"Vows" finds the Dollhouse itself in a state of transition, on the heels of "Omega." Boyd is entrenched in his newish position as head of security, but trying to keep one eye on Echo; Dr. Saunders is trying to deal with the revelation that she is in fact the doll named Whiskey; and Ballard is doing… something. What exactly Ballard is doing in the Dollhouse is still a question, though at least, unlike the end of Season 1, DeWitt and Boyd are openly talking about what would possess the FBI agent to suddenly join them.
There is an engagement of the week, and it involves Echo becoming a wife to a charming fellow played by Battlestar Galactica's Jamie Bamber (actually getting to use his real British accent). But there is more to Bamber's character than meets the eye, and in fact more to Echo's engagement than is first expected, which is revealed in a scene that slowly transitions from confusing to intriguing – though I will add there are some questions lingering about this particular assignment by the end of the hour that are unlikely to be fully addressed in the future.
This will sound like a bit of a broken record on the heels of other recent Dollhouse reviews, but the best part of this episode involves Saunders/Whiskey. Her reaction to finding out what she truly is involves some amusing and surprising actions on her part, but also some fascinating turns too – including some of the most emotional and complex material this show has dealt with so far, all of which is terrifically performed by Amy Acker. This only makes it all the more frustrating that thanks to her role on ABC's upcoming Happy Town, Acker can only be used in a limited capacity this season.
Some of the show's groan-inducing aspects are still in force, including a fallback on Eliza Dushku as a weekly T&A device that remains laughable and so very un-Whedon – In one scene, as she stripped down, my girlfriend sarcastically remarked, "What? Eliza Dushku in skimpy clothes!? On Dollhouse!?"
But Dollhouse definitely feels stronger now than it did for much of Season 1, with a more layered storyline going on, which includes the introduction of a politician played by the criminally underused Alexis Denisof (Angel's Wesley). In addition, while there is no major connection to the unaired, future-set episode "Epitaph One" here, there are some baby steps made towards at least one aspect of the story threads we saw there – though fans should note that the appearance by Felicia Day and others from "Epitaph One" that was said to be part of the premiere has either been cut completely or moved to another episode.
There is still a certain disconnect within the fabric of Dollhouse - it definitely lacks that spark Buffy, Angel and Firefly so easily had and some of it still feels emotionally lacking (those aforementioned Whiskey scenes standing out as a big exception). But whereas I spent most of the first season completely frustrated by a show that just felt like an uncharacteristic misfire from Joss Whedon, "Epitaph One" and now "Vows" are strongly hinting at something worth a bigger investment. Dollhouse is still not 100% there yet, as far as truly being appointment TV, but the positives are beginning to take root.
Dollhouse: Season 2 premieres Friday, September 25th on FOX.