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June 03 2009

Guardian review of Dollhouse episode 3 'Stage Fright'. "Of all the three we've seen so far, in this run of stand-alone episodes (before what everyone claims is the game-changing Episode Six), this one is the most straightforward A-Teamish storyline".

I know I'm in the minority here, but i think this was the best out of the original five episodes.

"You can fire me. But bitch, don't think you can take me!" - classic!
I thought it was very clunky as in "magic is bad for you" season 6 clunky. Though I bet Eliza and Dichen had a lot of fun making the episode.
It suffered from pacing due to having a lot to cram into its runtime, but it does get a worse rap than it deserves. I shiver at the thought of it crammed into 42-43 minutes instead of 51-52, however.
I think so too, vr5cran, definitely my favourite of the five.
I really liked seeing Dichen Lachman playing a sustained character and not a more generic role in this one.
Yeah, I'm gonna add to the love for this episode. I thought it was vastly better than The Target and True Believer and a bit better than Gray Hour and Ghost (and I was one of the few who thought was a damn good premiere). It's hard to deny the clunkiness of the episode, particularly the main plot (if you cut the long sequences of Echo and the pop star arguing it would be vastly better) but there was so much going on here. It was where it all clicked for me. There was humour, big reveals (eg Lubov as a doll) and the first really good character stuff ('one of us in this room is a genius. The other is a security guard in a very nice suit'). And all the Ballard scenes had a real intensity to them. The fight, for example, was very good. And I thought the Ballard / Victor rooftop scene was really, really wonderful. So, yeah, a sadly underrated episode I think
I actually havnt been noticing the edits, despite looking for them. hey'll probably irritate me horribly in episodes like Man on the Street and Spy in the House of Love though.

Im confused as to why the word 'bitch' is being edited out after 9pm though.
zeitgeist, my visceral cringe at this episode, upon re-watch recently, turned out to be things like the directing. It's stunningly pedestrian in terms of shot blocking, and a couple of the actors I think were directed in a way that kept making me go, "Oh, look... acting."

It was a surreal discovery to have, that it was the directing that didn't sit right with me, because it was directed by David Solomon, who usually is kind of a magic man.
Im confused as to why the word 'bitch' is being edited out after 9pm though.

Yes I noticed that last week. It took me out of the episode.
Not a huge fan of the episode, but I really liked Dichen's character. But the whole thing, from concept to execution, didn't really jive for me. I think Simon was right in comparing it to the 'magic = drugs' sort of season 6 clunkiness.

edit: Wait they edited out bitch after Watershed? That is so bizarre...

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-06-03 17:03 ]
Every naughty word actually.
I still think much of the negativity doing the rounds about this episode is due to the basic 'background singer' set-up. I think this fandom just doesn't dig those tunes and types of performers much (which is something I can get aboard with, by the way), but I felt that 'Stage Fright' was actually a better episode than the pilot (which is still the worst of the original five to me) and The Target (in which I felt the main plot was too stretched out and basically boring; it is still the only episode during which I looked at the clock several times to see if it was about to be over yet).

Yes, there are a few small problems with regards to pacing, but it was also one of the episodes to really use the longer running time to good effect. Plus: it had some great character work, a great scene from the original pilot (the Ballard/Lubov rooftop scene) and that head shake. It wasn't all that bad. To me, the quality kept rising every episode those first five and then jumped to a new level with episode 6.
When did the term for a female dog become something that can't be said in front of children? Is cockfighting also a dirty word?
I'll see what I think on rewatch but this is definitely my least favourite episode out of the twelve. The A plot is just so... bad. The stuff around it is good and Dichen is great as the fan but the suicidal popstar was making me root for her death and the stalker part needed a few more twists.

Not sure why 'bitch' is edited out either, especially seeing as it is allowed at 6:30pm on Channel 4 in Hollyoaks.
While I agree that this episode isn't as bad as its reputation, it's still pretty handily the worst of the first five to me.

The stuff back at the Dollhouse is all very good, with the Lubov reveal and Topher chiding Mr. Dominic, and I agree that Dichen's character was fun.

But, as others have said, not only is the pop star a walking cliche (as is nearly all the music biz satire), but you never believe anything that happens in her story for a second. To make matters worse, the A plot just moves so slowly. Every scene feels about as twice as long as it should have been. Yes, it's sorta creepy when random fan is making Dichen sing, but we don't really care about her or him, so we don't need to see it happen for seemingly the entire length of the song.

And the finale was just cringe-making. Rayna hanging from the rafters, wailing "I want to live" is one of the cheesiest things I've ever seen on a Joss show.
The A-plot is almost but not quite "Bad Eggs" level of cheesiness, which is why I'm quite fond of this episode. It was fun, in a way that "True Believer" (barring Victor's man reactions) or "The Target" weren't. When Echo hits the singer with a chair! I really heart that moment.
I'm guessing that any plot revolving around 'protect this person' resulting in me, as a viewer, wanting that person dead as soon as we see them, maybe isn't the best executed episode. Unless that is the point. But I'm guessing that wasn't the case. Of course I thought that as soon as I saw the preview, so maybe its my hatred of pop singers. Still it could have been done far better.

But at least Fox realizes the standalones were not the best idea, and next season will be more arcy.

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-06-03 18:44 ]
Like others have said, I really love the little head shake that Echo gives Sierra at the end of the episode, and I had the "freedom" song in my head for weeks afterwards. That moment is definitely one of my favorites from the season.
I don't think you were supposed to want her dead, but part of me thinks you were supposed to see it as self-centered and unreflective of the real ways in which people are trapped. I'm not so sure how deeply we were supposed to identify with Rayna, since at this point in her life, being trapped is a matter of choice. She's rich, whiny, and stuck only because she doesn't choose to become unstuck -- until she decides to do it in the stupidest way possible.

In some sense, I almost wonder if Echo smacking Rayna with the chair is a bit of, "You're stuck? You can just walk away whenever you want. Do you have any idea where I spend my days?" One of the reasons I'm not as down on this episode now as I was when it first aired is because, for me, the story isn't about identifying with Rayna, it's about identifying with Echo. If you approach it from the standpoint of identifying with Rayna, I agree it kind of falls flat.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-06-03 18:54 ]
Like others have said, I really love the little head shake that Echo gives Sierra at the end of the episode

It was a nice moment but as a plot device it seemed to go nowhere.
Where was it supposed to go? Seemed pretty straight-forward and self-contained to me. Echo protected her friend, which was what happened on the engagement itself.
At the time I was thinking that it meant that Sierra was becoming more aware in the same way Echo was. And that they would form a secret bond over it. But instead the gesture never got referred to again.
It's especially weird since we see "awake" Victor and Sierra recognize there's a bond/tendency of some kind that they remember from when they were mind-wiped. And we keep seeing that it's a three-way grouping pattern with Victor/Sierra seemingly the strongest bond. But Echo was left out of it completely during "Needs," despite all those little suggestions she was kinda precipitating the grouping.
I agree. The only sort of callback is the bison grouping in general, but I'd have liked to have seen more about Echo and Sierra's bond specifically. It seemed like such a significant moment but then they weren't really paired together again after that.

I also agree that the "I want to live!" bit was bad, but otherwise I liked the episode. Then again, I liked all the episodes. Gray Hour was probably my favorite of the first five, but I haven't done a rewatch to see if that's changed.
I really liked "Stage Fright" but I always enjoyed it from the view of Echo, not Rayna. (Funny side note: Rayna is so annoying that even Echo, who's programmed to want to protect her, quits. She only comes back to help Sierra.)

This is when I found that bouncing off perspectives off of one another really helps enrich the episode. This is also our "first" perspective on JMo in television (how they write, what their tone is). Maybe we missed some of the humor/sarcasm/pointiness of it.

I always find Pointy's synopses of the show to give a fresh perspective to Dollhouse. He does a great job making parallels, digging up references, and it helps me shine a new light on my thoughts and ideas... even if I don't always agree with him. Check it out here.

For the Sierra/Echo friendship, I always saw it as Echo being the "older" kid of the three. She has more of an idea of what's going on, while the other two are almost oblivious to their surroundings. Echo is able to make decisions based on her surroundings, but the others haven't quite achieved that. If our dolls were children, I would say that Echo is 8, while Victor & Sierra are about 4 or 5.
Re the head shake... yeah, it doesn't really go anywhere. If you go straight along the storyline, that's because the two don't really interact until "Needs", and although Echo's latent memories survive said episode, Sierra's are reset. Meanwhile if you expect storylines to have pleasing shapes, indeed this one wiggles teasingly and then disappoints by not really following through.

What I do like about this part of the arc, though, is how we've got the viewer's desire for every character to develop in fundamental conflict with the central starting premise of the show - and that the writing is very aware of it.

The "reset" style of TV series (where anything can happen within an episode, but all characters are unchanged by the time the episode wraps and the next one starts) is part of the medium's history - and Dollhouse gets to play with it, making each end-episode reset an explicit event in the story, while hinting that it knows a longer narrative fuelled by proper character development are part of a modern TV dramas viewer's needs.

And "Needs" itself is the episode where this is played with the most - the show gives we the viewers the development we've been wanting, demonstrates that this basically means the end of the story (at least as is), and having shown us the error of our ways graciously does one big reset to put everything right again.

What fascinates me about Dollhouse is that it does all these "TV about TV and the viewer/performer/writer relationships" bits that are really great at that level, yet sometimes these bits compromise the underlying TV show, and hence damage said viewer/performer/writer relationships. (The trade is worth it for me, though - and other times it manages to work on both levels at once and is pure gold.)

Sorry, this pontificating is probably causing its own share of little head shakes... I'll walk on...
That was a wonderful insight, Anthony. Dollhouse definitely teases us with that mythical 4th wall, and your insight into it was spot on. :) Stay right here.

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