Friday, October 23, 2009

Michelle's Review Corner: "Belle Chose"

Here we find ourselves again, reading the wise words and insights of our friend Michelle. This week, she recaps and reviews episode 2.03 "Belle Chose." This episode was especially difficult to pick apart as there was a wealth of material to sift through, and yet Michelle has managed to pull through as she always does with a dazzling analysis that will leave you saying, "Goodness gracious!"

Click "Read More" for the review, and as always, we encourage you sound off by leaving your comments below and on our forums!


A psychopath named Terry Karrens plays a lovely game of croquet with several women whom he has paralyzed, dressed, painted and posed in scene a imitating familial fun. One of the women, whom Terry refers to as “Aunt Sheila” collapses as her paralytic wears off. When Terry injects her again, she stabs him with the needle. Terry proceeds to smash her head in with a croquet mallet and declares to the other women that they need a new Aunt Sheila. On his quest to find such a woman, Terry is hit by a car and lands in a coma. Luckily for Terry, his Uncle Bradley is both very fond of him and a significant shareholder in Rossum Corporation, and has Terry transferred to the Dollhouse for extra special medical care. Adele, sensing future opportunity, is more than happy to help—despite the dear young man’s occasional troubles with the law. However, after Topher completes a map of Terry’s brain and realizes that he is not just a rule-breaker but a psychopath, Adele demands the truth of Uncle Bradley. He admits that Terry has most likely kidnapped several women who must be found in order to keep the Karrens’ name clean. Adele agrees to question Terry on her own terms, and enlists Ballard’s help in interrogating Terry’s brain, which has been downloaded into poor sweet Victor. Ballard does his job in fine form, deducing that the women Terry kidnapped were replacements for the actual women in Terry’s family whom he didn’t get along with. (I wonder why.) Terry snaps under questioning, declares himself innocent and the women “whores” and grows especially agitated when Ballard shows him a live feed of his body hooked up to machines and visited by Uncle Brad. (“Goodness gracious,” says Terry.) Unfortunately Uncle Bradley, who disapproves of Ballard’s harsh methods, breaks Victor-Terry loose while Ballard makes his impressively accurate report to Adele. Uncle Bradley is rewarded for his good-heartedness when Terry slams his uncle’s face into the steering wheel and walks off from the crashed car in search of another Aunt Sheila. Though Victor’s GPS strip has been removed for his facial surgeries, Ballard manages to track him to Beverly Hills, the scene of his original accident. Adele orders Topher to “free Victor” of Terry Karrans via a remote wipe—any way he can.

While all this has been going on, Echo has been imprinted as a sweet but numbingly stupid college student named Kiki for a little “R-for-Romance” engagement with a lustful English professor. We are treated to a look at the salon where the dolls are dressed and made up for their engagements, and Ballard spends a bit too much time gazing doe-eyed at sexy little “Kiki” for comfort. But because Ballard is needed for the Karrens situation, Boyd takes position as Echo’s handler for the day. (Yay! Boyd!) Echo ends up spending the entire day with the professor-client under the pretense of studying Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath”—during which Professor pumps “Kiki” full of ideas about how Alison is quite powerful and uses her sexuality to control the men around her. (From what I remember of “The Canterbury Tales”, this is a valid reading, but since the professor is using it to get laid, you’ll have to excuse my skepticism.) Eventually “Kiki” gets the hint and starts up a little dancing and foreplay with the professor.

At this point, Topher contacts Boyd to let him know that he will be (trying to) wipe Victor backwards through his bio-link feedback, which will cause all of the handler’s screens to go black for a few seconds. Boyd takes the wildness in stride and Topher attempts the wipe, at which point Echo and Victor’s imprinted personalities switch. Now, there is no way I can do justice to the hilarity that is Victor after this point, so I’ll just go bare bones: Victor is suddenly the fun-loving Kiki, who doesn’t have any clue how she ended up in the club, or that she is now in a man’s body, but has a mighty fine time dancing it up anyway. Ballard finds her before things get too far out of hand, strokes her comfortingly and returns her to the Dollhouse.

Echo, on the other hand, is now Terry Karrens. Terry appropriately stabs the professor (and, catching sight of himself in the mirror murmurs “Goodness gracious”). He grabs his car keys and drives off, muttering that now, “they don’t even get a new Aunt Sheila”. Boyd goes to collect Echo but instead discovers the professor on the floor bleeding to death, the word “Whore” written on the mirror in blood. Terry returns to land of croquet, where the other three captive women have almost managed to escape. He whacks Megan, the girl posed as his sister, with a mallet, but then gradually begins to glitch. Just as he raises the mallet to kill the blonde woman, Echo freezes. “Did I fall asleep?” she whispers. She throws down the mallet and (in what I think may be my favorite Echo moment of the series) murmurs “He’s still here. He wants to kill you. You have to kill him first.” Echo can still feel Karrens in her mind, even telling the other women that he won’t let her move from the door—they have to kill Echo to stop Terry. The blonde woman starts whacking at Echo with the mallet, but Robin, the woman posed as Terry’s mother, pulls her away. Echo won’t have this, though; she insists that Robin make an end of her, telling her that Terry will find her again like her found her—and her son—the first time. Robin raises the mallet for a death-swing, but Ballard and other Dollhouse agents rush in just in time. Ballard asks Echo if she is okay; “I don’t think so,” she says, and Ballard leads her away gently after she agrees to return for a treatment.

Back in the Dollhouse, Adele and Ballard contemplate the real, still-comatose, Terry Karrens. He is being transferred back to a normal hospital. Ballard asks Adele if she thinks he’ll ever wake up. “Wouldn’t it be nice if he didn’t?” she says sadly, and walks away. Echo comes to the doorway of the medical room as Ballard leaves. She tells him she thinks Karrens dreams; “Not anymore,” says Ballard, and as he leaves, Echo steps closer to see Karrens’ still chest and the flat lines on monitors. “Goodness gracious,” she murmurs.


Well, Andrew and Frank predicted on their podcast for “Instinct” that this week would take a break from the theme of connections that has been established so far this season, and while I was skeptical, they were right. This week, “Dollhouse” was working less on a thematic level than it was reinforcing the overall concepts of the series—that is, revisiting the dirty and morally nauseating details of renting helpless people out for the pleasure of others. The title captures this idea nicely (though why it’s in French, I have no idea); the dolls are not people, but “beautiful things”, pretty toys for the taking.

Because “Belle Chose” returned to the classic ideas that characterize “Dollhouse”, it was fitting that Echo’s engagement for this week was a relatively typical romantic affair, and not espionage, rescue or some philanthropic mission. This week, we were meant to remember the primary functions for which the Dollhouse exists, and how painfully close that is to blatant prostitution. (In this regard, it was interesting to note that the responsible Boyd, and not the increasingly-tempted Ballard, was put in the position of Echo’s “pimp.”) Along these same lines, it also made sense that, this week, we weren’t treated to any particular nuance in the client. This week, it didn’t matter if the man renting Echo was lonely, or had lost his wife, or desperately needed to fulfill a fantasy with the Wife of Bath. What matters in “Belle Chose” are the cold facts of the manipulation and exploitation of helpless people—no matter who is taking advantage of them, or why. No matter what interest Mr. Professor may or may not have in teaching “Kiki” to appreciate the intricacies of Chaucer, she is first and foremost, for him, a doll. “The detail is exquisite,” he marvels—in other words, admiring the artificial reality of his beautiful thing.

What is especially nice about all of this relatively average Dollhouse activity (though of course, it isn’t nice at all) is how neatly it exposes the fact that at bottom, what Terry Karrens does to his victims is almost indistinguishable from what the Dollhouse does to its Actives. Terry’s sick little family and the Actives are both deprived of choice and their ability to help themselves—both, whether physically or psychically, paralyzed. They are both primped, coiffed and carefully dressed to be maximally pleasing to those using them. (It’s not a coincidence that this episode, which begins with Terry carefully arranging his victims clothes, also includes a view into the salon where the Actives’ “outsides” are prepared.) And both are posed into motions not of their own volition, whether using model-stands or mind control, for the express pleasure of perfect strangers.

Most importantly, though, both the Actives and Terry’s victims are deprived of their identity. Their names, their families, their ability to function outside of the imagination of the people using them are stripped from them. Terry’s victims, at least, are able to fight back against this perverse cage. “We have names,” the woman called Robin insists. “Remember that. We’re human—not his toys.” This declaration of identity is functionally impossible for a typical Active—unless that Active is Echo. Wonderfully, in saving these women, Echo manages to break herself free of the murderous personality painted onto her; she still has no name, she is not quite Caroline, but at least she has her own will. Echo has her own mind, in fact, to the point that she will readily sacrifices her own life for the lives of Terry’s victims—and in doing so, would also save herself from being Terry’s agent for evil as well.

Adele actually touches on the idea that it is morally wrong to allow (at that point) Victor to act as Terry’s “vehicle for murder”, and she is, of course, correct. But her self-righteousness rings a bit hollow against the background of “Belle Chose”, where the ordinarily contoured moral background of the show flattens in order to cast the Dollhouse’s non-ethics into sharper relief. Near the beginning of the episode, we see Topher presenting his “ethical problems” in waking Terry Karrens, an irony that Boyd points out only half-jokingly. But even Boyd, ordinarily the moral center of “Dollhouse”, sours slightly as his relative ease with Echo’s engagement comes across. As mentioned above, it is Boyd who blithely delivers Echo to be used as a sexual toy, during which he relaxes with a book. No one, at least no fully cognizant person, escapes pure in “Belle Chose”; no one’s conscious is clean. Though certainly no one else is a serial killer like Terry Karrens (although what Topher’s future holds is not unlike this at all), we have to consider the growing weaknesses in the Dollhouse employees insistence that their jobs are benevolent, and the assumptions that they can fall asleep each night with untroubled morality.

So ultimately, I think this episode was an excellent piece in the overall structure of “Dollhouse,” and one that allowed the show to take a certain moral high ground in the next weeks. With the concepts of slavery and exploitation refreshed, the upcoming episodes can afford to delve back into complexities and continue developing the relational concepts of connection that have been established in season two.

See you next week for “Belonging”!


blog comments powered by Disqus
Echo Alert © 2011
[Posts RSS] | [Comments RSS]
Template Modified by Dane Davenport