Tag Archives: Tahmoh Penikett

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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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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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 – “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 – “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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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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