Monday, October 5, 2009

Dollhouse: Instinct

What happens when an Active's body is altered on a glandular level such that she has the instincts of a new mother, and can even breast feed? That's what happens in this episode, which explores not just the strength of a mother's love for her child, but also the feelings of an Active.

Nate Jordan is so devastated when his wife dies in childbirth that he cannot connect with his baby. Instead of hiring a nanny or seeking help from family and friends, Nate uses his vast financial resources to hire a Doll. Thanks to Topher's wizardry, Echo is transformed into a doting and lactating mother. But the glandular changes also increase her susceptibility to paranoia. Noticing Nate's discomfort around her and the baby, Echo reasons that her "husband" must be having an affair. Or involved in illegal schemes. One or the other. She breaks into Nate's home office and finds Nate's wedding pictures. His wife is not her.

Nate somehow talks Echo down, but then calls the Dollhouse to have Echo returned. Unfortunately, Echo overhears and misunderstands; she believes Nate is arranging for her murder. Although she "escapes" from the home with the baby, she is soon found, and Ballard takes her back to the Dollhouse to be wiped. But the device only wipes the brain, not the glandular changes. Echo knows that she has lost her baby, and believes that it is in danger, so she escapes the Dollhouse, and returns to Nate's home. Again, miraculously, Nate talks her down - the baby belongs to him and her feelings aren't real.

The episode ends with Ballard comforting Echo. Echo has revealed that she retains memories from her prior imprints, but knows that they are not her. In Instinct, Echo reveals that even if her relationship with the baby was not real, her feelings for him were. When offered an opportunity to be fully wiped, so as to lose her memories of the imprints, though, Echo declines.

I'm not quite clear on why Echo has retained the memories or impressions of her former imprints. I can only assume that these memories are a result of Alpha's downloading so much into her in last season's finale. She is choosing to keep the memories, despite the pain, in stark contrast with Madeline, the former November. Madeline agreed to become a Doll to escape the grief she felt following the death of her infant daughter. Of course, Madeline is no longer an Active, but she has found that the grief is gone, and she is grateful for it. Nor is Echo responding like Dr. Saunders, who fled the Dollhouse in the season premiere, unable to cope with the fact that she is an Active.

In the season premiere, Echo asked Ballard to help her find her true self. I am not convinced that Echo's true self is Caroline, though who else would she be? Caroline willingly gave up her body, leaving a Topher-created shell of child-like passivity. I hope that we are able to explore Echo's identity in more detail in future episodes. I also hope Dr. Saunders returns soon (Amy Acker has another series).

Buffyverse Fan Alert: Alexis Denisof, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, failed Watcher and rogue demon hunter, plays Senator Daniel Perrin, who is determined to bring down the Rossum Corporation, which funds the Dollhouse. It is very odd to hear Denisof speak, since he's using his regular, American accent, instead of Wesley's British accent. Denisof joins fellow Buffyverse alums, including Eliza Dushku (Faith) and Amy Acker (Dr. Saunders/Whiskey).

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