Dollhouse “Target” — This is more like it.

Dollhouse’s second episode (third if you count the ill-fated pilot, which since I haven’t seen it, I’m not) “Target” guest-stars “The Middleman” Matt Kesslar as a hardcore outdoorsmen/hunter who engages Echo to be his Perfect Outdorswoman Girlfriend who he rafts with, climbs with, teaches to shoot, sleeps with, then chases across the wilderness trying to kill her.

“Target” was a great improvement over “Ghost” for me, and while it was just as packed as the pilot, it flowed better, was less over-burdened by exposition, despite the fact that it featured Boyd (Echo’s handler)’s introduction to the Dollhouse and explained what happened to Alpha, presumably the first of the Actives in the Dollhouse (given that the Dolls named sofar follow the NATO phonetic alphabet — Alpha, Echo, Sierra).

There’s some creepy-touching bonding between Echo and Boyd, as well as quickly moving towards the ‘Echo’s multiple lives smashing together’ point, which for Alpha was called a ‘Composite Event’ also known as Very Bad.

The episode had more Whedon-esque dialogue, like Topher’s quip to Langdon — Anything for you. Because I love you. Deep, deep man love.”

Or Not-Middleman’s “Is this the best date ever, or what?”

“Target” also features a welcome move with Agent Ballard investigating the events of “Ghost” — if Echo’s assignments become Ballard’s bread-crumb trail, the events of previous episodes stay relevant rather than being one-off engagements that are forgotten once Echo’s memories are wiped.  By having both Ballard and Langdon as POV characters on the series while Echo lacks subjectivity/self-awareness, we get a variety of views on the Dollhouse and the lives of Actives — Boyd’s already forged a personal connection with Echo (which I’d argue goes beyond the individual person she became for the episode, as she’s already compositing and going beyond the personality matrix she’s been programmed with).

The recurring theme of Echo’s adventures on assigment involve overcoming victimization and finding inner strength, which I imagine will be shown as a resurgence of Caroline’s personality or the center for Echo’s emergent individuation.

“Target” gives me more hope for Dollhouse from a critical standpoint, though the premise is still very tricky and much of Whedon’s trademark patter and cleverness is subdued moreso than in Firefly or others.  And even if it does manage to deliver more consistently, I’m not sure it’ll last past the initial order ratings-wise.

We shall see.

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