Echo is getting married, to the wealthy and handsome Martin Klar (Jamie Bamber, using his real accent for a change). It's the most bizarre client fantasy ever, right?
Wrong. Martin is not the client. He's genuinely in love with Echo's imprint, Roma. He's also a tremendously successful international arms dealer against whom Agent Ballard was chronically unable to make a case.
As part of his deal with Adelle for his services, Ballard is the client. Echo has been imprinted as an undercover agent, marrying Martin to find evidence against him. But while the arms dealer may be lost in love, he has a lot of eagle-eyed associates looking out for him. When Echo is called in for a treatment, her cover is compromised - leaving her life in danger!
Echo: Though Topher pronounces his wipe of her composite personalities "a clean wipe," Echo's evolution continues. In her wiped state, she still recognizes Claire as "Whiskey," and remembers a flash of a past engagement involving both of them. She also shows independent thought. When a tormented Claire tells her to "go out and be (her) best," Echo blandly replies, "No one's their best here."
Doll of the Week: Roma is an undercover FBI agent, who has been Ballard's partner for three years. She is highly dedicated to apprehending Martin, and thinks nothing of sleeping with him and even marrying him in order to get close enough to do it.
The Genius: Topher remains guilt-ridden by what he did to Claire, or at least by her finding out about it. We learn that he created Claire to be someone who would question him in order to better protect the Actives. He didn't want someone to simply back him up, he wanted someone who would act on her own judgment. When she breaks down in front of him, he blurts out that he thinks she's "better than (him)" - which, combined with his generally frzzled demeanor in this season premiere, makes it seem that he's already taking his first baby-steps toward the destroyed Topher of Epitaph One.
The Security Chief: As Claire sharply observes, Langton suddenly has a lot more time for her now that he knows she's an Active. Claire initially takes that as pity, until Langton asks her out. Which is... interesting. Claire's other, half-joking supposition about "curiosity (or) deviant excitement," might not be as far off the mark as she thinks. At the very least, Langton does seem to be obsessed with seeing the Actives as "all broken" and the Dollhouse as wrong, while at the same time dedicating himself to it. I want to see what Langton's story will end up being. We never did probe very deeply into his character in Season One, the steadiness of Harry Lennix's assured presence aside. I'm hoping Season Two will dig a little deeper.
The (Ex-) FBI Agent: Though this episode sees Ballard using his new association with the Dollhouse to "right old wrongs," that doesn't stop Adelle from questioning his motives. She taunts him with the memory of November, idly wondering why he's never asked about her. She theorizes that he asked for her release, rather than Echo's, because he was finished with her, and would have more time with Echo if November was no longer around to distract him. Ballard uses Echo quite harshly in this episode. But he does apologize for it, prompting her to trust him with her forbidden memories which can no longer be wiped away, and the two end the episode as allies.
"I was constructed by a sociopath in a sweater vest!"
While I am happy that Amy Acker's work, here and elsewhere, attracted enough attention to get her a job on another show, I'm extremely sorry that it means that she'll only be in a little of Season Two. I was consistently impressed with her throughout the first season. Her quietly excellent performance eventually made Claire my favorite character, even before the revelation in Omega.
She continues to be my favorite character here. Her digs at Topher are quite funny, particularly the quote about the sweater vest. Beneath the humor, though, is the emotional anguish of a very intelligent woman trying to deal with the revelation that she isn't actually "real." In a pair of outstanding scenes, first Boyd and then Topher effectively tell her that she is real, with it striking Topher as an epiphany when he looks at her and breathes, "You're human."
Claire's story in some ways throws Vows off-balance. The Claire/Topher material is so good, it becomes very difficult to generate much interest in the standalone plot with Echo and the gunrunner. Effectively, the episode cuts between two stories. One probes two of the series' most compelling and well-acted characters, examining serious questions about the nature of identity and humanity. The other... is Charlie's Angels with a science fiction twist. Every time the show cut away to Echo, I just wanted it to return to Claire and Topher.
That's not to say that the Echo/Martin plot is bad. It's ordinary, but it's well enough executed. It's not so much a story in itself as a vehicle for Echo's Season Two development. A little over halfway through the show, something happens that brings Echo to the next step in her evolution. Ballard exploits it, leading to a tag involving the two that seems designed to lead to the situation we saw in Epitaph One. She isn't having the headaches yet. But I'm guessing it won't be long before they start coming.
Overall, Vows is a solid season premiere. It tells a passable standalone story, sets up what looks to be an interesting running plot with a congressman (Alexis Denisof) investigating Rossum, and sets the characters on their paths for the season. Ironically, my final score is pushed down a bit by the Claire/Topher material, which is so good that it makes the rest of this very competent episode look rather ordinary by comparison.
Previous Episode: Epitaph One
Next Episode: Instinct
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