This is it. Episode 6. When “Dollhouse” is supposed to get good. It’s no secret that the ratings and critical response for the show have been less than stellar so far. But we finally get some traction tonight. Everyone says so. Joss Whedon himself has made the rounds with entertainment reporters, telling them that this is when it all starts to pull together. Where Echo and Ballard finally meet. And most importantly, when Patton Oswalt, actor, comedian and übergeek, guest-stars.

This is where it all turns around. Episode 6.

[How did it go? Recap after the break...]

Now, some of my friends say I’ve been unnecessarily rough on the show. They might have a point. Due to what I laughingly refer to as my brilliant career, I know how hard it is to produce anything in the entertainment world, let alone something good. The crappiest show on TV – not counting reality TV, I’m looking at you, “Hole in the Wall,” – still requires dozens of talented professionals busting their asses for the final product. And you can do everything right, sweat every little detail, and still come up with crap.

It’s insanely difficult to do good TV. If it weren’t, everyone would be rich and famous and living in LA. Whedon and Co. are better at it than most, which is why we’re still on this ride, despite all the stuff that just makes my head hurt.

And as much as I want to believe that, we’re off to a terrible start, as bad actors in fake news clips talk about the “urban legend” of the Dollhouse.

Fortunately, we cut to Agent Ballard making a break in the case. He discovers a money trail to a Dollhouse client, and he gets to beat up a snotty fellow FBI agent, played by fellow “Battlestar” alum Mark Sheppard, who practically oozes through the scene. That’s more than he’s been able to do in the previous five episodes. See? Things are changing already.

At the Dollhouse, Echo and Victor are having lunch. Sierra doesn’t sit at their table, which hurts Victor’s feelings. He goes over to her, puts a hand on her shoulder – and wow, bad touch, bad touch! In the stirrups of Dr. Saunders, it’s revealed that Sierra has been sexually abused – one more thing to add to the list of things that aren’t supposed to be possible in the Dollhouse. All signs point to Victor – who might not even realize what he’s doing.

Ballard tracks down the client played by Patton Oswalt, a dot-com billionaire who invented – and this has to be a nod to “Ratatouille” – Bouncy the Rat, beloved computer mascot of kids everywhere. Surrounded by bodyguards, Patton waits at a charming dream house in the suburbs when Echo drives up.

Then we get more man-on-the-street crap.

Patton and Echo are in the kitchen of the empty house when Ballard walks in, gun drawn. He recognizes Echo from the photos and video he’s been sent, and drops his guard. One of Patton’s security guards hits him with a Tazer. Echo, imprinted with her role as Patton’s wife, screams about Internet porn.

Ballard shakes off 50,000 volts – remember, he got shot by the Russian mob, and still kicked the crap out of them – then proceeds to dismantle Patton’s entire security detail. Boyd rushes in and gets Echo out, while she keeps screaming, “Porn!”

With the bodyguards down and Echo gone, Patton and Ballard sit down for a little heart-to-heart. And Patton just eviscerates him. Seriously. The pudgy little guy demolishes the big, muscular dude with the power of his words. He suggests Ballard is chasing down a fantasy, just like every Dollhouse client. He even makes us sympathize with him, as he tries to re-create the perfect moment he could never give his wife. And Ballard is the one who has to flee when the sirens start, because Patton’s got lawyers who would have him thrown in jail. Yeah – take that, all you high-school jocks!

Oh, Christ, more interview clips. A couple girls give their opinions on the Dollhouse – one finds the idea of someone giving their body over to another person’s fantasy for cash “sort of beautiful,” and the other thinks it’s sick. News flash, gals – you’re living in LA. We already have this here.

Sorry. Back to the Dollhouse. Boyd goes looking for the dead zones in the Dollhouse the cameras can’t see. He has Victor and Victor’s handler taken away as a danger to the whole place. But as it turns out, this is a trick – Sierra’s handler is the one who’s been molesting her. Boyd tricked him to flush him out. And then he punches the douche through a plate-glass window. In case you haven’t guessed yet: you do not screw with Boyd.

Ballard’s apartment. Stung by Patton’s pithy analysis, he finally makes a move on his pretty, lovesick neighbor, Melanie. They end up in bed together, then Ballard goes for spring rolls and promises to go over every detail of the case with her. If this is his idea of a fun Friday night, no wonder he’s alone.

But DeWitt has other plans. Turns out, she’s got a video camera stashed in Ballard’s apartment, and she doesn’t want info about the Dollhouse spread around. She sends Echo after Ballard, to take him out. And she sends Sierra’s handler to murder Melanie, Ballard’s neighbor, so she won’t reveal anything she’s learned during pillow talk. Is it wrong, by the way, that DeWitt has never looked sexier than at this moment?

Ballard spots Echo in the kitchen of the Chinese place, and they engage in a knock-down drag-out fight that lasts way longer than it should between a 105-pound girl and a guy who cripples steroid-enhanced thugs with a single blow.

While Ballard is distracted, however, Sierra’s handler shows up and begins the horrible murder of Melanie.

Then something unexpected happens. Echo talks to Ballard. She delivers a message, implanted in her brain by someone inside the Dollhouse. She tells him he’s right, but he’s going about the whole thing the wrong way. There are 20 Dollhouses all over the world – and they have a purpose beyond the whole sex-slave thing. He has to find out. But first, he’s going to lose his job. With that, she uses his gun to shoot a cop. And tells Ballard about the plan to kill Melanie.

Something unexpected, part II. The phone rings in Ballard’s apartment. Melanie can’t get it, since she’s being strangled. It’s DeWitt on the line, and the answering machine relays her instruction to Melanie – which activates her. Turns out Melanie is a doll, too, and she kills Sierra’s handler, then goes back to being the traumatized, sweet girl from next door. DeWitt’s plan was smarter than it looked.

Ballard is forced to turn in his gun and badge, suspended for his outrageous and paranoid behavior. Victor and Sierra are friends again. But Echo, working on a painting, has an ominous message for DeWitt: “It isn’t finished."

What? Previews of next week? Son of a bitch. Whedon, you actually sucked me in again. Well played, sir. Well played.

 

 

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