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January 10 2010

Does Dollhouse's Latest Head-Twister Actually Make Sense? Analysis of earlier episodes in light of Friday's revelation.

Pitch perfect assessment and set up for the "finale". I feel like next week might play out like Buffy's close of season four. Although Epitaph Two will probably answer more questions than "Restless" raised, one hopes.

In the article, the author asks in the penultimate paragraph--what is Boyd's purpose for Echo? If he is the evil architect of the apocalypse who wants to make himself immortal by putting his mind in x-number of bodies, then surely he wants to know it's possible to make himself a super-genius with super-abilities like Echo's turning out to be. Perhaps I use genius too lightly. Although his downfall might be in last night's caution of dumping Caroline into Echo-she's too aware and fully-formed to coexist with Caroline. Maybe Boyd, if ever attempts to composite personalities for his own gain, won't be able to handle x-number of personalities on-top of his Boyd personality?

Edit to also say I agree with the author's closing statements--I too think that season one, now that I have it on DVD (I only gave in now that season two is so great) will be much more tolerable to pick out the clues to all this.

[ edited by CaptainB on 2010-01-10 04:01 ]
I don't know about pitch perfect, but I do agree with it in general. One major disagreement:

The author seems to have missed the Whiskey/Saunders sleeper programming. As it's given to us in the show, Boyd and Saunders had a real thing going and Whiskey was a sleeper. It's safe to say that is true or that Boyd was using her the whole time, but that she believed it to be real. Either way, he's ruthless enough to use her to stop Caroline's memory from getting out by killing someone. IIRC, Saunders didn't shoot until Bennett confirmed without a doubt she'd be able to restore the memory.

At any rate, the reason Boyd puts on the "act" (if indeed it is, and it seems fairly likely) in the reused Epitaph One scene is the same reason he has been putting on that act for months. Seems the author and others are looking past the obvious to make more complex problems.

Whatever Boyd's (if indeed that's his name) plans, they must be worth the risk of keeping Echo alive now that she knows who he is. Or are they...
"The half a dozen really bad episodes are going to fall into proportion, as part of a greater overall design."

I found this to be quite true when I was watching Season One over the summer. Watching all the episodes close together made it easier to discard the A Story and focus more on the B Story, which generally had more meaty Dollhouse bits to it.
"The half a dozen really bad episodes are going to fall into proportion, as part of a greater overall design."

I'd say they already have. I was quite critical of this show when it started, and I still maintain that the first few episodes of Dollhouse just weren't all that great (despite showing frequent signs of its potential). But as the show began picking up speed (with even a late S1 standalone like 'Haunted' already being more self-assured than the early outings), and continued doing so in S2 launching itself into full-blown awesomeness as of 'Belonging', I'd say the show has quite competently erased the bad beginning.

Only shame is that it was the beginning that was bad. It took the show just a bit too long to reach its current state of greatness and richness in characters (as the linked article states: we care about all the characters now. The only critique I can think of is that the show was a bit too slow in getting us to care this much), which I'm convinced lost the show viewers. In the American network television climate it's much better to start out great and them slump, than to keep getting better and better (effectively airing many of your best episodes after the cancellation axe has fallen).

But all in all: Dollhouse has turned into a very memorable, high quality addition to the Whedonverse and I think the author is correct in assuming it'll be remembered fondly and will hold up much better when the entire show is available to watch on DVD. It's still not my favorite Whedon show (I had twelve seasons of television to fuel my near instantaneous love for the Buffyverse and Firefly was a home-run from the get go), but it's a much, much closer thing than I'd have ever thought during S1. Can't wait to buy the S2 set as soon as it becomes available.

[ edited by GVH on 2010-01-10 05:22 ]
Why is someone who can't be mindwiped so valuable to someone who plans to mindwipe the entire world?
We don't actually know that's what Boyd's plan is. Maybe his plan is to stop the runaway motion of the technology his company helped to unleash.
To the topic specifically in the article, yes it actually makes perfect sense. I don't think it's been accidental that if we look at "who" has seemed to morally question their role in an "action" sense, Boyd is never someone we are shown. Although he does seem to always accurately describe the nature of his role and the roles of others.

He never has moral conflicts. He never seems unsure of the right thing to do. He always had skills that just didn't fit if he were truly a moral person. To me, what we have actually discovered is that he is perfectly amoral. He understands exactly what he is, and he is ok with it as long as it furthers his goals. He'll do good or evil, and it really makes no difference.

And I've noticed that I've always trusted Boyd the least, because he always "seemed" so level headed and upright without any of the natural human problems of Ballard, DeWitt, or Brink. I'm not saying that up until this episode I've disliked him or thought of him as evil; its just why were we always being shown Boyd as resourceful and a decent judge of character? Isn't that the type of person who probably wouldn't be forced to work for Rossum?

But kudos to Joss and Co. for putting together a character who kept me tricked as to his total nature for this long. For me personally, this has been the first character "curve" that has actually shocked me and looking back on it I still don't know why. I suspect it's Man on the Street. Because that was the one episode where Boyd is shown doing something that on the surface seems so upright and just, and in retrospect may simply be him working himself into a better position.

[ edited by azzers on 2010-01-10 07:25 ]

[ edited by azzers on 2010-01-10 07:26 ]
You know with this revelation in mind, I'm suddenly seeing a lot of parallels between Boyd and Book.
I really want to think that Boyd is secretly good, but I don't think that makes sense.

You'd have to explain why Boyd lets everyone waste time attempting to resurrect Caroline just to find out who she met, and why Claire kills Bennett with the apparent motive of stopping her from fixing Caroline's wedge. And who stole the copy of Caroline they recovered from Alpha.

Perhaps Boyd is ultimately doing things for the greater good, but it seems like his actions in the attempt to conceal his identity from Team Echo are inexcusable.
No wonder I always found Boyd so bland and boring- he's a secret evil genius! I should have guessed.
I am seconding the parallels between Boyd and Book, although I believe Book became a truly good man after being evil. Boyd appears good, but the collective decision right now seems to be that he is in fact evil and that we were all duped.

But yes, they both acted as consciences to the group despite their amoral backgrounds.
"Why is someone who can't be mindwiped so valuable to someone who plans to mindwipe the entire world?

We don't actually know that's what Boyd's plan is. Maybe his plan is to stop the runaway motion of the technology his company helped to unleash.
The One True b!X | January 10, 06:50 CET


I've been thinking along those same lines b!X - in fact I just posted something about it on the "discuss the last ep" thread, where you (and a couple of others) also alluded to this possibility.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

And if we're on the right track, it was said before the fact ;)
...its just why were we always being shown Boyd as resourceful and a decent judge of character? Isn't that the type of person who probably wouldn't be forced to work for Rossum?

Exactly. This has been the issue with Boyd from day one - if he's as he appears then why is he there, doing that ? In that sense he's always been the biggest mystery of the show for me. I've been assuming up to now that, like Book (probably ;) it dated back to some trauma - maybe something he saw as a cop/whatever he may have been - some point where he just stopped having any regard for humanity and been hoping that, unlike with Book, we'd actually get to see his backstory. The reveal throws everything wide open

Though I still think his aims will be greyer and potentially more positive than "Control the world ! Muhahahahah !". Imagine for instance an intention to truly show people what it's like to be someone else, to genuinely walk in another person's shoes - you could make a case that that might stop a lot of bigotry, violence and conflict and it's something that "amalgam technology" (i.e. the means to create more Echoes) would allow someone to "give" to the world. If it's something like that then he'd be a very 'Dollhouse' sort of villain - the kind where the ends may be laudable in some respects, it's the means that make him the baddie (kinda like Jasmine from 'Angel' S4).

The article's not bad in itself - I disagree with a lot of the season 1 comments, as usual and re: Adelle, there were some inconsistencies in the episode for her (like when she's not leaving and then in the next line "Kthnxbyethn") but i'm not sure sending the actives away is one of them - if Rossum actually has the remote imprint zapper then any dolls in the house are a potential liability that could be turned against them at any time (watching you Ballard ;). Added to that, they didn't sign up to be cannon fodder and one of the few areas where Adelle's pragmatism takes a back seat seems to be in the area of choice - all along it's been how she distinguishes herself in her own mind from the baddies, maybe expediency would have her go back on that but it seems pretty deeply in there (even when she's drunk/high it's what she thinks - In vino veritas and all that ;).
I'm still holding to the notion - until the next episode comes along ;) - that Boyd is a bad guy like The Mayor was in Buffy. Not sure about his ultimate plan, it might be more gray area, like Saje suggests, but I am pretty sure that the one thing he never faked was his caring for Echo. Not Caroline - he could never quite care less for her - but definitely Echo. That wasn't some kind of self-serving bond we were shown; it always seemed to me almost like fatherly love. And in a way, that's what Boyd actually turns out to be: Echo's father.
Am I the only one who got the impression that Claire killed Bennett specifically because she is programmed to hate Topher, and Bennett was making him happy? I don't think she was in on anything Boyd was up to.
It's feasible but she did seem to wait until Bennett said she could fix Caroline before shooting. And it seems to me like there's a big leap from hatred to cold-blooded murder, Saunders was messed-up but she was still a functioning "person" who knew right from wrong. So right now some kind of sleeper feels more plausible to me (not necessarily a programmed sleeper though, Boyd could just have talked her into it, convinced her - with the help of her love for him - that it's a necessary evil. That would also tie into the "nurture is a kind of programming" parallel the show's drawn since day one).

...it always seemed to me almost like fatherly love. And in a way, that's what Boyd actually turns out to be: Echo's father.

Yeah GVH, the scene where Echo's scared about Caroline being restored and Boyd comforts her and (indirectly) tells her he's proud to know her was very father/daughter and that vibe's been there since 'The Target' IMO. He's done a lot of stuff that wasn't in front of other people (i.e. a necessary part of his cover) that indicates he cares for Echo among others, the question is, was that just because at that point Boyd wasn't the big bad (i.e. it hadn't been invented yet) or is it actually part of a very intricate plan (i.e. that the writers have known about all along) - if they can convince me of the latter i'll be a very happy bunny (and doubly so if it's actually true too ;).
Actually, I apologise daylight, reading your comment again it's worth pointing out that in fact Saunders wasn't specifically programmed to hate Topher - remember that she thought she might have been but he tells her that that's all her. It's a key moment IMO because it's the first time Topher really feels that the imprints are real people and not just toys, it's a (maybe the) point of inflection on his arc.
I think we can assume that all this was planned from day one. The show did have a five year plan. Something like "Co-founder of Rossum and Big Bad" should have been in that plan for sure.
I hope so and say elsewhere that Boyd otherwise being a bit of a nothing character (narratively) supports that. But I think it'll still be hard to show it in two episodes. Luckily we have some right talented bastards on the writing staff ;).
I think you're right that Boyd's going to be a Jasmine type villain--except maybe even less obviously villainous. At least, that's what I'm hoping.

It does make it pretty funny to think of the pilot, though, with Adelle overruling Boyd on continuing the engagement (and then a little creepier when you realize Boyd knew exactly what to say to finally convince her). At any rate, I'm a little concerned about if this is gonna make sense--I still can't really figure out what explanation they could possibly give that would explain Boyd's decency in season one (and genuine affection for Echo in episodes like the Target, clearly beyond a simple belief that she could be useful). But it's ME, so I'm going to assume they'll do it right.
The spoiler tag was removed from this? Is it safe here? The butchers spoilers have been after me for a while. Just theories here, right?

I definitely agree that Boyd retrospectively makes a lot more sense now. The big question mark is whether or not he's good or bad, IMO. In defense of him being a good guy, I have two theories.

1) The personality of Clyde's partner has used multiple bodies also, but this latest one has been imprinted into a doll that was self aware so it's not actually the partner in the driver's seat anymore.

2) It is the actual dude, but like Clyde, he's finally realized what a catastrophic mistake he was making.

Regardless of his position, a lot of his actions make more sense, relative to Echo, if he's the one who maneuvered her into the house. He got her in and then the Alpha incident happened. Then, before the blood has even been cleaned off the floor, he's on site to make sure the most important piece of his puzzle is not harmed. From then forward he's protective handler guy. And of course, the way he looks out for Echo makes more sense too.

And sort of interesting in a the-idea-was-there-from-the-beginning sort of way, the pilot. Boyd's in the field feeling all antsy about Echo completing her kill order on Ballard. Suddenly, Adelle gets a phone call from someone bigger than her and stops the engagement. Being the big guy, he could have arranged for Harding or Ambrose to make that call.

It's his constant moral and ethical remarks that make me think he might be a good guy (or bad guy seeking redemption, because that would be fun, new ground for Joss to explore).

The other big question mark is Whiskey. Regardless of what the characters in the show seem to think, I don't think she was acting like a triggered sleeper. Yes, she waited until she found out for sure that Bennet could fix Caroline, but she also said her piece and she seems to have waited until Topher was there to witness. It strikes me as a personal thing. Whether or not that also fit in with Boyd's master plan remains to be seen. She has been living with him for a while so I do think she's one of his chess pieces, knowingly or otherwise.

*looks up* Whoah, that sort of snowballed. Feels good to let my theories out though.
My theory? Boyd had a criminal past, then realized how powerful and profitable the imprinting technology could be. The founder's methods of covering his tracks sound very criminal-underworld, and Boyd's definitely got connections there, so that tracks. It would also make sense that Boyd built a prostitution ring, since he'd first go with illegal applications as they're familiar.

However...

I really doubt Boyd's in charge of the company any more. Heck, I doubt Rossum's really the Big Bad. Remember E1? "Money: it's like the main ingredient in crazy." The show has always been much more about what money and power do to people in our society, so much so that I really, really doubt there's any single Big Bad in the whole show. There's more of a class of Big Bads.
I was thinking about why BigBadBoyd would risk himself as a handler in the field, even risking death (e.g. the Target), and then realized of course he could have himself imprinted on more than one body. But that brings up this interesting question: if the BackupBigBadBoyds are crippled like Clyde 2.0, would he really consider them acceptable backups for his true SELF, but if they are not crippled...can he trust them?

Maybe the big reveal will be that the central hidden conflict driving all the action is Boyd 1.0 vs. Boyd 2.0?
I suspect that not all of Caroline's abilities have been revealed even yet. And that Boyd and his partner are not evil--that Rossum's board members took hold of the company when they saw the political implications (power and wealth) of what they could do with its new invention. It wouldn't be the first time that a board took the reins from a company's founder (or cofounders).

I like the possibility that Boyd let Caroline make her way in because he thought she could help him and his partner, Clyde Randolph, take down the current iteration of Rossum. Joss and company gave us whiplash with the Boyd reveal; no reason for them not to give us whiplash again next week with a new Boyd reveal.
As Saje pointed out, Saunders was not programmed to hate Topher. Remembering the episode when Saunders discovered she was a doll and Topher told her he did not program her to hate him; he asked her if she looked at her files and she said she didn't (sorry, don't remember which episode it was in), I'm wondering what was in that file and hope we find out in these last two episodes, I'm in the camp that thinks there is/was a connection of some sort between Topher and pre-dolled Whiskey/Saunders and if we find out what that connection is it may shed some light on her hatred of Topher.
While she may indeed be a sleeper for some reason,and it did seem that Boyd's "I'll come back for you" was her "three flowers in a vase" moment, I think her killing Bennet was purely to hurt Topher, especially with the timing, as if she waited to pull the trigger at a time when Topher was there to see it happen.
Didn't she attempt to climb into Topher's bed to seduce him? I have to go back and rewatch the episode but Tophers "rejection" of her, on top of finding out about her dollness, which she probably holds Topher completely responsible for, to me that seemed to cement her hatred of Topher, maybe being rejected in bed by Topher (who may end up being related to her in some way) was one of the final straws reminding her she would never again be number one, never again be able to be her best,because if she was her best then wouldn't it stand to reason that of course Topher would go along with her attempt to seduce him?
Or not at all.
I think my brain just melted.
Just to restate a point previously made by someone else (can't remember who): I just don't see a way for Boyd to not be evil when he began, unless Clyde was lying. He did, after all, (co-)create the Attic, betray Clyde and trap him there. This doesn't mean that his current endgame can't be gray area or even good; a person can always change. But I think it's relatively certain that Boyd began as evil. I am, however, wondering on how DH will address all this in two (or, more probably, one) episode.
I'm reserving judgement on all this until we see how it unfolds. Boyd... I really can't decide if that's awesome or not. If it was planned (or considered, even) from the beginning, then that's fine. However, if this was a last minute decision, unless it's written really well it could seem quite arbitrary.

I really can't wait until I have the time (and a blu ray player!) to watch Dollhouse straight through in one. I imagine it'll all seem very different now. I think someone mentioned this in the other thread, but now that we know who Boyd is... it makes the early "bad" episodes now seem both really innocent and really quite sinister. Back then, the hook was that Echo was gaining an identity, but now that seems so very minor, in comparison to everything else.
Re: the copies thing
If Boyd (original Boyd, assuming the Harry Lennix body is him) has any sense of true self-preservation and is honest with himself and realistic about it, he'll still have that fear of dying/not existing, even with his copies to live on. Possibly forever, if they continue to imprint themselves through the generations--man would that be an experiment. We know the human mind gets fuzzy/dementia/alzheimers eventually (though there're clear-headed centarians, but the theory is that even if those 100+ year olds continue to live and age gracefully, the mind will break down eventually), but what happens to a personality with many lifetimes' worth of memories, passed down through different bodies ? Is there a breaking point ?

Folks are looking on the bright side of having everything condensed into two seasons (I am too, I don't mind this breakneck pace one bit), but I know we're missing out on a ton of episodes' worth of the writers exploring the implications of this tech beyond what we've already wondered about/theorized (it wouldn't be just "let's-watch-Echo-dress-up-some-more", as one fan dismissevely stated). That part's sad. I like not having to commit to the show for five seasons (I like the journey, but it takes so goddamn long and it's easy to lose track of shows sometimes with life stuff getting in the way--I never did get back to Scrubs, Rescue Me, Nip/Tuck, the last three seasons of The Shield, the final Babylon 5 seasons and film, and who knows what else), but I miss the expanded content. Heh, nevermind direct-to-DVD movie conclusions for shows, when're we gonna get shows debuting as direct-to-DVD-seasons and series...probably never, with the cost prohibitive nature of such a project, heh.

[ edited by Kris on 2010-01-10 21:03 ]
This isn't an argument so much as a preference, but honestly I'm not sure I want Boyd to be "good." It certainly won't hurt me, but after the the Adelle bait and switch, I don't want to feel like we're batting 1000 on "good" main characters. That would be extremely odd for the type of grey area this show is supposed to be dealing with.

My comment about him being perfectly amoral does work with a "good" intention however. If it benefits Boyd, he could still be trying to help. Comic books use that idea all the time. I guess my problem is, if all the series main character's are good, then the big bad is technically someone we've either never seen, seen a few times, or "society" then that makes me bored now. It worked in Angel once, but I don't think it was a season ender and it was a pivotal moment that solidified the "all we have is what we do" idea. Hell, I've gone on record as believing Ballard is better than people think, but I'd rather see him as the big bad then have to deal with non-specific villainy again.

But as Saje states, if it's explained properly then maybe I won't mind. I just THINK I will.

[ edited by azzers on 2010-01-10 23:19 ]
The Big Bad is clearly either Echo/Caroline or Topher. What show were YOU watching? :)
Wait, you mean the big bad isn't that guy who tried to kill Reina the pop singer?
It wouldn't be the first time that a board took the reins from a company's founder (or cofounders).


Random tangent: I was prompted by Clyde v{4,5}.0's reference to read Rossum's Universal Robots and it just happens to parallel this.

The co-founders are inventor Old Uncle Rossum (Clyde), betrayed by Young Nephew Rossum (Boyd) who "ended up shutting him up in his laboratory where he could play around with his great failures" - but it's the later board of the company who end up playing with matches and burning the house down when they tinker further with the tech, prompting their robots (docile human-form creatures rather than cyborgs) to revolt.
What I would like to know is, Does Adelle know about Boyd? What do you think?
Ooooh. Nice find, Anthony.

On the Saunders shooting... why does the sleeper program have to be programmed by Boyd? The rest of the company could have reasons for keeping Caroline's imprint out of anyone's hands but their own. And it's at least implied that she wasn't with Boyd the entire time.
Although I think Dollhouse has significantly improved since its lackluster start, I still think there are serious and fundamental problems with the show, most of which (still!) center around the lack of character development.

For instance, the big 'Boyd reveal.' I would have to rewatch the show to see whether it makes sense given the set-up of Boyd in previous episodes, but one thing I know for sure: the reveal would have packed much more of a wallop had we _thought_ we knew who the hell Boyd was. But we didn't. In Season One, especially, he seemed to find everything about the Dollhouse rather distasteful. So what was he doing there? I seem to recall that it was implied that something in his past forced him to join the ranks of Dollhouse handlers. But what was that something? Who does Adelle, et al., _think_ Boyd is? We still have no idea, nor were we given any viewers-only clues as to Boyd's (supposed) identity, which diminishes the impact of the reveal that he wasn't who we thought he was -- because we had no idea who he was (supposed to be)!

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