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Friday, 18 September 2009

Dollhouse: I Like It!

I've been meaning to write about Dollhouse for some time now, especially as the first season is over and the second is just around the corner, but I was never exactly sure what to write.

First off, I have to say, that Fox - or whoever - seriously miss sold this series before it hit the airwaves. The series I saw advertised was certainly not the series I actually saw.

Before it aired in the UK, I had the distinct impression that it was some Alias-clone with Eliza Dushku uploading a different persona each week to save the world from bad guys or some such nonsense.

It certainly didn't appeal to me and I really thought Joss Whedon had dropped the ball on this one. To be honest I wasn't even going to watch it, and I actually missed the first run of the first episode and just recorded it on repeat on a whim "because it was Joss Whedon".

And I was hooked from that opening episode.

The first few do suffer from the "identity-of-the-week" syndrome, but there is so much more going on in the background that I let that slide.

For starters Eliza Dushku's Echo (aka Caroline) is not the protagonist of the story, that's FBI Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett, who played one of my favourite characters on Battlestar Galactica, Helo), who is trying to track down the missing Caroline and discover the truth behind the urban myth of the "Dollhouse".

The titular Dollhouse itself represents the show's antagonists - and it's one of the only times I can think that a TV serial has been named after the bad guys rather than the heroes.

The top dogs of the Dollhouse are all interesting, flawed characters, particularly head scientist Topher Brink (Fran Kranz), the jovial Joseph Mengele experimenting on his live subjects to test the limits of the human body and mind, justifying it to himself that it is for the "greater good"... but mainly because it is fun.

Then, at the other extreme, we have the "actives"/"the dolls" - people who've effectively sold themselves into slavery for five years to be used by the Dollhouse - who are blank canvases until Topher pours their latest "identity" into them.

Are we supposed to feel sorry for them? They did volunteer, after all. But then they have lost their free will and become automatons at the beck and call of the Dollhouse, and the shadowy corporation, Rossum, behind it.

In an unusual step the final episode of the first season, Epitaph One, jumped into the future and showed a post-apocalyptic world where Topher's imprinting technology has almost gained a life of its own, running wild through the populace and causing chaos and anarchy.

Of course, this isn't the actual end of the Dollhouse story arc, just a stopping-off point at some later stage - opening the door, as it did in the denouement, for new and different stories - but it certainly won't diminish the dramatic impact of any stories told between now and then.

As we know from all good, long-running, serial drama, many things can happen along any individual character's personal voyage through life and it's that journey - almost more than the end location - that makes for interesting story telling.

Dollhouse is certainly not the rehash of Firefly or Buffy The Vampire Slayer which I think some of Whedon's fans were hoping for; what it is is inventive, intelligent science-fiction storytelling.

It may have been slow taking off, and there are unlikely to be any musical episodes in the near future, but I think we're also safe to assume that it's not going to turn out that it was all "God's plan" (it still grates even now that Battlestar Galactica opted for that awful, awful explanation to tie-up all the random wierdness in their story... but I'm going off on one now).

4 comments:

  1. Although I haven't seen it, I'm interested in getting the Dollhouse DVD boxset (probably for Christmas). Having recently watched Firefly, I'm a fan of Joss Whedon's stuff - Buffy is still one of my favourite shows evar.

    I had heard that the first 5 episodes were a bit weak but then it picks up from episode 6 or 7. I was also a little concerned that some said it was a little exploitive and bordered on soft porn at times (my wife may well watch it and I don't want her put off).

    Still, sounds like you liked it so that's another point in its favour.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "I was also a little concerned that some said it was a little exploitive and bordered on soft porn at times"

    It was this misconception that, surprisingly, led to my inital apathy to the show, but it's not like that at all. Yes - throughout the whole run - there may be a couple of brief moments or scenes that could be viewed as "exploitative", but that's kind of the point about the nature of the Dollhouse's practices.

    Rachel's sat through a couple of episodes with me and hasn't been repulsed, so I think it's safe "husband and wife" viewing :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well, you can see the influence of the FOX network here in the States on what Joss Whedon was trying to do. The first few episodes were little more than "Identity of the Week" stories, usually involving Echo dressing up in Alias-esque sexy garb ... not that there's anything wrong with that!

    Things take a HUGE step forward with "Man on the Street," which introduces the Big Picture concept of the Dollhouse, and "Spy in the House of Love" several episodes later blew me away.

    After seeing the unaired-in-the-U.S season finale, "Epitaph One," I'm now doubly excited to see the season premiere, starting here on Friday.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm pretty sure we don't have to wait long for Season Two either...

    ReplyDelete

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