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Dollhouse Episode 6, “Man on the Street,” Re-Viewed, Part II

March 30, 2009

OK, if this Dollhouse ep 6, “Man on the Street,” is going to be so pivotal, it gets two posts. Or maybe three.

Part One focused on Joel Mynor and Paul Ballard.

Part Two:

Too many things clicked into place with this episode. How do I keep Allusiopalooza going without turning into my super villain alter ego, The Spoiler? I’m here to play with Joss Whedon’s toys, not to break them, and he’s:
(1) All for people analyzing his stories, but
(2) Dead set against people spoiling them.

Problem: Analyze a story-in-progress thoroughly enough — identify theme, foreshadowing, character relationships, tropes — and you may see where it’s going. Case in point: I saw a lesbian subtext in Buffy Season 8 before it became text. Fortunately, nobody believed me, but still, whenever I feel like writing about something I think I see happening, conscience reminds me, “Dude, Buffy slept with a chick!”

I think we are all agreed, however, that the cultivation of critical powers of observation serves an educational purpose and that it would certainly do no harm for me to share with you questions that I asked myself after watching “Man on the Street” (four times so far–it was awesome).

1. What did you see?
2. What didn’t you see?

1. What did you see?

DeWitt sits down with Echo.

DeWitt: [smiling] Hello, Echo.

From Echo’s POV, we see that she’s working on a child’s painting of a man and woman standing in front of a house.

DeWitt: You’ve drawn a picture. It’s very good.

Echo shakes her head slightly.

Echo: It isn’t finished.
DeWitt: The picture?

Echo looks down, nods slightly, shakes her head slightly, and raises her eyes.

Echo: It isn’t finished.
DeWitt: You’d like it to be finished?

Echo does not respond. She looks down at her picture, and we see it again from her POV.
Cut to Joel Mynor standing in front of the house as Echo arrives and Greg Laswell starts to sing “Sweet Dream.”

Song: If I could write out my own dream
For the next time that I sleep

Close up of Joel Mynor’s happy face.

You’d be the first one that I see

Echo as Rebecca runs to him and we see her face turn rapturous as Joel speaks to her.

And I the last one that you keep
And the dream would go on and on

They embrace.

While we sway against all things thrown our way.
And the morning would be so cruel when it came
With sunshine and warmth to blame
For announcing the end of my sweet dream.

Their hands clasp in slow motion.

For announcing the end of my sweet dream.

2. Q: What didn’t you see?
A: We didn’t see Echo answer to DeWitt’s question, “You’d like it to be finished?”
Q: What are the possible answers Echo might give to this question?
A1. Yes, I’d like to finish my picture.
A2. No, I’d not like to finish my picture.
Q: Could Echo understand DeWitt’s question?
A: Not if DeWitt is asking Echo is she’d like to complete the engagement with Joel Mynor. For two reasons:
1. The memory of it has been erased.
Q: But haven’t we seen that Echo’s memory does not get fully erased?
A: Yes, but we’ve also seen that her memory does not fully persist. Most of it’s gone. We’ve seen indications that traces of memories of her engagements persist, but not complete memories and, more importantly, reason two:
2. Echo has the comprehension and personality of a child. Echo’s like Sierra and Victor. She doesn’t know what sex is. She cannot answer the question, “Would you like to complete the engagement with Joel Mynor?” because she cannot understand what it entails. She cannot understand what a widower is, because she cannot understand marriage and she cannot understand death (as we saw in episode two, “The Target”) at even a rudimentary level.
Q: Does DeWitt care whether Echo wants to complete the engagement?
A: Finally, a good question. It would be the first time we’ve ever seen her care whether any Active wants to complete any assignment.
Q: No one likes a smart ass. Isn’t there some indication that DeWitt now cares whether Actives want to complete an assignment?
A: No. Scant minutes before this scene we saw an employee of hers, on her orders, attempt to kill an Active and nearly succeed. The Active didn’t enjoy it, and DeWitt didn’t care. Although DeWitt’s plan was to kill the employee, she didn’t kill him until he had beaten November within an inch of her life. November, as Mellie, is clearly traumatized by the experience.
Q: But didn’t we see that DeWitt decide to kill the employee, Hearn, because he molested/raped Sierra?
A: We sure did.
Q: Is there an explanation other than her desire to kill a child molester/rapist?
A: Business reasons. She can’t allow Handlers to molest/rape Actives without paying. Dollhouse sells sex with the Actives. Hearn was stealing from the company. Also, the experience clearly traumatized Sierra and might affect her future performance as an Active.
Q: Is there any chance she did it just because she wanted to kill a child molester/rapist?
A: We’ve never seen her do anything out of an abstract sense of justice. We don’t have any reason to think that she would mind killing a child molester/rapist, but she had sound business reasons for killing him. In addition to disciplining an employee who broke the rules, she  used his death to interfere with the FBI’s investigation of the criminal enterprise she runs, Zombie Brothel/Murder, Inc.
Q: Doesn’t the fact that she asked Echo whether she wanted to finish the picture indicate that she cares whether Echo wants to complete the engagement with Mynor? Wow, that really does sound lame when I put it like that.
A: That’s why we ask questions. Answers rear their bright, beautiful heads. We saw Ballard sleep with November/Mellie to convince himself that something bad about him was not true. Perhaps we saw DeWitt ask Echo the question to convince herself that something bad about herself was not true–namely, that she’s going to send Echo to finish providing the fantasy Mynor paid for, including sex.
Q: Didn’t you say, from the very first episode, that Echo is concerned the suffering of others?
A: I did.
Q: And isn’t Joel Mynor clearly suffering?
A: Clearly.

Q: I caught that tone, I’ll have you know. If (A) Echo wants to alleviate the suffering of others, and (B) Mynor is clearly suffering, can we not conclude that Echo wants to complete the engagement . . . which she can’t really even conceive of, all right, I get your point.
A: No, you don’t. My point is this: Echo, while sensitive to the suffering of others, has shown a very well-developed ability to give people what they need, rather than what they want. Rayna definitely did not want to be chair-slapped, bound and brought to confront her psycho-fan/self-destructive impulses, but it was what she needed. Jonas Sparrow didn’t want to be hit in the head, but he needed to be, since the alternative was to let him kill all his followers. Echo’s very intelligent when she’s on assignment and has a grown-up personality.
AFAIC, Mynor should not get what he wants. He should get what he needs. I have an idea what that is, but I’ll keep it to myself, since Echo and the Dollhouse could actually provide it. Right now, however, he’s using the Dollhouse to see himself as the hero he isn’t and blind himself to his personal responsibility for Rebecca’s death.
Q: You make that sound like a bad thing.
A: Dollhouse provides Mynor the means to lie to himself, just as wealth and fame provide him with people to laugh at his lame jokes and think he’s cute. Dollhouse is, to a great extent, about the lies people tell themselves.
Q: That’s some kind of segue, isn’t it?
A: Yeah. On to . . . more stuff. Later. Tired.

Q: What about the painting? Doesn’t that indicate that Echo was thinking of Joel and Rebecca?
A: The two faceless figures could just as easily be her best friends, Sierra and Victor. Sierra says Victor likes to pretend they’re married.
Or they could be anyone. House/Woman/Man = not that rare a subject for a child’s painting.

Part Three Is Quite Long

  1. April 1, 2009 2:28 am

    I really like your take on DeWitt’s self-justification… her care for what the Actives want is yet another Awww-inducing aspect of the show that just keep disturbing me.

    Also, the “end” of the engagement is sex, that’s why it isn’t finished. Joel saw “the look on her face” the first time around, that was not the point. (Funny how the episode seems to make it a point by the end.) And yes, I don’t think Echo can grasp that in her childlike state. She did however grasp it as Rebecca: The point of the engagement is indeed “porn!”.

  2. pointy07 permalink*
    April 1, 2009 8:18 am

    Exactly, Wiesengrund — even as Rebecca is *not* understanding the meaning of the flower petals on the bed, Echo/Rebecca understands it instantly — without exactly knowing what she’s saying!

    Eek! It’s Part Three!

  3. korkster permalink
    April 2, 2009 5:28 pm

    Awesome Pointy. It’s a nice insight into Adelle- her with the wanting Echo to want to finish the assignment so she can *help* Echo finish the engagement.

    Also with the Dollhouse furthering the lies people tell themselves. Slightly reminds me of “Lies My Parents Told Me”. But for a child, this is a healthy escape. As an adult, not so much. I love how what might have been healthy for you as a child is indeed NOT healthy for you as an adult (which you cover well). And yet, the NEED of the Dollhouse to make the Dolls blank, in CHILD-like states, makes me ponder if that “lying to myself” transcends from individual to institution. Can the institution (from what say as “evil” in whole), be personified?

    I thought I had more, but I ran out of steam. Any thoughts you can build off of this?

  4. pointy07 permalink*
    April 2, 2009 5:42 pm

    I think you have found a theme, Korkster! A theme of size and import. But I’m through thought-building for today. You’re not even halfway through my wordpile! Merci.


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