Dollhouse: True Believer (season one, episode five)


Rating 2

Created by Joss Whedon

Written by Tim Minear

Directed by Allan Kroeker

Starring Eliza Dushku (Echo), Olivia Williams (Adelle DeWitt), Fran Kranz (Topher Brink), Harry J Lennix (Boyd Langton), Amy Acker (Claire Saunders), Reed Diamond (Laurence Dominic), Tahmoh Penikett (Paul Ballard), Dichen Lachman (Sierra), Enver Gjokaj (Victor), Miracle Laurie (Mellie), Brian Bloom (Jonas Sparrow), David Alpay (Seth), Brad Hunt (Jesse), Rebecca Field (Kris), Aisha Hinds (Loomis) and Mark Totty (ATF Agent Lilly)

Echo is made (temporarily) blind and implanted with some kind of imperceptible high-tec camera and sent in to infiltrate a religious sect in Arizona as part of an ATF operation to gain access to the cult’s compound and find out what they are really up to. FBI agent Paul Ballard continues to try to identify the mysterious young woman named “Caroline” in the photograph he was sent and now receives a disc containing a piece of film of Caroline.


This fifth episode was a vast improvement on the previous two, or at least I did not find it anywhere near as irritating and dislikeable as those episodes. However, I still struggled with it, perhaps because my generally negative reaction to the show so far is making me increasingly biased against it. While I would be hard pressed to admit to having enjoyed the episode, I certainly did not find it as tedious as previous ones.

For once, Echo was not called on to be full-on fantasy fodder and that made a pleasant change. The excellent and often insightful Charlie Brooker, writing a negative review of the show for the Guardian newspaper, said, “You’re supposed to want to screw the lead character, because the lead character is the impossibly gorgeous Eliza Dushku.” This comment caused some reaction when fans of Joss Whedon discussed it amongst themselves, with Brooker being accused of, amongst other things, being anti-feminist. That is one thing I do not think he can be accused of, although I don’t especially agree with what he writes here. However, I did very quickly get profoundly bored in previous episodes watching Echo riding a motorcycle very fast while looking hot, huntin’ and fishin’ and screwin’ while looking very hot, being hunted while looking very hot, breaking into a high-tec vault while looking very hot, ad infinitum. As Gareth McLean had suggested, it was teen boy fantasy fodder and I am obviously attracted to other forms of fantasy fodder.

Eliza Dushku’s acting has been commented on a great deal, with the suggestion that she doesn’t have the necessary range needed to successfully pull off this role. Lucy Mangan, also writing in the Guardian, in her weekly ‘Cable Girl’ article, was generally favourable towards the show, but asked, “Can Eliza Dushku act? As the alternative vampire slayer Faith, she was always the weakest link in Buffy – an ass-kicking sexbomb, yes, but in scenes that required her to do more than scissor-kick, toss her hair or undulate suggestively, she was agonising to watch.” I personally don’t think Dushku has been a problem so far, even though she has been hamstrung by some terrible writing, or at least very up and down writing, and horribly hackneyed storylines.

To return to episode five, we were invited to note the parallels between the Dollhouse and the religious sect. It wasn’t exactly subtle. In both cases, people have their individual identities taken away and are programmed to behave and conform to the wishes and demands of those whose motivations are unclear and highly suspect. I got the symbolism of Boyd Langton carrying Echo out of the burning building at the end, although it was surely hardly very helpful to the apparent super-secrecy of the Dollhouse that he walked straight towards television news teams and camera crews.

I noted the various twists, as I have done in all the previous episodes to date, although I still struggle to build up any great interest in them. The Dollhouse is a hotbed of intrigue and double-dealing, but the show is still not interesting enough to me to care about it all that much at the moment. Part of the problem, apart from the style of the show, which just isn’t my thing, is that I have next to no interest in any of the characters. On the plus side, I have been impressed by the performance of Amy Acker in a recurring role that is not guaranteed to continue into season two, because of possible budget constraints, although I believe that Joss Whedon wants her back.

‘True Believer’ was okay, if still not convincing enough to me to indicate that this is anywhere near the quality of Whedon’s best work. However, for all my complaints, I am still watching, so there must be something here that is keeping me onboard.

Review posted 7 June 2009


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