Dollhouse: Crazy Cults and Man Reactions

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Note: Dollhouse originally aired in the US in 2009, and is currently (finally) being shown on Australian free-to-air TV.

This episode is a complete mixed bag, with some really great moments and some rather lame ones. Unfortunately, the lame moments usually happen during the main story arc of this episode, which follows another of Echo's missions of the week. Joy.

When a member of what Adelle calls a "fanatical religious cult" in some small town in Arizona leaves a note behind at a store with the words "save me" scribbled on it, a local senator asks for Adelle's help. Clearly, while politicians know of the existence of the Dollhouse, they are helping keep it a secret from law-enforcement authorities. Helping with this means that an Active will have to work with a federal agency, which could become very dangerous for the whole Dollhouse.

So, which Active does Adelle sign up? That's right, Echo. Great choice, considering she knows that Ballard is interested in Echo, via sleeper Active Mellie. I'm beginning to think that Adelle wants the Dollhouse cover-up exposed. Hell, even Lawrence doesn't like it -- but I'm beginning to wonder whether he likes anything besides guns, lame threats and pushing around twitchy scientists. Thing is, Lawrence doesn't like how "adaptable" Echo is, because, really, all Actives should be predictable. He points out Alpha as an unpredictable Active gone wrong. Really wrong.

Anyway, the point of getting an Active to go in, rather than just any ol' undercover federal agent or cop, is because they need someone who is a "true believer"; someone who will convince the leader of this fanatical cult. So they imprint Echo as someone who is blind, had a vision of the leader of the cult and has been making her way to the cult since this vision of hers.

Dr Saunders isn't thrilled with what Topher has come up with: a type of brain camera, which will make Echo blind, but will allow them to see exactly what she should be seeing. Interesting tech, but it's very risky, and Saunders doesn't want to do it, as it's basically brain surgery.

Also, how can we all not love Topher? Especially after this:

Dr Saunders: It's possible ... one good sneeze could bring on a seizure.

Topher: Or even worse, a sneizure.

Adelle, the British bullhead, ignores Lawrence (her security chief) and Dr Saunders (the doctor who takes care of all the Actives). Great management skills! Only Topher seems to be excited about this plan, and that's likely because he's a mad neuroscientist.

On to the mission of the week!

The federal agency involved is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The ATF briefs us that the leader of the cult, Jonas Sparrow, was in and out of prison before getting involved with a bigger cult. He splintered off from that and set up in Arizona with a bunch of followers. The message left by the cult member has given them a warrant, which can only be exercised over the next 48 hours.

Boyd is introduced as a private contractor. He explains that Echo will infiltrate the cult group. Boyd drives her to the compound, and, luckily, she gets accepted by the group, though the leader is still sceptical of her so-called "vision". He doesn't believe that she is actually blind.

While there, Echo gets put into a darkened room, with Jonas pointing a torch in Echo's eye and interrogating her to see whether she is actually working for a federal agency. The ATF, looking at the streaming video coming in from her eye-camera implant, see that Echo and Jonas are sitting in a room full of guns and ammunition. Jonas points a gun right in Echo's face. She doesn't even flinch, so he's relatively convinced.

Boyd wants to extract Echo, but ATF doesn't want to jeopardise the operation. Boyd realises that the guy in charge of the ATF operation, Agent Lilly -- lame name, by the way -- knows Jonas. Lilly reveals that he had Jonas locked up years ago, but the judge released him. Boyd requests Lawrence for a forced extraction of Echo, as her imprint hasn't prepared her for the ATF storming the place. Lawrence declines. He's probably hopeful she'll get killed.

Anyway, an ATF agent trips a wire that alerts Jonas to them. Jonas and his most loyal minion, Seth, grab a pair of guns each. In anger, Jonas slaps Echo very hard, thinking that she is somehow involved. The hit damages the camera, and suddenly Echo can see. Everyone thinks it's a miracle. He explains that the men outside are here to destroy them. Indeed, it's all very appropriately biblical.

Because of the camera damage, the ATF loses the camera feed. Boyd has no way of communicating with Echo, and Agent Lilly doesn't want Boyd to have anything else to do with the operation. And, oh goody, pesky news crews turn up! Boyd does some detective-ing, and realises that Agent Lilly actually planted the note, just to get the warrant. Side note: Boyd is pretty kick ass.

Jonas gets everyone into the church, and tries to burn them alive. Crazy Jonas thinks that the righteous will be saved. Crap, crap and more crazy crap. Why is Echo always lumped in with the crazy? Echo realises that they are going to die, and wants to stop Jonas. He hits her. Again. This time, she hits him across the head and knocks him out. She convinces the others to leave, to save themselves. As the others get out, Jonas wakes up and cocks his gun, ready to shoot Echo.

And then Lawrence shows up! He shoots Jonas dead, saving Echo. No. Wait. He then knocks Echo out, leaving her in the burning church to die. I don't get why he didn't just let Jonas shoot her? Because then, of course, Boyd swoops in to save the day! He sure is earning his pay cheque.

Back in the Dollhouse, while in the shower, Victor and Sierra talk. While watching her, Victor has *ahem* as Topher puts it, a "man reaction". Topher accidently notices, and Saunders thinks it's because he's been repeatedly imprinted with the same personality for romantic assignments with Ms. Lonely Hearts. They go over the last few weeks of surveillance to see how many times it's happened. Topher is thoroughly embarrassed. His reaction is hilarious, considering how confident and slightly demeaning he usually is with Saunders. What they discover is that it's not residue from Victor's imprinting; it's just Victor being affected by Sierra. Adelle wants him to be "scrubbed" and monitored.

Meanwhile, Paul Ballard is trying to get Loomis, his FBI friend, to run a face-scan search from Caroline's/Echo's picture. (Paul already tried, but she has a higher clearance for more databases.) Reluctantly, she agrees. Mellie comes down to the FBI office to drop off his pain medication, some pie and an envelope, and it's clear that it's from the same man who sent the picture of Caroline/Echo: Alpha. It's the video tape of Echo at college that we saw in the first episode. Poor Mellie, she feels utterly insignificant in the face of Paul's enthusiasm over Caroline and his Dollhouse case.

Later, watching the news about the ATF surrounding the cult compound, he spots Caroline/Echo amongst the other cult members. When he gets to the compound in Arizona, though, it's too late. He was so close! Poor Ballard. He'll get there ... one day. Perhaps Boyd can give Ballard a few detective-ing tips.

Lawrence whinges to Adelle some more about the possible threat that Echo could become. After Echo has been wiped, Dr Saunders asks whether she can see. This leads to one of the lamest moments on Dollhouse so far: looking over the Dollhouse and the Actives, her eyes finally land on Lawrence. She says, in all her soap-opera-like glory, "I see perfectly." Sure, she's been knocked about quite a bit since the beginning of the series, but surely that isn't any excuse for such a delivery! Not quite a formidable cliffhanger.

This isn't one of my favourite episodes, and is a bit of a let-down from the last episode. Alpha -- you know, the interesting story arc -- was only mentioned, and the episode ends with more evidence of Echo becoming self-aware. OK, we get it. It's like they're still setting up the story, which is OK at episode five, but it's high time for a real shake-up!

Questions:

... Who else thinks that Alpha is sitting around eating popcorn, watching the Dollhouse constantly mess up?

... Will Paul Ballard ever find Caroline/Echo?

... When will Paul realise that Mellie isn't just awkward, but also an Active?

... Will Boyd ever punch Lawrence?

Dollhouse airs Mondays, 10pm AEST on Channel 11.

Read our recaps of episode four, episode three, episode two and episode one.

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