In this Episode, Sox and Monkey… make a blog post. We decided it would be fun to create our own episode rankings of Season One. Instead of making you listen through us arguing through them in an episode, we figured we’d leave them right here and let you make your own decisions. Without further ado, extra content, betches.
TLDR; Monkey, for whom clarity is never an issue, likes to know that her point is understood. Fully. No questions necessary. …And Sox is an emotional infant.
So, as I hope my reasoning below indicates, I went about rating these based primarily on story-craft and logic, less on emotion (though when the list goes down to worst I had to break some ties with semi-emotional reasoning). This listing merely reflects my thoughts and should not be used as a floatation device.
1. (The crunch of fresh leaves on the ground beneath your feet on a mild autumn’s day) Briar Rose:
So, if I could go back in time I would suggest creating this list with Briar Rose and Omega as a two-parter. These two episodes relate and rely on each other so heavily that looking at them individually causes them to lose some of there inherent value both as admirable television and think-pieces. Essentially, they’re a two-part finale (not uncommon for television).
Briar Rose won the higher spot because it is a more cohesive episode. Hell, to be blunt–it’s a better episode. Sure, Omega gave us more things to speculate about while chatting on DIFA, but Briar Rose, even with some heavy-handed themes, is just one solid hour of television. The plots are well designed, intrigue is very present, and the dialogue is solid, it’s just damn good crafting all around and I think it really encompasses what the show wants to be.
Without Briar Rose and Omega, I don’t think anyone would have cared about this show enough to try it for season two, so, IMO, these two earned themselves the coveted top spots.
As I’ve over-stated, Omega largely sits in spot two because of the two-parter concept detailed above. But also, it’s also a pretty solid episode, despite how it points out more contrivances in the actual science part of the SF. What it does to deepen what we learned in Briar Rose makes it a worthwhile episode all its own, the other enjoyable bits are just icing.
3. Man on the Street:
This episode delivers some very sweet (and prophetic?) Patton Oswalt, has an effective one-off framing device, and gives us a first big clue on the Dollhouse, so it certainly deserves a high spot on the list. It’s just a well-put together episode. I know this is one of the most heavily lauded episodes of the show, but it didn’t earn top spot not only because I don’t think it was a true selling-point, but because I am wary of over-sensationalizing gimmick episodes. I love the framing device, but like in Buffy’s Once More with Feeling, the fact that it’s great because of one huge outlying and non-repeating factor, it cheapens it when trying to create an objective list of bests. Overall, this episode had a goal, went for it, and did it.
All that said, third place is not too shabby when on a list of twelve, deal with it Whedon and Straiton.
4. Gray Hour:
This episode moves the season’s long-game plot forward significantly and is fun AF along the way. Sure, the remote wipe opened a few plot holes that might never be filled (or at the very least opened them up to obvious inconsistencies in the future), but we also get to watch Echo come into herself, with some solid jokes throughout. Still pretty salty that the “I have tenure” joke didn’t stay in. Honestly, after choosing the three above, things started to get murky when trying to put them in order because they are all either similarly decent or blah. This one is the highest of the decent pack in my brain. The metaphor of art works, young Ted Cruz works, the Parthenon joke works. Good balance of worldbuilding, character development, and giving me a giggle.
5. A Spy in the House of Love:
I think this is a highly important episode that has a lot of good going on in it. That said, I almost put it lower because it tries to put too much in at once and left my head spinning (and not in a good way). I think what it sets out to do, and what it actually does, is admirable and deserving of a respectable spot on this list, but I do think this episode would have been better if it was a much less rotund. Hell, I imagine they could have spread this plotline over two episodes. I will say I am a fan of the Dominic NSA plot; the concept that the NSA wants something from the Dollhouse is one that I like to toy with while watching along.
As a pilot, I think this works pretty well. It establishes the show and what it can achieve other than “high concept SF whore house” without expositing an excess of information. It trusts us to figure things out, and there’s nothing more annoying than a show that questions my intelligence. For that, it earns this place above a few other episodes that I might watch again before this one.
7. The Target:
The Target is a decent episode, but not particularly spectacular in any way. It’s also not spectacularly flawed the way the ones below are, but it definitely brought up some questions that don’t yet have answers. Very middle of the road, but we do get some good daddy daughter love between Boyd and Echo.
This might be my most emotionally influenced placement. These five bottom episodes are all so very flawed in different ways. This one in particular had continuous plot flaws from the concept of psychedelic narcotics to unrealistic BS science that hardly follows its own rules. It may be the biggest worldbuilding offender in this season, but the dialogue writing (and delivery on all parts) was so great that it earned spot eight. Have you seen my drawer of inappropriate starches?
9. True Believer:
This episode was full of holes, just a giant mess. I wanted to love it because cults, and the concept of making her blind is mildly intriguing, but that’s really the only semi-positive thing I have to say about this particular episode. I don’t think I would ever re-watch this for fun, unless I was doing a full season re-watch.
This episode was just a big tub of blah, which is really too bad. Conceptually it could have been very interesting and the idea of “eternal life” is one that we like to play with at the Dollhouse, but it’s not quite approached as well as I would like it to be and all of Boyd’s musings fall very flat. This isn’t living down at the very bottom of my list because it was a well-constructed plotline overall, the mystery, while not thrilling, could have been worse, and the Topher bits are some of my favorite moments in this season.
We’re building a real character here—not just a quippy nerd, but a tortured soul (who also brain rapes people all day, so I try not to get too sentimental about him . . . but those puppy-dog eyes. Okay stop with the emotions).
Also, I think my reaction to this episode might have been different if it weren’t for its placement. It destroyed the momentum of the long-form plot. This was 100% a throwaway episode that did not advance the Echo exceptionalism plot that has been building up episode-by-episode. I do think it might have been higher on this list if it had been placed at a more appropriate point in the season, but I cannot divorce its placement from my review, shame on you creators.
Another nonsense throwaway episode, though at least it wasn’t placed right before the finale, I guess. It wasn’t even fun to watch and it made me really dislike Caroline—we’ve been building her up as some great protector of the peoples, but her amnesia base-self comes off a lot more like a fool. Does it matter if a character is a good activist? Of course not, unless it’s the only character trait we’ve been given about them. We at least know that she really cares about others, which is consistent throughout the season whenever her exceptionalism arises. Further, as I’ve said and probably will again, I don’t think the show knows how incompetent she is, and that’s a problem from a writerly standpoint.
12. (Garbage) Stage Fright:
I may have been salty about some of the episodes above, but this episode is utter and complete garbage. I hate pretty much everything about it. The plot is bananas(-ly) bad (so he has to do crazy shit to hide his weapony bits to get in, but the dressing room is an easy place to get into?) and Dushku’s acting is at an extreme low (did she forget that she has to act with her body in this episode? Did they not include that in the imprint?). It’s like they weren’t even trying.
My Episode Ranking was mostly emotionally driven–which character moments did I like the best, how many Squees were too many Squees, etc–with a special consideration taken, of course, for significant and exciting plot development.
1. Man on the Street:
Excellently crafted episode, lots of meaty story stuff. Light on Echo, which in this instance was only a benefit to the plot. The interesting format of the episode, the story movement, and character movement all fit together with only minor seams and formed what I think is the best episode of Season One.
2. Briar Rose:
Because Alan acting and moving the story along. The performance was great, the reveal was great, and the writing was, how you say… great. I loved the exchanges between Ballard and Topher, between Tudyk’s characters and Ballard, the shift in my perception of Boyd, I could go on.
3. Gray Hour:
Echo had some really interesting progression in this episode. We got our first really significant taste of what it means for Echo to be her own consciousness and the art discussions were a lot of fun. Though the specifics of the heist were confusing and problematic, this episode still stands out for me because of the honestly good acting on Dushku’s part and a lot of movement in terms of story-craft and worldbuilding. And I got to talk about Picasso.
I couldn’t not rank this one in the top five. It may have been very confused about the realities of chemistry, it may have made more sense as an episode in Season 3, and perhaps I am swayed by my absolute love for Fran Kranz, but I was thrilled with just about every interaction the show set in front of my eyeballs. Trampoline DeWitt and Pianist Boyd will forever be in my heart.
I know, I know, this is stupidly low on the list for the SEASON FINALE and companion to Briar Rose, no doubt, but despite all of the things it did explain and tease for next season, I felt very little connection to this episode after the fact. Echo’s progression was strong and Alan Tudyk’s performance was amazing but overall this episode left me feeling “Ehh.” The Saunders reveal was the biggest point of excitement for me there. We had some great discussions as a result of this episode, but overall, I felt it was kind of middle of the road.
6. Spy in the House of Love:
Fuck Dominic and that weird story-line. The only reason it is this high on the list is because of how they dealt with the different timelines. I did enjoy learning about DeWitt and her own personal issues, and I was thrilled (and disturbed) to finally learn what The Attic was, but the most lasting impression was just how off-putting Dominic’s performance was. The way they dealt with that whole reveal and conflict was just clunky.
A fine start to the season. An okay episode. It was important to start with an imprint that was distinctly NOT whorehouse. We must establish the utility of an organization like this in order to ensure versatility in episode crafting and I think the kidnap negotiator was a good choice in that vein.
8. Stage Fright:
This is a very high position for this episode, I know, but I honestly felt a whole lot of “whatever” about it where as some others on this list actively upset me. It was messy, for sure, and raised a lot more questions than it answered but, to be fair, it was only the third episode of the entire show. I liked learning that Echo Exceptionalism means that not only does she have the ability to break imprints, she is able to interpret directives independently. She did both in this episode. I liked the nature of the imprint and I believed Eliza’s character Jordan (though I’m pretty sure it’s because that’s who she is in real life) or at least who she believed she was. Not sure I believed Super Kung Foo Panda of Jordan, but that’s the complication that comes with deep under-cover actives. It doesn’t have to fit. The show also set us up for hating Sierra’s handler, Joe. That is one of the only things that they truly did sequentially instead of ret-conning or trying to tell us what we should have believed the whole time.
Waste of time. Honestly, what an annoying episode. Down towards this end of the list the order gets a bit muddy. These episodes had good points to them, but their overall value for me personally in terms of entertainment and story development was very low.
10. True Believer:
We had such issue with how cults were handled in this episode. I felt that even if the characters were believable (which… ehh) they left a lot of smoking guns unacknowledged and that is just frustrating.
11. The Target:
This avoided dead last because in it we find the first evidence of Alpha meddling with Echo and her imprints. Otherwise, the writing was bad, the acting was bad… I liked the Boyd/Echo progression, though.
Waste of my time. A for fun episode that wasn’t even that fun. Mysteries have never been my favorite genre, but I can appreciate the detective-like attitude of wanting to solve the crime along with the main character. This particular type of mystery, however, did not even allow for that. We were kept guessing while the show made its own way through the story. I felt lead along, not engaged with. And it had nothing to do with Echo Exceptionalism. The only world progression we got from the episode was discovering one more way the super-rich can make use of the Dollhouse. Which we didn’t need this episode for.
Holy crap, you got this far? You get a whole mess of kudos, you beautiful little nerd, you.
Thank you for reading! Here is a kitten snuggling a potato for your troubles.