Tag Archives: Echo

Series Finale: Dollhouse – “Epitaph Two: The Return”

“Epitaph Two: The Return”

January 29th, 2010

In the eyes of ardent supporters of Joss Whedon, Dollhouse is a continuation of his legacy: an interest in female protagonists who kick ass, an engagement with complex philosophical issues, a unique sense of humour, and an early cancellation at the hands of the villainous FOX.

However, not to be dismissive of those fans, I have to wonder Dollhouse actually has any sort of legacy of its own. We tend to view the show in terms of Whedon’s past successes, whether favourably or unfavourably, but has the show had time to do anything substantial on its own? As someone who has seen relatively little of Whedon’s work (Buffy and Angel are sitting on my DVD shelf waiting for me to get to them), I have struggled over the past few weeks with the question of what Dollhouse will leave behind for those without extensive knowledge of its creator.

It is a show that struggled to find a way to get to its big ideas in the early going, and that simply didn’t have enough time to live up to their full potential. They wanted to tell a story about the end of the world, but that world was never fully formed; they wanted to depict the tragic fall of some characters, but had to rush others to achieve its full effect. The second season has had moments of brilliance (“Belonging,” in particular), but it has had this pervasive sense that this would all be better if the show had more time, that they were trying to tell too much story to “wrap things up” and in the process missing out on some intriguing parts of this universe.

Heading into “Epitaph Two,” I lacked anything close to excitement: I was curious, there’s no question about that, but I wasn’t on the edge of my seat excited for what happens next. Instead, I was anxious to see just how a show that came in like a lamb and rushed its transition to lion plans on saying “bon voyage” to its miniscule but devoted fanbase.

The answer is with an hour of television that introduces too many new concepts too quickly, and which proves incapable of grounding all of them on realistic character motivations. However, in true Dollhouse spirit, there are enough moments of legitimately compelling drama to lift the episode to the point of being satisfying…or, more accurately, as unevenly satisfying as the show has been all along.

And that’s all we can really ask for.

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Dollhouse – “The Hollow Men”

“The Hollow Men”

January 15th, 2010

“This world is for people who can evolve.”

We’re going to be waiting two weeks until Dollhouse concludes its troubled two-season run (although scheduled to finish next week, the cross-network Haiti Telethon is taking over primetime on the 22nd), and it’s going to be interesting to see the kind of anticipation that builds around the show’s series finale. “The Hollow Men” is an engaging hour of television that features a strong performance from Harry Lennix, but there is every sense that this is transition episode and little more: the scale of the “war” is at this point still so small that the episode feels more incidental than perhaps it should.

The show has spent much of its second season implying that events which seem small are going to eventually seem very large, aided by the presence of “Epitaph One” as an image of the world’s future dystopia, but the real trick is trying to actually make those small events seem large in the context of a single episode. The work done in “The Hollow Men” is not inelegant so much as it is hampered by the “rush” towards a conclusion, and at times the episode feels like a “greatest hits” collection of the show’s finest moments as opposed to a culmination of ongoing storylines. The episode spends a lot of time talking about characters as a family, which is a fine idea but which fails to capture the evolution these characters have gone through: while the show’s relatively short run precludes the kind of depth that the final episodes of Lost or Battlestar Galactica brought to the table, there is still a sense that the way Dollhouse made its way towards its finale kept it from having the dramatic impact it perhaps could have.

It does nothing to make me less intrigued about how the show wraps up its run next week, but I definitely am not connecting with the ending as perhaps some others might be.

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Dollhouse – “The Public Eye” / “The Left Hand”

“The Public Eye” / “The Left Hand”

December 4th, 2009

“Everybody’s got a past – it’s the future [viewers] care about.”

Writing about Dollhouse is like riding a bike – the show has never suffered from a lack of ideas, making even its weaker episodes (once it got ahold of its identity) fascinating to discuss. However, there’s something inherently unsatisfying, in theory, about getting back onto that bicycle when you know that you’re about to run out of road, and in a very short period of time this bike is going to be absolutely worthless to you. So much of what I do here at Cultural Learnings is about contextualizing episodes in the past, present and future of any particular series, and in the world of Dollhouse that future has become a swift cancellation which could come as soon as early next week should the ratings from tonight’s two-hour block of episodes be so disastrous that FOX is willing to risk the wrath of fans as opposed to the wrath of advertisers and replace the show with reruns.

And yet, there is something about where this show finds itself mid-way through its second season that I find far more compelling than I should. I know this show is going to end, and yet there is something about the show’s view of the future that has turned its futility into an asset of sorts. It’s almost as if we’ve already reached the end of the road, but instead of a sheer drop the show is offering a lengthy kill on which we can simply coast down the hill with our hands off the handlebars feeling the wind in our face and taking those last moments to think about what was, what is, and what will (or would) be. It’s almost as if cancellation has freed Dollhouse from certain expectations, and what we get from this point forward is about what we take from the material rather than what the material necessarily says in and of itself.

As such, “The Public Eye” and “The Left Hand” are both really great hours of television not only because they’re well-executed in terms of basic plot and character, but also because through the wonders of a DVD bonus feature we as an audience are perfectly situated to understand the ramifications of what is going on here at levels that go beyond the immediate to a future that we might never be able to see but that we are able to vividly imagine in ways that allow the show to survive beyond the certainty of its fate.

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Season Premiere: Dollhouse – “Vows”

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“Vows”

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.

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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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