I thought I was finished for the night with that wordy post on the satanic nature of butterflies (heehee!), but then I watched tonight’s episode of “Dollhouse” and had to come back here.
When I watch a show for the long haul — a show with an overarching story line in addition to a weekly plot — I generally find myself looking for character depth. The only reason to become emotionally invested in it is if I feel some compelling connection to the men, women, aliens and supernatural creatures I see on the screen. Without an emotional connection to them, even a good plot becomes dull and tiresome.
“Dollhouse” had, in previous episodes, moments of brilliance. Whedon’s typically zingy one-liners and some nifty plot twists carried the day when I couldn’t quite make a connection. Several characters seemed very one-dimensional, and there were a lot of blank spots — why were some of the dolls there in the house? What brought them to the point where they were willing to give up years of their lives in exchange for being pimped out like high-priced escorts? What made others decide to find a job as shepherd of human sheep?
As a result, tonight’s episode kind of blew me away.
Don’t read any further if spoilers make you sad.
Tonight we finally got an explanation of why Sierra is in the house. We got a glimpse of what Victor is running from. And there was this tiny glimpse of hope for the human being that Topher could one day become.
Topher, I think, has been the most one-dimensional character of all. There have been no real changes in the way he behaves or thinks — we just get the overbearing, egotistical, arrogant supernerd who is completely certain that he is always the most intelligent person in the room, on top of being the smartest. He’s never shown any signs of recognizing the difference between the two.
That was what made tonight’s episode so compelling. Tonight, Topher’s faith in himself, his surety of the rightness of what he does, was shaken to the core. He found himself caring what happens to at least one of the dolls and feeling responsible for the situation she was in. And he found that maybe, just maybe, he has a moral compass after all.
You see, Topher brought Sierra into the dollhouse. She was a huge challenge for him, an intellectual puzzle: his very own paranoid schizophrenic to make whole, at least temporarily. But she’s almost his finest creation because he’s made her functional again.
Unfortunately, there’s something wrong with her. When he looks into it (at Echo’s urging), he finds that the customer was her doc at the psych ward, who was drugging her. She was never schizo at all. But he wants her imprinted and sent to him for good.
Now Topher knows the truth, and suddenly he has to deal with the fact that he wiped Sierra under false pretenses and that she’s not what any of them thought in the beginning. Plus the fact that he’s been sending her on engagements with the freak of nature. He’s aided and abetted this guy in a really nasty plan to mind-fuck Sierra over and over and over.
He makes a decision when he is ordered (by an admittedly drunk and pissed Adelle. Things go south. And suddenly Topher is taken out of his lab and plunged into the reality of what he’s set in motion. It’s not a pretty picture.
When all is said and done, Topher admits that he is no longer sure of what he thought he knew: that the dolls are happy, that he is doing good work. He’s shaken deep down in a way we’ve never seen before. And I loved every minute of it. Even the one (or three) where I cried.
Thank you, Joss Whedon, for reminding me why I enjoy your shows and your characters!
And, while I’m at it, a tiny tidbit from “Project Runway,” one of my guilty pleasures:
“Irina’s actually a good designer. The only problem with her is that she’s a bitch.” Nicholas