Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dollhouse: Briar Rose

The sole writing credit on this episode belonged to Jane Espenson and she deserves the highest compliments for an episode that was everything a penultimate episode should be and for pulling together a complicated story line.

I liked everything about this episode beginning and ending with the performance of Alan Tudyk who really showed his range, starting with a fully realized depiction of an agaraphobic environmental consultant and ending with a maniac genius. Quite a switch from the likeable Wash from Firefly. The part was written beautifully with lots of funny (but not inappropriate) whedonesque lines ("Carrots! Medicinal carrots!"); but it was Tudyk's portrayal of the character that was amazing. I watched the episode twice because there was so much going on in that performance. When he and Ballard break into the Dollhouse and start running into people, including Topher but also other dolls, Tudyk's performance is blindingly brilliant. Even though I suspected he was Alpha before the episode started I was taken in by his character as Kepler and all the reasons why Kepler might cower (and at the same time not show his face). And the fact that he could make the switch in personalities so seamlessly was brilliant. When he, as Alpha, slashed Victor's face, it was a total shock.

The episode played off the old fairy tale story Briar Rose. This is the story of Sleeping Beauty but Briar Rose was the name that the brothers Grimm gave to the story. I think it was appropriate to use the Grimm name because Sleeping Beauty has become associated with the Disneyfied version of the tale while the Grimm story retains the original grit that is appropriate to Dollhouse. I liked what Espenson did with it and the balance she struck. She managed to put enough surprises in the story that it balanced out the metaphorical nature of the plot; a lesser writer would have screwed it up.

One of the things I particularly liked about the way the episode was constructed was the voice-over of young Susan reading the portion of the fairy story about the prince while we are watching "Keplar" and Ballard break into the Dollhouse. And of course we are meant to associate the rescuing prince with Ballard but it is really Alpha who is going to do the "rescue" and be the prince. I continue to think about the line that the adult Susan says to young Susan about how Briar Rose dreamed the prince and she made him and she made him fight to get her out. I'm not completely sure where Espenson was going with that but I feel that it was important not just for this episode but for the next (and perhaps future) episodes.

So Alpha (the dangerous, deranged Alpha) rescues Echo. But not, apparently, Caroline. What personality did he imprint on Echo? From the small bits I saw and the previews from next week, she seems to be a Bonnie Parker type of character. Which should be interesting.

To me the best performance of the entire show by a regular cast member was by Enver Gjokaj who was imprinted with, and as an actor turned himself into, Reed Diamond's Dominic character. The moment when Dominic realizes he is in another body was an inspired bit of acting by Gjokaj. And I kept wondering if they were really using Reed Diamond's voice - but I think not. I think that really was Gjokaj doing Reed Diamond.

And with all that - I still think Penikett is miscast as Ballard and I still think Miracle Laurie can't act. But fortunately that didn't matter to me in this episode. The scene where Ballard leaves her takes place at the beginning and I could forget about it through the rest of the episode. But I can see the parallels that Espenson was trying to achieve between adult Susan's story ("every time someone calls me a victim I think it's a lie") and how Mellie feels when Paul leaves her.

Where does the story go? We can discuss. Let me just say that I found the conversation between Alpha and the Doctor interestingly ambiguous. I also found the dialog between DeWitt and Ballard equally interesting. Hopefully it will be cleared up in the next episode.

The one plot point I didn't understand is how Ballard knew that the dolls were so docile in their doll state that he could just stand there until one passed by and ask him to "come this way."

Special note to FamilyMan: They used "the phone is found in the freezer" bit.