By Abby West
Updated February 21, 2009 at 12:00 PM EST

What a big improvement from last week’s premiere, which I didn’t love the way I wanted to. The dialogue and pacing just worked better in this episode (“The Target”) than it did in the first — even with the timeline jumping back and forth. (Never mind the special thrill of seeing Matt Keesler (The Middleman) playing it dark as the villain.) We got some juicy back story on Alpha, a human doll who went crazy after his memory failed to be wiped clean and killed a bunch of people back at the dollhouse. But he spared our girl Echo. We also saw Langdon (Harry Lennix) begin his time as Echo’s handler. Lennix sold his progression from having barely-contained disdain for Echo to something akin to care and concern. And he got to break off some of the best lines. (Topher explaining Alpha’s meltdown: “Still working out the kinkies.” Langdon: “Like the blood? The screaming? The dying?”)

And there was more insight into the extent of Agent Ballard (TahmohPenikett)’s obsession with finding out about the dollhouse. All thewhile, Echo was seeing images of previous implanted personalities and that can’t be good. Andthen there was the overarching conspiracy that seems to involve Alphaand Echo. All good stuff that I have to believe will tie togethersatisfyingly because…well because I’m a Whedonite.

I really enjoyed Echo’s up-for-anything, outdoorsy-girl personality thisweek but it made me realize that I like Elisha Dushku best when she’skind of a badass (like the clip below). The wounded-or-scared-girl act doesn’t always ring truefor me, mostly because it’s just her looking confused. While I hate tocall into question Dushku’s acting chops, I have to agree with MarcBernardin’s comment last week: Asking more of her than badassness”might not go as smoothly.”

Still, I’ll be back to watch it next week. How about you?