Dollhouse: “Stage Fright”

A Beyonce-styled knock-off named Rayna is shaking her groove thing onstage. She bumps, she grinds, she shakes her sequin-festooned booty, and she commands a small squadron of backup dancers and singers. One of whom catches on fire, thanks to the fancy pyrotechnics. Which is too bad……….because a flaming back-up singer was the most entertaining part of the stage show – at least for those who might not otherwise be into cheesy choreographed pop pablum. Oh, and because laughing at people on fire is in poor taste. Shame on you.

Security guards rush Rayna from the stage. The audience looks on in horror. Except for one pasty-faced guy who looks mostly irritated. Though if he paid $100 for his ticket in this economy and got only half a show, you can hardly blame him.

Back at the Dollhouse, Echo and Sierra are running side by side on state-of-the-art treadmills. Sierra concludes her workout and staggers off. Like a newborn foal, she falters a bit, and Echo rushes to prop her up. She doesn’t want Sierra to get hurt. “You’re my friend,” she tells Sierra. (Kind of in the way that Lennie says to the farm owner’s wife, whom he eventually throttles, in “Of Mice and Men.”) “Friends help each other out,” replies Sierra. (Kind of in the way that Ernie says to Bert all the time.)

Doc Saunders is patching Boyd up after that whole crossbow mishap with the lady killer. She admonishes him for pulling the arrow out. Silly Boyd. He’ll try to remember that “next time I’m being bow hunted.” Doc wants him to take a few days off. He wants her to call him Boyd. Oh, and he wants to get back to work, because otherwise Echo could find herself in the hands of some robotic corporate stooge like Dominic. Doc makes vague assurances that she feels him in the whole “us vs. them” thing. Someone is watching, she says. Someone always is, he agrees.

Paul Ballard’s cute stalker neighbor hears him coming home, so she bursts from her own apartment in a tidal wave of hormones and small talk, ready to pounce. Only it’s not him. It’s Lubov. He tries to make like he’s a friend of Ballard’s. No, wait…….a navy pal. No, wait……a former co-worker from Old Navy. Yeah – that’s it. Only cute stalker neighbor girl – who is very aware of Ballard’s comings and goings, and who probably has drawn up color-coded charts to track Paul’s habits on a twenty-four hour basis – isn’t buying it. She’s a little freaked by Lubov, actually. He wants to come in for the coffee she’s obviously preparing for Paul. She keeps him at bay. He gives her a business card and tells her to tell Paul to call on him at this address – not at work, because when Ballard harasses him at work, it upsets Lubov’s bosses. Who are probably into way more than supervising the proper folding and display techniques for that new shipment of khaki capris.

Someone named Biz is visting Adelle. They are good friends – such good friends that he can insult her office décor in a wry, deadpan way as he refuses to remove his sunglasses. He works for Rayna, who is making a tour stop here. Adelle assumes Biz might be in the mood for some twin action, which will help him unwind after all this stressful jetsetting. Only, he has more important things on his mind beyond a threesome at the moment. No, really. Someone’s trying to kill Rayna. (And come to think of it, if he weren’t pimping out his pop princess for some serious coin, he probably wouldn’t be able to afford to hire out twins for a threesome, anyway. The man at least has his priorities straight!) Anyway, he reveals that the backup singer on fire was no accident. They changed the choreography at the last minute, and it should have been Rayna in the hot spot. Adelle wants to know how Rayna’s dealing with it. Eh – kind of in an erratic, disconnected, moody way. In other words, with typical pop star attitude.

Biz produces some fan letters from a stalker. Adelle suggests Rayna needs protection. Not just regular bodyguards, though. Biz agrees. Rayna hates regular bodyguards, and if she didn’t hate regular bodyguards, there would be no plot progression! So they determine that what Rayna really needs is someone she can feel close to and trust. But who will also take a bullet for her. You know, a real friend. Adelle has just the solution. It doesn’t take long to concoct a plausible cover story for Echo, either. Biz points out that Rayna is short a backup singer, after all.

Echo is auditioning. Biz pretends to think that Echo exudes too much attitude. Which is all the incentive Rayna needs to find Echo to be the perfect replacement. She moves in closer and duets with her brand-new soon-to-be BFF. They harmonize so well! Biz thinks they should talk it over before deciding whether or not to hire Echo. Rayna wants to hire her on the spot, because she doesn’t like Biz deciding things! Even though he’s deciding things by appearing to decide something other than what he really wants. Rayna has all the savvy, and most of the IQ, of a potted plant, so the whole reverse psychology thing goes right over her head.

Echo is psyched! She got the gig! She’s gonna get to wear cute tight outfits, and sing, and be BFFs with a booty-shaking diva! She’s living the dream!

Topher is playing with his brain-scrambling machines when Doc Saunders storms in to admonish him about sending Echo back out again so soon into a high risk gig. Her medical report specifically said that Echo was to be dispatched for romantic or altruistic engagements only! Topher explains the difference between the programmed parameters of the mission, and the persona deployed to carry it out. The persona is a struggling backup singer. The parameters mandate that Echo will want to protect Rayna at all costs. “So she doesn’t even know she’s a bodyguard?” asks Doc. And worse, she points out that Boyd’s in no condition to ride shotgun on this. Topher snickers because she’s called Boyd by his first name. It’s so peas in a pod, what with Saunders and Boyd always taking the moral high ground together. “You’re going to get married and have scowly babies!” gloats Topher.

Sierra is escorted into the happy chair by her handler, which cuts all the insult-flinging short.

Rayna is rehearsing her backup dancers and pointing out when they should pop and when they should lock. A short ways over, Echo is getting pinned into some skintight jeans and showcasing her pipes without a shirt on. Echo can’t help but notice all the big guys with no necks loitering around. The other backup singers talk about how ever since that other backup singer burst into flames, there’s no getting away from the extra security precautions. Fan mail goes straight to the police, too. They are cluing Echo in to the whole lowdown, and they’re going to all be BFFs too.

Rayna is still rehearsing her dancers when someone pops a mint, the scent of which wafts up into Rayna’s nostrils, which messes her up bigtime. She can’t work under these conditions! Biz tells her to head to the venue, and Rayna decides she wants Echo to ride with her. The other backup singers don’t want to be Echo’s new BFFs anymore. They think she’ s a stuck-up bitch.

A pool party at a fancy hotel is underway. Ballard winds his way through the crowd and finds Lubov standing at the balcony, contemplating the pretty lights. Ballard stands nearby. They try to look like they’re not talking to each other for about a minute. Lubov thinks Ballard is trying to get him killed – otherwise, why would Ballard compromise him by trying to question him in broad daylight and stuff. Besides, the Family with a capital “F” isn’t involved in this whole Dollhouse thing. Sure they are – they traffic girls, Ballard points out! Only in the old-fashioned way, Lubov clarifies. They don’t brainwash them or anything. Besides, Dollhouse is an urban legend! And Lubov’s been doing some checking into Ballard – he knows all about how Ballard is one of those crazy rogue agents who has problems with authority! They only assigned him the Dollhouse case because it doesn’t exist, and therefore he can’t possibly screw that up! Then they talk about how screwed up people are in general. But Lubov kind of wishes the Dollhouse was real, so someone could wipe his brain and make him Doris Day.


Boyd is sittng in his van, monitoring Echo. He’s a bit worried for her – maybe because the last girl in her position caught fire. Topher informs Boyd that Sierra is also coming into play, but he reckons Boyd won’t like her handler, Joe Hern, much. And if Topher thinks the guy is a douchebag…..

Boyd is a little worried. Echo’s a good signer and all, but is she ready for the big time? Topher wants to know what Boyd thinks of Rayna. Not much.

After Topher concludes his little chat with Boyd, he returns his attention to the latest victim in his chair. Who would be Lubov. Who wants to know if he fell asleep or what. He’s not singing “Que Sera, Sera,” however. Not yet.

Fans are slowing streaming into the concert. Including the weird, pasty-faced redheaded guy from the first concert. Well, he’s not streaming, so much as hobbling. On fake crutches. In a Ted Bundy kind of way. You know – the one who looked really annoyed when Rayna didn’t catch on fire.

Backstage, Echo and the other backup singers trail Rayna as they prepare to take the stage. Biz wants to introduce Rayna to her number one fan, according to some promotional blitz – it’s Audra! Who is really Sierra. Who is talking with an Australian accent.

Creepy Fanboy slinks into the backstage area and suddenly can walk without benefit of crutches. He starts scaling a ladder.

Meanwhle, the show starts, which includes Echo warbling the first discordant notes of a really awful pop song.

Fanboy’s crutch doubles as a high-powder rifle with site. Very Transformer-y.

Cut to more cheesy song and dance.

Cut to the Fanboy, who is now hiding his weapon in a storage room. He then hobbles back out of the room on his crutches.

The gig concludes without incident, however. No backup singers catch on fire, and no one is riddled with bullets, either. Rayna and Echo are cruising the after-party at a hip nightspot. Echo isn’t so sure this is safe, being surrounded by hundreds of potential security threats. Rayna points out that they’re also surrounded by lots of big beefy men with no necks.

Meanwhile, Fanboy loiters over at the bar.

Rayna gets upset when she sees “that skank” Audra seated at her table in the VIP room. Biz reminds her that Audra won a contest, and Rayna should suck it up for PR’s sake. Rayna goes and makes polite conversation with Audra/Sierra, who has been programmed to wear thick glasses and gush like a twelve year old girl who thinks Rayna is way cooler than High School Musical 2. Rayna decides to get Audra drunk, and motions for more champagne, and more champagne appears. Echo is agog at the whole VIP treatment. It’s so neato how Rayna gets whatever she wants by snapping her fingers. Eh – Rayna doesn’t act like it’s so neato.

Some guy suddenly rushes Rayna and starts to pull something from his jacket. Echo kicks into Kevin Costner mode and flings the guy out of the velvet-rope section. Turns out it’s just some low-life paparazzi. Feh! False alarm, yet the contractually stipulated, gratuitous glimpse of Echo hoisting men around while wearing heels and a miniskirt has been provided.

Ballard gets a call from “Lubov.” (Seeing as how we don’t really know what to call him anymore, some sarcastically brandished quotation marks have been deployed.) Lubov says something about an abandoned hotel called the Devonshire. It would be a good place to hold attractive people who are about to be brainwashed, he supposes.

Ballard checks it out. He kicks the boarded up, fenced in front door, and proceeds to investigate with only a flashlight and a piddly gun. He hears some crashing inside. He doesn’t find much – mostly gutted rooms with half-standing concrete walls and lots of construction site rubble laying around. And guys with 4 x 4s who want to alternately smash him and sneer at his impertinence for wanting to mess with a powerful family like the Bourdains! Ballard manages to fell three of them by harnessing the awesome power of kung fu, but then the fourth bad guy harnesses the awesome power of a bullet being fired through a gun, which catches Ballard in the midsection region. Then the fourth bad guy makes the mistake of gloating over Ballard about how his is the last face Ballard will ever see, which gives Ballard a chance to catch his breath and redirect the bad guy’s gun into his own leg, and then use him as a human shield against the third bad guy, who has recovering from Ballard’s ass-whuppin’ and now is brandishing another gun. After Ballard’s human shield trick, he whips out more kung fu moves, and wallops the third bad guy. He tries to choke him with a 4×4 and get information about the Dollhouse. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” says the bad guy. “No one ever does,” complains Ballard.

That bullet in the belly is starting to cause him the slightest amount of pain, however. He dials 911 as he falls to the ground.

Sierra’s handler Joe swaggers back into the van with a coffee which, as Boyd points out, took him forty minutes to fetch. Boyd is diligently searching through Rayna’s fan sites for evidence of crazy stalkers. Joe thinks Boyd is going above and beyond. All they’re supposed to do is keep an eye on their girls, not anyone else. Boyd is such a freakin’ high-moral-ground-covering boyscout.

Echo visits Rayna in her dressing room. She admires the florist shop’s worth of orchids that someone has bestowed upon Rayna. Rayna feels alive! This is gonna be the best night of her life! Echo helps herself to a drink, at which point she notices some impassioned fan letters sitting in a stack on Rayna’s table. The ones that were supposed to be diverted to the police. We can tell they are from a stalker, because they are written in erratic serial killer handwriting, with lots of kissy marks at the end. Rayna says they’re old letters she just happened to have laying around, only they’re not old letters, as Echo realizes – because they mention last night’s show! Echo slowly pieces it together……..wait, you’re communicating with your stalker? He’s my number one fan, says Rayna! Echo doesn’t think that’s a good idea. Rayna doesn’t think that Echo voicing her opinion about it not being a good idea is a good idea. She reminds Echo that she’s a wannabe. A nothing.

They get a knock on the door. It’s showtime! “Biggest show ever,” says Rayna, and she flounces out.

She’s acting weird. Echo has been trained to sniff out weird, suspicious behavior. She also has been trained to sniff out weird, suspicious orchids, and re-examines them up close. There are creepy post-it notes underneath them which indicate, in more erratic serial killer handwriting, that this will be Rayna’s last show. (Thank God. It’s a pretty awful act……)

Echo chases Rayna down. Wha……? You want to die? Echo decides Rayna is crazier than her creepy stalker fanboy with the fake crutches and pasty face! Which is really saying something. Rayna insists she’s not crazy. She just wants to be free. Free from the burden of having it all. And maybe free from the cheesy choreography and tacky costumes and bad music, too.

Rayna is deep into her booty-shaking, sequin-wearing existential angst as Fanboy assembles his gun. Echo goes looking for Biz. She sees the stage manager first, and tells him to stop the show. He tells her to go join the show. She tells him she’s gonna smack him. Then she resumes her search for Biz. Audra is rocking out backstage. Rayna introduces her as her number one fan to the audience, and gives Audra a moment in the spotlight. Not because it’s a nice way to show fan appreciation so much as because it appears to be the perfect way to antagonize her stalker into just shooting her already.

Echo finds Biz. She tells him to stop the show. The main security dude standing next to Biz doesn’t think they should stop the show just because a backup singer said so. Ah, but maybe they should stop the show because a backup singer is beating the crap out of him. Biz doesn’t stop her, either. Echo then storms onstage, and redirects a stage light up into the rafters. She spots Fanboy toting his amazing transforming gun. Fanboy fires, and Echo shouts at Rayna to get down, and she doesn’t mean in the funky, “feel the beat” way, either. Security guys start swarming the stage, and the audience stampedes for the exits.

Meanwhile, Ballard is in an ambulance flatlining……

In the dressing room, Rayna chews out Echo for shutting down her show. Echo thinks maybe Rayna has lost it. Rayna corrects her. She was gonna give the people a show, damn it! You know, the kind they’d be talking about when they were old, because they were there when Rayna was cut down in her prime by an assassin’s bullet! Echo thinks Rayna is having a breakdown that goes way beyond head shaving and junk flashing. Rayna talks about how hard it is to be famous and beautiful and wealthy and adored. She’s just some projected fantasy. Echo tries to give her a pep talk about changing her life. Rayna doesn’t like the way Echo’s all up in her business. She tries to shove her out of her business, and her dressing room. Echo talks tough about how Rayna can fire her, but “bitch, you can’t take me.”

Audra is still in fan mode and wants to see Rayna again. Some security guy tells her to head around to the back entrance, and to look for some guy with a clipboard. Only they don’t warn her to also be on the lookout for a creepy Fanboy who is armed who is probably pretty ticked off right about now, seeing as how Audra kind of honed in on his number one fan angle.

Creepy Fanboy is now streaming a live video in which he threatens Audra with a gun. Everyone at Rayna’s rehearsal compound is standing around watching this, because they have giant TV monitors positioned everywhere, in every room, for just such an occasion. The onlookers are, like, totally bummed, because this creepy guy is being really mean to that poor girl. Or maybe they’re just totally bored, because they haven’t yet caught a glimpse of a girl getting snuffed in a live video. Meanwhile, Creepy Fanboy raves about how insulted he is that he’s not Rayna’s number one fan. What about that whole, “I kill you, you die for me” plan that they talked about? “You have my number – call me,” he says in closing.

Biz thinks about all the work he’s done trying to ensure Rayna’s safety. After he’s done thinking for all of ten seconds, he smacks her. Rayna runs off. Echo goes after her, because she’s been programmed to.

Adelle sits in her office. Dominic enters and informs her that Sierra has been kidnapped. Adelle realizes that Sierra drawing Crazy Fanboy’s attention away from Rayna was a “good call.” Get the girls and close it out, she tells him.

Crazy Fanboy makes Audra/Sierra sing Rayna songs under duress, at gunpoint. Just to underscore how crazy he is.

Rayna is practicing some dance moves in front of the mirror. Just to underscore how narcissistic she is. Echo finds her. Rayna says the show must go on. Echo can’t believe that Rayna would be so heartless as to just let her number one fan Audra be killed by the maniac she’s been exchanging creepy letters and phone calls with. “You could stop him from hurting Audra,” Echo adds. Yeah, whatever. Audra’s just a fan, Rayna shrugs. Echo says Rayna could snap out of her numbed existential crisis and start feeling good about herself if she would help this girl. Only first Echo decides Rayna needs to feel the back of a folding chair.

A SWAT team storms into Fanboy’s empty apartment. They hear a message that Echo has left for Fanboy, proposing a trade – Rayna for Audra.

Dominic storms in and wants to know why Topher is so bad at his job. Otherwise, how can Topher explain why Echo – who was wired to protect Rayna – would clobber her with a chair and hand-deliver her to the psycho who wants her dead? Yeah, Topher can’t explain that, as it turns out.

Meanwhile, Creepy Fanboy shows up dragging Audra in his wake. He meets up with Echo, who has dragged a bound and tied Rayna along, so they can swap annoying hostages. To properly illustrate how dangerous this all is, they are meeting along the walkway up in the rafters of the theater, where any of them could trip and plummet to their death at any time. Echo says she doesn’t care if Rayna dies, since Rayna wants to die, and Crazy Fanboy wants to kill her, and she just wants to give everyone what they claim to want. Only Crazy Fanboy insists he just wanted to give Rayna what she really wanted. He didn’t really want to hurt her. Rayna is upset now. She’s not sure she wants to die after all. It all sounded so romantic and tragic before, when they were just plotting casually via text message, but this dude is crazy, and kind of scary in a pasty-faced way, now that she’s up close and personal with him. Echo decides to throw Rayna over the rafters. (Not really, because she still has her attached to a rope.) Crazy Fanboy is upset that Rayna is dangling from a rope. Echo is confused because it seems that Rayna doesn’t want to die, and Fanboy doesn’t want to kill her, after all. Echo pistol-whips him, because she’s had it up to here with all the crazy.

Boyd’s on the scene, but he can’t get a clear shot.

Rayna has stared death in the face, and has decided the view isn’t pretty. Besides, you probably can’t get good caviar and pedicures in the afterlife. She tells Echo that she changed her mind – she wants to live! Echo knew that. She pulls Rayna up from her dangling position.

Echo and Audra/Sierra are walking away from the mayhem, and marveling over the fun time that Audra has had as Rayna’s number one fan. Only Joe materializes and tells Audra it’s time for her treatment. Boyd is with him. Echo doesn’t dig the jerk-off vibes she’s picking up from Joe. Boyd tells Echo it’s time for her treatment. She wants to kick Joe’s ass first. Boyd says he’ll consider her request.

Dominic is arguing with Adelle about how they should send Echo to “The Attic,” because she’s way too glitchy. Adelle thinks that au contraire – Echo is super efficient. They programmed her to protect Rayna – even from herself, it turns out. Echo improved upon the mission parameter. That’s so not glitchy.

Boyd and Doc Saunders are marveling over the same thing. He thinks Echo is special. “Special’s not always a good thing around here, Boyd,” Saunders points out.

Rayna has revamped her image and is next spotted doing the whole unplugged, no sequins, no navel bearing, intimate-venue thing. Because every artist has to reinvent herself if she wants to stay in the limelight be authentic and self aware.

Ballard’s cute stalker neighbor arrives at the hospital. Ballard is laying in bed, staring forlornly out the window. He can’t see his cute stalker neighbor girl pleading with the guard at his door to let her in. The guard probably isn’t letting her in because she’s a cute stalker, and not a relative or even an actual girlfriend or anything.

Back at the Dollhouse, Echo and Sierra are back to wandering around the swank lobby with their blank expressions. Although, for a second, Sierra looks happy to see Echo, only Echo covertly signals to her that that’s not cool, seeing as how Jerk-Off Joe and lots of corporate stooges, and even Boyd and Saunders who hover overhead on the balcony, are all looking on. They revert to empty-gazed laps around the lobby.

Want more Dollhouse? Catch the episode 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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