'Dollhouse' goes back to college

Oliviawilliams_dollhouse_240 For everyone out there complaining that "Dollhouse" doesn't bring the funny the way Whedon shows of old did, this one was for you. This was its "Band Candy." This was its "Spin the Bottle." This was the episode in which everyone was allowed to act supremely silly while under the effects of something inherently diabolical. Amidst the (literal) insanity, Echo functioned as the straight man, burrowing deeper not only into the source of everyone's big bag of crazy but into the reason she ended up a doll in the first place.

Because no genre show is complete without EVIL INDUSTRY at its core, "Dollhouse" broke out its own version of Company Gone Wild: The Rossum Corporation. Their motto? "Because Minds Matter," a phrase that might give a hint into the "purpose" of the Dollhouses as mentioned by a corrupted Echo last week. Turns out that in her pre-Doll days, Caroline was an animal rights' activist along with boyfriend Leo. Some people limit their activism to "rallies" held in someone's studio apartment accompanied by wine cheese, and Jeff Buckley records. Caroline went above an beyond all that, bribing her way into some blueprints that showed a secret room in which she theorized Rossum was doing some shady business.

Well, Caroline was right, as in said room she found dozens of animals in cages, as well as a row of fetuses in jars. (What is this, "Fringe" all of a sudden? Is Peter Bishop a doll?) She and Leo attempt to videotape proof of Rossum's doings, but Leo loses both the camera and his life in the ensuing escape from the building. It's at this point that Adele first learns of Caroline (through what appears to be a handler), and the fact that the future Echo manages to escape from the hospital only fuels Adele's desire to add her to the Dollhouse ranks. After finally catching up with Caroline some time later, Adele kept her holed up for days, employing psychological means to break down Caroline's defenses until she agreed to become a doll.

Flash to today, where a drug in the very same building in which Caroline videotaped pickled babies gets unleashed. This drug loosens up one's inhibitions in an attempt to awaken dormant parts of the brain. (Again, "Fringe" recently did this exactly same plot. Not complaining, just noting.) Unfortunately, it also leads to things like people slamming their heads into glass walls repeatedly until dead if unchecked.

We know about the drug's affects  thanks to a visit from Rossum's co-chairman, Clive Ambrose, to the Dollhouse. Even his very name screams "eeeeeevil." From his brief visit with Adele, one got the impression that this was the (doll)house Ambrose built. Guess he wanted a new kind of lab, one with koi ponds and people who walk around nipples first. (Props to my friend Kristen for pointing that out to me. Also? Damn her.) Apparently, the evidence glimpsed by Caroline eventually found its way past puppies and into people, which Topher theorized gave the dolls a natural immunity to the drug affecting Freemont College. Thus, they were perfect operatives within an infected enviroment.

Well, Topher was only partially correct: rather than giving them immunity, the work done to create the doll's blank slate just gave them a slight reprieve. While humans almost instantly started showing signs of exposure, the dolls much later started, and rather than startle to cackle, they started to glitch. Sierra flashed to being raped by her handler, Victor flashed to his time in what looked like the Gulf War, and Mellie (in-house as a live incubator for a cure) likewise broke down due to memories of her pre-doll life. Quite conveniently, Echo's breakdown led her directly to the source of the missing vial of silly serum.

Fortunately for her, her second partner in crime didn't get a bullet in the gut. Unfortunately, her second partner in crime was the man who caused the initial infection. He and his former lab partner (he of the glass-shattering noggin) planned to sell the drug to Rossum's rival corporation. His reward? Getting knocked out by a conveniently cured Boyd and a super spot next to Echo in the Dollhouse. I'm choosing to ignore how overly complicated Sam's scheme was, as it makes those concocted by Bond villains seem straightforward by comparison. What's clear is that Ambrose's primary concern in employing the dolls was not human life but Rossum's bottom line. Keeping that drug away from rival hands was the mission.

While Echo and Sam snuck into Rossum's lab, the rest of the cast was allowed to shake off their normally stodgy selves and let loose for one week. I especially appreciated Dominic's transformation, as he's been so one-note that hearing a second one brought me joy. Props to Olivia Williams as well for mocking her stuffy British persona with great aplomb. A few great quotes from the infected:

Boyd: "Eh. Wow. Did not maintain control of THAT situation!"
Dominic: "Sure, now you're experts...four hours ago you were discussing your love of apple sauce."
Adele: "Indomitable. I could eat that word. Or a crisp. Do you have a crisp?"
Topher: "You haven't seen my drawer of inappropriate starches?"

Now, these are fun and delicious lines, but what this is NOT is a permanent return to a "Buffy"-esque style of dialogue. Last week's ep proved such language is not needed for a Whedon show to be successful. In fact, I hope this is the ONLY episode that features lines such as these. As much as I love his past work, I don't need a mere repeat of it. I respect that he and his writing staff and attempting something different, and in these last two weeks, the show's found some footage upon which to build something unique unto itself. Using old lingual tics to make diehard fans feel more comfortable would be untrue to this universe. Luckily, this week's high-concept seems unlike to pop up again, so I think we're safe.

Did you enjoy the "old school" Whedon feel of this week's concept/dialogue, or did it feel weird in the "Dollhouse" world? What's Rossum's plan with the Dollhouse? Why exactly DO minds matter to them? And how will Adele's feelings towards Ambrose play into those plans? Leave your thoughts below!

Ryan noshes on inappropriate starches over at Boob Tube Dude.