I still love Dollhouse dearly, so I'm sad to report that this Hulu ad felt like the best part of last night's episode. But there was still some mindwiped goodness to be had. Spoilers below!
Not that there was anything particularly wrong with last night's episode of mindslaves-for-hire show Dollhouse, of course. It was a fairly solid hour of television... I'm not sure that I would have watched it if it hadn't had a science fiction framework. And that Hulu ad, despite one or two clunky notes (the whole "like your schoolteacher said" line) is fun, high-energy and science fictional. And Eliza had an alien brain-eating tongue! It made me happy for 30 seconds.
But since the plot of last night's Dollhouse wasn't that Eliza was a brain-eating alien, I suppose I should cover what actually happened. There's a pop star who's sort of a crazy diva, and her crazy stalker fan is trying to kill her. Oh noes! So Eliza gets programmed to be a background singer, who befriends Miss Thang, but also Eliza has an underlying program to protect Rihanna at all costs. (I'm at WonderCon writing this and don't have time to look up the singer's actual name. Sorry.) But over the course of the episode, Echo realizes that the singer wants to die. She's been communicating with her crazy fan, and she's asked him to kill her on stage so she can go out in a blaze of glory. Echo creatively reinterprets her mission parameter, and makes the mission to protect the singer from herself, by confronting her with the actual prospect of death.
Like I said, there's nothing wrong with any of that, and the episode also threw in a parallel between the singer and Echo - they're both just who they're programmed to be, they're not real people, they're just acting out people's expectations of them, etc. etc. - without me feeling poked in the eye by the message stick.
It's a good idea, on paper, and the execution was pretty good too. People who've complained about the lack of zingy Whedonesque dialogue in the first couple of episodes should have been happy with some of the lines last night. Topher got in a few good ones, and so did the singer's prissy Brit manager. And Adelle DeWitt was on high form, being totally smarmy and "professional" even as she casually tells the prissy Brit manager that he can have "the twins" in a couple of days. (It's the closest to a pimp we've seen her being.)
It was all perfectly good, except that I found myself agreeing with Beyonce and her stalker fan - I totally wanted her to die. It wasn't anything about the actor playing her, who was a perfectly good actor, I just found the whole "screaming diva" thing really overplayed and boring, and I think episodes about pop stars are a hard sell for me. And if I had to hear that song about freedom from history one more time, I was going to take the sky away from Joss Whedon.
Every show has an off episode, and it's no big deal. Even a show that's struggling to establish itself, like Dollhouse, can have one or two lukewarm installments here and there. And I haven't seen the ratings yet - maybe the Britney storyline actually brought in those viewers who watch the Pussycat Dolls. That may have been idea, but I doubt Fox marketed this episode aggressively to those people. I had a feeling this wasn't going to be the show's best episode, when it wasn't among the three episodes the studio sent us beforehand.
The good news is, we got a lot of interesting nuggets of Dollhouse mythos last night. Like, the non-pussycat dolls are given a personality, and then a mission parameter, which is separate. That makes all kind of sense. We got more hints that Echo is exceeding her mission parameters, and thinking creatively instead of just doing what Topher the squinty nerd tells her to do. This is good, but also bad, because it draws too much attention. And part of the reason why Echo exceeded her parameters is because she recognized her fellow "doll," Sierra, as the kidnapped fan, and that wasn't supposed to happen. I especially liked the little head-shake Echo gives Sierra at the end of the episode, when they're about to have a real interaction in front of prying eyes. And finally, there's a place called "The Attic" where malfunctioning dolls go, and it's not a happy place. Oooh.
Oh, and I'm totally a Boyd/Claire shipper now.
Meanwhile, in the episode's "B" plot, Tahmoh Penikett blunders around some more and finally stumbles on a lead. Unfortunately, it's a lead bullet, in his stomach. That scene where he takes out four armed guys was pretty great, actually. And we finally learn - I think - that Tahmoh's source, Lubov, is actually a "doll" named Victor, and the Dollhouse is totally playing Tahmoh. Let's hope that blows up in the Dollhouse's face. (I have a dim recollection that the Tahmoh/Victor subplot moved a lot faster in the show's original pilot, and the Victor-leads-Tahmoh-into-a-trap thing happened right in the pilot, and it led to Tahmoh meeting Echo. But I could be on crack.)
There was definitely plenty to keep me interested last night, even besides the Hulu ad. I think the show is doing a pretty great job of rolling out mythology elements while giving us standalone episodes. It's just that in this case, the actual standalone episode was sort of meh. It happens. What did you think?