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July 28 2009

(SPOILER) Discuss the original Dollhouse pilot episode 'Echo'. Better than 'Ghost'? You decide.

It was definitely good, but I can see why FOX wanted something more intense to try to hook people. I wonder how it would have changed the arc of the story if it had been left in, though, since bits of it were scattered throughout the entire season. I wish the altruism engagements stuff had found its way into one of the episodes that aired.
I wish the altruism engagements stuff had found its way into one of the episodes that aired.

Is the "Briar Rose"-engagement really so different from the one in "Echo"?
No, but we didn't get Dr. Saunders talking about how it's good for the actives to do engagements like that on occasion, which would have explained why they were using their resources for charity work when there's normally such a high price tag.
It was a good episode, but had it been the pilot and I hadn't known much about the show it would have been very confusing, so I can see why it was dropped.

It is a shame though, I loved Eliza Dushku's acting in the pimp-confrontation scene.
I thought the original pilot had an indefinable quality that seperated itself from other shows. It felt more 'artistic' in its direction and dialogue. To me, scrapping the this pilot for Ghost caused the series to stumble out of the gates and turned off many of Whedon's fanbase.

Here's the differences I found noteworthy:

- Adelle's conversation with the client and the montage of Echo's assignments introduced the concept of the Dollhouse very well. I thought it did this a lot better than Echo's first assignment in Ghost.

- Loved the quick introduction of Victor as an active. This served to quicken Ballard's story (which was a major drag through the first 5 episodes.. going nowhere). Instead, they made Victor's reveal a big thing, when the intention was never for that.

- Ballard had humorous lines in this! Showed personality. Something the writing didn't show until much later.

- Dialogue between Topher and Boyd was amazingly good. Sad to see most of that scrapped.

- Interesting how Boyd never used the phrase, "Would you like a treatment" when Echo wasn't listening to him.

I'm sure there's more, but I've forgotten some of it. But ultimately, I can see that Joss enjoyed writing this. I can't say the same for Ghost. Now, I know Joss decided the reshoot the pilot, and I think he did what he had to do to make the network happy, which was imperative. I just wish the network would have watched the pilot and thought, "Not what I was expecting, but GREAT! Go with it!" IMO, when Joss is allowed to do what he wants, the product is far superior.

Just my $0.02.
If "Echo" was allowed as the first episode, you would have had three plot points at the same time: What to do with Paul, should Actives just be playthings of rich and is Echo becoming a real live girl which isn't allowed. What struck me is that Topher does tell Boyd they're dolls, too. Tood bad that wasn't repeated elsewhere. I think, with some changes, this would have made a good replacement for "Stage Fright".
It's hard to filter out what my reactions to "Echo" would be not knowing yet how the rest of the series plays out, but some of the feelings I noticed watching on the episode's own merits was that I felt too "dropped in the middle" and was impatient with the pacing. I don't think the broadcast pilot was way better, but I could see the validity in FOX's argument for more action.

"Ghost" had it's own flaws (LOTS of exposition), but I think the mystery of what the Dollhouse was and the slow reveals over the season played out better than if we had seen "Echo" first.
I vastly prefer this episode for a couple of reasons:

1) It focusses on our main characters, instead of a guest-star-of-the-week. Arguments can be made for which style you prefer, but I like to meet the people that are going to accompany the viewer in a show properly before getting into more stand-alone territory. Also: this episode makes you care for the main characters, whereas the aired pilot made you care for an imprint and a kidnapped child (whom we never saw again). 'Echo' supplied a lot more emotional hooks to latch onto.

2) Superior dialogue. The lines in 'Echo' crackled and popped. There were many lines and scenes of note. In fact: many of my favorite pieces of dialogue and many of my favorite scenes from the first five aired episodes, were taken from 'Echo'.

3) Much clearer explanation of mission statement and premise. I know people feel that 'Echo' was slightly confusing, but this is something I heavily disagree with. Echo gets into the meat and thematics of the episode right from the start. Adelle explains what the actives do so clearly, that it might've even been a little too much in the hands of a lesser writer. We see little snippets of engagements, we get a better insight into the morals of someone like Topher, hear more about the interesting things which are going on with our actives, and get a better explanation of what an active is and does (this would've saved me many discussions elsewhere, where I had to keep explaining what the "up" value was of engaging an active for a romantic evening as oppossed to a random hooker/callgirl).

4) Superior direction. The camera does a lot of interesting things in Echo; it makes great use of the space available and takes the time to let the Dollhouse "breathe" some more. It feels like a real, lived in space, just like 'Serenity' used to feel real (or the offices of Wolfram & Hart).

5) A superiour turn by Dushku. I felt Eliza was great in this episode, already showing off her range in the first few scenes and more than holding her own in the rest. It's very possible (although it's nothing more than speculation) that given this start, there would've been less doubt that Eliza could pull off the lead role. In 'Ghost' I felt she was flat and her role as hostage negotiator was probably her least convincing turn in the entire first season.

More than this, there are also a couple of things I disliked about 'Ghost'. I felt it was a very avarage piece of television (which falls short of the expected standard for Joss Whedon scripted television), with the kidnapping plot not covering a lot of new territory. The basic story structure felt very procedural-y and overly familiar to me, which is not a style of storytelling I prefer. Surprisingly for a Whedon script, there was some dialogue which fell completely flat, the directing was avarage at best and the motercycle chase and skimpy outfits did not help the show's reputation (and to this day still feel uneccesarily tacked on to me).

I know from previous threads and discussion on the script, that there's some issues that people have with 'Echo', the main ones being that it was confusing and boring. As for the second issue, I can only say I disagree, but it's mostly a matter of personal preference and taste. The interesting philophical underlinings, the great dialogue and the sudden bursts of action inbetween kept me glued to the screen when watching 'Echo'. But then: I often find action sequences repetitive and boring, especially on tv, and 'Ghost' had more of them than 'Echo' did. I remember checking the time when watching 'Ghost', thinking "wow, this longer playing time is really noticeable", so for me it's completely the other way around. But again: a matter of taste.

As for the 'confusing' thing, I'm guessing that keeps getting mentioned because of the start of the episode, where Echo goes through several engagements in quick succession. But to me that seems irrelevant because there's the very clear explanation from Adelle which directly follows these scenes.

Also, that opening engagement-montage seems designed to make you go "wait, what's going on here". The most clear signpost of the intentional confusion (again: followed very quickly by a very clear explanation), is the drinking part. In one scene, Echo is a recovering alcoholic which she mentions explicitly as we leave the scene and immediately cut to the next where we open up on a glass of champagne she is drinking at a party. And even if you miss stuff like that (which is maybe slightly more subtle than avarage), there's still that very clear explanation by Adelle coming up to bring you up to speed. It is even mixed in with images of engagements to further clear things up. All of this is why I can't quite imagine being confused by any of that.

On the whole, 'Ghost' was one of my least favorite hours of Whedonesque television, although I know many felt it was not that bad. But 'Echo' is up there with the best of them and might even be the best pilot Joss has ever written (although I also really liked 'Serenity').

I do feel sorry that we didn't get the chance to see how this Dollhouse would've turned out, because 'Echo' offered up a lot more information than 'Ghost' did, which means we'd probably have had different/extra revelations in the first season, having this episode for a pilot. We'd probably have touched on the same themes and have gotten to some of the same places, but there's no doubt that it would've been a slightly different show.

Having said that, I'm pretty happy with where the first season ended up, enjoying the final stretch - from episode six onwards - a whole lot. Can't say how much I would've liked the first season of alternate!Dollhouse, but I can say that I'd have at least preffered its pilot episode to the one we got.

So, when putting these episodes side by side and comparing, I prefer 'Echo' to 'Ghost'. I think it's a better episode and I think it's a better pilot and I'm happy we got a chance to see it in its full glory on this DVD set.

ETA: closed an open tag, whoops :)

[ edited by GVH on 2009-07-28 16:49 ]

[ edited by GVH on 2009-07-28 16:49 ]
No, but we didn't get Dr. Saunders talking about how it's good for the actives to do engagements like that on occasion, which would have explained why they were using their resources for charity work when there's normally such a high price tag.

That's actually one of the few things from 'Echo' that I didn't prefer. I liked that the altruistic engagements seemed to be Adelle's way of living with herself, wrapping it up in a "good for business" package loses some of the ambiguity of her character IMO.

But it was good character stuff for Saunders (or at least it made her more immediately likeable to me - where Ballard's pursuing his obsession with violence and coercion, Saunders is conducting medical studies to prove her case as if she believes that if you just present enough facts then even the nastiest people will come around and see reason. Aww, bless ;).
I won't go point by point as to why "Echo" was far superior, as I think LaneMeyer and GVH did that brilliantly.

But in general terms, "Echo" grabbed me and pulled me in. If that would've been the original pilot, I would've been hooting and hollering afterward that FINALLY Joss Whedon was back.

As it was, the only thing in "Ghost" I found that excited me was the M.E. "Grrrr Argh" at the end.

Many of the scenes that advanced the plot in this one episode, were sprinkled out throughout the season, and they did not work well on their own (especially when they were shortened.) I LOVED the scene with Topher and Boyd in "Echo." It gave me an entirely different perspective on Topher.

Too confusing? No way. I'd say it was just very, very intriguing. "Ghost" was way dumbed down, and I can't see myself ever wanting to watch it again. I get how Fox wanted more action, more adrenalin, etc. etc. Heck, I like those things too. But I'd argue that "Ghost" dropped the substance, and the pizazz that ended up being put in wasn't very pizazzy at all.

I am happy that the season picked up towards the end, although I will say that "Haunted" felt like a bad episode of Murder She Wrote (I read that somewhere, and couldn't agree more.)

But oh well, we've got our season two, so full speed ahead!
One minor gripe with the DVD packaging: the back-cover blurb describes Echo as an "unwitting" agent of the Dollhouse.

She's not unwitting: scene one of episode one shows her voluntarily joining the Dollhouse. True -- she doesn't know the specific details of each engagement -- but she is not "unwitting" about her involvement in the organization.
From now on, this is the episode I'll tell people to watch first, when I'm gonna try to get them hooked on "Dollhouse". The alternative is: Try to get through the first five, it will get better with the sixth episode, which doesn"t sound like a good pitch, does it? And what if they give up on "Stage Fright"?
I can't decide at all how I feel about this episode. On the one hand, I adored it. The dialogue, as others have said, was wonderful, and it did indeed have some ineffable quality to it. The scene where Topher defends (kinda) the Dollhouse by comparing it to real life--wearing a tie, etc.--was perfect, and I think did a great job of making the Dollhouse more ambiguous. In the show we got, it's pretty clearly an evil organization with (maybe?) good people in it. But I kind of like that approach, too. I've kind of started seeing the statement of Dollhouse, I think. At least so far. Like how Angel was about redemption, and Buffy was empowerment (among other things, obviously). And I think Dollhouse is a show about why good people come to do horrible things, with Ballard being the example in season one. We see exactly how he comes to end up working for an organization that he despises. So in a way, making the Dollhouse clearly evil from the start, rather than more ambiguous (like Topher's speech did), just helps this theme.

I didn't like Adelle's character as much in this episode. It felt like what we might see from her in late season 2--that is, she's starting to crack, and her vulnerability is starting to come through. I much prefer the current show's method of starting with her as cold, hard, unflappable--and then slowly peeling that away to reveal the more tender lady underneath. This gave the game away a little too quickly for my liking.

Which is generally where my issues with the original pilot come from. I feel like a lot of people have gotten used to the DVD age, where they can watch a season of TV in a week, and so have lost patience for the slow, week-after-week reveal. I remember complaints that the first five episodes of Dollhouse were too slow development-wise, which just confuses me. Even in those standalone episodes, we got: introduction of Alpha as a mysterious threat, then one episode later the entire history of why he's a threat (including an attempt on Echo's life by him--or an agent of him, anyway); Echo remembering or learning major things from her engagements; Paul getting shot; a major-ish character being revealed as an active (Lubov, that is); and that's all I can think of. My point is, the slow reveal is a good thing. And if we'd gotten this as episode one... well, who knows what the "slow reveals" over the next 12 episodes would've been. But I'm pleased with how these were spaced out.

Maybe it was the direction, or just that I was watching it on DVD, but something about the look of this episode was really preferable. Very appealing, but again, ineffable. I also really like Saunders and Topher's relationship more in this one. The Phantom, hah! And of course, it's always nice to see Boyd and Topher debate the ethics of the Dollhouse. I'd like to see more of that. But I guess most of America would probably disagree.
"I remember complaints that the first five episodes of Dollhouse were too slow development-wise, which just confuses me."

At least for me, those complaints were more of a result of the engagements being so torturous to sit through. Watching 50 minutes of that awful (in my opinion) episode of Echo being hunted in the woods, wasn't worth the 2 second payoff of her doing the 'hand to the shoulder' thing at the end. If I loved the engagement, then it would've been.

Since the stuff outside the Dollhouse wasn't interesting, the developments were all I had to attach onto.

[ edited by bionicvapourdude on 2009-07-28 19:52 ]
I agree with those who say that they understand why the pilot was thrown. It was slow-action, and it gave a ton of ideas and concepts and characters in one episode. Of course, I can't go back and pretend that this is the first episode I've seen.
It's strange. I feel Echo is a better pilot-- much better structured, better dialogue and direction, and better acting by Eliza-- and I feel Ghost was the worst episode of S1 but at the same time, I'm glad Ghost ended up being the real pilot because of certain plot directions. For instance, I liked the idea of Paul meeting Echo several episodes later. I find it more believable that he'd get obsessed over trying to find Echo if she's elusive as opposed to meeting her right off the bat in the Echo episode. I also like how Joss threw the "Caroline" bit in the last scene from this ep to the last ep instead. It makes it seem like it took the entire Season 1 for Echo to become fully aware of Caroline instead of seeming like she's fully aware in the first episode already.
GVH - you summed it up for me.

I'd add that I like the ensemble a lot more in Echo. I love Topher's rationale of what he's doing. I think both he and Dr Saunders are better developed characters (far prefer the balcony and office scenes as introductions). The dialogue is good rather than cheesy. The plot skips. Eliza gets to be Spanish. I could go on.

The main thing I prefer is the reduced reliance on ED's physical attributes and a storyline that screams SEX..SEX..rape..abuse..SEX at me. That sucked. Instead there's far more emphasis on the creepiness of the relationships people have with the dolls and how that's more a manipulation of interpersonal needs.
Ten Thousand times better than 'Ghost'!
How could Fox think that this wasn't intense? They think riding on motorcycles is what makes things intense? How stupid are these people??
'Echo' is incredibly intense, emotionally and psychologically; complicated but fascinating and VERY involving. Frankly I can't imagine anyone not being drawn into this, I'll know when I use it as a true 'pilot' to get friends into the show, because personally I think 'Ghost' was flat and predictable and not at all involving. I think 'Ghost' lost us a lot of potential viewers.
The thing is, the main job of a pilot is to make people want to watch episode two. That is the true test.

And if you look at the numbers drop that DH received, then "Ghost" was clearly a failure.

And I don't know... putting myself in the shoes of Paul, if the DH had physically sent Echo out to stop me at all cost, and she nearly killed me in the process, that would fuel my "obsession" a lot more than getting a few random pictures and notes from Alpha.

I mean here's this girl who was basically sent to assassinate me by the DH. Yet she didn't (which I LOVED how she purposely missed the vital organs, and yet still wanted to 'finish the job' no matter what. The internal conflict between the conscious mind of her imprint vs. her sub-conscious making her miss the mark without even realizing it.)

So anyhow, he wakes up in the hospital, barely surviving an encounter with a living, breathing doll...

NOW I get why he'd be willing to lose everything (relationships, his job, etc.) to find her and the Dollhouse.

Now I can relate to Paul.

In the aired version, I never could.
The main thing I prefer is the reduced reliance on ED's physical attributes and a storyline that screams SEX..SEX..rape..abuse..SEX at me. That sucked.

I don't know how fair it is to reduce "Ghost" to that, but I gotta say that the Ashley Johnson-engagement we got to see in "Echo" was all there with the pimping and abusing. At least in one of the three versions Joss wrote and shot.
I haven't seen all versions. I just felt that in the engagements that had a sexual theme, the emphasis was more on the manipulations within relationships. It was more subtle and for me more disturbing.

Examples: When Echo meets Paul, she is attractive in a very traditional right-woman in the wrong-world way. It seems calculated to hit Paul. The wedding engagement is about being sincerely in love with the client. Sierra's Doris Day return has just a hint of sexual violence to it, but contrasted with her outfit it sets your teeth on edge. The Ashley Johnson engagement is about dependence and manipulation.

The abuse/sex/rape etc is all there. It's just explored more cleverly, more subtley and with a recognition of all the layers of abuse/sex/rape i.e. the psychological and interpersonal rather than just the physical.

For me, Ghost let the audience have a good leer at Eliza almost naked then dropped a piano of sex abuse on top of it. I felt it was hypocritical, clunky and unearned. Harsh but true.
To me it felt like it really jumped around and didn't do a great job introducing characters. It's kind of like it tried to cram 5 or 6 eps of exposition into one and it really didn't work out.
I enjoyed the episode and think the story was brilliant, but i can see why the episode was scrapped and melted down and re-arranged because it would have been a bit confusing if this was the original pilot episode. I like that a lot of it was broke up into the whole series because it spaces out what the dollhouse is and each episodes gets you that step closer to figuring the dollhouse out.

I love the fact that like in this episode and "Ghost" that once the actives are finished with their assignments they immediately feel the need to go back for a treatment, this is something that has not been used since the first episode. I love that element and they should bring it back.

I really enjoyed the scene between Topher and Dr.Saunder and think it should be used in season 2, it would fit in well because in that scene their seems to be tension bewteen them which (if it was be to used in season 2) would fit very well because she found out that she was an active and had been lied to.
While I thought that "Echo" was excellent and would've served as a great pilot, the one that bugs me is the direction of future episodes after this. After all, we saw plenty of sequences that were lifted from here and placed in other episodes and having seen those, I can't seem to imagine them being any other way. We get the Victor reveal right away and we see that November is an active straight out; if this went forth as the pilot, then we most likely wouldn't have gotten the "There are three flowers in a vase..." sequence, which is my favorite scene, hands down.

I mean, I trust that Joss and the writers would have had it all mapped out, but I'm having a difficult time trying to view this with unbiased eyes.
In particular, Saunders being Whiskey doesn't make sense given 'Echo' (since Topher seems not to know) so I wonder if she wasn't originally.

For me, Ghost let the audience have a good leer at Eliza almost naked then dropped a piano of sex abuse on top of it. I felt it was hypocritical, clunky and unearned. Harsh but true.

That raises another issue I have with 'Echo' (though it's not really with the ep itself) which is, previously i've been seeing that ambiguous element of the show (the mixed messages as to the dolls' standing, the consent issue etc.) as deliberate on the part of the creators, as them walking the line of being part of the machine while also critiquing it (as are we of course). But 'Echo' seems much more clear cut in its position which makes me wonder if Joss et al either didn't intend that ambiguity at all or if they maybe intended to introduce it more later (to start us off thinking we knew the lay of the land only to change the ground under our feet).

Hoping the latter cos I think the show would be a vastly shallower beast if they originally intended us all to know from the off that it's clearly exploitation and the dollhouse is unalloyed evil (except when it's good business not to be so). The show's strength is in the questions it makes us ask IMO, not in giving us comfortable answers that put us all (as viewers) on the side of the angels.


edited to (hopefully) unmuddy some waters

[ edited by Saje on 2009-07-29 00:23 ]
We get the Victor reveal right away and we see that November is an active straight out; if this went forth as the pilot, then we most likely wouldn't have gotten the "There are three flowers in a vase..." sequence, which is my favorite scene, hands down.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think November (or even 'Melli') was in the original pilot. So, it's still likely that that story would have gone the same way. Can't know 100%, obviously.
If this had been the first episode shown to viewers, it wouldn't have stumbled out of the gate. It had a great script and great acting, and makes me wonder if "Ghost" was rushed somewhat. "Echo" gripped me like few others in the first season. Saying that, I wonder how the rest of the season would have played out if this superior effort had been allowed to be the first episode.

I think that GVH summed it up pretty well - "Echo" is a vastly superior effort.
Just a much more deftly executed presentation of the major characters and issues, wrapped up in a bundle of terrific juxtaposed scenes and jossian surprises- the kind where you are led to look at things one way, and then are shown not just that you were wrong about what was happening, but also why you read it wrong.

This original pilot was not boring or conventional for one second- it was what I was looking for, and not finding, in the earliest episodes. I found the first half of Season 1 bewilderingly ordinary. I hope Joss can/is allowed to continue in this vein- and I loved Epitaph 1 as well.
Loved it, great episode. I have to say, I'm not sure that it is a first episode. But it is better than Ghost(which I'm watching now.) I'm not a hater of the early episodes, but Echo felt like the later, brilliant episodes.

edit: I have to say, Enver's English accent is much better than his Russian. I'm probably saying this only because I'm not an Englishman and I take Russian.

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-07-29 03:09 ]
Hmm, we just watched it. I liked it, but then, I liked Ghost when I first saw it too. Can't say either one blew me away, and I'm not sure this would have hooked me any more than Ghost did. (Which is to say, wasn't "hooked" but I enjoyed it well enough). It's hard to say, though... because I haven't re-watched Ghost and I may have had excessively high expectations for Echo and much lower expectations for Ghost, which had already garnered some not-great reviews when I saw it. I don't think I can join the "Echo is way better than Ghost" club though.
I think I think this was much better than Ghost. I really liked lots of it but I have to admit to getting a bit bored in the middle. But I'm not at all sure if that's because I'd already seen so many of the scenes. I may well have been completely gripped had it been the first episode I saw. We'll never know

But there were some much better things in this episode. Ballard meeting Echo this early works much better IMO. It gives him a reason to be in the show - as many others have said he felt like a pointless character in the first five episodes. It also makes his obsession make more sense. One of my housemates said that Ballard's obsession with Caroline in the show as aired was a bit contrived and I tend to agree.

I also think Topher is a more interesting character in this episode. And I love Topher in the show so now I sort of wish I hadn't seen this. His carefully thought out (and actually disturbingly reasonable) position on the ethics of the Dollhouse is fascinating. And his speech about ties and programming would have been one of my favourite scenes of the show if it had been used (there's always next season Joss ...)
I think it's in relation to Ghost that Echo is so well liked. Ghost is the poster-child for the stand-alone's which no one really liked. Or at least, that was a format that didn't seem to work.

Echo was a pilot for an extremely serial show. One that if it kept up that pace would have been somewhere in season 3 by the end of season 1. I didn't find it confusing or boring. I did however find reveals far too easy and quick. And it would have either set up an impossible standard for pace or a show that was a little too close to Lost in terms of "layers that never seem to stop no matter how quickly we take them off" which I know some people enjoy... but just bores me as unrealistic.

Honestly, I wasn't a huge fan of the first 5 shows but I love the fact that it forced them to relax the pace. As others pointed out, it brought ambiguity to the show and let you stew on things.
Well I never felt that Paul Ballard's obsession was that odd, to me it seemed like an homage to the great movie 'Laura' (where the policeman falls in love with the murder victim as he investigates the case, all he has is her portrait and her diary, but he is completely obsessed with her).
Good pilot, torn between whether or not it should have been used though.
You know, I'm not entirely sure what I think about "Echo." I understand why it's called confusing, but it's hard for me to say--I can't quite put myself in the place of seeing the characters for the first time. But it's not "boring": if anything it's far too fast-paced, with the introduction of Topher's concern about Echo, Victor and Sierra flocking, the first Echo/Ballard scene, and the reveal of Echo mumbling "Caroline" all happening before there's any real investment in the characters. The pace of the first season is fairly slow, on the whole, but that is a good thing: Adelle doesn't resort to killing this early; the meeting between Echo and Paul (as well as the victim-turned-assassin moment) is delayed until halfway through the year; and we aren't really told what to think about the Dollhouse in quite the same way as we are here. Certainly, for fans who were concerned (not entirely unreasonably) that Whedon wasn't taking the material seriously, or wasn't seeing how dark and exploitive the Dollhouse is, this episode would have been a good indication that he does know what he's doing. But as others have suggested, it does sap out some of the interesting ambiguity of the early episodes.

The engagements in this episode were definitely more interesting and original than the one at the beginning of "Ghost." And so was the direction and the overall quality of the dialogue.

Moreover, I'm going to defend "Ghost" for a moment. While the kidnapping plot is somewhat ordinary, the decision to play the early episodes (including "Ghost") as a bit of a Trojan Horse, where the "real" story lies primarily in the themes and the subtext rather than the more generic (manufactured, "fake" like the dolls) text, doesn't seem all that bad to me. "Ghost" used child abuse as a way of exploring what is being done to the dolls without making a definitive statement about the Dollhouse; and I found Echo's confrontation with her abuser to be particularly haunting, especially given that the show immediately rips that victory away from her by wiping her memory. And check out the way Echo rescues the little girl from a refrigerator and then goes into her own similarly-shaped, similarly-coloured "bed" a willing victim! I think there are a lot of less-than-obvious clues in the episode, both in visuals and in the script. (And I didn't actually think the main story's text was all that bad, although I know I'm not really in the majority.)

Embers: great point about Laura.
Yeah, I actually loved 'Ghost'
Also liked 'Ghost' (IIRC I think I said it was my second favourite Whedon pilot, after 'Serenity 1&2') but on balance 'Echo' has more pluses IMO (the dialogue flows much better for instance).

And his speech about ties and programming would have been one of my favourite scenes of the show if it had been used (there's always next season Joss ...)

I don't think i'd believe that speech from this Topher, it'd be inconsistent in its consistency if you get me, too level-headed and well thought through. Still, he could change of course, develop into someone you take seriously and actually think might be right.

While the kidnapping plot is somewhat ordinary, the decision to play the early episodes (including "Ghost") as a bit of a Trojan Horse, where the "real" story lies primarily in the themes and the subtext rather than the more generic (manufactured, "fake" like the dolls) text, doesn't seem all that bad to me.

Yeah, agreed and well put WilliamTheB. Again though, things Joss has said since the first 5 aired added to the feel of 'Echo' cast all that seemingly deliberate playing with the way TV is made into doubt IMO. Unless it's one of the changes brought on by Fox that really worked for the show (because 'Echo' doesn't seem to be doing that and if 'Echo' is what Joss actually wanted all along ...) ?

In other words, the infamous "more standalone" directive works as a criticism of the first 5 episodes BUT it doesn't work as a defence of Joss and the writers IMO because "more standalone" surely doesn't have to mean "more hackneyed plots". Again, I really want to believe it was deliberate but the gap of ignorance in which to do so feels like it's closing.

I don't think I can join the "Echo is way better than Ghost" club though.

We have a badge and a secret hand-shake. C'mon, now you're having second thoughts right ?
Saje: Yeah, it is true that it's possible (maybe even, sigh, probable) that the main plots aren't supposed to be generic and hackneyed, which is a bit of a shame. I think that it's still true that the "real" story is in the subtext regardless, and that Whedon et al. use the flash well to cover the slow-build. Which they did to an extent in other shows; one of the best examples is Buffy and Angel, which was couched in terms of teen soapish romance before "Innocence" paid it off as something much darker.

One other thing that occurred to me about "Echo" that I didn't like is the way Boyd basically uses money to talk assassin-Echo down; it seems like pretty poor programming for a doll to be incapacitated by bribery. Or did Adelle send Boyd a message telling him how to deactivate Echo without us knowing about it? I don't think I get it. The episode's ending, as a result, felt very arbitrary--let's stop now, because we can't kill off a character.
One little thing I liked about this episode was the harsh light on Topher's face when he said (something like) 'Does that make me a monster?' to Dr Saunders

I don't think i'd believe that speech from this Topher, it'd be inconsistent in its consistency if you get me, too level-headed and well thought through

Yeah, I agree. I just like it so much. I wonder whether Joss could find some other character to give it to. I can't think of any candidates though.

Incidentally, are you still holding out on watching Epitaph One? You should break your resolve and comment on it in the other thread

[ edited by Let Down on 2009-07-29 07:57 ]
Reconsidering now cos I checked Amazon.com again last night and it's now saying "Expected delivery: August 31st" (seems they may be rowing it over).

In general I thought the Topher/Saunders stuff was great in 'Echo'. Never seen it but could "Does that make me a monster ?" be a direct lift from e.g. "The Phantom of the Opera" ? The bit in the library/office felt like it might be riffing on something (with the shadows etc.). Knowledge from people who know would be welcome ;).

One other thing that occurred to me about "Echo" that I didn't like is the way Boyd basically uses money to talk assassin-Echo down; it seems like pretty poor programming for a doll to be incapacitated by bribery.

I dunno, the actives aren't just automatons, they actually think like the imprint so it seems like a professional assassin might weigh the costs and benefits and scrub a job based on the outcome. And she's clearly highly motivated to finish it (she almost seems to have a hang-up about it in fact), it takes more than one factor to change her course. Plus (though we don't really see it in 'Echo' IIRC) she also implicitly trusts Boyd - someone else trying to dissuade her might have failed miserably, even been killed for their trouble.

I think that it's still true that the "real" story is in the subtext regardless, and that Whedon et al. use the flash well to cover the slow-build.

Yeah, agreed. In fact, that's another thing about 'Echo' that I don't prefer in that as someone above mentions, Echo moves along quite quickly, too quickly IMO (she already clearly exists as a separate, persistent entity by the end of the episode) since I liked the slow build and ambiguous hints up to 'Grey Hour' where we see her more fully for the first time (and even then, afterwards there's ambiguity as to how much of her has persisted after the wipe - sometimes it's like she's gone again, other times it's like she's deliberately hiding).
What WilliamTheB said about "Ghost".

With the release of "Echo" I think "Ghost" might become the most underrated Whedonverse-episode.
I thought this was a far superior episode to "Ghost." That said, I do understand Fox's concerns that too much was revealed too quickly, and I can see why some people found it confusing. It would not be one of my favorite episodes, but it definitely would have engaged me in a way that "Ghost" did not.

I think most of the things I liked about the episode have been covered above, so I don't want to repeat everything. But I do agree that ED comes across better here, and that many of us would have had fewer concerns about her ability to carry the series. (I'm still in the camp that thinks that ED's abilities are overshadowed by those of many of the actors in the ensemble, but I would have been less troubled with this pilot.)

I also liked the greater nuance in this episode. I did like the ties metaphor a great deal. I can understand the objection to it with respect to Topher's character, but I actually would have liked that Topher better than the one we got.

And I really liked the fact that Caroline prevented her imprint from actually killing Ballard. I liked that subtle introduction of the idea that there was a tension going on within, which would have been picked up as we went along in the series. I do agree that Echo's mumbling "Caroline" at the end was way too soon, and, as said above, before we have enough emotional investment in the character to care at this point.

I have mixed feelings on the Ballard introduction. I thought the way he was written in the series as it played out was not particularly effective--partly because it dragged on way too long. But this may have been too quick. (And, yes, I realize that what I liked in my previous paragraph would have vanished if this intro had been abandoned. But I liked the subtlety of the suggestion of the warring personalities within Echo that the gunshot illustrated--something else equally subtle could have been done if the Ballard introduction and development had found some middle ground between the original pilot and the course he traveled in the series as aired.)

Overall, I just liked the introduction of characters better here, and the introduction of what would be the greater complexity of the issues--although there were too many issues set in place. I thought it was better filmed, and it was more engaging (although I, too, had diminishing interest in the middle--but I just attributed that, at the time, to watching it too late in the evening). But, then, I really hated "Ghost"--almost as much as "Stage Fright." I thought "Ghost" was the weakest episode I had ever seen that had Joss's name as writer attached to it.


because "more standalone" surely doesn't have to mean "more hackneyed plots".

Really chuckled in agreement at this.

Embers: great point about Laura.

Ditto.
Saje said:

since I liked the slow build and ambiguous hints up to 'Grey Hour' where we see her more fully for the first time (and even then, afterwards there's ambiguity as to how much of her has persisted after the wipe - sometimes it's like she's gone again, other times it's like she's deliberately hiding).


I don't know. I liked that as it was airing, because it a) lead to nice discussions here and b) lead me to think that there was something really complex going on with these imprints. However, as soon as episode 6 hit and we sped up, much of that ambiguity was lost and we mostly ignored the whole 'is Echo there or isn't she' thing and the episodes just seemed to imply "oh yeah, she is", more and more. We also didn't see many remnants of the hints they dropped. The head-shake, which I loved at the time, had no further consequences and the retainage of the hand-to-the-wheel move didn't go anywhere real interesting either, in the long run. Which also leads me to question the way it was portrayed there. Maybe there was simply inconsistency because they moved around the order of the first 5 episodes, or maybe they couldn't decide what they could or couldn't show at that point; and maybe it was just inconsistently written.

azzers wrote:

And it would have either set up an impossible standard for pace or a show that was a little too close to Lost in terms of "layers that never seem to stop no matter how quickly we take them off"


I'm not sure I agree with that. Yes: more was shown in the first episode. But don't forget: a pilot episode does the establishing of the status quo. Things like the meeting of Ballard and Echo or the "reveal" of a character being an active weren't a reveal at all (except within the context of the episode): we got introduced to an active and got shown that two main characters meet which serves as a basis for their relationship. Having Echo saying 'Caroline' at the beginning doesn't equate to "she went through the entire season's development there in just the pilot"; here her saying that is just a way to say 'look, she has some trace memory of her former self in her wiped state', implying the same "something's wrong with the imprinting proces" as her sudden memory burst during her engagement did in 'Ghost' (with the exception that this was more about her; the relationship between 'Echo' and 'Caroline' feels more personal than the link between a current imprint and previous imprints/Echo, although it does point to the same technical limitations on the process).

We shouldn't look at 'Echo' and go: wow, a lot of the plot reveals in the first season were already in there, what ginormous pace this episode had ;)', because that'd be a false conclusion, I think. Some things which got turned into reveals and plot points in the season we got (and which worked fine as such), were just part of the 'starting information' we got in the first episode. We had hints on what the major themes would've been following 'Echo': the grouping of Echo/Victor/Sierra, Echo remembering a trace of her original personality, the soon-to-be obsession that Ballard forms for Echo. There's, however, no reason to believe that these plot strands would then have been gone through at high speed all of a sudden.

We know, for instance, that some of the original five episodes' main storylines were also already being mapped out to follow on 'Echo' (and also things like the romantic comedy episode that was lost in the land of 'good-ideas-that-were-never-executed' after FOX decided they wanted a more straight up action-thriller) so I don't think we can say that there would've been a lightning paced or convuluted plot following this. In fact, I even suspect we would've gotten some engagements as well following 'Echo', just like we did after 'Ghost'. We were just given more of the world and more well-established characters to begin with. This is nothing new; we usually get a lot of information about the world in a pilot episode.

Say, for instance, that Joss rewrote 'Serenity' for some reason and in the new version the crew don't discover that Simon is transporting his sister untill episode 5 and - to keep things interesting - he would've included little hints that Simon was hiding something or had some dark, mysterious past in those early episodes (maybe he even threw in a red haring or two), turning it into a mystery that needed solving. Then, after the first season is done, we find out that in the original pilot we learned all this already as far back as episode one. The conclusion then shouldn't be: wow, they must've been meaning to pick up the reveal pace in the rest of the season to keep all this up, but rather: ah, he went in a different direction initially. Which is what I think is going on here with 'Echo'. We would've started with a different status quo and the first season would've looked differently, but not necessarily faster or more convoluted.

Which is also why the line of reasoning that goes like "well, I really liked this in the first season and that would've been different if 'Echo' had aired" doesn't work for me. We can't assign the rest of the first season as a property to 'Ghost' because we can't contrast and compare it to the first season we would've had with 'Echo' (maybe, even probably, there would've been different things that really worked for everyone there); we can of course speculate (because: fun), but it's unfair to point at something not in 'Ghost' or 'Echo' and say: see, that's why I prefer it (although it is fair to say: well, that would've been lost and I would've been sorry to see it go, of course, but it doesn't reflect on the relative quality of these two episodes).

ETA: Catherine, c'mon join us. We don't just have a badge and secret hand-shake either, we also offer milk and cookies to everyone new to our little gang! ;)

[ edited by GVH on 2009-07-29 13:35 ]
Yeah, everything GVH said
However, as soon as episode 6 hit and we sped up, much of that ambiguity was lost and we mostly ignored the whole 'is Echo there or isn't she' thing and the episodes just seemed to imply "oh yeah, she is", more and more. We also didn't see many remnants of the hints they dropped. The head-shake, which I loved at the time, had no further consequences and the retainage of the hand-to-the-wheel move didn't go anywhere real interesting either, in the long run.

Not sure about that, whether Echo existed never was going to stay ambiguous (Craft/Fain hints excepted) since her existing is right at the heart of the show (the original trailer question "But can you wipe away a soul ?" is, as far as we know up to now, rhetorical - it's not a genuine question because the answer is plain to see from either 'Echo' or 'The Target' depending on which line we follow). What we see in the actual first 6 eps amounts to an extended labour - we know Echo's coming because Echo is the show's sine qua non, it's just a matter of when. With 'Echo' it's more like "My waters broke ... waaahhhhh" and by the end credits we're all smoking a celebratory cigar ;).

As to the foreshadowing, even watching the first time I didn't really think they were foreshadowing anything particularly specific, they were just echoes of Echo, like distant thunder (a hint at her eventual character - defiant - and a harboured resentment for Dominick is probably about as specific as those foreshadowings got IMO. And that was paid off before season's end).

I agree about speculation as to the course of a post 'Echo' series though - extrapolation's dodgy at the best of times and one data point isn't much of a graph.
With 'Echo' it's more like "My waters broke ... waaahhhhh" and by the end credits we're all smoking a celebratory cigar ;).

Hee hee! The pace was definitely "sped up" in terms of Echo's self-realization and I enjoyed the slower birthing process (ugh... am huge right now and this metaphor also makes me want to puke a bit...;)) in the Season-We-Got but GVH's imaginary example of Serenity is a good one... and it is impossible to predict the Season-We-Didn't-Get. Some of the stuff I loved in S1 wouldn't have happened, but no doubt other stuff would have ;).

I'll have to re-watch Ghost at some point and see what I think. I just remember thinking "what a fun pilot!" and being relieved that I liked it. And this time too, I enjoyed plenty. Hard to compare when I'm watching them months apart, one totally new and the other having seen a whole season. I did particularly enjoy the Ballard-Topher relationship in this pilot.

The milk and cookies are tempting indeed, but I may start my own club with "On The Fence" t-shirts and a really hesitant, indecisive handshake.
I'd recommend against the hesitant handshake, I was in a club like that once and we kept getting mistaken for Freemasons. Bit of a double edged sword really, on one hand there was some prejudice but on the other we got free entry into any and all global conspiracy theories.

And yeah, extended labour is one of those things that's only good metaphorically ;).
Agree with what GVH says, and also what...wait, that's another GVH post!

Yes, massively superior pilot, and here are some things I regret about it not being the pilot (and some objections I find spectacularly unconvincing):

--I thought the possible motivations for occasional altruistic missions was present in the series and would not have had to keep biting my tongue every time someone claimed it was impossible to imagine Adelle or others being motivated to let them happen. Also liked the idea of the altruistic missions as being part of the possible explanation for why actives start to evolve.

--Same with Topher's greater exposition: not that he was necessarily more likable, but that you could see he had put a lot more work into his (Boyd's phrase) self-justification, which made it harder to lob shallow complaints about him being an idiot. I also think the inclusion of his necktie speech would have raised the level of the conversation on a lot of threads by reminding us all that some version of "programming" has always been a part of the human experience, and that the interesting things the show might examine would never be found in the opposition between some mythical absolute battle between "pure" and "programmed." (And, no, this isn't the same as saying "it's all programming," or "there's no 'real' experience," although the fundamentalists and their buddies love to trot out the straw man of absolute relativism if you try to suggest that we are all, in part, socially constructed.)

--Confusing? Heck, even if I agreed, I wouldn't care for the same reason I don't worry if toddlers will understand my favorite novels. People who can't handle some delay in getting questions answered should stick to pop up books.

--We know that Joss had realizations about the show that changed its direction as a result of the conversations with network folks that ultimately led to the scrapping of this pilot. So I take it as a given that those execs DID say some insightful things that improved the ultimate show. BUT this mostly seems to be the episode six-and-onward stuff. Whatever they wanted (or he interpreted them to want) that led to bulk of eps 1-5 doesn't seem to be a necessary part of this insight, so it seems that there is a possible world where all the exec's opinions lead to a better/deeper overall show WITHOUT having to toss this Pilot or affect the first 5 eps so deeply for the worse (I like some of them, but the later eps convince me they would have been even better if only...) At most, the pilot might have needed to have minor scene tweaks (like Echo probably not saying "Caroline" at the end). I don't think using Echo as the Pilot would have made it impossible to write good stories that included versions of our favorite moments and reveals from the season we got (November, Alpha, etc.)

--Interesting that the reveal we DON'T get at all in this episode is Echo's own background (the video of Adelle talking to Caroline). The next few eps would, then, get to play with reveals of the backgrounds of the characters we met in the pilot -- I don't see, for example, Boyd, Saunders, and Topher's various conversations as going ruling out things we know to be true from the later series: most importantly that Saunders=Whiskey, which Topher knows and Boyd does not; There is lovely dialogue, such as Topher parrying Boyd about Saunders' creepiness, that works perfectly fine with this backstory.
I picture that segment (or a version of it) appearing later, possibly at the start of episode 2 or 3 in the 'Echo' alternate timeline, as the show starts to muddy the moral waters somewhat.

I don't see, for example, Boyd, Saunders, and Topher's various conversations as going ruling out things we know to be true from the later series: most importantly that Saunders=Whiskey, which Topher knows and Boyd does not

Topher wonders why Saunders hasn't had her scars fixed. If he knows she was Whiskey then why would he wonder that ? He'd already know.

You can fan-wank that Topher is deliberately trying to fool Boyd but a) why would he and b) why not, in that case, just say nothing about her at all ? And to me it didn't feel like he was anything but genuine. For whatever reason (up to and including "She originally wasn't"), this Topher doesn't know Saunders was Whiskey IMO.

And I liked the tie thing but I have to wonder, does anyone actually need it pointing out to them that we're all "programmed" to some extent ? Doesn't Dollhouse have adverts during its broadcast for instance ? What do these hypothetical people think adverts are for ?

[ edited by Saje on 2009-07-29 19:20 ]
I liked this episode a lot better than Ghost. I wish it had aired. Ah well...at least I've got a copy on DVD and can watch it whenever!

Too bad parts of it were used in other episodes and storylines went in other directions because it would've made a great addition to the season. It's kind of like an "alt universe" Dollhouse...like the regular series occurs on Earth-1 and "Echo" is the Dollhouse world on Earth-Two.

[ edited by Riker on 2009-07-29 19:49 ]
Saje -- That a bunch of people either don't get or don't accept a lot of stuff I assumed everyone got was something that shocked me almost everytime I followed a link to a review or an episode discussion. Don't tell me you haven't had to listen to more than one clearly intelligent person who still says things with a straight face like "I'm not affected by adverts" as if they were some weird unicorn-person whose rational response to the world around them was never affected by emotions and unconscious ooki-ness? The other big one for me was how many people seemed unable to accept that any rational person could ever consent to accepting the sort of offer the Dollhouse makes -- I mean, yeah, we get that the Dollhouse is evil or evil-adjacent, and the risks and all that, but it never seemed a big leap to imagine sane people so either "disappointed-or-worse with their lives" or "willing to make the big gamble for the big potential payout" that they would be tempted by the offer. Yet, so many people writing/talking about this show seemed to find that truly unfathomable.

(ETA: who I'm responding to, a.k.a. the ever-clever-most-fun-person-to-argue-with-or-agree-with-on-the-site-person-with-name-punning-on-both-wisdom-and-cooking-ingredients)

[ edited by doubtful guest on 2009-07-29 19:54 ]
I'm with Saje here, I really don't think this Topher knew about Saunders being a doll.

All the staff act in a certain way around programmed dolls, they know something the dolls don't and it shows. Topher creeping into Saunders office doesn't suggest he knows she is a doll.

Maybe here Topher arrived after Saunders was programmed? Maybe Alpha killed the previous programmer when he went composite?
Or maybe this Topher had also been (partly ?) wiped ?

... person-with-name-punning-on-both-wisdom-and-cooking-ingredients ...

It's just my initials backwards, honest (fair play though, if they'd spelled out T.W.A.T. I might've gone with something else ;).

Yeah, must admit i've met a few folk like that but it normally only takes listing a few consumer products before you can demonstrate to them that they've bought the most heavily advertised brand for little or no apparent reason (they'll still come up with a rationalisation of course, like a person with blindsight, but you can usually see the seed of doubt taking root ;). Never met anyone that sincerely claims to be totally unaffected by any aspect of culture though.

And yeah, the unfathomable thing puzzled me too (particularly because there were actual specific counter-examples of people on this very weblog that said, basically, "That doesn't seem so bad"). For myself, though you can never know till you're faced with the choice, I suspect I might choose almost anything else over wiping (maybe even a "good" death) because personally few things scare me more than that sort of loss of self (it's irrational since I wouldn't know and therefore wouldn't miss it post-wipe but there you are - I have Alzheimer's on both sides of my family so it's something i've considered in the wee small hours ;).

It's kind of like an "alt universe" Dollhouse...like the regular series occurs on Earth-1 and "Echo" is the Dollhouse world on Earth-Two.

Heh. Or given the scene re-use, maybe an Earth 1.5 ;).

(though Joss is a big Marvel guy so maybe '616' and '616.5' is more apt)


edited for flow

[ edited by Saje on 2009-07-29 20:12 ]
Topher wonders why Saunders hasn't had her scars fixed. If he knows she was Whiskey then why would he wonder that ? He'd already know.


It depends on what you mean with "know", Saje, wether I agree ;).

If you mean 'know because he imprinted her', I don't necesarrily agree. We know that Saunders was constructed from the basis of the old Dr. Saunders. His personality traits were mostly mapped directly onto Whiskey (although it's not made very clear in the series to which extent; i.e. Whiskey's version of Dr. Saunders is very clearly a heterosexual female, for instance) and I'm not sure to what extent Topher would know that person. It's not like he built the personality from scratch and knows every crook and cranny of her mind.

And even if he did build her from scratch, I'm still not sure to which extent he'd know why a person does something, when left to their own devices long enough.

If, however, you mean 'know because Whiskey couldn't be healed and that's why she's Saunders now in the first place', then I see your point and agree. Plus: his question here seems to imply that it is possible to heal someone from these types of scars, which would make me instantly wonder why they didn't heal and swap-out Whiskey for someone less popular.

So yes: I agree it doesn't synch up with the explanation of Saunders being an active as we got to see it, but it doesn't preclude a slightly different version of the same events (i.e.: one where she became Saunders as a quick back-up when the old one died and then for some reason they were unable to switch the personality to someone else, or something completely different ;)).

Also: heh, doubtful guest, glad to see you agreed there ;)
So you think he's effectively wondering why anyone wouldn't get their scars fixed ? Like "What's up with that 'guy' ?" Hmm maybe, it doesn't preclude that at least, accepted.

And good point, not his "work", a few tweaks aside presumably, otherwise i'd expect there to be more a musing quality if that's what he meant, more like a programmer watching his software run and do something unexpected, more proprietorial maybe, with a bit of frustration thrown in ?

When he says "fixed" i'm assuming he doesn't mean some Star Trek level "make it disappear" sort of fix BTW but rather just run of the mill plastic surgery so that her scars don't look like an amateurish botch job that she (presumably) did herself (which also struck me about Victor BTW - i'm happy assuming meta-textually he looks like that so we see the connection between him and Whiskey and I guess between them both and Frankenstein's monster but textually, wouldn't Saunders be much better at stitches than that ? And if not, why not just use an imprint that is, and that applies to them both ? That feels more like a goof though, rather than the pivot around which to reform our entire opinion of the series ;).
I really enjoyed Echo. it was a great episode and a wonderful pilot.
I didn't think it was confusing at all,and I liked how it presented everything.
but I think maybe people not used to Joss' work would've found it confusing, that there were too many threads to follow or something and that's why Fox wanted a new one. 'Ghost' seems more aimed at regular people. and while it is a good episode, Echo is so much better and makes everything much clearer.
ETA: who I'm responding to,a.k.a. the ever-clever-most-fun-person-to-argue-with-or-agree-with-on-the-site-person-with-name-punning-on-both-wisdom-and-cooking-ingredients


I don't remember saying any of that stuff, though.... ohh, you weren't referring to me. The backwards initials make more sense, really - otherwise he'd be one of those punners with bad spelling, and nobody likes that lot.

Although it's definitely possible to "explain" (fan-wank? Am I using that term correctly?) Topher's attitude towards Dr. Saunders Even-If-He-Knows-She's-A-Doll, it's not terribly convincing, methinks. I wonder if they had decided, at that point, that she would be a doll? Also agree with those who thought her introduction in Echo was creepier.

I liked the tie speech, didn't find it too hammer-on-the-head-ish at all. I liked a lot of the dialogue in Echo but I just re-watched Ghost to try and compare and I really can't say I think one is much better than the other. I imagine Echo would have gotten more tweaking before airing, if it had been aired? It's fascinating to see two different approaches / openings, though. On a second viewing, I still found Ghost a compelling and entertaining "entry" into the Dollhouse world, in spite of occasional clunkiness. Echo does have mostly better writing and a lot of very cool scenes, but ultimately I'm not sure it's the better pilot. Two very good episodes, and Eliza great in both of them, IMO. I don't know if my impression of S1 as a whole really fits with the common view that the first five standalones were mediocre and then the show took off. I thought Stage Fright was awful, but I enjoyed the other early episodes, and it seems par for the course that a season gets more tense and involved as it progresses.

No milk and cookies for me, I guess, just my lonely Club of One. Also, this made me laugh loud enough to scare a squirrel off the porch:

I'd recommend against the hesitant handshake, I was in a club like that once and we kept getting mistaken for Freemasons.


:-)
On a second viewing, I still found Ghost a compelling and entertaining "entry" into the Dollhouse world, in spite of occasional clunkiness.


Well, there's still room between 'compelling and entertaining' and good. So, having rewatched both, do you actually feel that 'Ghost' is about equal to 'Echo', catherine? You yourself mention the clunkiness of 'Ghost' and the better writing and cool scenes in 'Echo'. Which leads me to wonder why you don't think that one is better than the other. I'm not asking to say "see, you already agree with me, mwahaha *evil laughter*", by the way, I'm genuinely intrigued by your comment :).

Also, catherine, not sure you're allowed to refer to yourself as being in a lonely Club of One considering, y'know, your 'status' ;). But I guess I could throw in some milk and cookies to make you feel more welcome (it's like with drugs; I offer you these milk and cookies free of charge this first time, but eventually you'll have to join our evil-yet-so-invitingly-right-group ;)). Also: stop scaring squirrels. They're fluffy, friendly and cute.

Saje, re: the word 'fixed'; I think you're right. I assumed he was talking about getting it fixed period, in a Star Trek-like manner, but making it (slightly) better at all does answer my question of why, if that is possible, they don't swap-out Whiskey for someone else if her backstory in alternate!Dollhouse would've been similar to the one in current!Dollhouse.
Out of sheer laziness (as both a viewer and now writing about it) I haven't really supplied any kind of argument or analysis... I guess I just felt like my enjoyment level was roughly equal for both eps. I liked the intro to the Dollhouse better in Ghost... the way we really spent a little time with this party-girl and then saw her wiped into Echo... and then I liked having a whole engagement to watch. We saw her being Eleanor Penn for so much of the episode, so convincingly, that moments like her flash of Sierra and then the fact of having it just erased were really striking, and the engagement itself was pretty entertaining. Echo was a more complicated episode (not to be confused with confusing! ;)) with lots of great little scenes and dialogue but I didn't actually find myself enjoying it all that much more and I'd have to re-watch it again to be more specific about why (which I'm not going to do this week). I just thought they were both... good. I'm not really satisfied by my answer either, but it's all I've got for now!
Heh, fair enough catherine :).

Still, I'll keep the milk in the fridge and those cookies in a nice tupperware box, if you ever want 'em ;).
:-). Ah, screw it. Echo is way better than Ghost. Gimme cookies!
If compared side by side with "Ghost", or any of the first five eps. over all, I'd say this was just a better composed show. But, as for how it would have fit in with the series, I don't think it would have worked. I thought MotS was an exceptionally powerful episode, and part of that came from it being Ballard and Charline's first meeting. I also think it worked out a bit better that we didn't discover that Victor (don't know how to spell his Russian name - Lubov??) was a doll till the third episode. I also don't see how Melli would have fit in if this had been the direction the show had taken, and I just loved her arch.

But those are minor issues: my biggest critique of this episode is the "herding" scene. If this was our intro to the show, why would we find it "bad" that they're eating together? We don't know anything about their doll persona, and rather than showing us what it is (like the show ended up doing) this episode required Topher to TELL us that it was a bad thing.

Oh, and CAN'T WAIT FOR SEASON 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!
They took out a line I really liked from the herding scene in Gray Hour, though. That made me sad. Boyd's, "They're eating lunch. Good thing you called." Why cut out that bit of snark? I wrote a Dollhouse spec last month, and one thing I found was that Boyd, as a character, doesn't have a lot of remarkable ways of speaking. I dunno, I like his character, I just noticed that when trying to write him. He doesn't say a lot of things that only Boyd could/would say.
I thought MotS was an exceptionally powerful episode, and part of that came from it being Ballard and Charline's first meeting.

Charline? We have a name for "Gorgeous But Deadly"? Totally missed that.
This is now linked to on the sidebar on the front page.
I dunno, I like his character, I just noticed that when trying to write him. He doesn't say a lot of things that only Boyd could/would say.

Boyd's dialogue is pretty straightforward but his "voice" is distinctive I think mainly because his attitude is unique (on the show I mean, in fiction the cynical, world-weary detective is almost as old as detectives themselves). So from 'Echo' the whole "man-friend" exchange where he ends with "We're not men" is very Boyd IMO (and there're examples in the actual series too) - other characters could say his lines but they'd land differently. To me he's like Marlowe without the self-righteousness (except Marlowe's dialogue, like all Chandler's stuff, is pretty distinctive by itself. And superb to boot).

Re: snark, agreed. In general most of the characters displayed more, well, character in 'Echo' and that includes a sense of humour (Ballard for instance), rounds them out and gives them depth (making a joke is one of the shorter cuts towards showing a character has an inner life IMO and like a good stunt, the style of it can speak volumes about who they are).


edited to *pass catherine cookies. Or cookie flavoured ice-cream. Or even cookie flavoured gherkins if that's what takes your fancy ;)*

[ edited by Saje on 2009-07-30 10:09 ]
Thanks catherine, now I have that annoying song stuck in my head again :)
I think the primary difference here is that rather than having the mysteries of whether or not Echo is awakening (the Caroline thing makes it pretty clear) and who's a doll (when I felt the reveals of them were too obvious. They weren't absolute but I had thought of it at all and the pacing here is more suprising), but rather, who the hell is Caroline? And what is a doll? A much more on-point mystery. In Ghost, we find out that Caroline was coerced into signing WAY too early. Adelle dissuades us very effectively from thinking the dolls are robots or zombie slaves, but until the Caroling picture hits the desk/Topher's argument with Boyd, we could have assumed they'd been grown somewhere specifically for this purpose. And we get altruism and true love as our first impression. We think they're heroes most of the time, but find out slowly that they aren't. With Ghost, we know they're criminals, pimps, and brainwashed prostitutes, but sometimes they save little girls.

I also disagree that Topher's speech doesn't agree with the Topher we met in the season. That's the Topher we've been watching, only we didn't have his underlying attitudes expressed in any episodes, so we just perceive him as a heartless monster. If you re-watch with this as Topher's first impression on you, you'll find him a bit less grating and soulless, and just realize he's jaded, and eventually, that he's lonely.
Also, I think Whiskey was not originally Dr. Saunders, or there was a different reason for being a doll (other than the scars, like her own awakening or some such). Or that there was a slight difference in the circumstances. Not just because Topher doesn't seem to know, because he displays in the scene with Saunders in Echo that he is the best, quickest liar in the house and he uses the same techniques when answering Boyd about why he doesn't like Saunders (a dismissive joke couched in amorality/insensitivity as a distraction and stalling technique). I also think it wasn't going that way because of she could get rid of the scars so easily. Would DH allow her to choose when to get them removed?

My original theory about Saunders was that she was a doll given the memories of their other doctor and the scars were there to match the memories of his/her death, that DH gave the scars to her themselves, so she could wake up and think, "oh, I got cut real bad but survived." This is more likely.

But... it's been hinted at that Victor's scars will be going away quite quickly, and they prob do have a way of doing that to protect their investment, so maybe there IS more to using her as a doctor, and she is making a choice about the scars. Coupled with Topher's lying, this is basically the same way she'd have been intro'd, only this question would be right on the surface instead of maybe there.
To me, "Echo" is prime Joss, firing on all cylinders, working his magic.Outside of MOTS, I never really felt that about any of the aired episodes.Not that I disliked all of them-even diluted Joss is better than no Joss at all. But Echo, Epitaph1, and MOTS to me are on a different level as far as story and execution goes, a level that approaches, and maybe even surpasses, the heights he reached on Buffy. And thats as good as it gets,imo.
I also disagree that Topher's speech doesn't agree with the Topher we met in the season. That's the Topher we've been watching, only we didn't have his underlying attitudes expressed in any episodes, so we just perceive him as a heartless monster. If you re-watch with this as Topher's first impression on you, you'll find him a bit less grating and soulless, and just realize he's jaded, and eventually, that he's lonely.

Think back to Needs where Caroline confronts Topher and he flounders in giving any sort of justification for what the Dollhouse does and finally resorts to 'I don't normally do the sales pitch'. I think that's a totally different Topher to the one that gives and insightful and eloquent justification for the Dollhouse in Echo
Hypothesis: It seems likely that the structural changes to the central plot lines between the original and aired pilot (Ballard/Echo meetup, Victor reveal) would've required a significant reworking of some of the later scripts, at least the first few episodes. Does anyone else thing it's possible that the reason the second half of the first season is so much stronger than the first half is that Joss was forced to push back the plot/mythology heavy episodes (traditionally the strongest episodes of any Whedon show) later into the season so he would have time to rewrite them, forcing the stand-alone episodes (which would naturally be less affected by changes to the central arc) towards the front of the season?
What woofie said. Although I'd throw ASitHoL in there.

As for Topher's "floundering" to an aggrieved, gun-wielding Caroline,I don't think it proves we're getting a different Topher. I doubt if any of the defense he gave Boyd would have flown with her in her state and I presume he would have known enough not to try. Not to mention the sudden appearance of someone pointing a gun at you tends to up the nervous stammering and damp down the eloquence level.
He concluded with 'I don't usually do the sales pitch' - to seemed more than nervous; he seemed like he hadn't considered the ethics of the Dollhouse very deeply
He just feels quite different to me, more level-headed, more assured, more coherent. I was more convinced that he knew what he was talking about by 5 minutes of 'Echo' than I was by the whole of the 12 episodes we got (apart from anything else, most/all of what he says in 'Echo' is actually true - IMO - whereas in the other episodes, not so much).

Always cool when people have a different perspective on something I thought was pretty clear-cut though, shows it isn't ;).
I finally got to watch Echo and Epitaph 1 last night. I totally agree with GVH's posts (Thanks, GHV for making my points a few days before I could watch the episode and therefore formulate them.) and this:

The main thing I prefer is the reduced reliance on ED's physical attributes and a storyline that screams SEX..SEX..rape..abuse..SEX at me. That sucked. Instead there's far more emphasis on the creepiness of the relationships people have with the dolls and how that's more a manipulation of
interpersonal needs.

curlymynci | July 28, 20:28 CET


I totally disagree with Saje.

As I said in the first couple weeks of airing, I never saw moral ambiguity in the first episodes of Dollhouse. I saw exploitation being played for audience titillation. I found the first 5 episodes incredibly thin, which resulted in boredom mixed with disgust for the organization, most of the characters and the cheap titillation. "Echo" gives the whole story much more depth. I like being given the issues right away. I felt much more like it hit the ground running. It raised real questions I had felt should have been the issues from the beginning. I am sure Joss had plenty of places to go with the story from there.

I'm usually not much of a joiner, but I want an e-mail illustration of the hand-shake, a button and anything else that comes with membership in the I think "Echo" is way better than "Ghost" club. Sign me up!

[ edited by newcj on 2009-08-02 17:43 ]
(Over-simplified and MHO stance follows.)

Aside from their pilot position meaning they both have to do some introduction and exposition, the two episodes are very different animals, so hard to compare directly. Echo is a chapter one of a story arc. Ghost is a one-off stand-alone "engagement of the week".

In Whedon shows, arc episodes are usually stronger than stand-alones. This was particularly true in Dollhouse Season 1. The arc was executed really well, while many of the stand-alones were relatively dull. The difference was amplified by collecting most of the stand-alones at the beginning.

Thing is, it didn't have to be this way. Dollhouse should be great for heart-breaking short stories exploring the various nuances of its premise: identity, memory, social and self-determination. And there was no better time to exercise that option than at the very start, especially since both the show mythos and the season one arc seem well-suited to a slow build and burn.

Personally I thought Ghost was great, significantly better than episodes two through five. So I will happily eat cookies with those who prefer the imaginary season that starts with Echo, drops the filler, and progresses the arc. But if we're indulging our imaginations anyway, then I like even more my fantasy version of season one that had stand-alone episodes which lived up to the show's potential.
Just watched Echo. Infinitely better than Ghost, and would have made for a far greater first season. Can someone PLEASE tell Joss to put to bed this 'the network helped us improve' spiel before he believes it and loses his soul. I care.
"ha. emoticon"

This ep had by far the best dialogue of the whole season, and hardcore human interaction of the sort we only got in flashes during the last few episodes. Put those together and the actors looked a lot better too. Is mindless action supposed to be less boring than human stuff? Wtf?

Frankly I'm furious and a little disgusted.
Now that we've watched this, I'm just very curious how much they ended up changing Sierra's background and why.

I actually loved the juxtaposition of-- well pretty much everything when we're first introduced to this character in this version. As retro-chic as that pink outfit was, I always associate that look with white all-American 1960s housewives. Since Dichen's Asian-ish I thought that was also a neat little bit of synchronicity since some people think that Asians get their hair bleached or eye surgery to shape their identities to suit a western ideal of beauty. Then of course there's also the fact she's bleeding which makes the whole thing even stranger and implies all sorts of possible horrifying aspects to that engagement.

While I suppose/hope there's still a chance to insert this back into the show, it's weird that in the actual aired pilot they make Sierra the new girl and put her through a different wringer to show how painful it is to get conditioned for active work. I kind of wonder if it's since basically that means in an ideal world they'd be locked into Dichen for a full five years?

Actually that does surprise me a bit with Epitaph One since it just hit me that now they're basically locked into their current cast they've had ever since an unaired pilot. While I suppose they can write someone out for an extended period maybe, at some point they'd need the actors to come back for the grand end one would assume. In the Buffy/Angel TV-verse I think the only two would be Boreanaz and Mercedes McNab? (And I'm actually not sure about DB being in the pilot)
Hmmmmm. Let's see. In Angel only Angel and Lindsey were in both the first and the final episodes. In BtVS BUffy, Xander, Willow, Angel and Giles were in the first and last episodes. Harmony and Angel were in the first epi of BtVS and the last episode of Angel.

In both cases some of those characters (Giles, Lindsey, Harmony) left for a while and came back to the show. I don't see any reason that the same could not happen. It would be hard for Joss to kill those particular characters, but they can get transferred or finish their time in the house or go to the attic. But shouldn't this be on the other thread?

[ edited by newcj on 2009-08-04 17:31 ]
Y'know, regarding Anthony's interest in single-episode possibilities, one thing that Dollhouse is well-positioned for are occasional episodes that find a great story by focusing on a totally unknown to us doll. Because there are multiple dollhouses, each with their own internal politics (that is, with the people in Adelle or Topher's positions having potentially very different attitudes/thoughts about what they are doing), we could have a fascinating story about a doll or character in, I dunno, the Madrid dollhouse, that reflected interestingly on whatever is going on in the current "main" storyline. Sorta like "The Chain" in the Buffy Season 8 comics, which ain't surprising since Season 8 resembles Dollhouse in its picture of the slayer community spread out over several international cells.

Oh, and I do remember that Joss somewhere commented on not repeating the "Italian Wolfram and Hart Office" gag, where the same set was re-dressed. But would it really be surprising -- or only usable for comedy -- to imagine several dollhouses around the world designed on similar floorplans? Especially given the new budgetary restrictions on the show: as I understand it, shooting a larger proportion of the show on the existing main dollhouse set when possible is a key money-saving strategy.
Very late to the party, but just got the chance to finally watch the episode earlier today. One thing I appreciated in Echo over Ghost was that Ballard doesn't come across as an incompetent, wooden dumbass. I thought his character was very shallow and uninteresting for quite a while in the show as aired. The scenes to demonstrate his dogged determination to uncover the truth about the dollhouse were frankly stilted and clunky in Ghost and rather cringeworthy. From his intro in Echo, his character came across as vastly more interesting and three-dimensional.

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