The third episode of Doll and Em is largely a success, further exploring Doll and Em’s friendship and their new dynamic. Doll is still struggling to figure out how she fits in to Em’s Hollywood lifestyle, while Em is trying to balance the fact that Doll is, ostensibly, her best friend and yet her employee as well.
Episode three begins right where the previous episodes left off, in tone and theme at least. Doll is standing in for Em as the lighting is adjusted for a scene that is to be shot on set. Just as the lighting is perfectly adjusted, Doll is unceremoniously moved aside and Em steps in, ready to soak up all of the attention.
This almost perfectly encapsulates how Doll must be feeling. She is new to the town, to this industry, and her love life has just taken a drastic turn. She is trying to be a good friend to Em, while relying on her for employment and for a place to stay, and trying to play the role of assistant in a professional manner, while not being cold and distant. Em is, after all, her best friend. Doll must feel like such an outsider, and it seems difficult for her to balance the negativity she feels with the reality that she is an assistant, someone who is meant to play second-fiddle by definition.
Then something drastic happens.
Em is shooting a funeral scene where she needs to cry. Em stands in the foreground, while others, the extras, stand in the background, mourning. Doll is asked to be one of the extras and to stand in the background. Em is having trouble crying. The tears just won’t come. On the third attempt, Doll, in the background, begins crying and the director pushes the camera’s view past Em and on to Doll. The director states that he has the shot he wants, congratulates Doll, and the whole crew complements her as well.
Em, of course, is quite upset. She feels upstaged.
The shoe is now on the other foot.
During lunch, Em, still upset, can’t be bothered to make room at the table for Doll. As it turns out, this is no problem for Doll, as the other members of the crew are glad to make room for her at another table. This does not escape Em’s notice and after lunch, she approaches Doll and, in reconciliation, suggests that they go and get coffee together.
At this point in the episode, I thought that the two characters were going to get back on track and rekindle their friendship, mend their fences and move on. This, after all, has been a theme throughout the series so far.
However, it is not long until another awkward situation occurs, mostly at the fault of Em, who is trying to impress a casting agent.
As the casting agent and Em begin to talk, Em offers the agent a coffee. The agent accepts and Em sends Doll to get the coffee. However, Em hasn’t paid Doll at all since she’s started working for her and has no money for coffee. Embarrassed, Doll asks Em for money and Em, equally embarrassed, gives Doll her wages, six hundred dollars, and also gives her an extra hundred to buy the coffee for the casting agent and the crew as well.
As Em and the agent converse, Doll slips and falls outside the coffee shop, injuring her foot. She manages to drive herself back, but she has to be carried out of her car (by John Cusack, who seems to be Em’s co-star in the film they’re shooting, and another man) and in to Em’s on-set room.
Now we find Doll and Em back at Em’s house and Em is helping Doll in to bed. Emily Mortimer does an excellent job here, showing us that Em does care about Doll and feels badly for her. They get in to bed and talk while Em fixes Doll’s pedicure, which Doll received at the beginning of the episode. This really is a sweet scene and serves to reaffirm Doll and Em’s real connection and friendship.
Later, as they are both laying in their separate beds, Em asks Doll to call and order her a new credit card, as her old one got damaged. Doll does so, posing as Em for the sake of expedience. Only the credit card representative recognizes Em’s name and begins to ask her questions about acting and so forth. Doll is only too eager to pretend that she is Em and to answer questions about her “method” and about upcoming auditions. Em, in the other room, overhears all of this and is clearly uncomfortable with it. When Doll tells the credit card representative how she (remember, she is posing as Em here) had trouble crying on set that day, we see Em’s reaction and it is not a positive one. All of those details rush back to her and she is reminded how she failed and how Doll “stole the scene.”
This episode was directed by Azazel Jacobs and he is showing such restraint and grace here, yet again. He doesn’t move the camera around unnecessarily and even when the camera does move and shake, documentary-style, it is not as exaggerated as it is in other shows/films. Nothing about this show takes you out of the universe that it is set in. There is nothing distracting about how the show is shot, edited, and put together. I believe this is an accomplishment worth noting. Jacobs directed all six of the episodes in this season and I think his success here shows why more shows, like True Detective and the upcoming The Knick, will stick with a single, visionary director to handle every episode in a season, rather than selecting a different director for each episode. It really helps the season/series have a cohesive tone, pace, and aesthetic and, I believe, that when one director is responsible for a whole season’s worth of episodes, he/she will put extra effort toward the project, knowing that their name and reputation will be attached to it in a lasting way.
If you have read my reviews of episodes one, two, and three of Doll and Em, you’d know that I really, really enjoyed them. Episode four however…not so much.
One of the things that I’ve unquestionably admired about the first three episodes of Doll and Em is that everything that the characters do seems entirely believable. Every action and conversation that they have is totally authentic to who they are, as a character. Never have Doll or Em ever acted or said anything that I would find unbelievable within the context of the show. The writers know who the characters are, have defined them very well, and the actors have conveyed that to screen remarkably well.
Until episode four.
Episode four begins a couple of days after the events of episode three. Doll and Em are at Em’s house. While Doll is practicing lines with another guest, Doll is arguing loudly with her ex via Skype. This interrupts Em, but she tries to move forward, realizing that Doll is dealing with a difficult situation. In the next scene, Doll lies in the bathtub and, when Em tells her that she is going to the set, Doll insists on coming, even though her foot injury makes it unreasonable to do so. Em tries to talk her out of it, but Doll insists.
This isn’t unbelievable in and of itself, but then things begin to become that way.
Since her foot is injured, Em drives the both of them to set. Stopping for coffee, Em has to be the one to go inside to fetch it for the two of them. This is clearly a reversal of roles, since as Em’s assistant, this is usually Doll’s job.
Again, this isn’t so unbelievable. But what I find hard to believe is that Doll wouldn’t realize this situation for what it is and act accordingly. She doesn’t even thank Em for the coffee and acts annoyed when Em can’t figure out how to use the GPS. Remember, it is usually Doll who drives Em, certainly not the other way around.
Once they get to set, Doll has a terribly awkward time negotiating the steps up to Em’s trailer. Doll imposes on Em in getting up the steps, never even once realizing that she is an imposition and never once thanking her for the help. Instead, it’s Em who apologizes for potentially hurting Doll while helping her up the steps. Again, this seems out of character for Doll.
The set that they are shooting on this time is actually different from the one featured in the previous episodes, with an more rural feel, and this actually excited me a bit. Perhaps the change of scenery would bring with it some new characters or conflicts; perhaps it would move the plot in a new and exciting way.
As it turns out, another plot point is explored, but I’m not sure it is a worthwhile one.
Talking to Doll, one of the crew warns her that she should bring her foot injury “up with somebody” because this industry is “brutal” and people will “chew you up and spit you out” if you let them. Doll tells Em about this as they are walking to set to film a scene. Doll decides she is going to say something to Edgar, who I guess we are to assume is the producer or overseer of the film production. Em is clearly nervous about this and asks Doll to at least wait until after the scene is shot to say anything.
This is where the episode totally loses me.
What, exactly, is Doll going to say? Remember, she was actually pretending to have a disability, and walking with a fake, exaggerated limp, when she fell outside the coffee shop. If she had not been walking in that ridiculous manner, and not feigning some sort of disability, she wouldn’t have fallen at all. Doesn’t she realize her own culpability in the accident? Does she really think Edgar is going to hand her a fat check because of her fall? Are we to believe that that crew member talked her in to this action in, literally, 15 seconds of conversation?
Doll has never been presented as a dumb character, but she comes across as one in this episode.
Turning our attention to the directing and editing of the episode, for a moment, I’d like to point out that the part of the episode where we actually get to see the scene they are filming for the movie goes on far too long. I’ll admit that it was clever of the director to switch the aspect ratio of the scene so that it was clear that it was a scene from the film they are shooting, but it really seemed overly long and didn’t add much to the episode or the over-all story that the season is trying to tell. I guess it was nice to see Chloë Sevigny again, but she did appear in the beginning of this episode, to greater effect.
Toward the end of the episode, Doll acts totally out of character again when she allows Buddy, who is another crew member, to answer her phone and to verbally attack her ex. While Buddy threatens Doll’s ex with physical harm and legal action, Doll looks on yelling “Buddy, Buddy” over and over. Then, acting totally out of character, Doll walks on to the set and interrupts Em as she is speaking with the director, wondering if Em needs any sunblock.
And then she proceeds to smear sunblock all over Em’s chin and in to her mouth. Em, reasonably not wanting sunblock in her mouth, reacts in a hostile fashion, and Doll limps off.
The episodes ends with Doll getting a call from Em’s agent. She wants Doll to audition for a role, a role which Em is also auditioning for. Flattered, Doll agrees and, sitting in the waiting room, waiting for their audition, Doll and Em pretend that this isn’t an awkward situation. After they each audition, Doll tells Em she can’t leave with her because she has a lunch date with Em’s agent.
Although I liked the broad-strokes of this episode, and I especially liked the awkward way in which it left Doll and Em at the very end, the middle of the episode was very odd and had Doll acting in a very uncharacteristic way, to the point where it was really very distracting. Perhaps the show is foreshadowing a major personality change for Doll, as she, perhaps, becomes seduced by the Hollywood lifestyle and attitude. But, as of now, I don’t believe that is the case and even if it were, this was a very clumsy way in which to begin that journey.
Here’s an preview of the final two episodes: