Obvious spoilers ahead...
Tonight I watched the unaired pilot of Dollhouse, aptly titled Echo. Let me just say, for the record, that it was heart-stoppingly beautiful and noir-tastic. I can't help but wish that they'd originally aired this episode. We may have had a completely different experience with season one.
Echo has everything that we have come to expect from Joss Whedon: subversion of expectation (with Echo turning from 'damsel in distress' to cold-blooded hit-woman in the blink of an eye), suspense, philosophy, humanity and humor. Yes, you heard me right, humor -- that thing that was so glaringly absent from Ghost. I thought that Ghost was a good episode, but this was a great episode. It reminded me of those days when I was first watching Buffy -- when I would squeal if the credits said that the episode was "written and directed by Joss Whedon." It's special.
Now that I have watched, I don't understand why people refer to this episode as jarring, or confusing -- or too dark. Now, I don't shy away from "dark" storytelling, but I wonder how this episode is "darker" than the aired pilot, which largely centers on a woman (well, an imprint) who was molested as a child. Is it the moral ambiguity of the main characters? Personally, I don't think that that makes it dark. I think that hiding the ambiguity is what made Ghost dark -- and unfortunately what turned many people off at the beginning of the season. I understood what Joss was trying to do, and so I put my faith in him. Unfortunately, I know many who didn't. They saw the prostitution aspect, but didn't think that it was duly addressed within the first few aired episodes.
Echo begins with the now famous scene of Echo underwater -- a scene that was later cut out and blended in with another episode. We hear Adelle speaking about the nature of the dolls, how they are "pure souls." All this exposition takes place because she is explaining the nature of the Dollhouse to a wealthy client.
The next scene shows a man in a bar, talking to a young woman. After listening to their conversation for a few seconds it becomes clear that he's some sort of pimp. The juxtaposition of this scene with the one before (where Adelle is basically "pimping" out one of the actives) is purposeful; for all of Adelle's philosophical chit chat about souls, and needs, and greater goods, when it comes down to it, she is a pimp.
Echo comes crashing into the bar and pistol-whips the pimp, eventually driving him out. She then urges the girl to leave the guy, and check herself into a hospital so she can detox.
We then see Echo on various engagements, from being a negotiator to a date. The date scene immediately follows the scene of her explaining the evils of being pimped out to the young woman in the bar -- again with the juxtaposition.
Without going into too detailed a synopsis, I will just say that my favorite scenes involve Echo and Paul. Paul discovers her in an abandoned warehouse, and she seems to be a classic damsel in distress. The whole scene is very noir, right down to her outfit. She tells him that she is looking for her sister, and, taking pity on her, he leads her back to his apartment. Kind of shady, right? Why wouldn't he take her to the station?
After a few faux fainting spells on her part, he realizes that she knows a little bit too much about the Dollhouse, and pulls a gun on her for the second time that night. But she's not a helpless victim -- and she proves it by snatching the gun and using some pretty awesome fighting moves on him. Eventually she shoots him, though he lives. When she finds out, she actually goes to the hospital to finish the job -- much to Boyd's dismay.
In the end, she doesn't finish the job, and it's the "why" that we're left with. After all, she was imprinted with the skills needed to carry out the job. Did she subconsciously fail at this engagement? What effect did seeing the photograph of herself have on her? The last scene is the same one that we saw at the end of the season finale -- that is, the scene of her laying down in her coffin-like pod and whispering "Caroline."
Which begs the question: Had this episode been aired, would Caroline's self-awareness have been explored more fully in the first season? In any case, it's definitely worth watching.
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