Again, another very interesting episode that raises very important issues for the overall plot.
Groupies and fan mail comes with the territory when you're famous, but when Rayna Russell's life is on the line, her manager turns to the Dollhouse - because, clearly, this isn't a job for the police. Or security. Or the FBI or whatever. Echo is programmed to be a backing singer but will sub-consciously have Rayna's protection at the forefront of her mind. Echo's 'audition' really encapsulates the moral issue of the Dollhouse as well as Rayna's position:
"I've got to find the freedom that's promised me
Freedom from our struggles and misery
Freedom is all we need
To heal the pain of history"
SPOILERS (I would prefer not to, but I think it's necessary here to uncover the real message of this episode)
Because what no one knows is that Rayna actually wants to die; she's been communicating with this crazy 'fan' and they had planned for him to shoot her. In the middle of a show. In front of hundreds of fans. And you thought the Dollhouse was messed up. So when Echo stops the show and saves Rayna, you can see why Rayna might be a tad annoyed. Here's some lines from her monologue with Echo afterwards:
"You disappointed all those people. I was going to give them a show ... Do you know anything about people? They would love to see me die ... I don't exist. I'm not a real person. I'm everybody's fantasy, and God help me if I try not to be. No, you weren't grown in a lab, but I was. Been singing for my supper since when and before when and for everybody else! God put this voice in me and forgot to make it mine. I don't feel it. I don't feel anything. For a long while"
Real ironic, right? Then Echo's response:
Echo: "You don't like your life, change it"
Rayna: "They won't let me"
Echo: "Make them let you."
Again, ironic. Life is a choice, and if you don't like your path, then you have the ability to change it. A doll signs away their right to choose on entering the Dollhouse, but as we saw in Ghost - or was it Echo? - Caroline didn't have a choice. Echo might have her personality, her preferences, her background and her entire being programmed into her with each imprint, but this episode shows that she has a choice - though she hasn't been programmed so. To paraphrase DeWitt, she took the parameters and acted as she saw fit in the circumstances. Echo's lines, both while with the imprint ("friends help each other" - echoing what she had said to Sierra when they were both in the Dollhouse) and her subtle shake of the head to Sierra after the job was completed and they had both been wiped both show Echo slowly regaining her power of choice. Mr Dominic seems right to be worried.
As with Target, we have a few scenes that were from the original pilot: the first from the rooftop party where Ballard and Victor talk about the Dollhouse's existence, and the second when Ballard follows up on Victor's lead. It's this second scene that's the important one as I feel that the ending in Stage Fright is a much better one when you consider the whole plot. Here's what happens in each:
- Echo: Ballard just happens to run into Echo when he's in the basement where she's looking for her missing sister. They go back to his place and she tries to pump him for information. Topher has programmed her to assassinate Ballard; she shoots him when he sees under her cover, but he lives.
- Stage Fright: Ballard is confronted with three men who appear to be working for the Borodins, who Victor (under his alter-ego, Levok? I forget) also works for. But since Victor is a doll, the three henchmen are clearly also from the Dollhouse sent to eliminate Paul from the picture. They shoot, but Paul takes them down. Again, he doesn't die.
The scene in Echo is clearly more exciting when you're watching it, because, well, it's Echo. But the scene in Stage Fright makes more sense overall. Paul only knows Echo from her picture as Caroline, and to have them meet in the first episode seems a little pointless, as Caroline's picture is the thing that has spurred Paul to 'keep looking' amongst all the other false starts and brick walls that he runs up against. Stage Fright, IMO adds a little more excitement and suspense to the overall plot about the role of Echo/Caroline and whether or not the Dollhouse is able to remain so tightly guarded.