Dollhouse: Stage Fright (season one, episode three)


Rating 1

Created by Joss Whedon

Written by Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon

Directed by David Solomon

Starring Eliza Dushku (Echo), Olivia Williams (Adelle DeWitt), Fran Kranz (Topher Brink), Harry J Lennix (Boyd Langton), Reed Diamond (Laurence Dominic), Tahmoh Penikett (Paul Ballard), Dichen Lachman (Sierra), Amy Acker (Claire Saunders), Enver Gjokaj (Lubov / Victor), Kevin Kilner (Joe Hearn), Jaime Lee Kirchner (Rayna Russell), Jim Piddock (Biz) and Graham Norris (The Fan)

When the life of singer Rayna Russell is put in danger by an obsessive fan, her manager, an old acquaintance of Adelle DeWitt, looks to the Dollhouse for help. Echo is programmed to be Rayna’s new backing singer and is also programmed with a sub-conscious need to protect her at all costs. A second “Active”, Sierra, is programmed to be the winner of a “Rayna’s Number One Fan” competition, allowing her to meet the singer and spend time with her.


I was not particularly impressed by the first two episodes of ‘Dollhouse’, although I found the second one marginally more engaging than the opener, but I thought this third episode was, in the main, absolutely dreadful. I really did not like it at all.

Presumably, there is a little external message here about the nature of celebrity and also a twist on the old clichéd celebrity / obsessive fan relationship. I didn’t find it remotely interesting. We are also invited to view Echo’s life through that of Rayna, a trick that was used with much more élan in the season two ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ episode ‘Inca Mummy Girl’.

I am not quite sure what the purpose of the second “Active” Sierra was in all this, except that it was a rather heavy-handed way of continuing the storyline that is establishing an increasingly close link between her and Echo (thus the little secret sign between the two of them at the end of the episode, indicating an evolving consciousness outside of their programming). There is a scene in which Boyd Langton is talking to Sierra’s “minder” Joe Hearn, who tells him, “My girl only comes into play in an extreme scenario.” How extreme, exactly? Presumably, more extreme than being kidnapped by a deranged and seemingly homicidal stalker; more extreme than seeing Rayna’s life apparently being threatened, not only by this stalker, but also by Echo, in her guise as Jordan, the backing singer. It all seemed a bit naff and cack-handed to me.

At present, Topher Brink, the scientist who programmes the Actives, would appear to be a kind of watered-down mixture of Warren Meers and Andrew Wells from ‘Buffy’, personality wise. I am not able to get past that as yet, although he has the potential to be one of the more interesting characters. Claire Saunders is also quite an interesting character, and nicely played by Amy Acker, although I suspect I have already guessed where that storyline is going.

I think I am right in saying that ‘Stage Fright’ is generally deemed to be one of the season’s weaker episodes by a lot of fans. I am hoping it does not get any worse than this, because apart from a few vaguely interesting asides in the Dollhouse, I thought it was woeful, a real stinker. In the fullness of time, of course, it will probably be possible to re-appraise the episode in the light of a more complete picture of the overall narrative of the season, but at the moment this is all very poor and a long way below Joss Whedon’s best work.

Review posted 29 May 2009


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