Category Archives: Dollhouse

Dollhouse – “Briar Rose”

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“Briar Rose”

May 1st, 2009

Dollhouse, as a series, is a bit of a chameleon by design: it is capable of being just about any show you want it to be when it comes to the Actives, and as a result it can switch between an action thriller, a procedural kidnapping drama, or even a small-scale social work investigation. However, the biggest challenge that Joss Whedon has faced with the series thus far is the fact that there needs to be some sort of consistent property that is unique to Dollhouse, that gives it an identity which is, if not wholly unique, at least something that defines the series’ place within the current television landscape.

“Briar Rose,” as an episode of television, stands out amongst the series thus far because it manages to do two separate things that the show has been struggling with. Entirely independent of the Actives (well, somewhat), they manage to co-opt the buddy comedy archetype and give it some very strong new life in the hands of Tahmoh Penikett and guest star Alan Tudyk (Firefly), while also providing an honest to goodness thriller within the confines of the Dollhouse.

What makes it work, ultimately, is that neither of these engagements were dependent on someone being programmed, or a new imprint being developed: the show has evolved, slowly but surely, into a series where we know enough about these characters and their motivations that the show doesn’t need to change itself into being one thing or another in an artificial manner. “Briar Rose” may not be the most stimulating episode in terms of its philosophical and ethical ideas (which is an arguable point), but it manages to string together and give purpose to all of the ideas which came before it, making the previous ten episodes seem more naturally paced than perhaps they initially seemed.

It doesn’t solve the show’s identity problems entirely, but “Briar Rose” represents a huge step in cementing the series’ viability if it moves forward into next season.

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Dollhouse – “Needs”

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“Needs”

April 3rd, 2009

There was a moment early on during “Needs” that really struck me, because it really captured why I appreciated the episode more than I, well, needed it.

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Dollhouse – “Echoes”

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“Echoes”

March 27th, 2009

We make choices, and then we live with them. And then we die with them.

After undoubtedly its finest hour last week, “Echoes” has a lot to live up to, and for the part it succeeds – no, the episode doesn’t reach those heights precisely, but what it accomplishes is something different in a way. Whereas last week did a lot of strong work in regards to establishing Paul Ballard’s purpose and emphasizing the moral grey area for the Actives being used in various ways, this week returned to what last week’s episode really didn’t delve into, the wonderful irony in Echo’s name in particular.

We saw in the season’s second episode that Echo is experiencing her former life, or something aspects of her past identity, in a way that the other actives are not, but in this episode a mysterious toxin created by a mysterious corporation with mysterious ties to Echo’s past life as Caroline emerges which creates this effect in every other active. The episode has some balance challenges, as the humans who receive the drug replace traumatic visions with hilarious lack of inhibition and dominate parts of the episode, but for the most part there’s a good combination of light-hearted fun and a more serious tone.

Still, the above quote captures the very idea of how people are recruited into the Dollhouse: they are given a chance to live for five years without consequences for their choices, that part of their life wiped away for the police or the courts, and then a promise that they won’t even have to live with their choices once they finish their five-year term. It’s a complicated process that I don’t feel we’re supposed to trust, and even if the episode didn’t make me care about Caroline, it at least made me really interested about what she represents in this story.

And that’s still a good bit of momentum, which keeps me engaged with a show that had lost me a few episodes in.

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Dollhouse – “Man on the Street”

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“Man on the Street”

March 20th, 2009

Airing against the epic scale of the final episode of Battlestar Galactica and CBS NCAA coverage kept it from gaining any ratings momentum, but the much-hyped sixth episode of Dollhouse’s first season has come and gone with solid traction. Or, more accurately, it has come and stuck around in a way that no episode previous had really done. There is nothing procedural about “Man on the Street,” nothing that feels as if it will be wiped away and considered a drop in the bucket, nothing that makes us feel like we’re watching this show through a lens that is constantly changing.

What’s strange is that it’s not like it’s rocket science: the elements present in this episode missing from others were not found in some sort of secret potion, or a high-profile guest star (although I do love Patton Oswalt), or in some abstract framing structure that we’ve never seen before. The episode wasn’t even that surprising, its twists either fulfilling earlier speculation or rather deliberate staging mechanisms. Joss Whedon is a strong writer of television fiction, and the episode was littered with some strong humour amidst its plot development, but the strength of this episode wasn’t in its subtleties.

Rather, it was in the fact that the majority of its development was entirely independent of the actives themselves, and as such is development that has a profound effect on the actual universe of the show. By narrowing focus onto Paul Ballard, and by expanding our knowledge of the Dollhouse institution and how it operates, we are finally gaining information that can be logically tied to what we’re seeing on screen. While the philosophical morality of the Dollhouse has been a central point of contention in the series, it never really hit as well as it did with the street testimonials, real people reacting in real ways, or in the misuse of trust we saw displayed in the episode. The show, and its very premise, felt far more real in this instance, and as a result far closer to its original potential.

It makes one wonder why this wasn’t the show’s pilot, as any logic to keeping it this far back seems to be countered by a fairly logical argument that this foundational structure would have been even more rewarding.

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Dollhouse – “Stage Fright”

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“Stage Fright”

February 27th, 2009

One of the problems with Dollhouse is that there are a lot of variables, too many if you ask me. It’s as if each week Eliza Dushku is a singer, but she doesn’t get the lyrics until she’s about to go onstage, knows none of the choreography, and doesn’t know what song the band is going to play until the music starts. The show builds around her each week, but at the same time the premise of the show means that it’s happening to her, more often than not: she’s not there to fix a situation so much as to sit there waiting for the situation to happen to her.

And watching Eliza Dushku come to slow realizations while more or less a sleeper agent isn’t actually all that interesting: unlike last week, where Echo was placed into actual danger and she began to see past actives and past events in ways that questioned the very nature of this process, this week we’re forced to be concerned about a stuck-up pop singer. And much like with the show’s pilot, where the kidnapping plot felt like something out of a very basic procedural, this one spent too much time (if not the entire episode) being pedestrian, and when it did finally try to become something more it was in one of those trite, on the nose parallels between the case of the week and our recurring characters.

It’s a sign that, no question, this is going to be a rollercoaster of sorts: on weeks like this one, we’re going to be looking back to last week’s episode and wishing that someone would try to shoot Echo with a bow and arrow again. And that’s going to be a balance issue the show’s going to have to confront with time.

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Dollhouse – “The Target”

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“The Target”

February 20th, 2009

When Joss Whedon first introduced the concept of Dollhouse, the show had potential largely based on its philosophical ideas, examining who these actives were, who they are now, and who they could potentially be in the future. In the show’s ostensible pilot of sorts, “Ghost,” we only really dealt with these questions on a surface level: we saw an example of the kind of job that Echo could be given, and a small glimpse into who she once was. But that middle question was left more or less unanswered: while we got some sense of complications with the actives and potential hazards, the philosophical questions (morality, ethics, all of that jazz) were never really investigated.

This is the reason why I’m not sure why “The Target” wasn’t the show’s pilot, because with a little bit more introduction to the key values this is a far more interesting hour of television. Not only was Echo’s “case of the week” far more interesting to watch, but the stakes were higher, and more importantly the people whose lives were at stake were people that we were supposed to care about. This episode, using Boyd’s first days at Dollhouse as a framework, show us a side of Dollhouse that is morally questionable, that raises some important questions both about the security of this process and the transparency of Dollhouse’s leadership, and does a lot more to make me excited about this show and its characters than last week’s comparatively pedestrian offering.

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The Glass Ceiling: How Dollhouse can Overcome the Friday Odds

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The Glass Ceiling:

How Dollhouse can Overcome the Friday Odds

When FOX first announced that Dollhouse was going to be placed onto Fridays, I wrote the following:

My immediate response: seriously, FOX? Are we going to go through this again? After Whedon’s last FOX show, Firefly, was destroyed by mismanagement by FOX, fans of the creator have already had reason to be slightly concerned about the show’s trajectory. Now, with the creative side seemingly together, comes the next blow – that even when it does air, its opportunity for success has shrunk dramatically.

Now, since that point, both creator Joss Whedon and FOX have stuck to the line that this plan actually works out for them: by creating a night of male-skewing Sci-Fi on a night where FOX has historically gone with either repeats or reality programming, the show will have low expectations and a certain security thanks to not having the same type of time period competition as it would elsewhere on the schedule. By keeping expectations low, essentially, the show’s inevitable failure to attract the kind of audience that FOX might be looking for went from a crushing disappointment to an understanding between creator and network that time might be necessary.

Unfortunately for FOX and for Whedon, the results are in and they don’t look good: the show debuted to just 4.7 Million viewers and a 2.0 rating in the key demographics. The second number isn’t half bad, good enough for second in its timeslot, but the first number is a pretty big concern for the series. It’s about the same ratings that sent Firefly to the television graveyard before its time, actually, and the plan to try to create low expectations and then spin these ratings into something positive is somewhat tough to swallow when you get trounced by Supernanny on ABC.

But there’s a fair few factors that we need to take into account here, at least before we start writing off Dollhouse as a failure. Much as I believe the jury is still out after writing my own review of the premiere, I believe there is still time for Dollhouse to turn it around. Unfortunately, the universe might well be working against Joss Whedon and his fanbase once again.

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Series Premiere: Dollhouse – “Ghost”

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“Ghost”

February 13th, 2009

According to logic, and the internal methodology given to Echo before an important mission, you can’t fight a Ghost. And, let’s be realistic, you can’t really pin one down either, trying to define it by regular rules of physics or biology ultimately proving a futile task.

In many ways, Dollhouse is a Ghost of Television, a show that is very tough to pin down and has almost no interest in trying to have this happen. The series, like the actives who are part of the Dollhouse roster, can be wiped clean after every episode, so it is very difficult to judge the pilot as we would normally judge a pilot. The point here is not to actually pin anything down, but to demonstrate for the viewer the types of things they might see and, most importantly, the types of things that we should keep an eye out for in the future.

And, as such, there’s something difficult about passing judgment on this as an actual series. All we can really do is take the parts that we’re given here that we know will remain constant and begin to judge them, but even then the show is going to be meandering all over the place and those parts might be able to rise to the occasion better than we currently realize. It makes all of this, well, a little bit inconsequential; I have a feeling that week by week I’ll be chiming in with another opinion that’s been altered from the week previous, something that with time could get a little old.

For now, though, I’m along for the ride, for two main reasons: because I think the show has some potential as a serialized procedural, and because I’m mildly afraid that the Whedon fans will hunt me down and break my legs if I don’t.

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Seriously, FOX? Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse to air on Fridays

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I don’t normally post news, but I figure this is frustrating enough to enjoy a bit more analysis outside of my Twitter feed. Ironically, it was through Twitter that the news was revealed to me. From FOXBroadcasting’s new twitter feed came the following:

Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse launches Friday, February 13th

My immediate response: seriously, FOX? Are we going to go through this again? After Whedon’s last FOX show, Firefly, was destroyed by mismanagement by FOX, fans of the creator have already had reason to be slightly concerned about the show’s trajectory. Now, with the creative side seemingly together, comes the next blow – that even when it does air, its opportunity for success has shrunk dramatically.

The thing is, a lot more could have been done: FOX could have premiered the show behind an episode of American Idol, something that is increasingly common and that their other new drama, Lie to Me, is likely getting on January 21st. Nothing about this move seems even remotely like a network that is fully behind this show: and would premiering it a week early and avoiding the ominousness of Friday the 13th really have killed them?

I’m excited for Dollhouse, even as someone who outside of Firefly and Dr. Horrible is woefully behind on my Whedonverse viewing, but these signs keep popping up that this show is cursed. I don’t want to be a harbinger of ill-will towards the series’ fate, and I would love to feel more optimistic, but considering that repeats of NCIS and other crime procedurals are the shows performing best on Fridays something tells me that FOX’s attempt to rekindle The X-Files’ success in the timeslot a decade ago isn’t going to work…and if this means that Whedon’s fans are going to have to pick up FOX’s slack at promoting one of his series AGAIN, I don’t think this is the kind of deja vu the show is trying to discuss.

Below the jump, though, let’s take a look at what the rest of FOX’s January schedule brings us – to be honest, it’s quite reasonable, if frustrating for fans of the network’s science fiction dramas.

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