Wednesday, March 11

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Created by Joss Whedon

Episodes 1-4

The Dollhouse is looking for volunteers. Once you sign up, your personality and memories are wiped clean. Tabula rasa, so to speak. It's like you never existed, which is what some volunteers are hoping for.

You become an Active. Actives are uploaded with different personalities and skills so they can become whatever the client desires: girlfriend, prostitute, bodyguard, assassin.

Once the assignment is finished, actives are brought in for treatment, another memory wipe, until they end up once again a clean slate. In the meantime, they wander around the Dollhouse almost like children. But empty. A template.

Welcome to the Dollhouse.

Joss Whedon is synonymous to geek porn. Having amassed a cult following from his previous creations that include (cue angels singing) TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and sci-fic Western Firefly, we (the geeks who shall inherit the Earth) devour anything with his name attached to it. Show me a lamp post with a "Created by Joss Whedon" on it and I will attack it like a creature who attacks lamp posts. His recent gig on Astonishing X-Men, which ends with Kitty Pryde getting stuck in a brobdingnagian bullet cutting through space (expected to appear in Marvel's cosmic event War of Kings...I theorize) only confirmed what we knew along, that Whedon is our Savior from the meh and blech of commercial TV.

That being said, the pilot of Dollhouse, which Whedon wrote, was a dud.

Eliza Dushku, who is also Executive Producer on the show, is the Active Echo. In the pilot, she is a negotiator for a kidnapping, and unconvincingly so because (a) half of the time I was distracted by her cleavage, and (b) I don't buy bespectacled Dushku with a PhD type personality. It seems like Dushku doesn't buy it herself, her acting amateurish (furrowed brows=thoughtful) and flat. I also had a problem with the pilot's slow pace with too many talking heads and none of Whedon's trademark wit or banter. But it does get better in the end. Resident geek, Topher (the adorkable Fran Kranz) uploaded Echo with a personality of an experienced negotiator but also with the memories of someone who has asthma attacks and who had been kidnapped as a little girl which all surfaced during the climactic negotiation.

The second episode, "The Target," fared better. Written by Angel scribe Tim Minear, it showed Dushku in Faith form, shooting arrows and having passionate sex. This time Echo is hired as a girlfriend to a young business magnate who is into extreme sports. And hunting down his date after sex. This was more the Dollhouse I was expecting, it had lots of action, unexpected twists, and most importantly, it delved deeper into the Dollhouse mythos. The mysterious Alpha is introduced, a rogue Active who, in a tabula rasa state and for reasons still unknown, murdered other dolls in cold blood before killing everyone else in the Dollhouse, leaving only Echo alive. The connection between Echo and her Handler Boyd Langton (Harry Lenix) was also explored, revealing in flashbacks how they bonded, with Topher explaining, "Hey, this isn't about friendship, man. It's about trust. From this point on, Echo will always trust you without question or hesitation. No matter what the circumstances. You're about to become the most important person in her life." Echo's own personality is likewise beginning to surface in bursts, overlapping with the uploaded one. After the mind swipe that follows each assignement, the episode hints that not all of the uploaded personality is erased.

We're your Barbie girls. And a Ken.

The third episode, I honestly couldn't finish. Echo is a bodyguard to a Britney-ish pop star. The end.

"Gray Hour," the fourth episode, written by Angel alums Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain (the Harmony-centric episode, belly-bursting "Harm's Way" among others), continues to examine Echo as a template. Echo is Taffy, a locks expert who is hired to steal stolen art. But Echo, while on the phone with her Handler, gets remote-swiped and she reverts to a template, stuck in the vault while security with guns aimed wait outside. A sub-story concerning Paul Ballard, (Battlestar Galactica's Capt. Helo Agathon, Tahmoh Penikett) a detective who is investigating the existence of the Dollhouse is led further away from finding the truth by his contact Victor. Ballard is unaware that Victor (Enver Gjokaj) is an Active. We also get to see more of Sierra (Dichen Lachman), another Active who is also uploaded with the Taffy personality when Echo breaks down. Dushku is getting better with each episode but it's also with personalities that are close to her character Faith in BtVS and Angel. She even has an expression in this episode that is close to Faith's "Five by five" though "Blue skies" is just uhm-kay.

The scoreboard: one great episode, one good, one meh and one unwatchable. Dushku assures that it all gets more Whedonesque by the 6th episode but why wait that long? But so far, yes, I am a mindless, drooling Whedon fanboy (this blog is after all named after a song from the Buffy musical episode "Once More, With Feeling!") so I'm still on board. The concept is strong, the mystery of Alpha continues to intrigue me, the writing occasionally stirring, and, who knows, maybe someday soon Echo will be a vampire slayer.


Dr. Stan Glick said...

When I first read about Dollhouse, I thought the premise was great and was really looking forward to it. After the third episode, I had become so disappointed by its failure to deliver any where near its promise that I was close to bailing on it.
But I stuck around for the fourth episode and was finally rewarded with a really fine episode. This was the kind of show that I initially signed up for, so I'm going to stick with it awhile longer and see if it continues to come through.
I say, keep the focus on the main character, don't spend much time on the FBI agent, but rather let his relevence gradual involve. (Also lose, or reduce to a bare minimum, his female neighbor who's got the hots for him.)
Here's hoping the Dollhouse is a place I'll want to play at for some time to come.

Thor Balanon said...

The fourth episode had a lot of brilliant moments; the conversations on the paintings, the being broken bit, and what Echo did to her reflection at the end were all very subtle but thoughtfully executed to show the slow unraveling of the character.

And I agree with limiting the screen time of the FBI agent. They should develop him the way the character of Spike in Buffy or Gaeta in BSG were developed, slowly but steadily, until he gets to be integral to the storyline. Maybe until the FBI agent becomes good friends with the Active then building toward a confrontation.

I'm getting ahead of myself. :)

I hope it's a steady climb in quality from here on.

Andy Briones said...

Sorry, off topic...

Dude, you have to watch the elimination episode of A.I. this week! You'll be freaking happy with who got kicked out! Guaranteed! Ehehehe.

FAB said...

I agree with everything you said. I still feel like I am watching a run of the mill action/sci-fi flick. Yet, I believe that most Whedon fans will stick with Dollhouse - praying to geekly gods that it will improve and their patience will be rewarded. Soon, I hope.

dodo dayao said...

There's rumors - - - or maybe there aren't rumors at all - - -that Joss Whedon is a little disgruntled with the property himself,something about the network exerting control. Details are hazy and I can't remember where I read it. . . maybe I hallucinated it to excuse how middling the first episode felt.:)

Thor Balanon said...

@Dodo: The studio asked Whedon to redo the pilot so I'm guessing the unaired one would be the superior version. But Dollhouse is getting better. The recent episode with the cult was pretty decent.