Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

Dollhouse: “Briar Rose” analysis

with 6 comments

I’ve been watching Joss Whedon’s new show Dollhouse regularly since the sixth episode, “Man on the Street”, and enjoying it thoroughly. ((I saw one episode previous to that, “The Target”, and was not impressed. Caught MotS because I heard it was the one where Fox more or less stopped interfering. And apparently, they had.))

But this week’s episode was so completely dense with information and background story that I went back and watched it a second time to try to straighten a few things out in my mind.

Below the fold are some very spoiler-y thoughts, so be warned. If you’ve not seen the episode, then don’t read.

The biggest seeming plot hole to me, after having watched it the first time and digested it, was how the hell did Alpha know Ballard would track down the environmental engineer, particularly on such a tight timetable, and how did he get his picture to replace the guy’s real photo?

I have some explanations, but there has to be more than what I’ve come up with that I’m just not seeing yet.

First of all, Dominic was not the only mole in the Dollhouse. This is speculative, but I have at least one piece of evidence supporting it. In “A Spy In The House Of Love”, Ballard gets a message delivered by a mole through November. But if you watch that episode carefully and pay attention to the timelines (which are fractured in the narrative), November gets imprinted after Topher discovered Dominic’s chip. Which means (probably) that somebody else monkeyed with the imprinting process after Dominic was captured. This is also borne out by November’s message stating that the mole had already been captured. Dominic could not possibly have put that message in there, one way or another, and he had no idea he was about to be caught out. ((It is possible, I suppose, that there was a “dead man’s switch” program, to deliver that message only if he were caught, but I don’t think that’s a reasonable thing to have hidden in her psyche every time she was imprinted. ))

If there is a second mole, as seems likely, it seems even more likely that Dominic had no clue, or else that knowledge would have come out while they were wiping him for the Attic. Therefore, the second mole is working with another individual or another organization. I’m guessing that Alpha either hooked up with someone in the Dollhouse, or else infiltrated this other organization, and has been using their mole to further his own ends.

Meaning that most or all of the messages that Ballard has been receiving have come not from Dominic and the NSA, but from Alpha. This tracks with what Dominic said when caught: he was not working to bring down the Dollhouse, he had other motives. Ballard has one goal: destroy the Dollhouse. Dominic could have been using him to a different purpose, but it would have been playing with dynamite, and I don’t think he would have run that kind of a risk.

So here’s the clearest way I see it, at the moment.

November’s message in “Spy” was from Alpha. (Possibly all of Echo’s messages were from Alpha, as well.) The moment he triggered that message, he knew that Ballard would try to find the Dollhouse’s location, and then a way to get in. So the very first scene in “Briar Rose”, Kepler’s murder, takes place a bit earlier than everything else we see, probably several days previous. After getting the body to Tuscon, he takes the picture of the Paul Bunyan statue, encrypts it to a flash drive, and drives back, having the drive hand-delivered before he goes to Kepler’s apartment and waits.

While he’s waiting, he (somehow) swaps his picture for Kepler’s in whatever database the FBI pulled it from. This is one of the weaker links, but if there is a second organization with a mole, and Alpha has that organization’s resources, he might conceivably pull this off.

From that point on, things play out more or less above board in the episode. It seems that Alpha half-imprinted himself with Kepler’s personality, as he had knowledge of the environmental systems, and I have no idea how he did that. This may be explained in next week’s ep.

The thing that really got me, that I missed the first time around until I read it online in a review, is that Dr. Saunders is an Active.

In the scene where they imprint Dominic’s personality into Victor to get the password (nice misdirection by Alpha, making them think he didn’t know what had happened), Dominic freaks out and has to be sedated. He looks to three of the four people in the room, and pleads with them by name. Topher. Adele. Whiskey. He says that last looking at Dr. Saunders, and she thinks that he wants a drink, which Adele covers by saying “I’m not surprised.” But that’s not what he meant at all.

This is corroborated by the confrontation between Saunders and Alpha. He asks her if she’s always wanted to be a doctor, and she says yes. “That’s a lie,” he sneers, and moves on to other questions. And it is, if she’s an Active.

Now, I don’t know how the backstory works if this is so. Was Saunders killed in the first Alpha attack, and then imprinted on an Active? If so, wouldn’t she know?

Was the real doctor killed previously, “Dr. Saunders” imprinted on an Active, and then wounded in the attack? That doesn’t make a lot of sense, either.

Or, what if it’s the first, but with some editing of memories by Topher? He has shown he can do that, changing the “details”, in this very episode. So, Saunders is killed, Whiskey is maimed, making her useless in the outside world, so Saunders is imprinted into Whiskey, with memories altered to make her self-image match Whiskey’s face and body, and for her to remember Whiskey’s attack, not her own.

It still seems overly-elaborate to me. But Joss Whedon is the guy who explained how an only child could have a kid sister, too.

All of this probably seems a little critical. The truth is, I loved this episode as much as any, and possibly more (although “Spy” was really damn good, too). It’s just unusual for a Whedon show to have so many apparent gaps in its logic (outside of the premise of the show, of course). I’m just trying to figure out how they’re not really gaps, because I’m sure that most of them, at least, are not, and have an explanation.

Oh well, I’ll be watching it next week, just as I have been the last several. Hope it gets renewed, however unlikely that seems. Or at least that Fox production does a second season strictly for DVD release, apart from Fox network.

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6 Responses

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  1. I was seriously having insomnia the other night. Woke up for NO reason and that’s when I realized that how would Alpha know that Ballard was coming for Keppler? I couldn’t figure it out and thought it was a major plothole. Didn’t realize what Mr. Dominic was saying either at the time with the “Topher. Adelle. Whiskey.” line. Guess I fell for Adelle’s explanation. Good catch, there.

    Jim Cruise

    4 May 2009 at 2:23 pm

  2. Jim:

    It sure felt like a plot hole at first, but I think it actually makes some sense (especially if it gets explained further in the final ep). Ballard has been played by Alpha, and the enviro engineer was the only individual who A) had intimate knowledge of how to get in and B) had any kind of a paper trail leading to him. Hell, maybe the paper trail was created by Alpha. It’s not tight, but it makes some sense.

    As for the Whiskey moment, I missed it too. I’m quite irked that I did, but I did. Watching it again, though, it’s remarkably clear.

    Ian Michael Hamet

    4 May 2009 at 6:15 pm

  3. Speaking of the plot hole, Alpha has been leading Ballard by a chain for a while now. I think that Alpha could be the mole within the Dollhouse as well, because I don’t think Topher’s the one messing with dolls and giving Ballard secret messages.

    Man, Tudyk as Alpha was great! I realized something was up when I saw that Tudyk looked in really great shape for someone who’s this genius hippie. I have high hopes for this show, but it’s probably gonna go away.

    Vichus Smith

    4 May 2009 at 8:15 pm

  4. Vichus:

    No, Alpha cannot be the mole himself. The whole point of leading Ballard on was to gain entry back into the Dollhouse. Plus, everyone who survived remembers what he looked like, so that would be a non-starter. Topher, though, is definitely not the one messing with the Actives.

    Tudyk is always great, I think. When he first emerged from that apartment, I cried out “Wash!” with far more joy than I would have expected.

    Ian Michael Hamet

    5 May 2009 at 6:56 am

  5. I’m not convinced Alpha was sending the messages… Why would Alpha care about whether or not Ballard knows the purpose of the Dollhouse or that there are multiple Dollhouses? No, I think Alpha may have caught wind of Ballard’s investigation, but it seems a stretch to say he sent the messages.

    On another note: Why wouldn’t Alpha have known where the Dollhouse was anyway? He left from there, after all. And Ballard didn’t find a way in, Alpha himself did. I think Alpha was just using Ballard as a distraction.

    P.S. I had a hard time not typing “Wash” every time I meant “Alpha” in the preceding comment.

    Shea

    5 May 2009 at 7:26 am


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