Tag Archives: Eliza Dushku

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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Why I Wouldn’t Save Dollhouse from Cancellation

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Why I Wouldn’t Save Dollhouse from Cancellation

November 11th, 2009

Today, the news came that many expected. Already shelved for November Sweeps in favour of reruns, and with FOX having confirmed that it would be burning off six episodes on Fridays in December, the chances of Dollhouse living to see a third season were always slim. And, to no one’s surprise, the show was officially cancelled today, according to the Hollywood Reporter, thus ending a strange journey for Joss Whedon’s newest series.

And while I will always be a fan of elements of this particular series, and I will miss having it as part of my weekly lineup, I will not be making any effort to try to save the series from its fate. It is not out of a lack of love for the show and what it accomplished, but rather an acknowledgement that it accomplished more than it might have, and that for all that FOX will be getting flack for this decision it was given chances that very few other shows would have received. The show always felt like an experiment, constantly being tinkered with to find the right gear for Whedon’s vision and FOX’s view of the show to become one and the same, and like any good experiment there are some tangible results that can now be put to work by Whedon, the network, and the show’s viewers. Amongst those results:

1) Some great television. Say what you will about some of the show’s weaker episodes, but “Man on the Street,” “Spy in the House of Love,” “Omega,” and “Belonging” were great hours of television independent of the show’s struggles, and some other episodes (like both “Echoes” and “Needs”) managed to take premises that could be either gimmicky or potentially overwrought and showed how this cast and crew could make intelligent, philosophical, funny and sometimes brilliant television. And the unique narrative experiment known as “Epitaph One” will be confounding people for years, further contributing to the show’s legacy of sorts.

2) Being introduced to two really great acting talents. Enver Gjokaj and Dichen Lachman were playing second fiddle to Eliza Dushku in the show’s premise, but they stole nearly every episode they were featured in. On a show that values the ability to be a chameleon, these two managed to slip into the skin of entirely different characters for either extended periods (like Lachman as Priya) or in short scenes (like Gjokaj becoming Reed Diamond’s Dominic) in a way that made them a weekly highlight. While I’m sad they’ll no longer be playing these characters, I know these two will land on their feet, and I’m sure casting directors took notice of their work. The greatest compliment I can pay them is that I learned how to spell their names, which says how often I sang their praises.

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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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The Imprint Lives On: FOX bets on Dollhouse Season 2

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The Imprint Lives On: Dollhouse Renewed

May 15th, 2009

After rumours earlier in the day were flying about via James Hibberd over at The Hollywood Reporter, the idea of a second season of Dollhouse actually became a probability as opposed to a pipe dream. Sure, the first season ended on a stronger note than it started on, giving us critical types a glimmer of potential that we could mentally build on in constructing a second season (Todd VanDerWerff has a great “Save this Show” piece over at The House Next Door), but its ratings were the series’ lowest yet, and for all the talk of DVR and Online viewers the fact of the matter is that advertisers care most about those shiny demographic numbers more than anything else.

But, for reasons that at this point remain mostly speculation, it appears that FOX has made the decision few expected them to make: within hours of the rumours first starting to spread around the web, word comes that it’s (more or less) official. Joss Whedon has bucked the trend (which really isn’t a trend considering it was only Firefly, but that was so tragic that it counts as three on its own) of network disappointment, and Dollhouse will be getting a second season of 13 episodes to air this Fall on Fridays. Let the rejoicing begin.

Well, let the rejoicing begin for anyone but the advertisers – and frankly, I’m tired of them rejoicing over the wrong shows, and it’s about time we won one for the good guys. And this truly is, in more ways than one, a victory for the internet, for fans, and for the value of television.

Just don’t count on a third season.

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Season Finale: Dollhouse – “Omega”

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“Omega”

May 8th, 2009

If there is a single common trait amongst Joss Whedon’s best work, it’s passion. There is this impression that Whedon is pouring his heart into every little scene, and it’s almost always clear when Whedon himself is scripting an episode because it feels particularly purposeful and engaging. And, as a result of this, his passionate legion of fans respond in kind, and a fan favourite series is born. Unfortunately, the same series is probably also doomed to criminally low ratings, so to an extent Whedon has been painted with the brush of “Critical Darling, Ratings Failure.”

But to be honest, halfway through Dollhouse’s inaugural season, I didn’t feel Joss Whedon’s passion for this series: the premise wasn’t being used to its potential, the actors weren’t being allowed to dig into their characters, and in a television arena where patience is not a dependable virtue amongst a mainstream audience Whedon waited six episodes before finally delivering something with a pulse. But out of loyalty to a man whose work I admire and who even admitted last month at PaleyFest that he was going through a creative struggle on his end more than network intereference, myself and the legions of Whedonverse fans patiently waited for the show to break free.

And break free it has: starting with “Man on the Street” and extending into “Spy in the House of Love” and last week’s fantastic “Briar Rose,” the series has not so much reinvited itself as it has discovered the proper perspective on its themes and ideas. Even the episodes not quite as effective have helped to introduce key elements in a way that, rather than seeming like a random “This could be cool, I guess” sort of storyline, feel organic in the season’s momentum. Key mysteries were squared away faster than expected, one key reveal was played so well that being spoiled didn’t even matter, and heading into “Omega” there have been a number of critics who have noted that Dollhouse has quite stealthily become the show they most want saved during this year’s upfronts.

What impresses me about “Omega” is that it doesn’t present a cliffhanger, nor does it fundamentally change our knowledge of the Dollhouse universe (although I thought we should have seen it change on its own a bit more); while it confirms just what happened with Alpha, and makes good on a subtle line from Dominic last week that many astute fans picked up on, the episode is more about paying off some of the ethical questions and dilemmas posed over the last season in such a way as to less justify than explain them. While not perfect, slowing a bit in its conclusion and struggling in sections that required comic timing from Eliza Dushku, it was a finale that nicely summed up why this show is most certainly worth saving, while leaving more than enough questions to lay the groundwork for a second season.

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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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