September 25th, 2009
“I am all of them, but none of them is me.”
I never thought I’d be writing this post.
No one gave Dollhouse a chance of succeeding when its first season debuted to pretty abysmal numbers at midseason, and when it showed little signs of life on the ratings board when it concluded. It was a show that never found an audience, on a network that had done Joss Whedon wrong before with Firefly, setting everyone up for the inevitable letter writing campaigns when the show was canceled. Not only that, but to some degree people weren’t convinced the show deserved a second chance: it only late in the season discovered anything close to an identity, and even then some believed the show would be let down by some miscasting or the battle between procedural and serial proving too much for the show to handle.
So when the show got a second season against every oddsmaker, it was kind of surreal. On the one hand, as someone who liked what the show did at the end of the season, I was excited to see that Joss Whedon and Co. would have an entire summer to figure things out and put themselves in a position to really deliver some great television. However, on the other hand, I wondered if the end of the season was just a fluke, and that its premise and its star were just never meant to carry this show forward.
And then I saw “Epitaph One.” And then, in that moment, I realized that the premise was not going to be the problem, and that the show’s real challenge was how it will get from Point A (its rather auspicious start) to Point B (a science fiction thematic goldmine). “Vows,” of course, doesn’t entirely answer that question, but what it does indicate is that the ramifications from the end of last season haven’t ended, and that this is still a show capable of delivering an hour of television which treats this subject matter with the right balance of philosophical investigation and narrative procession. It is not a perfect premiere, by any means, but it confirms what I think we were all hoping when we heard the show got a second season: the growing pains are over, and a new life has truly begun for Dollhouse.
July 26th, 2009
“We intend to honor what you’ve seen here today, but we will question the veracity of it. A lot of it was memories and whether all those memories are completely true” will be questioned. The future “will inform where we go” with the show”– Joss Whedon on “Epitaph One”
Friday night at Comic-Con in San Diego, a selection of fans, bloggers and critics were able to view the much-anticipated “Epitaph One,” the lost thirteenth episode of Dollhouse’s first season. It’s a really unique piece of television, fascinating in its position: as FOX counted the abandoned pilot as one of the thirteen episodes it would pay for, they had no interest in airing the episode; however, since 20th Century Fox (who produces the show) had DVD contracts which called for 13 episodes, Whedon delivered “Epitapth One.” At the same time, the episode was also used as proof of his ability to shoot the show on a considerably smaller budget without sacrificing quality. The result, both in terms of story and in terms of style, will form the blueprint for Dollhouse’s second season, a season that may not exist were it not for this episode.
That’s a lot of hype going into this particular hour of television, particularly considering that Dollhouse is a show that’s been all about hyperbole: everyone remembers how “Man on the Street” was supposed to cure every disease known to mankind, and people’s patience with the show’s rough start has been tested at numerous points along the way. However, “Epitaph One” ultimately succeeds at meeting these high expectations primarily because of just how ballsy a piece of television it is: unafraid of stepping out on a limb, or connecting with anything which came before it, the episode is definitive evidence that Joss Whedon has crafted an environment worth investigating with this series. It’s the best thing I think Dollhouse has produced yet, and if Whedon sticks to his guns that “Epitaph One” is canonical the sheer volumes of promise found within this episode are nearly overwhelming.
As for whether they’re too overwhelming, though, will become a question for the show’s second season – and, considering that Whedon notes that all of this is a complex road map rather than a clear image through the heart of the series, it’s going to be quite a complex undertaking. And, for a show like Dollhouse, that’s a damn good thing. Continue reading
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.
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.