but what I find interesting is not Dominic's irritation at Boyd's demands, or Adele's reversal of her initial decision to let it be, despite Dominic's advice to leave things well enough alone. Boyd's streak of morality, considering where he works, is not also not surprising as he's a former cop. He would want to find the girl and let Miss Penn defeat her inner demons.
The typical character as played by Reed Diamond, doesn't care about anyone but himself is well portrayed, but not unique. Sure, there's the semantics of mission versus engagement, but this is a Joss Whedon show, I would be disappointed if there weren't any verbal semantics.

Nope, what get's me is Adele's initial response to everything. It's the response given by someone who hasn't had enough time to think it over and come up with the correct thing to say in the situation. Her response is, "I can do anything I damn well see fit. Echo botched the engagement."
I think I'm supposed to feel suspense as Boyd runs to Topher's lab, but I never expected her to be wiped clean. It wouldn't be good for a show starting out to kill a 12 year-old so cruelly. Might offend some of the new viewers not used to tragedies like "I'm a leaf on the wind." No, I'm not over it, how can you tell?

The way I see it, Whedon will wait a few episodes before things don't always work out so nicely. For right now, Miss Penn has a plan to recover Davina. She's realized that during the first phone call when the kidnapper made the crack about the school teacher, he wasn't discussing teachers the same way Van Halen does. She's realized that one of Davina's teachers must be the man in the mask. Well, Davina got off lucky. Teacher's in the Whedonverse have ripped off people's heads, and stabbed River Tam in the head (albeit in a dream).

While Miss Penn gets to work out her inner demons, Boyd doesn't as Dominic's in charge of security on this one.
Elinor Penn's Planner Day 2

Suspect: The teacher in question is Jake Shepperd, and his sister has a conveniently isolated home.

Medical Issues: Will have the requisite light bout of TV Asthma, demonstrating how well I am coping with the stress. Do not forget my inhaler.


Just to prove how brave Echo really is, Topher shows Boyd the image of her brain, which is coloured blue, a colour which hear means wanting to shit herself in terror yet holding it together.
Oh, and as for the one personality n questions that defeats all the odds by running into the guy who abused her, she killed herself last year. You'd think Topher might've checked on that before imprinting it into Echo. Oops.
Elinor Penn's Planner Day 2

Action Plan: Go in and confront the kidnappers with their impending death by the ghost. Also make sure to make some snide comment, like me being to old for him, to let the ghost know that I know who and what he is. Give all of them, except the ghost, the opportunity to run while blaming the whole mess on Mr. (dead) Sunshine.
While they shoot it out, pull Davina out of the roped fridge (rationale - I was kept in a fridge and ghost tend to haunt the same places, or make their victims do so).

Note to Self: Whilst my plan worked perfectly, as two of the remaining three kidnappers just wanted money. Luckily, the ones left standing were the people interested in the cash so I was allowed to leave with Davina.

Also, in the future, I will not be working with Lawrence Dominic's security firm. I told him to give me ten minutes, yet he still sends in a trained assassin to kill everyone. Since I achieved my objective, to make a further mess of things is highly unprofessional. I will schedule some time tomorrow to worry about the familiarity of the assassin and why I'm suddenly thinking of electrified acupuncture.

Echo, back in what I'm going to call her Quaker state (after the oatmeal, not the insurance company), heads to the large group shower. Apparently, the Quaker state means they don't even notice the shower is not only for both genders but also that all the people in it are really, really hot.
Up in office, Adele and Dominic can't take a moment to congratulate themselves on cleaning up the situation since the have another problem on their hands, an active called Alpha. I'm going to assume that, with any new project, of the prototype for anything, there were, shall we say, issues. While that's the best I can do at the moment, I leave everyone with the following plea.
Downstairs, the dolls all crawl into their pod beds. It took a few minutes of discussion with my BFF to realize why they get pods, and not something less expensive, like sheets. You see, if the Dollhouse is ever raided, it's much easier to gas everyone than to leave witnesses. I think that's what Adele meant when she said actions didn't always have to have consequences. If there's no one around to tell anyone what was done, there can't be any consequences.
Random Apartment

The scenes of the dolls being put to bed is interspersed with a mysterious person watching a college video yearbook, which features the pre-Echo Caroline. The yearbook I find a little offensive because I have issues with women tossing around offensive terms about sexuality towards other women. I could've done without the crack at the sorority's venereal diseases and being a "snobby-ass pack of hos." Doesn't the media do a good enough job of that? Did this show really feel the need to add to it.

Plus, it makes Caroline look like someone I'd be more than happy to keep out of my life, so who is this mostly naked man in a motel sending a picture of Caroling to Paul Ballard with the notation "Keep Looking?"

We get a pan of the apartment while Caroline lists the most cliched list of dreams, ever (take her place in the world, do everything, blah, blah, blah). Thus, we're left with a whole bunch of questions. Whose apartment is this? Why is he watching this video? Why is he naked? Who is the dead guy on the couch? Who is the dead woman on the floor? Are we supposed to believe that the naked guy will have the influence to keep an investigation going? Most importantly, what relation is he to Caroline? Finally:


  1. Nice work - I was amused that we had to meta on the show's meta. And it's only the first ep!

  2. HAHAHAHA. This is fabulous. It's like all the things I was thinking during the episode but never said out loud.
    You know, I have never understood the girls hating on girls thing. I'm currently in college (and nursing school with a high female population to boot) and all I ever hear is "You whore" and all those other lovely words/phrases thrown around likes terms of endearments. It's just stupid.
    Bravo on the recap!

  3. BFF: Thank you for meta-ing with me on the meta within the meta.

    mrsvc: Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  4. I love how you had exactly the same reactions to this that my roommate and I did! Are you going to recap the second episode? Because it was a lot more awesome than the pilot.

  5. I will be doing the second episode. It should be up by Friday.
    With the announcement of who Alpha is, I'm even more excited!

  6. I like this show very much. Due to exams I have missed some episodes now I have catch all that missed episodes of Dollhouse TV show online.