Monday, April 13, 2009

Percolated Recap: Dollhouse: Needs (Episode 108)

Eliza Dushku's talents showcased: An episode-by-episode breakdown:
Episode 1: Her ability to sound business-like.
Episode 2: Her athleticism.
Episode 3: Her singing voice.
Episode 4: Her ability to wear leather pants while delivering meta-Joss.
Episode 5: Her ability to play a blind person and hit us over the head with religion.
Episode 6: Her ability to remind us of Faith without actually being Faith.
Episode 7: Her ability to look constantly confused.
Episode 8: Her ability sound self-righteous.

I'm going to have to admit something before I start this recap. Despite the massive push Fox gave this episode, this just left me a little, well, cold. Sure it had it's moments Victor and Sierra, but the episodes both preceding and proceeding this one just make this episode one big blah.

Ballard's Apartment

After the previouslies, we begin with Ballard's wet dream. It involves a replay of a couple of weeks ago, with Echo's body being used to send a message, except this time, it doesn't involve ass-kicking. Instead Caroline/Echo and Paul wind up on the couch because he has "a the thing she needs." Sadly, I am not making that quote up and it just gets funnier the more I watch it.

Somehow, I don't think Paul's dream about being caught with Caroline/Echo by Mellie/November is supposed to be that funny, but even when Caroline/Echo suddenly turns into a blue corpse (leaving Paul with something else blue, I'm sure) I actually can't stop giggling over Paul's "thing she needs." Yes, I am 12.
The dream becomes not funny when Mellie starts bleeding from the head, finally making Paul wake with a start.

After Echo, Mike, November, Sierra and Victor awaken, watched from above by Adelle, there's a staff meeting, for which Topher is late, offering some excuse about backing up the primary drives. I think the excuse is supposed to come across as being responsible, but instead it comes off more as a petulant teenager who lies about being late by claiming they were studying.
The Dollhouse is in the middle of security and power upgrades, causing glitches all over the place. This is a big problem considering the actives themselves had a glitchy week last week and no one want November to suddenly wonder what colour the third flower in the vase is. Plus, Dominic warns everyone, the handlers should be treating the dolls as pets, not children.

His reasoning is sound. If children speak or do strange things, most parents justify it by being proud or calling their kid precocious (a word which here means spoiled brat, but when the term precocious is used, it means parents can ignore it). If the handlers see the actives as pets, they'll be more taken aback by strange behaviour because "if your dog does [talk], you freak the hell out." True, that is, unless they asked "can I eat it?" which is what I assume all dogs would say anyway.
What Dominic is most afraid of is another Alpha, which brings us to a moment of retcon. In the general staff meeting, Boyd brings up that Alpha is still out there somewhere, and Dominic agrees. Wasn't this supposed to be a big secret? Didn't Adelle make Topher sign a bunch of security documents swearing to keep the secret of Alpha all hush-hush lest he find important bits in a mini guillotine?

Topher makes some scientific suggestion to help, but since no one in the room understands it, I think he's just bullshitting to make it look like he's helping. He also suggests changing the drugs and subliminal patterns in the sleep pods, but this time Dr. Fred does no to what he is referring and politely says hell no.

Thus, what they're left with is the decision that they have to closely monitor all the actives for any signs of being a talking canine, unless someone has a better idea.

Downstairs, Echo is combing her hair and flashing back to her run in with Paul two episodes ago. Sierra is remembering the "game" she had to play with her handler. As she passes Victor's pod on the way to bed, she sees Victor, watching her, looking as worried as a doll in his respective Quaker State can. His watching makes Sierra smile, and I melt into a big puddle of mushy goo from the sweetness of it all.
Echo dreams, flashing back to a variety of incidents, including her sudden wipe in the vault, the attack of TV asthma, and whatever it is about the mountains that makes her feel safe. When she wakes up in the pod, she's Caroline, not Echo and all she wants to do is get out.

Creepy music box title sequence.

Caroline isn't the only one to suddenly awaken in a "five star floor coffin." Victor, Sierra, November, and Mike are all no longer in their Quaker states, but without any memory of who they are. Essentially, they've reverted to their original selves but without any memory of who that self is. Now there's a philosophical debate that could keep people busy for hours, or just leave me with a headache due to circular logic.

From the little details they do remember, it gives us some serious insights as to who they are or how they wound up in the dollhouse. Sierra insists she's done nothing to deserve this, and has the actress's original accent. Echo remembers the capital of Nebraska. November hyperventilates (and has lost something), clearly having issues dealing with anything difficult. Can we say ostrich? Mike is convinced they've been abducted by aliens, which makes him both quirky and easily expendable as he's not on the X-Files or Fringe. Later, he suggests making shivs out of light covers. Can we say prison? As for Victor, I'm sure there's a certain quota of awesome that the Dollhouse needs to fill every year, and Victor is definitely it. He's rational, logical, recognizes Sierra, protective without being condescending, and is still just plain awesome. This does not change throughout the episode.
The morning routine is starting in the Dollhouse, and as Mike goes off to find out what aliens look like, the rest discover that everyone around them looks like they're happy. Thus, in order to stay unnoticed, they have to act like everyone else, even though they're truly amazed at the set up of the Dollhouse. There's an interesting bit of foreshadowing about potential government involvement, when Victor, who is ex-military, recognizes their names as part of the phonetic alphabet.
With the calm order of the Dollhouse, November theorizes something bad happened to them and the Dollhouse is helping. It says far more about November than it does about a legitimate theory. Plus, she's completely overshadowed by Victor who responds to an insipid brief exchange about banana pancakes "we're all going to die." Hee!

Ballard's Apartment

After what is clearly a long day of anti-spring cleaning, Paul finds his place is bugged. Took you long enough there, buddy.


The insipid banana discussion continues over breakfast, except Mike would rather talk about the Earth's core, epically failing in staying hidden. Unfortunately, it's Echo who is almost exposed (not like that) first because she cut her hand trying to get out of the pod. At first, it took me a while to figure out why they would make the lids for the pods sharp, just in case the actives needed to manually get out, but then I realized it was just a way to keep anyone from getting in, like, say, Alpha.

Random Recapper Musing: Considering how affected Alpha is by Caroline, all I can hope is that the spoilers regarding Alpha are true and he doesn't turn out to be someone lame, like Leo brought back from the dead.

Echo's taken to Dr. Fred and really, I should've figured out what was going on at this point, but, I didn't and I practically banged my head against a wall for not picking up the obvious. Besides Echo's lack of a clam voice, her shock at Dr. Fred's wounds, and Dr. Fred's lack of surprise, and attempt to help Echo, should've been one massive anvil with the words SHE'S IN ON IT, written on the side, complete with capslock. Instead, I missed it entirely, despite it's obviousness, so I just have to humbly apologize.

The trip to the doctor's is interrupted by Mike's discovery because nothing says I'm not happy like shouting "I love banana pancakes!"

The trip to the showers is by far my favourite moment in the whole episode. November has no issues with the co-ed shower. Sierra and Echo are taken aback with Sierra telling Victor not to stare. As for Victor, he starts reciting the starting lineup for the '86 New York Mets to make sure he doesn't stare at Sierra (and fails).
The shower is interrupted by the return of Mike, who is back in his Quaker state and now loves banana pancakes but would never need to shout it, thanks to his treatment.
Upstairs, Dominic reports to Adelle that Echo, Victor, Sierra and Victor are plotting to escape. When she's pleased by this, I was totally suckered into thinking this was the big secret of the episode and yes, considering how obvious it should've been, suckered is the correct word to use.
I think it's the scene after the commercial that drew me in. From the way Adelle and Dominic are talking, this is a test of the Dollhouse's security more than anything. Dominic's afraid that the four will not only get out, but commit armed robbery or something equally as difficult to hide.

Downstairs Victor's tricked one of the handlers into the sauna, where he chokes the man unconscious. I find it hilarious that these people, who were just bloody well told to be on the lookout for things, spend more time mocking the state of the actives when in the dollhouse instead of paying attention to strange behaviour, like sneak attacks.
Victor takes the man's security card, tells two other dolls that the handler is very tired, and heads off in search of Sierra. Using the card, they escape out into a maze of hallways, which are all stark and sterile, instead of the soft colours of the actives' quarters. They leave the card by hiding it in a potted plant for Echo and November.

Speaking of Echo, why she's not with them I don't understand. She spends a lot longer just looking around the actives' quarters, which is a plum way to get caught -- by looking worried in a place of technologically enforced bliss.

Back in the hallway, Victor tries to pass the time with Sierra by asking her about herself. "We don't remember anything, remember?" When deconstructed, that's got to be a verbal version of Schrodinger's cat analogy, if I ever heard one. Can one remember what they do not remember?

Victor admits he can remember the Mets, and Sierra, and I sigh like a girl who actually likes cheesy romantic movies. I'm actually relieved that Sierra never tells him that she clearly does not know him, because of Echo and November's arrival, because I just don't want to see the poor man hurt. His crush is palpable, and his protectiveness, since all he knows about Sierra is that something bad happened to her, is almost swoon worthy in a girlish way I will deny ever feeling later.

The handlers are in some sort of weapons room, where Boyd and some random handler named Sophie, talk about Sophie's active's most recent engagement. It's a set up to make sure some woman gets all she ever wanted in the divorce. Of course, that's assuming that her husband's lawyers don't go through the wife's finances and find the really big honking payment the wife would need to hire the "perfect woman" her husband "just met."

The conversation turns back to the whole pets analogy of earlier, and Boyd tries to defend Echo. Sophie, on the other hand, thinks that sometimes, pets need to be put down.

Sierra pauses for a minute, watching, and something about the guns triggers a memory in Sierra. It's something about men, guns and one man who put her in the Dollhouse. I guess not everyone has a five year term. She's so utterly hopeless, as she stops on the stairs, her only memory of herself being men with guns which just just makes me ship her and Victor even harder. Why? He stops, willing to get caught, to try and talk her through it. He even promises to "get" whoever that man is.

As they try to escape from underground, they find an interesting place in which to hide.
While everyone tries to find something to wear, and Victor discovers some clothes that might possibly belong to a male stripper, yet it has his name on it, a random prop that someone left lying around the wardrobe department, triggers a memory in November. She has a daughter, Katie.

When someone, who I think is a handler, comes in for an outfit, the escaped dolls have plenty of places in which to hide. All the hiding does is give Victor and Sierra another chance to stare longingly at each other while I start wondering if Boyd is the one to pick out Echo's outfits.

The escape is actually quite simple. Even though there's a moment of worry after they leave Fox's Wardrobe department, when Sierra calls the elevator, not knowing whether or not it'll be full of armed handlers, they make it up to the parking garage just fine.

"I can't believe we made it," Sierra says.
It's another one of those moment when I should've picked up on what was really happening, but like any obvious plot development in an otherwise decent show, I'm given too many distractions to spend too long pondering how they managed to escape something which is so heavily guarded.

The first distraction is the arrival of an active and handler returning from some sort of engagement, where the active thinks he's a soldier. There's a cheaper than Blackwater comment to be made here but damned if I can find it.

The second distraction is the focus on memories. Sierra remembers the man who put her in the Dollhouse is named Nolan while November is still thinking about Katie and Echo wants to go to the mountain house, because it's "safe there."

The third distraction is how easily Victor is able to get into the key box and swipe a set for an SUV. I guess the box must be programmed to open for people who are either handlers, or extremely awesome.

The fourth distraction is the arrival of Tango, speaking French extremely poorly. It's something about a car service, I think, but it sounds more like a high school kid reading out of a textbook.

The fifth distraction is Echo. She refuses to leave as she's just realized what the Dollhouse is. Despite the perfectly rational argument that the people inside have guns and are she might say, die, well she's all insistent she can make a difference. I was sort of hoping the entitled activist who thinks everything can only be done by them, who we saw last week, might have been the one personality trait that got left in the chair.
The distractions were so, well, distracting, that even the lack of panic in Dominic's voice about four actives escaping to the outside world, didn't clue me in, which happened between distractions four and five.
So now Buffy, without her Scooby gang, heads back into the Dollhouse alone. The only thing that makes the rest of the Echo alone plotline interesting, since the three, far more interesting actives have taken off, is the guarantee of some serious ass kicking.

At least Echo had the good sense to hit the armory first, where she's promptly confronted by Sophie. Not realizing that Echo isn't as passive as usual, Sophie disregards all obvious signs that she's about to get a beat down, despite signs like Echo's agitation and anger, and holding a really big fire extinguisher while trying to get a gun. You know, obvious signs, sort of like all the clues as to what was really going on that I missed.
Once Sophie is unconscious, Echo takes the time to put a towel under the handler's head, before stealing the woman's keys to rescue Vera from behind bars.
Security Shop

Paul's taken the bugs to a security expert who not only works in a dingy little store, but has the customer service skills of an oozing slug. At first, he tries to blow off Paul's inquiries about the bugs, until Paul tries to make the security dude eat the desk. Only then does the security dude deign to look at what Paul brought in.

"This don't even exist yet," Security dude exclaims.

"Meaning what?" Paul asks.
Essentially, the bug is so sophisticated that believing in God is just about the only way to stop it. Of course, this being a Joss Whedon show means that there is no way to stop it, if a higher power is the only way.


November, Sierra and Victor have be "almost there" for the last twenty minutes. "There" being wherever Nolan is and "almost" being the same unit of time all parents tell their children the second they leave for a long road trip.

The driving around allows November time to look out the window, where she spots a mother and daughter having a moment, which brings back her memory. She remembers her life, and where her daughter is. This results in her wanting to get out of the car right now.

Sierra and Victor wish November luck, but November doesn't look like she's that lucky. Remember, she was the one who first suggested something bad happened to everyone.

As Dominic gets reports of November splitting from Sierra and Victor, the security cameras show Echo leaving Dr. Fred's office. Adelle speaks in that amazed/proud voice she uses whenever she talks about Caroline, still making me think there's a connection there above and beyond doll/master puppeteer.
The amusement ends when the power shuts off, and immediately there's the conclusion that Echo might be behind it. How that's possible, I'm not even sure unless Caroline is some sort of power genius. Somehow, I don't think the plans to the power supply are kept in Dr. Fred's office.

Downstairs, the dolls are all confused because they've never seen the dark before. As for Topher, he's shit out of luck because without any power he's useless and he's afraid of the dark.
I love that Adelle hangs up on Topher after his confession of being afraid of the dark. I would love it more if we didn't have the obvious cliche of seconds after he hangs up, he turns around to see, you guessed it, Echo!

Echo wants an explaination for all this bullshit, but not the technical version. She wants the Coles' Notes version. At first, she doesn't believe Topher can program people, but when she finds out the year, and can't remember how long she's been there, she wants Topher to "show, don't tell" her what exactly it is that he does.

Apparently, Sierra's real name is Priya at least, until there's as reason to retcon it as that's what Nolan calls her when he answers the door. Logically, he's a little surprised to see her, since he paid people a shitload to make her disappear. All of this is because she wouldn't sleep with him and he's proud that he can now have her programmed to be happy to sleep with him, whenever.

Yeah, having to pay people to take away a woman and program her to to sleep with you is definitely a source of pride, or, you know, not.
Nolan enjoys this encounter far more than he should have. He doesn't get cross when Victor punches him. He's just proud that he has an great security system that'll catch the two escaped dolls and is looking forward to getting to sleep with the programmed Priya at some time in the future.
Oh yes, and as for that great security system, the two guards that step out of the elevator move at a snail's pace, allowing Victor and Sierra to turn and run down the fire escape.

Nolan enjoys the escape as he's clearly a sadistic bastard who thinks running away means time for sex. He thinks it'll be better in the future, because of this encounter. I suddenly think being wiped is a preferable option to knowing this guy exists.

Random nitpick: How much time has passed since the series began? (Show time, not real time.) Wasn't it just two episodes ago that Dr. Fred was panicking because Sierra hadn't been sent on any sexual assignments? Didn't this all lead up to the death of the man who did have sex with her? Nolan should take note and TPTB should pay attention to their own continuity.

On the streets somewhere is November. She's walking through a Catholic school yard and the strains of classic TV show instrumental piece "OMG, This Will Be Depressing" can be heard over the voices of the children at play.


Echo is playing sine someone's imprint, and I have a random thought about fingerprints on imprints. Would it be like handling a DVD, only to wind up ruining it? Would chunks of the personality be missing afterward?
Topher tries to justify what he does by saying he gives people what they need. Who knew Topher would win for the most symbolic line of the episode?

Echo compares it to murder and asks about who she was before. Making a perfectly valid argument, Topher points out that obvoiusly the Caroline personality of Echo isn't dead because she's pointing a gun at him. Also, he thinks she volunteered. Yeah, I'm often volunteered like that for stuff at work and we call it voluntold.

Oh yeah, and they actives get paid for it.

Echo confirms that the mountain thing that's been mentioned, repeatedly, the mountain where she feels safe. In exchange for Topher feeling safe, he's more than willing to give Echo back all her memories. She readily agrees but with one stipulation: Topher has to try it first.

Victor and Sierra are chased down the stairs by the armed security guards, who finally figured out they're supposed to run after the security threats. I groan at the parallelism. To feel free, Sierra and Victor had to get upstairs in the Dollhouse, to the parking garage. Now to be safe, they've got to run back downstairs, to another parking garage. I wonder what's going to become of them down there? Like I can't already tell, but in this case, their journey is far more interesting than their destination.

On a side note safety versus freedom is something Echo needs to understand doesn't always come as box set.


Now that Sierra and Victor are hiding in the utility room, we switch back to Echo, who has Topher comfortably seated in the chair. Well, if by comfortable one means pissing himself in fear. He knows that if she attempts to imprint over his fully-functioning brain, his brain will implode and that would be really, really messy.

She offers him a deal -- let the rest of the dolls go but Topher doesn't have that kind of power so he can't do that.

"I can," Adelle interjects. Finally, you'd think annoying immature geniuses with a specialty in human brain function were a dime a dozen considering how long Adelle left Topher in danger. Plus, it's the expensive equipment that's suffering the most, as Echo keeps shooting at it.

As Adelle reminds Echo/Caroline that she did agree to become a doll in exchange for not having to remember whatever probably rash action gone wrong (as last week's flashback is clearly not the end of the story), the doll without her memory doesn't know what to do next. Instead of thinking or listening, to what is being said, Echo instead insists that everyone be let go.

Adelle is correct in arguing that Echo has no right to choose for the others, since that's exactly what Echo is doing by threatening everyone until the dolls are released. It would hold more weight if there wasn't that question about how Sierra became an active, but in Caroline/Echo's case, it's valid. Now, if Sierra was the one holding the gun, this scene would have a whole different vibe. For instance, I'd care what happens.

Imagine how awesome the Sierra and Victor versus Adelle standoff would be.
Adelle insists that she won't inflict the actives with the memories that brought them there in the first place.

Please note: The following are intermixed in the editing, but, honestly, it's easier to separate the story threads.

Activacation: November

Case in point: November's "something bad" that happened to her is the death of her daughter, Katie. The whole walking by the school thing was a red herring. Katie is in the graveyard. She falls asleep, slumped over her daughter's obviously a prop of a tombstone.
Soon thereafter, some handlers, or security, or random dudes in suits, come to collect her.

While it's sad and all, I wonder why tragic little kids on TV shows are always named Katie, or Timmy, or Jamie or something rather cutesy. All the adults get cool names and it's not like the majority of people change their names as they get older, unless they're planning on being a stripper or the real name is already registered with some entertainment union.

Activacation: Sierra & Victor

Back in the utility room, Victor and Sierra are waiting out their hunters. Sierra apologizes for getting him into this mess, but Victor, who has the faint memory of Sierra and how he cold do nothing to help her when her handler was abusing her, felt compelled to help her this time.

This triggers another memory in Sierra, that of Victor, waiting up at night, and making sure she's safely asleep in her pod. Thus, she's got a conundrum. If they go back, she'll be sure he'll be there. If they don't, they may be killed. Either want, these two are screwed and not in the good way either.

Victor, who had nothing to run to, only the desire to stay with Sierra, is certain that they'll still remember one another. He'll continue to look for her.

Usually, when a couple kisses in this type of situation, I usually want to vomit. This time, I actually sighed. I'm either turning into a sappy romantic, or something else is negating the potential sappiness.
After their kiss, they fall asleep, huddled together and as some handlers come to pick them up, I'm terribly sad their going to be wiped of all this shortly.


Once we get away from the other dolls, my interest level goes down vastly. Echo is still insisting that things must be her way. She's not paying attention to Adelle's comments that the dolls, as they are, cannot handle the outside world. Echo is not listening that her plan, though in the it's most basic elements, is moral, is not practical or safe for anyone else involved. In fact, the only one who'll fell better, at that moment with the dolls in their Quaker state, is Echo.

Sure, Echo tries to claim that the dolls, as they are, will be fine. She also dismisses Adelle by saying, "your unbearable truth, lady, you're not as important as you think you are."
I groan at the lack of logic here. Does Echo really think that people who think stimulating conversation revolves around banana pancakes, are going to survive in the outside world? Really?

Thus, we get a music montage of the active being led out through the parking garage and into the sun. They're led by Dr. Fred and Adelle and Echo, the latter with a gun pointed to Adelle's back.
Halfway up the ramp to Echo's freedom, and certainly no one else's, she collapses, just like November, Sierra and Victor. Once Echo is unconscious, the handlers make their way down the ramp, herding the dolls back into their Dollhouse.


Hey, there was a purpose of Dr. Fred being in this episode as we flashback to the meeting that started this whole journey. Dr. Fred didn't want to just "pile up the sandbags;" she wanted to fulfill the needs of the active. Let those who have "open loops" and are "priority cases" do whatever they needed to do, until they feel closure.


Boyd is used as the vessel to explain the plan. Since November's grief over her daughter is understandable, to both him and the audience, it's the rest of them, and the journey they were allowed to make, that needs some exposition, and fast.

First and foremost, when the actives felt closure, their brain would release a sedative, knocking them out. Since this is television and not the real world where closure is a much more difficult thing to come by, instead of the day it took the four dolls, obviously they all did what they needed to do.

Sierra needed to confront the man who put her there. Echo needed to free everyone. As for Victor, Dr. Fred justifies that he was in love. I say that only part of the truth. The whole truth includes a level of awesome previously only exhibited by Captain Awesome.

Boyd gets a little too self righteous for my tastes, as he's proud of Echo for leading them out, but judges Dr. Fred for protecting the Quaker states from the outside world.
The episode ends with all Echo, Mike, November, Sierra, and Victor, calmly going to bed. None of them have the look of serenity we're used to. I'm even a bit sad when Victor and Sierra don't look for each other. I may have known it was coming, but it doesn't mean I have to like this 'ship being wiped from their brains.
Ballard's Apartment

After debugging his phone from whatever surveillance was put in it, Paul has a new message, from Caroline. She knows they've met and she provides another clue for him -- the dollhouse is underground. In truth, it's a weird coda to this episode all about closure, unless, we're being told the symbolically obvious.


  1. Just seen this episode, and my big 'hang on a moment' was that Sierra should have collapsed into sleep after confronting the chap who put her in there, rather than waiting until Victor kissed her. I love Victor. He is awesome. Lovely arms too. You didn't mention his arms nearly enough.

    Also, what is it with you and Grey Poupon? It cropped up in the Torchwood recap I've just read, also involving a car, and I am thinking that this is something I would have to be Canadian (or at least from that side of the Atlantic) to get? I discovered that it is a mustard, but beyond that...

    I love your recaps, thank you.

  2. @Bookwormsarah: The Grey Poupon thing is a famous advert about people randomly driving by each other, asking for this particular brand of mustard. It's random, but it's still spoof-worthy.