Welcome to the Dollhouse

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I’ve been writing in this blog a lot lately. I guess as the year comes to a close I have a lot of reflecting – shallow or not – to do. It’s funny that in my ‘real life’ blog, my entries are pretty short. I would call the entries here more entertainment essays, or manifestos than anything.

I won’t expound on the joys of a PVR too much other than to say, once you have one, you’ll never go back. Ever. It enables you to do things like keep several episodes of Dollhouse on your PVR at once to skip over Fox’s ultra-annoying giant gap for the MLB playoffs. Also sadly for the dearly departed (soon to be anyway) Dollhouse, it’s not really a show that warrants immediate watching, so you can kind of cruise through them whenever you want. Namely, I finished catching up as of this weekend, and I’m quite enjoying the two-packs the episodes have been coming in as we ramp up to the final three or four.

But alas, where have we gone wrong? Joss Whedon has groupies like few other TV producers – he’s kind of the quirky answer to JJ Abrams more polished, super-budget pedigree. I myself am a massive Buffy fan (I think the show has more tags than anything in this blog), and have been curious to watch Angel, and Firefly. Despite being hailed / being a name brand producer, Joss hasn’t really had a major hit since Buffy, and arguably Angel following on its coattails. I could argue for quite awhile that Buffy in itself is a singularly wonderful show that is quite unlike anything Joss or any producer has done in the way it mixed reality, fantasy, horror, humour, and heart.

With that in mind, what’s up with Dollhouse? Well Season 1 maybe would have worked a decade ago, much as Buffy’s Season 1 ‘Monster of the Week’ managed to hook audiences long enough to keep the show growing, but these days there was no motivation to continue onwards, no end game in sight.

Another major problem was the complicated feelings I still have towards the Dollhouse. The concept of the house is incredibly disturbing and perverse, and although the people in the LA house the show focuses on seem to have more of a moral compass / family-like care for the key dolls, you still can’t shake the feeling that you don’t really want to be on their side. Nor did I particularly want to be on Paul Ballard’s side last season – he wasn’t a sympathetic protagonist, and just seemed like a reckless vigilante. I still don’t know why he was so hell bent on finding Caroline.

On that note, Caroline / Echo is another big flaw of the show. A lot of people have argued Eliza Dushku is a one note actress and this show highlights that with the demanding number of roles they ask her to take on. I would disagree – I think Eliza has the potential to play other types of roles other than Faith redux, but on a more consistent basis. Playing a bunch of different party girl types and transforming into Echo, a mere shell of a person, does not a great actress make.

Which brings me to another problem – the lack of cast camaraderie which emerges from these previous two points. Because everyone has this deep layer of sinister motivation, it fails to make the core non-Doll cast connect (Dewitt, Boyd, and Topher – plus Dr. Saunders and Topher’s assistant). Beyond that you’ve also got these walking shells that are supposed to have this strong yet vacant friendship. The Victor / Sierra romance grew nicely in the last season but it was choppily done before that. Echo’s sudden “I need to find my friends” diatribe in the last couple of episodes felt unrealistic as the ‘grouping’ dolls seemed so much less aware of what they meant to her versus Echo’s fully realized persona.

And moving on from there – the unrealisticness of the show’s concept. The whole government taking down the Dollhouse scenario kind of brought up the “why didn’t this happen before?”. Or more obviously on two different levels – it seems pretty easy for all these Richie riches to find the Dollhouse, why couldn’t the government? And realistically, given the exorbitant cost we’re led to believe an engagement costs, how many of these scenarios are realistic on a continual basis to make the house so successful? Also the huge lack of moral relativity is pretty disturbing if it has any shred of accuracy to it.

Finally we’ve got the muddled mythology of the show. So many new elements are introduced all the time that it’s hard to keep them straight. I still have so many questions that will never be answered…or maybe they have been and I just forgot. Why is Ballard so determined to find (and eventually free) Caroline / Echo? Why did Echo end up in the Dollhouse in the first place? What happened to Dr. Saunders? What’s up with Echo and that crazy doctor (but well acted by Summer Glau) that made an appearance? What’s going on with Mellie? What happened to the government subplot? How did Boyd dispose of that crazy Sierra-rapist’s body? Why wasn’t Victor simply freed after his army chip was disengaged? How did Alpha evolve on his own? Where did Alpha disappear to after his last little Dollhouse excursion? Do the admin staff basically live at the Dollhouse? Do they have lives on the outside? Oh and I could go on…

That was a blast of negativity there, but necessary to examine why the show has failed. That being said, I’ve enjoyed the progression this season, even if it seems dramatic compared to last season’s lack of forward movement. Echo becoming an Alpha-esque person was a neat twist and smart way to evolve the character, although I still don’t quite get who she is or how she exists. Topher and Dewitt continue to bring solid, complex performances although it’s more likely the scripts favour their development over the more robotic Boyd and Ballard. There’s been more humour, more intrigue, more twists, more action the last few episodes than the entire series to date – although not every twist has worked (I still don’t get why Dewitt was so blatantly evil only to be developing a team to take down Rossum).

I am a little sad to see Dollhouse go, but at the same time I recognize that were Joss not forced to show his hand this season, we wouldn’t have gotten the rapid progression we’ve gotten over the last few weeks. Truthfully, the fact I could leave episodes on my PVR for so long probably speaks to the fact this is one show that was headed for the attic no matter what.

Till next time,

Britt’s On

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