Monday, October 5, 2009

More Like an "Instinct" Review

Dollhouse showed quite the contrast in relationships in Season 2's "Instinct", juxtaposing the happily adjusted "normal" Perrins and the highly dysfunctional synthetic relationship between Echo/Emily and Nate.

Daniel and Cindy Perrin - The opening sequence for this couple occurred in the early morning hours inside their gorgeous Alexandria, Virginia home. Daniel was quite formally dressed (sans suit jacket) while studying some Rossum Corporation financial records. Presumably, Daniel's a lawyer, since there were several sets of legal volumes lining the shelves of his home office. While wife Cindy brought him a cup of coffee and gave him a brief, but warm, kiss (these crazy lovebirds apparently have a hard time keeping their hands off of each other), Daniel explained to her that he feared he'd jumped the gun in holding his press conference where he announced his intentions to go after Rossum Corporation. He had hoped that the press conference would inspire witnesses to come forward with their stories. Instead, all of his credible sources of information had gone underground, including a source from inside the formidable NSA.

Perrin was working with anecdotal and circumstantial evidence of illegal medical procedures and unlicensed experiments, but did not have actual proof of Rossum's wrong-doing. Cindy helpfully pointed out that they had plenty of evidence of money-laundering from the financial records, but Daniel was hoping for more.

When the doorbell rang, which disappointingly interrupted their morning makeout session, Cindy, who was still in her nightgown and silk bathrobe, was quick to tell Daniel to remain seated while she answered the door. Cindy apparently acted as Daniel's gatekeeper. Personally, I only answer the door in my bathrobe to make a statement that the caller is visiting at an unreasonable hour of the day. Otherwise, I make my husband answer the door while I bolt toward the bedroom to get dressed. Regardless, Daniel was telling himself that it appeared that Rossum was preventing people from coming forward with their stories, and ominously added that they certainly had the resources to do so. (My note: If the NSA was involved, that potentially meant there was pretty serious business afoot. We don't know the connection between Rossum Corporation and the NSA. It could mean anything from the NSA quietly monitoring Rossum's activities to the NSA hiding it's own involvement in mind-control research by illegally channeling their research through Rossum Corporation.)

While Daniel was voicing his concerns, he realized that Cindy was being awfully quiet. Quite concerned, he got up to investigate, but mercifully Cindy appeared a split-second later with some documents that had been dropped off anonymously.

In the evening, Daniel and Cindy were sitting in their living room while Daniel was reviewing the documents that had been dropped off earlier. The documents turned out to be transcripts of wiretaps, (from the FBI? the NSA?) which seemingly, but perhaps too conveniently, implicated Paul Ballard as one probable source of the information. With steadily increasing horror, Daniel seemed genuinely shook up to discover not only evidence of medical malfeasance and ethical violations, but also prostitution, human trafficking, and perhaps even murder! More chillingly, the corporation was taking people and changing them into whatever they wanted them to be.

Cindy, with equal parts fear and shock in her voice, declared that what he was saying was impossible. Daniel answered that he had read all about that type of work when his mother was sick. Intriguingly he dropped a hint that Rossum had the means to help his mother, but instead.....then his voice trailed off. We have no idea if his mother was under the direct care of representatives of Rossum Corporation, or if they had developed treatment plans that could have helped Alzheimer patients like his mother, but instead opted to keep the technology under wraps or use it for other purposes (like the Dollhouse) instead.

I was somewhat shocked at the next piece of dialogue, where Cindy flat-out admitted they both felt that a successful prosecution of Rossum would have meant a "trophy" that could have allowed Daniel to take a step up in his career. Cindy sounded frightened at the implications of Rossum's mind-control experiments, and Daniel gallantly offered to stop his investigation. Cindy determinedly told Daniel to not step back and to continue on with his work.

I enjoyed both Alexis Denisof's and Stacey Scowley's performances as the husband and wife team. They seemed wonderfully devoted to and clearly in love with each other, to the point where a Whedon fan starts waiting for the inevitable other shoe to drop. Are they going to be slaughtered by machine-gun fire? Will Cindy be kidnapped and forced to work in the Dollhouse? Is she already a doll?

Alexis continued his fine portrayal of an ambitious Senator climbing up the political career ladder. Daniel Perrin obviously had a lot of wealth and family connections, but, more importantly, he still seemed to retain a sense of idealism as he continued his career as a public servant.

Stacey is more intriguing with her portrayal of Cindy, as we sense she's walking a tightrope between having her character lovingly support her husband and being a true power behind the throne. (I'm guessing that Cindy could possibly be a lawyer in her own right.) The fact that the Perrins could acknowledge using Rossum for their own personal gain without coming across as being totally crass speaks a lot for their characters' pragmatism and integrity. As far as Cindy's personal influence over Daniel, I'm grateful that Stacey and the writers chose not to portray her as the bitchy wife trying to vicariously better her position through her husband's career. One senses that Daniel appreciated Cindy's advice, support and encouragement, but ultimately made his own decisions.

Echo/Sierra/Nate Jordan I have a distinct feeling the audience was supposed to be shocked that Topher programmed Echo to lactate. In the Whedonverse, however, the bizarre becomes ordinary, with the effect that nothing really surprises me. If Echo sprouted wings and flew away, a lot of people probably wouldn't have even blinked. Actually, I wouldn't have been surprised if Echo's lactation turned out to be an unforeseen side effect of her maternal programming.

Eliza Dushku put in another fine performance, this time as Emily, and it was great for me to really see Dichen Lachman in action as Sierra/The Best Friend. Indeed, it was quite interesting to see the two Actives earnestly chatting away on the park bench, both oblivious to the fact that they were playing make-believe. Lachman looks to be a wonderful actress and I look forward to episodes that feature her a bit more prominently.

Echo as Emily seemed like a devoted mother in every way. I'm a sucker for cute babies in TV shows, and they don't come much cuter than the one in "Instinct". (Maybe the baby smiled a little too often? It also brings up intriguing possibilities about fatigued mothers bringing their babies into to the Dollhouse to be programmed into lower-maintenance models.) Dollhouse client Nate purchased someone to mother his baby, and, perhaps, gained something resembling a wife in the bargain. Did Nate and Echo have sex together? It's not totally unheard of for a sleep-deprived lactating mother to banish her husband to his side of the bed at night.

What I'm a little unclear of is, when did Nate first start noticing signs of instability in Emily? As far as I could tell, any unhappiness in Nate could have been explained away by the fact that he was grieving for his dead wife, failing to bond with his baby, and was sufficiently creeped out by the fact that he had introduced a programmed zombie-slave into his household. Otherwise, I thought Emily acted pretty normal for a new mom whose husband kept parts of the house off-limits, refused to interact with his kid, held mysterious phone conversations at all hours of the night, and didn't seem the least bit concerned that a dark van was constantly parked outside of their house.

I thought it was a nice touch to program Sierra as Kelly the Best Friend. Emily would certainly need someone to vent her fears to and "help keep her sane". I wonder whose idea that was, (Adelle's?), and whether Nate grumbled a bit as he presumably was required to pay for the added cost?

Kristoffer Polaha deserves kudos for making father Nate Jordan a much more sympathetic character than he should have been. Once again, a more thorough exploration of a client's background would have been appreciated and probably quite rewarding. Nate obviously had no friends or family to lean on during his period of profound grief. We took away a message this time that, in many ways, the Dollhouse takes just as much advantage of the weakened emotional states of their clients as they do with people whom they recruit to become Actives. In Jordan's case, having all of that wealth was a curse. He could afford to spend all of that money on a Mother Doll without taking the time to think through the negative implications of hiring a Momzilla to raise his child.

I also thought it was a nice twist to see Nate talk Echo/Emily out of inflicting some serious damage with the large kitchen knife, and taking responsibility for the mistakes that he made. Emily was distraught, but she could still listen to reason, and she ultimately did the right thing by surrendering the baby.

Finally, Echo's weekly angst session with Paul Ballard raised a lot of great topics for possible future blog posts, including the interaction between self and soul, and how imprints can permanently shape a person's character. (I'm thinking in terms of how Angel's Season 5 Illyria coped with Fred's memories being imprinted into her demon psyche.)

Adelle. Olivia Williams again chillingly portrayed Adelle as the Dollhouse chief you could almost believe had her underlings' best interests at heart. Good for her as she stood up to Nate Jordan when he accused her of selling him damaged goods! Adelle rightfully pointed out his culpability in the deal, and reminded him that he had been on the verge of putting his son up for adoption. She also pointed out that Echo/Emily turned out to be exactly what he had ordered. Her performance worked out quite well until she ended her beautiful little speech about the nurturing of children by (figuratively) baring her fangs and making that crack about unloved children turning into sociopaths. It wasn't so much what she said, but how she said it. And wasn't Adelle positively dripping with false sincerity when she turned up at Madeline's apartment, all concerned about her post-Dollhouse recovery?

Ratings. I understand that the ratings for "Instinct" were even worse than the abysmal ratings for the season premiere. I've read that there's some sort of commitment to air 13 episodes, but I don't know enough about the industry to know how iron-clad that commitment is. Regardless, most Dollhouse fans are probably taking the attitude that they should enjoy the show to the fullest while they can. Or, as Jason Hughes jokes at TV Squad in the link above, wait for "Dollhouse: Season Three from Dark Horse or IDW Comics sometime next year."

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