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08 March 2009 @ 12:56 pm
Dollhouse: "Gray Hour" Episode Review + Meta  
Dollhouse 1.04 "Gray Hour"

Echo becomes part of a heisting engagement for a client, imprinted with the personality of a highly skilled and trained catburglar who is basically the brains of the entire operation. Knows the ins and outs the outcome of a situation and how to get herself out of a jam if something goes wrong. Paired with three other guys taking part in this heist, things go relatively smoothly until one of the guys doublecrosses them and steals the artpiece they were looking for and locks the rest inside the vault. Boyd gets to him before he gets away, but after Echo's phonecall to him a static interference interrupts and pauses her, and suddenly she's been wiped from that personality completely. Tabula Rasa state, blank slate. In the middle of a dangerous, high risk mission where she had been the only one to know the ins and outs of the gig. Now that personality is gone, and Echo is back to being that innocent little girl from back inside the Dollhouse.

Panic occurs inside the Dollhouse headquarters about this auto-transmission of wiping can even be possible, and they essemble a way to regain Echo back safely by imprinting Sierra with the personality that Echo had to get her out. But it backfires, and it's all up to Echo to find a way out from that mess. Eventually, despite her blank state, she finds a way to get herself out plus one of the injured guys who kindly helped her. It is then revealed that it was Alpha that could have this access to disable an Active through transmissions like that, and that Alpha is indeed still alive and out there somewhere.

Meanwhile, Paul returns from the hospital only to find his contact (unbeknownst to him Victor, an Active from the Dollhouse) is asking for his help. Of course Paul plays by his own rules and warns him to never contact him ever again.


Active Disabled: Echo, Personality Imprints and Wiping Technology

Ever since the show premiered I've been very curious at to the entire workings of imprinting and wiping system. We don't get the exact technological information regarding that or how it all operates, but we do know that there can be mishaps and faltering in their personality programming in their Actives, and even the people at the Dollhouse are unaware of what might happen during an engagement. In this episode we learn that audio transmissions through sound waves in static form can actually initiate and unintended wiping of a programmed Active, which is what happened to Echo.

If I'm not mistaken, the imprinting process combines a string of different traits and personalities and makes for at least one personality for an Active to acquire, allowing the one imprinted to be nearly flawless on whomever their client wants them to be. Then after their engagement is completed they return to get "wiped", all recall of what they did with that personality removed and they are back in Tabula Rasa state, memories erased clean from their previous activities. I'm sure that Topher's genius in such technological complications helped create the system in some manner, either that or he helped enhance it from how it started, I'm still unclear based on that. He seemed to immediately understand what the static interference meant while others did not, so he's been a vital assest to the Dollhouse for quite some time. He probably knows more about how the process of imprinting works than we or others do.

Something Topher said was interesting. That fact that all Actives are "wiped clean" after an engagement the process isn't exactly a magical transition from an imprinted personality back to their innocent state. It's just like when a baby's born, sensitive to their surroundings, completely vulnerable to everything around them. We see that Echo was just as lost and confused and even terrified in the situation she found herself in as soon as she had been wiped. It explains the architectural atmosphere of the Dollhouse facility and how everything is very calm, serene, matches with the Active's blank slate zone they're in. And like a child, Echo was very much naturally curious about things; she asked questions, repeated phrases. She didn't know where she was or who she was, even when that one guy was trying to make her "snap out of it" and return to being Taffy again, she could repeat the words but she wasn't understanding anything.

Also, notice how the guy started treating her afterwards as opposed to the beginning of the episode before she had gotten wiped. Remember the saying "if you want to know who a man really is, see how he treats his inferiors, not his equals" -- this applies here. He was only respectful towards her as she was clearly running the show, however once reducing that superiority level he was taking charged, being ruthless and not really caring if he hurt her by slapping her face and calling her a bitch because he probably thought she was wasting their time. Whereas the other guy who was wounded had way more tolerance and I think ended up actually liking her, and had helped her escape in the end.

Only we see something different in Echo. Despite clearly not really understanding what was going on, and even with the wounded guy telling her to escape and leaving him there, she rescued him as well. Helping him to become "not so broken" and to "be fixed" because of his injury. But then she firmly stated to Boyd: "I'm not broken!" in such a determined voice that she was willing herself to believe this fact, because she isn't, and it was from the words being spoken from inside that vault that clearly affected her that, even with little knowledge about what was happening and she had been slightly traumamtized by the events she knew that fact. She wasn't broken.

This is something I think was to be proven that even in Tabula Rasa, Echo is able to become resourceful and productive even without a proper personality of her own. What does this mean? Is she able to understand and comprehend things easier and clearer than other Actives? Did Alpha mean to test her ability to think "outside the box" even without an imprinted personality, which could be a result of what happened to him once everything started clicking together? Could this be dangerous for Echo if she starts to regain more bits and pieces that she may finally snap just like Alpha did?

So many questions surrounding this entire process and how this affects Echo, how and why she's special and what Alpha is planning for her.


The Dollhouse: "...We're not all powerful."

One thing about this episode is that we're getting more and more involved with the inner-workings within the actual Dollhouse organization. Its director, Adelle DeWitt, has been seen as this very powerful woman running the entire operation inside that facility. She makes calls and gives orders, however we see that there's someone higher up the food chain of the organization, someone that probably has more power over her and is keeping tabs on things. This entire episode DeWitt looked rather on edge than from the previous episodes where she seemed very confident and ensured of what was going to happen under her watch. She seemed a bit, stressed I should say. Tired. Exhausted.

It's also interesting to see her in the end with Topher, that someone like herself would have him since a confidentiality contract while she confirms what she knows and possibly what the higher ups know gives us a taste of her character a bit. That's she's almost like middle management, in a sense. She has the authority within that division at the Dollhouse but overall, she might not be underneath much power at all to make all the calls. For all we know, if anything horrible happens that might jeopordize the entire operation of the organization she might just be removed and replaced as easily as an Active might be.

As you can tell, I'm very intrigued with her character and her role in the show, particularly because it seems she favors Echo in a sense. She may have a liking for all the Actives, but perhaps she has a soft spot for Echo because of how efficient she is with her engagements and how of high demand on the market she is with clients.

In regards to Alpha, she knows he's still alive and roaming the streets somewhere, and what she mentioned is very fascinating. They cannot restrain or contain him, they cannot get anywhere near him to eliminate the threat, the threat they created. It's the same concept of being careful what you create, and with messing with a real living human being who had their entire personality and life stripped from them, either by blackmail or tricked (not in the consentual manner that is claimed to happen, a la seeing Caroline in the very beginning in the pilot, she said she had no choice in the matter); they created him that way, and he probably started realizing this and needed answers, and then snapped and went psychotic on the entire place. However, the issue remains what he wants with Echo. To kill her? Test her limits? See if she's a willing ally to help aid him with taking down the organization once and for all, along with Paul's help too? And since the top secret and confidential information regarding Alpha still being alive, they still may be trying to relocate him after all that time in case he shows up again. But he's outsmarting them, outrunning them, and that is a dangerous combination if their Actives start realizing more about what's happening to them while still inside their contracts.

Alpha wants something and he's willing to do anything to achieve his goal, by any method possible, including hacking into their phone signals and deactivating Echo through that. How does he know the outcome? Is he watching from afar? Or does he know Echo well enough from before to know that she'll find herself more resourceful than she realizes, and that's why she's special? Again, so many questions, and we're getting more involved every single time.


Memorable Moments of the Episode:

++ The beginning scene was such a fakeout, with the moaning and you'd probably thinking "omg sex scene" but then you cut to where Echo is the midwife of a woman giving birth. Thought that was nifty.

++ Also, I loved the intentional connections between scenes and details in this show. Like how in that scene Echo comments that the wife is going to be "wiped out" after giving birth, and that she would want to not remember and forget that pain. Then later we're getting the description that wiping of imprinted Actives is like a child being born. I see what ya did thar, Joss. Clever show is clever.

++ Echo, Sierra and Victor. The new Scooby Gang, y/y? Anyway, it seems that Actives are erased with memories from other Actives after every single wipe, however they all seem to flock to the same little group every time. That's interesting, I think. Of course, I do love the little friendship between Echo and Sierra. They're so cute.

++ "I try to do my best." Repeated line throughout the episode. I like those little things, that there are connections to make about what is said and shown in the episode throughout. If anything, that's the kind of Joss Whedon stuff people will like seeing even if they aren't sure about Dollhouse yet. Also there is more noticeable humor now than before, so people shouldn't be complaining too much anymore. Right?

++ I ABSOLUTELY LOVED TAFFY! I loved everything from Echo portraying her, hell even Sierra when they were imprinting that personality into her to help get Echo out from that perdicament she was under. Loved the fakeout (this ep was so awesome with the fakeouts, f'reals) during the whole bachelor thing only to get her inside; loved that she took charge and had all these witticisms and snarking and all that. Plus, Eliza in a leather bodysuit? Omnomnom. And I want those boots, dammit.

++ Hearing the phrase "okie-doke" coming from Eliza was just lovely. IDK how to explain it, that line was a zinger in my book.

++ Poor Echo. I kinda wanted to give the poor girl a hug after she was triggered into deactivation. She had no idea what was going on, she was scared and confused and just...oh, bb. *hugs her* And those guys weren't helping matters with her strange incident, smacking her around and calling her names. It's a good thing they didn't kill her, especially that one guy. Just awww, poor Echo.

++ How much did I love that she used the needle at that one bastard guy? I cheered. I was like, omg what's gonna happen now? Resourcefulness girl, you has it.

++ Random lab chick with Topher. Don't know her name but, I liked her. I hope even with Amy's character she'll return every now and again.

++ HELO Paul. I love him. And Victor, or rather his contact. It seems there's more that's setting up for that in this episode of what's going to happen in the future, but still. I loved that Paul placed his terms on the table as a take it or leave it kind of deal, and his explanation for him not following the natural order or rules of the FBI to Victor. Haha, I loved it. Can't wait for the next episode though, from the looks of it further leads into him finding out more of Echo. Yay!

++ "I'm not broken." I know bb, I know. *hugs Echo again*

++ I loved everything about the ending montage. From her going to the swimming pool (want one like that, btw), then the shower and then going to the mirror and drawing what she "recalled" from the painting she saw earlier during the heist. The disoriented surrealistic painting of the face, then wiping it clean to reveal herself in the reflection. Very symbolic of the show, and also nice way of tying those things together along with making it more clear that Echo isn't just your regular "braindead" person inside the walls of the Dollhouse. More is happening inside her brain that they don't know about, and she's becoming more aware every time. I'm looking forward to that day when she starts to really remember and recall things.


Overall: Very exceptional episode. I loved it. Then again, the more Dollhouse continues to more and more I'm enjoying and loving the mysteries and thinking aspects of the show. I find this entire new Joss Whedon experience insightful and different, and enjoyable because of those things and I'm still shocked people don't want that kind of thing from him. Whatevs. I'm loving it, and I am more intrigued and fascinated with what's becoming of the show, how it has this mythology surrounding it and because I am interested in the story and plot surrounding these characters, it means that Joss is doing something right by it. As is Eliza, who I still love and adore in the role of Echo. I've favored the character before, but this episode made me feel for her more than ever now, and I want her to pervail what's happening to her and understand.


I am so in love with this show you guys, you have no idea. I know people were wary at first and that's understandable, but if you dropped it because it didn't fit to your expectations you quit too damn soon. It's only getting better and better every episode, and plus they said that things pick up much faster after what, episode six or something? So yeah. It's different, but it's the good kind of different, if y'know what I mean.
 
 
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bloodyfirebloodyfire on March 9th, 2009 05:42 am (UTC)
im not as coherant and thought out as you. but i too liked this episode and love the show more and more with each passing one ^_^
Renéerogueslayer452 on March 9th, 2009 05:49 am (UTC)
I just hope FOX sees this and continues to air the entire season run without cutting the cord. That's all I'm asking, because slow-starter as it was Joss is known for not making everything all actiony in the very beginning. It's the buildup and the mystery that keeps this story going, and hopefully we'll be able to see where it all leads to.
rawthorne on March 9th, 2009 11:21 am (UTC)
I took the guy turning on her to be a nice portrayal of the Nice Guy TM typology from other shows. You know, the cutiepie who is good with guns and good with girls and doesn't question her authority... until something goes wrong and kicking her around becomes acceptable.

I like that phrase 'I try to do my best' because it implies agency. It's not that she was programed to do her best, but that she as a person is trying to achieve top performance - and granted, when she's active, that means performing to the levels the Dollhouse expects her to, but when she's not... I don't know, it makes me think.
Renéerogueslayer452 on March 9th, 2009 03:39 pm (UTC)
It was a nice portrayal, and it was very well done in the structure of the episode overall.

That phrase is interesting to me, like you said, because it implies that any particular active underneath an imprinted personality is wanting to "do their best"; they are not robotic, they are people even though they are programmed. They have feelings, they have emotions and control, it's just not their own. Y'know? But the most intriguing part is that even after Echo had been wiped from that personality she was still able to "do her best" and achieved that without just sitting there helpless. It's all very fascinating what all this means regarding their actives and how they could suddenly figure things out for themselves.

Thinky show is thinky, and Joss is providing us with a lot to consider and speculate with all this deep psychological stuff. Dollhouse certainly isn't for the average Whedonite viewer, that's for sure.
forwardish: Dollhouse Echo forwardish on March 9th, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)
Taffy was AWESOME. Srsly "blue skies".
"I'm not broken" omg great.
Victor/Paul = *headdesking* in the sexy agent needs to figure it out plz bc the suspense thing is killing me.

Echo, Sierra and Victor. The new Scooby Gang, y/y?
TOTES! I love it...
and remember the episode before where when Seirra's handler was watching, Echo shook her head not to talk to each other?
Renée: DH. Echo. Blank slate.rogueslayer452 on March 9th, 2009 10:52 pm (UTC)
Taffy was hardcore, no-nonsense kind of gal. Srsly awesome.

I'm pretty sure that Paul will get closer and closer to the slow reveal of Echo, as seen in the preview he sees Echo and realizes that's the woman he's looking for. How long will it be before he finally comes face to face with her, idk. But I'm hoping soon! Can't wait for a scene with them together. ;)

Yeah, Echo shook her head. Possibly remembering slightly what Sierra's handler had mentioned about her being an influence -- which is perhaps one of the unique things that we're discovering about Echo, is that she can recall certain things about people even after being wiped. And we learn that every Active doesn't remember the other after every initial wipe. So it's interesting seeing their interactions as they they'd just met before.

Suspense and mystery and intrigue, this show has it. And I love it. :)