Television Tourniquet: We Play in the 'Dollhouse' -- Episode 1



Dollhouse Episode 1: "Ghost"
Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon
Original Airdate: 13 February 2009

In This Episode…

The show opens with Echo (as her "former self," Caroline) being recruited by Ms. DeWitt, who's kind of like the madam of the Dollhouse.  This very brief scene cuts quickly to Echo, motorcycle-mounted and chasing a guy on a matching bike.  They end up front and center in a Chinese restaurant for a birthday, where they dance the night away.  The guy gives Echo a gold necklace in hopes of her remembering him.  Echo is deliriously happy, and skips all the way to the van, where her handler, Boyd, is waiting for her.  It is time for her "treatment."


Echo's treatment is getting her brain wiped clean.  All memories – everything.  She is a blank slate.  She is an Active, who can be imprinted with any personality, any talent, any skill set that the programmers in the Dollhouse give her.  Clients hire these Actives for "engagements."  Echo's next engagement is to facilitate the return of a young girl kidnapped from her home in the middle of the night.  She is being held for a $5 million ransom, which her wealthy father is all too happy to pay.

Echo and her client meet the kidnappers down on the docks to do the exchange (because, really, the docks are the only place where shady business can go down).  While there, one of the kidnappers brings back hidden memories that send her into an asthma attack, and sends the kidnappers scurrying with both the money and the girl.  The personality Echo had been imprinted with for this mission is that of a girl who had been kidnapped and abused as a child.  Just so happens that this guy was the one who abused her – or her memory-donor.  Inexplicably, she was also imprinted with asthma.

Anyway, Echo's client is shot by the head kidnapper, and Boyd, perched out of sight, kills the head kidnapper with a sniper rifle.  They bring Echo in, but Boyd insists that they not wipe her memory just yet, as he is hopeful her persona can lead them to the kidnapped girl.  It does, because she knows the guy's M.O.  She finds him and the other two lackeys in a hideout in the woods, counting the money.  Echo tells the lackeys that, once the money is counted, abuser-guy will shoot them and do awful, awful things to the girl.  Echo offers them enough details – like the girl is being kept in a refrigerator – that they shoot abuser-guy while she rescues the little girl.  They tell lady-folk to get out of there.  But then Sierra, one of the other Actives (and someone who my husband and I have taken to calling Robo-Elf), busts into the cabin and shoots the lackeys dead.  Echo takes the girl to safety.

A couple other characters I need to fill you in on: Topher, who is the standard goofy-techy guy who imprints and wipes the actives; and Paul Ballard, an FBI (I think) agent who works in the human trafficking department.  Though his superiors don't believe him, and think he's wasting his time, Paul is determined to prove the Dollhouse is real, and shut it down.

Dig It Or Bury It?

Jury is out for me on the show in general – I definitely want to give it a few more episodes before I pass judgment.  I have to say, this was a pretty weak first episode.  It left me with more questions than answers.  For example, why show us 14 seconds of Echo's former life as a real girl, when you get virtually nothing out of it?  Where exactly do they get these personae that they imprint on the Actives?  Topher mentions that they are a composite of several personalities, and obviously they are based on real people.  But where does he get them?  Why would he decide to give an Active certain traits – like in this episode, why did he give her asthma?  And who is the creepy naked guy at the end of this episode, whose face we don't see, but has killed at least two people and is sitting amongst the bodies, watching pre-Active footage of Echo while sending a photo of her to Agent Ballard with the note, "Keep looking"?  It doesn't get much more obscure than that.  Who the hell do you think you are, Joss?  J.J. Abrams?

Persona Non Grata

This week Echo is Eleanor Penn, kidnap facilitator.  She is cool, unflinching, and always gets her way.  She has that "sexy librarian" look going for her, with a well-tailored suit, wire rimmed glasses, and hair in a bun.  She was also kidnapped and sexually assaulted for three months at age nine, and has asthma.


Although Eliza Dushku is the star of Dollhouse (she was also Faith in Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer), show creator Joss Whedon has said that he doesn't plan on casting all his old friends.  Even still, Amy Acker, who played mousy Fred in Angel, plays a doctor in the Dollhouse.  And judging by the scars on her face, she will be popping up in later episodes with a story to tell.


Next week, we hunt the deadliest game of all: man (thanks to The Simpsons, after, well, "The Most Dangerous Game", for that quote).  Joss Whedon really likes his crossbows.  And we are told that a "rogue Active is threatening to shut down the Dollhouse."  This is only the second episode, and they are already threatening us with crap like that?  Give me a break.  We all know that they have a full thirteen episodes in the can.  Don't make empty threats like that until at least the end of the season.