Tuesday, February 24, 2009

TV REVIEW: Dollhouse: "The Target"

Last week, I counseled patience in regards to Dollhouse, the new Joss Whedon/Eliza Dushku genre series airing on Fox Fridays. It was clear the series had not realized its great potential...by a long shot.

This week, I'm delighted to report that patience is a virtue...and virtue is its own reward. For Dollhouse's second episode, "The Target" is approximately a million times more engaging and intriguing than last week's diffident, meandering pilot.

"The Target" commences with a full-head of steam, depicting a flashback that delves into the Dollhouse's mysterious history. In particular, we witness (in washed-out, over-exposed tones....) a catastrophic "composite event" that occurred three months ago. This violent incident saw an Active named "Alpha" -- suddenly in possession of his memory after casting off his state of "tabula rosa" -- go postal and murder several armed guards and at least two fellow Actives. "Alpha" was eventually put down, after cutting up Dr. Saunders (Amy Acker)...or so we've been told.

Oddly, the knife-wielding psychopath spared Echo...

Meanwhile, in the present, Echo (Dushku), has been imprinted with the personality of a rough-and-tumble outdoorsy woman, one who can go toe-to-toe with a rugged client, played by Waiting For Guffman's Matt Keeslar. This muscular, thick-necked client wants a mate who can white-water raft, climb mountains, and match him in every way imaginable (including in the bedroom).

Or so it seem
s. After hot sleeping-bag sex with Echo, the macho client quickly demonstrates he's
a psychopath, one who hunts down Echo in the isolated woods to prove if she is "worthy of living."

Not your normal afterglow, to put it mildly...

So yep, it's The Most Dangerous Game, Dollhouse-style...pitting a post-Wrong Turn Dushku against Keeslar, womano-e-mano.

That description makes "The Target" sound utterly ridiculous, yet in true Whedonesque fashion, the episode brims with surprises, unexpected twists and narrative u-turns. I didn't see any of these shocks coming (especially the connection between the flashback and the present scenario...), and the result is an energetic, imaginative and hyper forty-five minutes. With strong action, good pacing and a tantalizing glimpse of the past, "The Target" satisfies in a way that the pilot just...didn't.

Specifically, one can see how the mythology of the series is building here, with Echo beginning to remember bits of her previous life and personalities, and even holding on to a piece of this particular imprint (particularly one gesture demonstrated by Keeslar's character.) We are also introduced -- in very enigmatic, spare terms -- to the season's possible villain. Alpha. No doubt, we'll see more of this shadowy figure. And somehow, his history involves Echo (real name: Caroline!).

Another aspect of the episode I enjoyed involves some cryptic series terminology. The Dollhouse's security chief, Laurence Dominic, warns Echo that if she doesn't behave, she'll be "put in the attic." I'm sure we'll find out what that warning means soon, but it promises to be creepy/macabre. I also liked the flashback involving the "bonding" between handler Lennix and Echo...a scene that adds a newr layer to that particular relationship.

Of all the characters in Dollhouse, the only one I positively can't stomach is Topher, the young tech-genius who does all the imprinting. He's a little too glib for my taste (and heck, I like glib!). He's a snarky wisecracker and really, really irritating...like he emerged from a bad episode of Angel.

Otherwise, we learn in "The Target" that Alpha's mystery "leads back to Echo." Given that tantalizing description, I eagerly await episode three.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not really sure if I like him, but I think Topher is a really interesting character. He seems completely selfish. Boyd feels guilty about what he does and has gotten attached to Echo, Dr Saunders is more dubious but was genuinely nice to Echo and treated her as a person. From his scenes, I'd say Topher doesn't. He sees them as things for him to play with. He doesn't care about them or feel at all bad about what he does to them - take last week, giving Echo memories of being kidnapped, kept in a locked fridge, sexually abused for three months, then dumped in a river, but claiming he's a "great humanitarian."

    The glibness and cute dialogue is a cover. He's not as easy to identify as a villain as the head of security or Adelle, but he's clearly on their team. I think it's a really cool bit of writing, and though I can't be sure if I like Topher himself even as a villain, I do like having him around.