Dollhouse: “The Target”

The episode begins with a flashback. An alarm is piercing the otherwise zen-like confines of the Dollhouse. A few doll wranglers are leading the dolls to their sleeping quarters ahead of schedule. This disruption of their regular routine – and omission of the de rigueur sexy co-ed shower sequence in particular – is upsetting to the dolls! And probably to some viewers as well!

Meanwhile, Dominic is leading a full SWAT team down the stairs. Security has been breached, gosh darn it, and any breach-ers ought to be dealt with via two bullets to the brain. This crew comes across Topher, who is covered in blood and has a difficult time spitting out any of his usual wisecracks, on account of being traumatized and all. There’s a corpse on the ground nearby. Topher reveals that Doc Saunders “looks like a jigsaw puzzle.” Adelle realizes that that this was Alpha’s doing! Plus, a “composite” event has taken place! Whatever that means! At the very least, compositing must go against standard industry practice for professional memory wipers.

Dominic next gets a radio communiqué which informs him that on Level 3, there’s something untoward happening. He and his squad proceed to the bunkhouse, where all of the dolls – except for Echo – have been permanently wiped. Echo is sitting in a daze in the midst of the carnage. “They won’t wake up,” she points out, helpfully.

Elsewhere – and on another day – Adelle is launching into her sales pitch. First she trots out the fancy Latin phrases. Like “Tabula Raza.” Which is another way to describe the whole blank slate, innocent-as-lambs state that operatives are in while snoozing. As her voiceover continues, we see Echo skipping along, escorted by Boyd, without a care in the world.

Adelle is wooing a potential customer – in this case, a smug, white-collar type named Richard O’Connell. He declares her product – and her business – to be a “neat trick.” Nay, Adelle counters! “What we offer is truth.” (You know, as much as can be expected from a covert, sketchy shadow corporation in a sci fi show.) But in this day and age, truth is such a rare commodity, it should come as no surprise that they’ve slapped an “exuberant price tag” on it. O’Connell counters with a confession that while he’s been with a lot of women, none of them proved to be who they appeared to be at first glance, anyway, so what the hell – he’ll give this whole Build-Your-Own-Girlfriend thing a whirl!

However, Adelle says there’s a problem with O’Connell’s request. Sure, he passed the background check, but his request poses a moderate risk to the operative. Well, it’s not really a “problem,” per se. More like an additional fee. In the grand cinematic (or televised) tradition of rich people who are used to dealing with price tags so high as to incite coronaries, classy Adelle refuses to say the price aloud. She writes it down on a piece of paper instead and hands it to him. The guy emits a small choking sound in response. But – no biggie. His check will still clear.

Cut to Echo and Mr. O’Connell engaging in some white water rafting fun. (Yes, risking drowning is “fun” in certain adventure-seeking circles.) After they’ve had their white water rafting fun, they come ashore, and proceed to have some lip-locking fun. Then they have some sheer-cliff-scaling fun. Echo temporarily loses her grip and nearly plummets to her death. They have a good laugh over it.

Somewhere out of sight but nearby, Boyd is monitoring the hijinks from a van. He’s on the phone with Topher, who insists that Echo’s adrenaline levels are within the engagement’s agreed-upon parameters. Then Boyd’s Echo feed goes down. He wants Topher to fix it. Topher thinks that, given that this assignment is taking place in the middle of “Why would you want to be there?”, losing the tracking signal of a human built-to-order Barbie isn’t that out of the ordinary in the scheme of things.

As they wait for Echo to come back online, Boyd’s driver remarks upon how much he hates the woods. Boyd doesn’t seem like much of the outdoor type, either.

Agent Ballard pulls up to the house where the great kidnapper shootout of last episode’s end took place. The joint is already crawling with other cops. Crusty cops. Hardened, cynical cops. Ballard walks in and endears himself to these guys by saying, “It doesn’t add up.” The rest of the gang reckons that a pile of dead kidnappers adds up just fine. Three professionals meet up with a disgruntled science teacher, and then they all shoot each other, and the girl is mysteriously returned to her father. What doesn’t add up, exactly? Ballard wants to know where the ransom money went. Uh – the cops amend their theory. There’s a fifth guy who took the money. Yeah! That’s it. Case closed now, for real. Who brought the rocket launcher, busybody Ballard queries as he studies the ginormous hole in the wall. Besides, if the fifth guy was already in the room with his buddies, why did he have to shoot the door open? And why did the kidnapped girl talk about the “pretty lady” who saved her?

Details, schmetails. Also falling under this category are Echo/Eleanor’s discarded eyeglasses at the scene. Where the other cops see nothing beyond a decorative crime scene flourish in this latest development, Ballard sees a clue.

Back in the woods, O’Connell is teaching Echo how to use a crossbow. They are gonna kill their lunch! Because tuna sandwiches just aren’t as thrilling. (One can begin to piece together why this fellow may have had trouble making a love connection in the past.) O’Connell starts launching into his own backstory. His dad was a real “shoulder to the wheel” kind of guy who believed people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. His dad taught him lots of meaningful life lessons about along those lines – and how to slap his shoulder with his hand to signify “shoulder to the wheel.” And that if you could kill something bigger than you, using just a bow, you deserve to eat it. Whereas if your prey gets away, it deserves to be free.

Echo figures she’s probably not the first girl O’Connell has tried to woo with a white water rafting, cliff-hanging, lunch-killing date. He admits he has done this before – but she’s the first girl who hasn’t disappointed him in her ability to keep up. He kisses her, just to convey his “approval.”

Echo spots a stag. (The four-legged kind.) He coaches her on how to take it out with her bow.

Fast forward to Echo taking him out with some smooth moves in the sleeping bag. He wants to know if there’s anything she isn’t good at, and declares her the perfect woman.

Only he’s suddenly focused on other things, and insists they need to get going. Where, asks Echo? She’s confused by his suddenly abrupt manner. He looks at his watch, and tells her she needs to stop talking, and start running. He’ll give her a five minute head start. He fingers his crossbow lovingly.

She starts running.

There’s a flashback to Boyd meeting Adelle for the first time. He can’t believe that the stories are true. And he wants to know what happened to Echo’s last handler. “You’re standing in him, “ says a freshly-scarred Doc Saunders, who has suddenly materialized. This is one way to recruit fresh blood – by pointing out where the old blood was drained out of one’s predecessor. Fortunately, Boyd isn’t the squeamish type. In fact, he wants to see the body.

Dominic and Boyd stand over the body of Samuelson, Echo’s former handler. “He was a good man,” says Dominic. “Not good enough,” observes Boyd. He seems to know something about the human body – enough to assess that the killer was a sadist who knew what he was doing. And he took his time in filleting Samuelson. Not exactly, corrects Dominic. It actually only took eight seconds. Boyd is confused as to how it’s possible to dissect a body perfectly, with so little time. Ah – innocent, naïve Boyd. He’s got a lot to learn about standard working conditions for employees within a covert, sinister, mysterious shadow corporation.

Dominic explains that an operative did this. Only it was one that accessed multiple imprinted personalities simultaneously. It’s one thing for an operative to have his or her brain wiped and replaced with one personality imprint, but several imprints? That’s just crazy talk.

But……why didn’t Alpha kill Echo as well, Boyd wonders?

Cut to O’Connell, messing around with his crossbow. Poor O’Connell. It must be difficult to meet women who like to go white water rafting, and scale 90 degree rocks, and have hot monkey sex, and then not take it personally when he wants to end the date with a little homicide. What a lonely life.

Echo’s still legging it. She comes to another cliff – only without the benefit of rock climbing gear this time.

Cut to a man and a woman whose date is going slightly better – they are merely attempting to have sex while he’s driving a car through midday traffic. The man is Lubov – the suave night club player from last episode. Lubov’s phone rings – and it’s Ballard. Ballard wants to know why Lubov has made himself scarce. And he still wants to know more about the Dollhouse. “Don’t make me come find you,” he says in parting. Lubov seems shady. Ballard will probably wind up having to go find him.

Ballard goes to his desk, and withstands a few snarky comments from his colleagues about his pie in the sky mission. Buried within his pile of incoming mail is an anonymous envelope with only his name on the front, and the words, “Keep looking” scrawled on the back. Which looks an awful lot like the envelope that the unidentified man at the end of the last episode was holding. Ballard opens the envelope and withdraws a single picture of Echo – only the back of the photograph is labeled with her real name – Caroline. Who’s laughing now about Ballard’s crazy Dollhouse theory, huh? (Well……the other cops probably still are, because a photograph with only a first name on it isn’t really much to go on.)

Meanwhile, Echo is making her way down the cliff, old-school style. By slipping and fumbling a lot. O’Connell’s hot on her trail. He stands atop the cliff she just descended from and watches her progress through his binoculars. Then he loads up his crossbow and takes aim. He first arrow grazes her thigh. She isn’t sticking around to give him a cleaner shot.

Topher is in the process of reestablishing the link with Echo. Boyd’s impatient. Boyd’s driver informs him that they have company, as some ranger-type truck pulls up behind them. Boyd and his driver get out of the van and pretend to start arguing about whether or not they’re lost. When the ranger professes an iota of doubt, Boyd pretends to be a reporter who is hot on the trail of some logging/endangered species story. He offers up a fake ID to match. The ranger seems just gullible to fall for it…..for about five seconds. Then he shoots Boyd’s driver.

Back at the Dollhouse, and somewhere else within the fractured timeline of this episode, Boyd meets Topher for the first time. Topher describes himself as “the man behind the gray matter curtain.” “So Alpha’s your creation?” Boyd asks in response. Which takes a wee bit of wind out of Topher’s sails.

Alpha was an “anomaly,” insists Topher. Or kink, or glitch, or whatever.

Cut to the present. Run, Echo! Run!

At least Echo’s back online, which gives Boyd and Topher an opportunity to study her elevated adrenaline levels. Topher points out that the spiking lines on the monitor are the “bad squigglies,” but Boyd seems unmoved. Maybe because that park ranger has a gun to his head. Some doll handler vs. rogue park ranger kung fu unfolds. After making a few park-ranger-head-shaped dents in the van, Boyd eventually subdues his attacker.

Dominic and Adelle are conferring in her office about the threat level posed by Paul Ballard. Adelle thinks he’s a buffoon who’s been groping blindly for forever. Dominic thinks they should neutralize Ballard. Only Adelle doesn’t believe that killing a federal agent is a good way to continue to fly below the radar. Topher interrupts to inform them that they seem to have a situation. Another one.

Echo makes it back to the raft. Only someone’s slashed it.

O’Connell’s scaling down the cliff, not far behind.

Echo runs onward. She spots a cabin, approaches it, and lets herself inside. It appears to be well-furnished, but vacant. She starts rifling through desk drawers, and then just runs around in circles like a gerbil on a wheel for a minute. Only a girl can get parched doing that, so she stops for a drink of water from a canteen. Wait – she hears radio static. Which is coming from the dead ranger who is stuffed in the closet.

She uses the ranger’s radio to attempt to call for help, but the only one sharing the airwaves with her is O’Connell. He tries to “Hey baby” her with some more exposition about how he just wants to know why she deserves to live. She starts spewing out some vitriol about how he doesn’t deserve to live, and she’s going to make that happen herself, only……she’s got a frog in her throat. Or some poison. Yeah, O’Connell knows all about that canteen.

Cut to another time, back at the Dollhouse, when Topher is administering a treatment to Echo. Echo notices Boyd loitering uncomfortably in the corner. This is a crucial bonding treatment that will make Echo trust Boyd implicitly from here on out. Topher gives Boyd a script to read from, and tells him to take Echo’s hand while he delivers his lines – and while Topher zaps her head with high voltage. Standard bonding protocol stuff. The soft touch of her hand, and the way she looks trustingly into his eyes, will ensure that down the line, Boyd feels increasingly like a douchebag whenever he delivers the safety phrase: “Everything is going to be allright.”

O’Connell busts into the cabin. No sign of Echo. Just one dead ranger. O’Connell radios Echo and asks how she’s feeling. But it’s not a poison she’s ingested. Just a drug that’ll slow her down. And boy, does it.

Echo sees another girl walking nearby. She rushes to catch up to her. It’s……herself. But as Caroline. Girlfriend is tripping, in all senses of the word. First in the hallucinating sense, and next in the “over a log” way. She falls into the river.

Back in Boyd’s van, he has the still-breathing park ranger tied up. He asks the ranger what O’Connell is up to, and how many other evil minions are roaming around. At first Ranger Bob isn’t talking……until Boyd shoots out his kneecaps. Then, after saying, “Arrrrrrgh!”, he insists he doesn’t know anything. O’Connell hired him over the phone. He says it was just business. Boyd pistol-whips the guy. Because that’s how Boyd conducts business.

Echo is spitting up water. She finds herself back at the Dollhouse, surrounded by doll corpses, as a guy with a knife tells her to wake up.

Then she wakes up for real, and hears O’Connell instructing her to wake up over the radio. He’s watching her through the binoculars. She takes off.

Cut to Ballard coming home to his apartment. A cute brunette armed with a pan full of lasagna tries to shyly lure him inside her adjacent pad. She notices the photo of Caroline/Echo ostensibly paperclipped to the file Ballard is carrying. He offers a raincheck on the whole lasagna/awkward flirtation thing.

Echo is still running. She removes her shirt to reveal a skimpy tank top. Because……why not?

O’Connell is still on her trail. Echo grabs a large branch and hides behind a tree, with a plan to bludgeon the next guy who crosses her field of vision. Only that would be Boyd. He deflects the swinging branch and tells her, “Everything’s gonna be allright.”

Not for Boyd’s ass, however, which is soon pieced by a bow.

Cut to another time, when Boyd is escorting Echo back from a more routine assignment as someone’s date. Someone overweight. And she’s rhapsodizing about how she’s in love. Boyd looks bored. Or morally conflicted, which can pass for boredom to the untrained eye.

Cut to Echo helping Boyd stagger along away from Robin Hood. She’s feeling a bit woozy again, and she reveals she’s been seeing things. Like the Dollhouse massacre. Boyd assures her that the whole crossbow wielding maniac thing is pretty real. He uses Echo’s safety words again. Only this time they don’t calm her down. She says O’Connell won’t stop till he’s dead. Boyd says she doesn’t have the right imprint……er…..he means, ”training”…….for that.

He gives her his gun, and asks if she knows how to use it. Fortunately she’s been imprinted with a personality that had four brothers. “None of them Democrats,” she adds.

Now the hunter becomes the hunted. Echo radios him with the order that he should toss the bow to the ground and get on his knees if he wants to avoid getting shot. He doesn’t take it seriously – till she nicks his arm.

It’s game on. He sees her fleeing, and follows. She’s temporarily halted by a hallucination of herself as Caroline, insisting, “I just want to make a difference.” It buys O’Connell enough time to sneak up behind her, which leas to the inevitable crossbow-handgun standoff. He declares this the best date ever.

OK, OK – he wants to call it a draw. Given his past bow-hunting and poisoning behavior, she’s dubious. Just not dubious enough. He starts to drop his bow, and she starts to drop her gun. Shockingly, he proves to be one of those atypical bad guys who is prone to lying. He fires at her. She fires back. Both miss. They duke it out old-school on the ground. She stabs him with an arrow in the neck. He bleeds out.

She returns to Boyd. They hold each other. Helicopters hover overhead. Domnic leads his trusty SWAT team in their general direction.

But it’s a happy ending for Echo. As far as she’s concerned, anyway. She gets wiped.

Elsewhere, Adelle is tearing Dominic a new one. The background checks are supposed to ensure that they are the only amoral psychos that the dolls have to contend with! He counters that they couldn’t have possibly this kind of loophole. Seems Richard O’Connell himself was a fabrication – everything in his resume was a lie! Somebody lied to them! So – who’s playing the players? Ranger Bob isn’t talking. He’s dead. Not because Boyd killed him. But because someone else did. Someone wielding a knife with surgical precision!

Alpha? Boyd asks. That’s impossible, says Dr. Saunders, as they hover over Ranger Bob’s dead body. The team tracked Alpha down and killed him. Well, that’s what they told Saunders, anyway.

Boyd wonders who the psycho named Richard O’Connell was, really. And how Alpha is involved. He could have killed Echo back at the Dollhouse when he had the chance, after all. “It all leads back to Echo,” he notes.

Later on, Dominic crosses paths with Echo in the Dollhouse. He mocks her blank-stared cuteness. Which would normally be about as risky as shooting fish in a barrel, only…….as he saunters away from her, she makes the “shoulder to the wheel” gesture that Richard O’Connell taught her earlier. So,uh…..those wipes are leaving behind a little bit of residue.

Want more? You can watch this episode – or the pilot, Ghost – again right here on Fancast!

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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