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Dollhouse is a drama about a secret company in Los Angeles who can programme the minds of their young 'Actives' with any personality that a client chooses. FOX 2009-2010


Episode 6 - Man On The Street

28 March 2012

Synopsis: A journalist prepares a piece about the urban legend which is the Dollhouse and exposes the differing views which the public has about it. Agent Ballard follows some money transfers and tracks down internet mogul Joel Mynor on an engagement with Echo. Mynor tells Ballard that he won’t be able to arrest him and suggests that what he’s doing is just a harmless fantasy. Ballard sleeps with Mellie and confesses the case details to her. Echo is sent out to frame Ballard and get him pulled off the case. But someone within the Dollhouse edits her personality to send Ballard a message about how to discover the truth. Meanwhile Sierra’s handler Hearn has been raping her and is exposed by Boyd. Adelle sends Hearn to kill Mellie but then activates Mellie (who is an active) so that she can dispatch him.

The Good: As promised this episode does change what Dollhouse is all about. The true nature of the show seems to be revealed here and the revelations rather clear up some of the mystery which has held the show back so far. Someone is working within the Dollhouse to uncover what the true purpose of the organisation is (one of the key questions). We also learn that there are over twenty Dollhouses around the world, tied to major political organisations. So suddenly the show becomes about a major conspiracy with wide reaching implications for the whole planet, rather than just the story of Caroline escaping from one LA based group.

And more than that the clips of “The Man on the Street” make clear what Joss Whedon’s intentions are. The show isn’t about Echo’s missions or the other characters as much as it is a television show-based discussion on the morality and implications of society’s ability to manipulate our minds. “Sit back and wait for them to tell you what to buy” says one man. Dollhouse is about asking questions about how people live in the modern world and drawing our attention to situations where perhaps we are already like the actives. It’s the mission statement which the pilot failed to make clear and it’s made well.

The whole episode raises so many questions about the morality of what the Actives do and how people respond to or are affected by them. The clips of the public show some being immediately repulsed by the slavery aspect of it while others fail to take it seriously and see only the fun part of making their dreams come true. Some see it as a chance to find real happiness while others see it as a dangerous omen of things to come. These contrasting views are played out in Echo’s mission to fulfil the unfulfilled fantasy of Joel Mynor (who plays his part very convincingly). He makes a persuasive case (to Ballard) that he is honouring the memory of a loved one before Ballard retorts “and then you have sex with her.” But despite this fact it is Echo who seems to get emotional fulfilment from helping Mynor recapture a lost moment. Mynor even attempts to make Ballard out to be no different to him. Suggesting that what really motivates Ballard is the fantasy of playing the hero. It’s worth questioning whether Ballard goes home to have sex with Mellie as a way of proving to himself that this isn’t the case.

As a piece of television this complex story is handled well. The pre-credit tease is excellent. Ballard accepts that he won’t find Caroline just yet but enthusiastically pursues a new lead. Only for that lead to take him straight to her much to his shock. His conversation with Mynor feels important and raises the moral implications of Actives in an entertaining and engaging way. Echo’s revelations then come as the bigger shock and definitely give the viewer the sense that the show has a firm direction and the intelligence to make use of the vast potential on offer. The revelation that Mellie is an Active raises the final potentially heartbreaking possibility. Could Ballard spend his life trying to free the Actives from slavery while at home finding happiness only because an Active was programmed to love him? If played out it could make Ballard a tragic character to rival any (including a certain vampire who could never be truly happy).

The second plot is of Hearn abusing his position of trust as Sierra’s handler and raping her. That story is almost too big to be told in one episode but it does add to the gamut of ambiguous morality surrounding the Dollhouse. Why is it more acceptable for Sierra to be “raped” by men who pay for it than by her handler? It also allows for Boyd to once more step up and be a hero by exposing the truth. When Topher asks how he did it, Boyd simply replies “You do the work.” There again is another side to the coin. Boyd doesn’t need the fantasy; he doesn’t need to abuse his Active to be happy. He just does his job well and presumably, gets satisfaction from that. The rape story plays well into Ballard’s plot and allows Adelle to temporarily see his investigation wrapped up and off the radar.

Adelle also acknowledges what has become increasingly obvious – that the Actives aren’t as blissfully ignorant in their Doll state as they are supposed to be. Echo actually manages to absorb the implications of what has happened to Sierra and give Dr Saunders the information that she has been crying in her sleep. Boyd puts the truth more succinctly when he notes that the Actives are “all broken.”

The Bad: In engineering the various dramatic showdowns we get some very clumsy or poorly thought out moments.

Again Ballard’s feud with Agent Tanaka seems inappropriately vicious (101). Ballard is deeply unprofessional for putting his hands on another Agent and deeply foolish for doing it in their head office. And Tanaka then basically threatens Ballard with death (“you’re not long for this world”). Which comes across as a bizarre overreaction or again very dangerous thing to say at an FBI office.

Ballard just hasn’t developed a likeable personality yet. He isn’t a tortured soul like Angel or a loveable rogue like Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly). So far he remains a more generic figure, somewhere between Jack Bauer (24) and Helo (Battlestar Galactica). It makes his super human fighting abilities a little harder to buy into. Not to mention poorly directed. First he survives a tazer shot and takes down five or six men on his own (despite a recent bullet wound). Then like a moron he sits down for a twenty minute chat while any of these men could wake up and take him down. Later (again despite his earlier excesses) he is able to absorb quite the beating from Echo and still come out unscathed. It would be nice to know why he is quite so tough because his James Bond act just feels like the show telling us to like him.

I can’t quite see what Mynor’s motivation is to tell Ballard his life story, so again that scene has a contrived element to it. Also the suggestion that Ballard is obsessed with Echo\Caroline doesn’t really fit with what we’ve seen of him so far. He was obsessed with uncovering the truth before Alpha sent him the picture of her (102). The porn joke falls flat despite being a nice idea. But like a lot of humour in this show it is overshadowed by the serious and dark stuff surrounding it. Echo and Ballard’s fight is needlessly complicated and vicious. Particularly as they seem so capable of killing one another and yet so unlikely to actually do so.

The Unknown: What is the purpose of the Dollhouses? Who is on the inside of the LA branch helping Ballard?

Best Moment: The final clip from the public is the key one. The one which states the show’s central idea most clearly: “Imagine it’s true, imagine this technology being used. Now imagine it being used…on you. Everything you believe, gone. Everyone you love, strangers, maybe enemies. Every part of you which makes you more than a walking cluster of neurones dissolved – at someone else’s whim. If that technology exists, it’ll be used, it’ll be abused, it’ll be global. And we will be over as a species. We will cease to matter. I don’t know, maybe we should.”

Epilogue: The sense that the show is finally coming into its own is what is most enjoyable about this episode. Clumsiness aside the story is gripping and keeps you guessing all the way through. Whedon has another big project on his hands and you get the sense here, finally, that he may be up to the challenge.



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