This week’s Dollhouse was overseen by two veteran members of Team Whedon, Tim Minear (who wrote the episode) and David Solomon (director), and proved an improvement over last week’s turgid Echo-finds-her-maternal-side episode. Bolstered by two strong plotlines and a Battlestar Galactica grad (Michael Hogan), “Belle Chose” managed to wrestle with the usual dolls-as-whores dilemma in a manner that was a lot more brisk and witty than usual…
…Starting with the episode-title: Echo became Kiki, a college-student sexpot designed to the requested specifications by a client: a professor of literature (Arye Gross) who specialized in the naughty bits of Chaucer. Kiki was supposed to be dumb, but delightfully so — given an “F” on her exam, she whined to the prof that she thought the class was “medieval, not advanced evil.” When spoken by kooky Kiki/Echo in a baby-coo voice, shaking her belle chose in a school-girl skirt and knee-socks, it nearly drove the professor wild. That is, until the bad stuff happened:
Ballard, assigned to handle Kiki, was so unnerved by this incarnation of Echo that when he was pulled off her case to extract information from a serial killer, he blurted, “Serial killer? Thank god!” (Trust me if you didn’t see the episode: That line killed.) The real evil derived from this other subplot: serial-killer Terry, nephew of the former Saul Tigh — Uncle Brad, that is, to Terry.
Early on in the hour, Terry is wheeled into the Dollhouse in a coma. (Uncle Brad is a major Dollhouse investor, and wants help for his troubled nephew.) The Dollhouse gang needed access to his killer thoughts, so Victor got a “treatment” that poured all of Terry’s nastiness into him. Ballard’s interrogation of Terry/Victor was tense and fine, and things got even better when Terry/Victor was slipped out of the Dollhouse by Uncle and Topher couldn’t track him down because Victor didn’t have his cranial GPS installed. (Wouldn’t you know it? It was removed during the operation to get Victor’s scars repaired and wasn’t reinstalled.)
Topher attempted the super-tricky “remote mind-wipe” and things go haywire: Terry’s mind gets deposited into Kiki’s pretty little head, and, boy, did actor Enver Gjokaj have a good time wiggling around as Kiki.
The episode contained a fair amount of Dollhouse angsting — dialogue that poked us in the ribs with sentiments such as, “we’re human, not his toys,” and “you’ve surrounded yourself with the fakes, the copies.” But this week, such sentiments were woven into the story in an essential way: It didn’t come across as though a message was being delivered via the thwap of a croquet mallet to our heads (Terry’s chosen method of punishment). Regular characters who usually don’t get handed laugh-lines were rewarded with some sharp ones, and they made the most of them. It was satisfying, for example, to hear Boyd, during a discussion of serial-killer mind-info extracting, observe with comic disbelief, “Topher has ethical problems [with this] — Topher!”
All in all, one of the most enjoyable hours of the season. Or as Kiki would say, this stuff about “Chauncey ” deserves an A. Or at least an A-. Do you agree?