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April 03 2009

(SPOILER) IGN reviews the Dollhouse episode "Needs". Giving it an 8.4 and saying "this is a very compelling episode – one I liked even more than "Man on the Street", thanks to the stronger characterizations".

They aren't wrong, IMHO, that it's even better than MotS.
Stronger than Man on the Street? And they only give it a 8.4? Madness.
Well, it's consistent with their previous scores, but I would definitely have scored MotS higher than they did.
I loved Echoes... I feel such an outcast (crybaby...)
I loved Echoes as well. So we can be outcasts together.
You're not alone, Darkness (edit: and badwolf). I really liked "Echoes" too.

[ edited by Angel TheVampire on 2009-04-03 10:47 ]
I've pretty much liked all the episodes besides "Stage Fright." I think my faves are "The Target," "True Believer," and of course, "Man on the Street." I think "Echoes" might be an episode that's more fun for me to re-watch somewhere down the line.

I'm really, really looking forward to tomorrow's episode :-D

[ edited by ShanshuBugaboo on 2009-04-03 10:59 ]
I like that such praise is being given to an episode that's not penned by one of the 'big names' on the staff. Hopefully another big name in the making.
I also liked Echoes. I think the big problem for people that didn't like Echoes was mostly that they weren't invested in the characters. So most of the people that don't have that problem enjoyed it just fine.
I also liked "Echoes." I've enjoyed the entire series. My least favorite in "Stage Fright," but even that had its redeeming value.
Dollverse hasn't covered "Echoes" at all. And that's no surprise - hated it.
Yep, add me to the chorus of liking 'Echoes'. But, then again, I felt that 'Stage Fright' wasn't all that bad, despite what everyone's saying. It was the first engagement I enjoyed as a seperate thing from all the arcy stuff, even though it dropped the ball on one or two occassions. Also: it had the head-shake!

For me the fan-favorite 'The Target' was the weakest of the bunch. The Boyd/Echo stuff was great, but the hunting-the-IotW-stuff felt padded and was completely unengaging. It's the episode where I felt the longer running time jarred the most and the only one that was outright boring in places.

And yeah, looking forward to "Needs" now. Who's the writer again? (I'd try looking it up, but I'm staying away from actually clicking on links that could contain spoilers this close to the episode).
I really disliked 'Stage Fright' for some of the downright cringe-worthy dialogue. About 50% of all the things that are supposed to be subtly implied in pretext were stated in a stupid literal way. This was mostly done by the pop star, don't even remember her name.
"Needs" was written by Tracy Bellomo, I think. That's a new one to the Whedonverse.

ETA: As a writer, that is. She was Jeffry Bell's assistant on S5 of Angel, I think.

[ edited by wiesengrund on 2009-04-03 13:26 ]
I also did not enjoy 'Echoes' all that much. I did not mind all the goofy character stuff, but I just don't find Caroline to be an interesting character.
I'm not big on Caroline either, but I still liked Echoes. Also, disliking Caroline adds the question of "Well, do we really WANT her to regain her personality?"
Even if you don't particularly like someone, I think you have to feel (well, you don't HAVE to, but...) like they deserve to escape their extremely messed up situation (perhaps learning things that make them more likeable in the process). I enjoyed Stage Fright and Echoes both, though I understand why people didn't dig them. Well, some of the reasons, -I don't get wishing ill on a pop star for being a pop star- like that Stage Fright took a lot of shortcuts to get things done in one ep and felt rushed and a little unlikely because of it and Echoes seemed a little out of place, particularly after Man on the Street, hilarious though it was.
I guess I should add that I was (mostly) joking. I probably should have had a winking smiley at the end or something. I certainly want her to become a free person again, though I wouldn't complain too much if that person turned out to not actually be Caroline. ;P
Dig - we are never the person at the end of the journey that we were at the beginning, so I suspect she won't be the same Caroline even if she is the same Caroline.
While l like Mr Goldmans' synopsis and his overall rating of tonights' show l totally disagree with his opinion on last weeks' episode He must have nodded off or his doesn't understand the concept of comedy nuff said
Good point. Well put zeitgeist.
I loved Echoes. Personally, I'd argue that going with an episode more traditionally expected to be later in a series so quickly is part of why. The series wants to push your buttons and your limits in the swirl of identity questions. Identity questions yield identification questions.

So why not put (to use, I think, gossi's opinion of timing) a "third season" episode smack in the middle of season one, and let the chips fall where they may from viewer to viewer?

Brilliant, if you ask me, which you didn't, but this is my comment. ;)
You could argue why not have a musical episode of Dollhouse as episode 2, and The Body as episode 5. 'cos it's too soon for people to care. There's a moment in Echoes where you have Sierra flashing back to being raped by her handler in her child-like state, which is moments before Laurence starts stroking his suit saying 'Kittens!'. It's totally unbalanced, not an exploration of anything important, and mostly didn't work. I did like the dialogue between Caroline's friends, though - well writ exposition.
It's totally unbalanced, not an exploration of anything important, and mostly didn't work.


For you it may not have, but for me, that juxtaposition made it work better. The entangling of the innocent states and being brutalized, the amazing and badass abilities and strengths that can be downloaded into them and the vulnerability when in the wiped states... definitely good stuff from where I was sitting. Saying it wasn't an exploration of anything important, well, I can barely believe you aren't having us on.
It made Sierra's moment worse, really, when the narrative didn't pause and focus on her for more than the moment it took to show us what she was remembering. It made it a bit more real, to me.
It's all down to individual point of view, of course. I suspect most people were busy laughing at the kittens line to think about the child sex abuse going on.

Joss said something interesting about Dollhouse a few weeks ago. He thought they shouldn't have child Actives, as that's a line not to cross. Well, you know - let me just present the whole show.
I don't think he ever said it wasn't a premise to evoke. He said they shouldn't have actual literal children. Somehow, I suspect Joss isn't stupid enough to not realize that having protagonists in a child-like "blank slate" would evoke the discussion.
I had the opposite experience-- I was busy focusing on Sierra and Victor's flashbacks and barely noticed the kittens line.

They have child-like traits so yeah, what happened to Sierra is even more disturbing because it's got the elements of child rape in it, but it'd be a whole other thing if she was actually a child. Not in terms of harm to her within the story, but in terms of how the audience handles seeing it.
That's exactly my point, Sunfire. b!X, my point isn't that Joss is dumb and doesn't realise. It's that themes are being used (heavily) which are not commented on or really explored. I find that wildly offensive. They've got 13 episodes to have talked about the things they're doing, and if they fail to have done that within the 13, it failed for me as it was just a bunch of noise.
Personally, I'd argue that going with an episode more traditionally expected to be later in a series so quickly is part of why. The series wants to push your buttons and your limits in the swirl of identity questions. Identity questions yield identification questions.

Very astute, bix.

Not only is this show in parts a reflection of actors (one of many), but it could also be seen as a reflection on shows themselves. To take the standard idea of a comedy/drama/procedural trope and subvert it in a sense to tell the story a different way.

"Echoes" had very strong elements of comedy in it, but that was laughter mixed with some very horrific moments for our characters (Sierra's rape vs. kitten). Not only does this show make you uncomfortable enjoying the characters, but it seems to also make you uncomfortable in viewing the show. I'm all for that.
my point isn't that Joss is dumb and doesn't realise. It's that themes are being used (heavily) which are not commented on or really explored. I find that wildly offensive.

I see the child abuse aspect as a secondary thing. A consequence of taking away an adult personality-- it makes them as vulnerable as children, and it makes the staff supervising them as responsible (and potentially criminally irresponsible) as people who care for children. But it's simply the logical consequence and a problem related to the main ones they're exploring. It's like when Tara's family shows up and it's all about the Wicca otherness even though you can see GAY GAY GAY in every line and look her family shoots her way. The story's about keeping the magically powerful woman down by telling her she's evil, and not the real-world everyday experience of telling the gay woman she's evil for being gay. And the writers stuck to that as the main text even though I think many of us viewers wished otherwise. It was a disappointing opportunity lost from where I'm sitting, but I can also see how the writers maybe wanted to keep it as metaphorical/magical as possible and chose not to make it literal. I'm not sure it was right, we'll never know if the alternative would have been a better episode, but I think the choice they made works, too. Maybe better from places other than the one where I'm sitting, since it lets the audience interpret the other underlying stuff that's all hinted at, like choosing to go to college rather than stay at home and take care of dad, being unlike your family and leaving them, being made to feel ungrateful and ashamed for having your own life apart, and being gay. It all hangs on the main idea even though the main idea's the the one that gets played out in the episode.

I don't think it's that they're ignoring the child abuse aspect as much as it is that they're letting us see it without explicitly stating it. It seems to be one of those secondary things that they let hang on the main idea without saying it too openly.
I would presume that there will be a conclusion to the commentary on the line "actions have consequences...but what if they didn't" aspect of the show.

There's always been payback in the past in the Whedonverse, can't think that there's not going to be now, but we'll see.

Regarding the blank-state and child abuse issue, I don't see them as children, so I don't make the leap. But what it actually is to me is vulnerability of "people" being exploited.

I'm really looking forward to this episode, the trailer looks ace and I'm already emotionally invovled, say bring it on :).
I agree that Echoes did not work, in large part because it's impossible to challenge our assumptions about identity effectively when the audience has problems identifying with any of the characters to begin with. If we don't start with a strong sense of the characters, then any "challenge" to our assumptions about who they are is not going to be very interesting. It's all just a bunch of people we don't know very well behaving strangely, which doesn't do much for me and is sometimes just annoying. Also, I agree with the reviewer that it was unfortunate that Echoes had to follow the excellent MOTS episode, as the latter might otherwise have generated a lot of forward momentum in the story.
the audience has problems identifying with any of the characters to begin with

I identify with them as human beings apparently under duress. I don't need to know what the entirety of their past lives were like. YMMV.
They're portraying them as children - they refer to it as a child like state, they have the imagery of them painting etc. And painting badly drawn pictures in front of houses with parents outside. So ya know.

"Family" works (on that level) because it's clearly about being gay, and it clearly explores it. You have a whole episode which is pretty thoughtful carefully dealing with it. The Dollhouse version would be Tara with half her clothes missing riding around the dinner table on a motorbike whilst her dad punches her, then Giles punching her dad, then somebody raping Willow. To put it as an extreme. That's how Dollhouse often comes across to me. Not as musing, or delving into things, but funny exploitation. You know the thing that's funny about human trafficking, child abuse and rape? Nothing. They're huge issues which society glosses over, so it's a shame DH usually ignores it too.
It's that themes are being used (heavily) which are not commented on or really explored.


I disagree that they aren't being explored at all - could it end up that they are not explored to our satisfaction? Yep, but some are being explored literally and some metaphorically and there are still eps to go before we find out for sure. In any case, I find it disturbing enough that the innocent and vulnerable are being abused. If they were literally children, I'm not sure it would make it worse for me than it is now.

I can't even begin to tell you how much I disagree with your second paragraph. Buffy dealt with things through metaphor, Dollhouse is trying to deal with them more head on, so your second paragraph where you seem to simultaneously accuse it of hyper violent realism and then decry its lack of directly confronting things seems a bit schizophrenic to me (maybe more so than DH :)). I realize you were going for hyperbole, and you DID achieve it, but I won't let that stop me ;). Dana5140 is always telling me "sod authorial intent", so blame him! :D

[ edited by zeitgeist on 2009-04-03 20:07 ]
"Family" works (on that level) because it's clearly about being gay, and it clearly explores it.

Not explicitly. The child state comments have been far more explicit than "Family" was about Tara's gayness having anything to do with her family issues. It's never even mentioned. They clearly want her to come home and conform, they clearly condemn her choices, but if you watched that episode and didn't know she was gay, you could think she was best friends with Willow. Intense friends, but still. It isn't even Willow who claims Tara as family, it's Buffy.

I do agree with you that Dollhouse is suffering an oddness of tone. I like Man On the Street a lot more partially because it got really scary and stayed there. The Dollhouse is really scary in that episode. Adelle's very scary in her effectiveness. Sierra's handler is beyond creepy/awful. Even Boyd's detective logic is kind of chilling.

[ edited by Sunfire on 2009-04-03 20:04 ]
Wow, I think it would be way, way worse if they were actual children. Definitely on board with Joss about that not being a good line to cross.
Sunfire, my ick doesn't come from the need for Boyd to say "That's child abuse!". It comes from the need for Boyd to say something about what happened (and what is happening). "Family" worked for me in that respect. There's nothing wrong with talking around a subject - as long as you talk about it.

I'll give them some credit. Tonight's episode finally confronts the notion of being held captive, and being a slave. Human trafficking. I don't mind the Actives being child-like, by the way. I mind the fact Joss wouldn't want children in there as it's a moral line he wouldn't want to touch. The show already has, and he knows it.

[ edited by gossi on 2009-04-03 20:14 ]
If it were literally children, I think it would get in the way of what he's really trying to explore here. I actually prefer that he deal with it on the level of innocence/betrayal of trust, etc. rather than lose all of that to the emotional lightning rod of literal child abuse. And it seems Joss doesn't want to go there as he feels that even portraying it to explore and expose it (the it being child abuse) is a place he doesn't want to go. Fair enough.

Like I said, there is still time for them to talk around and talk about the things that we want to see dealt with.

[ edited by zeitgeist on 2009-04-03 20:21 ]
Am I the only one that sees a huge moral distinction between adult dolls and dolls who are literally little kids? At least the adults can offer up some kind of informed consent at the outset. And if adults are completely "innocent" in their doll state it is only because they've had their guilt wiped away along with everything else. An actual child starts out innocent before even entering the DH.

As a narrative choice, moreover, if Dolls were little kids, we'd completely lose any ability to sympathize with the DH staff. It's hard enough to identify with them as it is, but to turn them all into aiders and abettors of child molestation would, I think, be a narrative disaster.
There is absolutely a moral distinction and I don't think anyone is arguing that. What I am arguing is that its already pegging the ick-meter, so for me I'm not sure it would be quantitatively worse. Also, I don't want to see it literally children because that inevitably gets people all caught up in the fact that they are children and people start to lose any perspective other than "they're children!". Its related to why the "we need to do this for the children" excuse is a card so commonly pulled when discussing new laws. And, obviously if they were literally children we would lose any ability to sympathize with the staff, so as you say its a disaster, and in more ways than you delineate :).
I'm imagining a Disney version, morally squeaky-clean, where a kid takes matters into his own hands and programs himself with secret agent skillz to go save his parents from bumbling evil spies. Secret Agent Victor! He's only 8, but he's fluent in Russian and jujitsu because all spies are Russian and jujitsu's really cool.

That's all I got. Otherwise, oh hell no.
Yes, its Spy Kids/Dollhouse crossover fic brought to you by Sunfire, sponsored by Whedonesque ;).
It was the only warm fuzzy Disney/Dollhouse thing I could think of. The idea of kid Dolls is really creeping me out.

I'm still not sure what I make of what gossi's saying. Mostly I think I'm confused. Another reason to move to the shallow end.
No network would permit a show involving children in the extended active position, because no network show involving child abuse of any kind would be allowed to have any other plot than child abuser suspected, apprehended, and promptly reviled and punished (or ironically unpunished, or long dead.)

A child abuse explanation for a mystery has become such a popular surprise-reveal on network tv of late that you can see it coming a mile away. But it doesn't vary much...presumably for the real fear of triggering the audience ick factor. Any actual attempt to deal with further ramifications in this venue would almost have to be metaphorical.

There is something to be gained from dealing with issues in this way...often the metaphorical story turns out to apply to more than just the one situation that a "straightforward" approach to an issue would address, and to have deeper resonance. As, for example, "Family" is not only about being gay.

[ edited by toast on 2009-04-03 21:26 ]
It's all just a bunch of people we don't know very well behaving strangely, which doesn't do much for me and is sometimes just annoying.

Just because we don't know these people (or may not even like them, as some tend to be with Caroline), does that mean that they don't deserve our sympathy? Is it better to separate yourself from human beings that you don't know, or just easier? (When I say "you", I mean the general "you", not the specific "you".)

The show already has, and he knows it.

gossi, this may be where art reflects life. The lie of "that's the line I won't cross", when in fact you are in some ways, crossing it, is what we all tell ourselves so we can continue to think that we are "good". When Adelle talks about her job, shows compassion for the Dolls, I see Joss reflected in that. He is the story teller, and some stories are horrifying, but, as he's said, some need to be told. He also said that these stories are very troublesome for him as a human, so maybe the way to preserve his own humanity he's had to "lie" to himself about where those lines are drawn. He is human, from what I'm told.

Also, I don't want to see it literally children because that inevitably gets people all caught up in the fact that they are children and people start to lose any perspective other than "they're children!".

Sounds like Gingerbread to me. And I agree. I think that's a big fat bold line of uncrossing there with most of society. You don't want to attack a side that you know will shut down if you mission is to have them open their eyes. It still bugs me that I see "Yes on Prop 8" bumper stickers with children's faces on it saying "We want both a mommy & a daddy".
Korkster, I'm not saying an actual person in that situation would be less "deserving" of our sympathies. Im just saying that fictional characters cannot effectively evoke our sympathy if we don't feel like we have some connection with them.

Sunfire, the Disney version sounds kinda awesome. I LOL'd a bit when I pictured little Victor pummeling a room full of evil henchmen.

Finally, to nobody in particular, i have to say i love that for all DH's faults (or maybe because of them) it can remind us of shows like "Family" or "Band Candy" and how great they are.
Im just saying that fictional characters cannot effectively evoke our sympathy if we don't feel like we have some connection with them.

I understand (hence my general "you") and it seems to be a common problem for fans' connection to Dollhouse.

I just respectfully disagree. As bix said, we have the "human" connection with them.

I also don't think that the "it's only fiction" distinction is strictly applied to fiction. If that were the case, then the actresses & actors that so often plague our newspapers would not be fictionalized. We take that human being and exploit their pain and faults for entertainment- it essentially becomes fiction. I think it's one of the reasons why society finds it easy to target these individuals because they are not seen as humans, but as headlines. I believe this is one of the many issues that the Dollhouse is about. (Perhaps more as a show it discusses society, while the story discusses the individual.)
I just respectfully disagree. As bix said, we have the "human" connection with them.

Not to mention that out here in the real world there are all sorts of people who I don't know at all but for whom I can feel sympathy and/or empathy.

I have no idea what the woman on the TV news whose house burned down in the middle of winter is "really" like as a person. That doesn't stop me from identifying with them. I have no idea what the actives in the Dollhouse are "really" like either, and, for me, the same thing applies.

Query: Are some people afraid to let themselves identify with and/or invest in the actives because they don't know who they "really" are?

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-04-03 23:12 ]
Well, for me, I identify with them because I'm honest with myself- I don't "really" know who I am. But I come from a belief that while some parts of you change, others stay the same, especially during your young adulthood. Couple that with unforeseen traumatic experiences (which most have had), I find it impossible to really *know* where you currently stand on a topic until that topic is staring you in the face.

I find Dollhouse to be excellent self-reflection. By challenging the stories of the show, and the deliverance of the impact, you challenge your own values in life and where you draw that *special fine line*. It provides insight to your self in a safe fashion- from your couch. You feel the experience and empathy for Sierra's rape and her relief of being wiped without having to be raped yourself. You experience Caroline's love lost and the guilt of the tragedy without having to witness your lover's dieing gasp while pleading that they make it.

I think Joss is doing a good job of providing the necessary weight of the topics but allowing us to debate ourselves on the "good" and "evil" of it all.

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