Episode Review: Dollhouse 2×02: \"Instinct\"

The episode starts with Paul Ballard looking at the chair that turns Actives into anyone. He even sits in the chair, which may give Adelle DeWitt some ideas if she saw him like that. Instead, it’s Topher, who chides Paul not to touch the chair. He also raves about how he’s now able to program an Active at a glandular level. He says he could make someone’s brain fight cancer or be telekinetic. Paul asks if Topher could do it to him, but Topher says no. “The human mind if like Van Halen,” he explains. “If you just pull out one piece and keep replacing it, it just degenerates.” That’s proof Topher preferred David Lee Roth.

Then we see Echo in her new role, new mom Emily Jordan, in bed with her “husband” (and client), Nate. She wakes up to check on her baby boy, Jack. We even see her breast-feed. Topher may have done some tweaking to make it easier for Echo/Emily to lactate. Keep this in mind.

Next morning, we see Nate ready to go to work, For some reason, he doesn’t want to bond with his son. Echo/Emily talks about this to her friend, Kelly…who’s really Sierra. Echo/Emily says he works late, and has these strange phone calls. There’s also a black van parked outside the house, waiting for something. That’s really Paul, doing his job as a Handler. Sierra/Kelly suggests her friend relax for a night. Instead, Echo/Emily breaks into Nate’s desk, and finds some photos of another woman. Nate reveals it was Karen, a woman he used to know. He apologizes for not saying anything, and suggests she rest while he takes care of little Jack.
Later that night, she hears one of his strange phone calls. He says he’s calling it off, and he’s going to get rid of the baby. We suspect he was talking to Adelle DeWitt, but Echo/Emily thinks it’s more sinister.

Meanwhile, Senator Wes–Daniel Perrin (Alexis Denisof, by any other name) wonders to his wife Cindy if he jumped the gun after last week’s press conference accusing Rossum of questionable dealings and medical experiments. He’d hoped someone would step forward, but no one has. All they have, Cindy says, is a guy who claims Rossum mailed his liver to Saturn, At least Perrin has financial records, and anecdotal proof. He did have a contact in the NSA (Lawrence Dominic, probably) but nothing solid…until someone leaves an interesting green file outside his door.

Back in Los Angeles, Adelle decides to chat with the former Miss November, now Madeline Costly.

Maddie reveals she hasn’t worked or traveled since ending her contract with the Dollhouse. She admits to Adelle she’s worried if she says the wrong thing, like the Dollhouse is real, guys in suits will toss her in a van and take her away. Adelle suggests Madeline do a post-Active diagnostic. After all, Adelle says the Dollhouse doesn’t cast  former Actives to the wolves.

Meanwhile, Echo/Emily tries to leave the house, but Nate suggests a family breakfast. She shies away from that, and calls Sierra/Kelly to help her escape. She arrives, but so does the van. She gets in, because it’s time for a treatment. Paul comes in the house, and offers Echo/Emily a treatment. He hears voices, but finds a baby monitor in the crib. She and the kid have split.
Nate’s upset Adelle is just sitting there with her tea. She assures him they are looking for Echo/Emily and Jack. She also points out that he asked for a mother who would bond with Jack in every way, as if she were the real mom. She even understands why he wanted this, and reveals he may give Jack up for adoption.

Echo/Emily manages to get some protection from the police, saying that she doesn’t understand why Nate would change. “It’s like the person I knew wasn’t there anymore,” she says.

Nate does arrive, and gets Jack. Paul’s there to take Echo/Emily away while she demands she get her baby back.

Madeline gets her diagnostic, and she passes. Topher offers some enhancements, like maybe ventriloquism, but no dice. She’s happy with her hula and ukulele…which is what Miracle Laurie does off the set (and quite well).

Paul then comes in with Echo. They try to giver her the treatment, but she gets away. She’s soon knocked out, which upsets Topher because he can only wipe an Active when she’s awake. Maddie is surprised that Echo really through she was Jack’s mom, even though Paul said it’s all make believe. Well, Maddie says, not to Echo. She wonders if she was ever like that when she was an Active. Paul plays dumb about this, but we know. It was love between them, because both wanted to believe it was real. He’s also surprised to learn Maddie had a child that died from terminal cancer. She said she couldn’t function after losing the child. That’s when Adelle came in with a way to escape her grief, which also surprises Paul. He asks if Maddie is happy. She says she’s not sad. Still, shouldn’t she have some grief for her child, because it was part of her?

At the chair, Echo begs Topher to help her get Jack back. He promises he’ll make her worries go away, and he does. He does the treatment, and she asks “did I fall asleep?” Topher says “for a little while.”

Then Topher falls asleep….thanks to the uppercut Echo gives him. She asks if she can go, but that’s a moot point.

Senator Perrin, meanwhile, is stunned to learn what the file reveals about the Dollhouse. He says the original issue is that Rossum wouldn’t help his mom when she was fading from Alzheimer’s. Now it’s a bigger issue. His wife is worried what could happen to them, but it’s a risk worth taking. They are coming close to the truth, because they have a name. We just don’t know if it begins with a C, M or even A.

At the Dollhouse, Adelle asks what went wrong this time. Paul figures that because Topher changed Echo in a glandular level, “her body is stronger than her brain.” Her maternal instinct, which can’t be taken away, is driving her to Jack. Topher figures tweaking Echo to lactate more may have caused the problem. Well, it’s more than that. She’s at Nate’s house with the baby, and a knife.

She won’t give up Jack, and threatens to stab Nate. He then admits he needed an Active to be a mom to Jack, because Karen, the real mom and his wife, died in childbirth. He actually blamed his son at one point. That’s why he did all this. Now, he’s telling Echo he’s not his mom, and can’t be anymore. She’s devastated, but gives up the child. We don’t know if he decides to raise Jack, but he should.

Afterwards, Paul sees Echo in shock. “All of these things that happen to me,” she says, “I feel them”, rather than remember them. She can’t believe they’d make her think she was Jack’s mom, then take him away. Paul says maybe it’s too tough for Echo to help him bring down the Dollhouse. Maybe he can help her forget these feelings she’s having after the engagements.

“Feeling nothing would be worse,” she says. “I’m awake now.”

That last line is telling. Madeline says that she wasn’t sad anymore she lost a child to cancer, thanks to being an Active. But is still still, in a way, asleep?

Echo would rather be wide awake, and be a real live girl…pain and all.

While people raved about Eliza Dushku’s performance as Echo and Emily, I was a bit put off at the end. The episode made Emily a little too paranoid, only because she didn’t know what was happening. That’s the idea when you hire an Active, but it didn’t work very well. I also didn’t like the thunder in Echo/Emily’s confrontation with Nate. It was over-the-top.

“Instinct” was written by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, the creators of Reaper, which was about a guy whose dad may have been Satan. We just know Ray Wise, who played Satan, will be on Dollhouse soon, likely complete with three-piece suits that are fashionable and evil. Maybe.

The show returns next week, then takes a b
reak for baseball that may last one to three weeks.

Judging from the ratings, however, it could be longer than that. “Instinct” pulled in less than 2.1 million viewers, although it was a terrible Friday for Fox. The premiere of Stargate Universe had 200,000 more viewers, but that is big news that cable bested Fox and the CW. It’s also bad news for Dollhouse.

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Post Author: David Mello

Worked nearly eleven years at a radio station as a board operator, news reader, and assistant producer for baseball broadcasts. Have been a staff writer for Whedonopolis since July 2008

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