People in Glass Dollhouse’s

dollhouse

All across the internet, groups of Whedonites are doing their damndest to save the latest offspring of Writer/ Director/ Producer Joss Whedon, Dollhouse.   Despite a rough start, Whedon’s fans aren’t ready to let go.

The question in the air is “how do we save Dollhouse?”  But I’m sure I’m not alone in that I can’t help but think the real question is “Is Dollhouse worth saving?”

whedon-dushku

Dollhouse is the result of a now semi-famous lunch between star/ producer Eliza Dushku and Whedon.  It’s about a young woman, code-named Echo, who lives a life of servitude to an evil corporation.  She is prostituted out to clients of specific means.  He mind is wiped and digitally supplanted by a false personality, one which serves the needs of the client.  The new personality can be anything from a pop star’s backup singer to a bank robber to an actual prostitute. The show is essentially a vehicle for Dushku so that she can explore her range as an actress.

eliza-dushku-dollhouse-terminator-promo-joss-whedon

We were all frothing at the mouths when the announcement of Whedon’s intentions were made.  His many fans… some called Whedonites, others taking the name Browncoats… have felt an absence since 2005 when his film Serenity aired.  The long wait of production inched across our spines like a snake.  Our patience was tested to its limits.   

And then came the rumors.   Joss’ last show, Firefly ended abruptly despite a rabid fan base, do entirely to the  incompetance and lack of faith provided by the network that greenlit the show, Fox.  After an extended absence, Fox Studios decided to give Joss the money to turn Firefly into a full-fledged feature film, Serenity.  The decision was not borne of generosity; it came on the heels of the massive DVD sales for the show, which in turn spread the fans of the show even further.  Still, the wound is fresh.  Firefly could have gone down as one of the greatest Scifi shows of all time (it still might).   So when it was revealed that Dollhouse would appear on Fox, Browncoats everywhere breathed a collective groan.

Network interference in Dollhouse ran amuck.  The original pilot was completely scrapped.  Constant re-writes.  New episodes written and shot in haste.  Some began to wonder if the show would air at all.

And then it did.   And the reaction was… “meh.”  The show wasn’t bad.  Underwhelming perhaps, but not bad.  The trouble is, it wasn’t Joss. And immediately blame fell to the studio.  

But as I sit and watch the penultimate episode of the season, I begin to suspect that there is more to it.   For starters, while the show has a cool premise, it lacks focus.  Echo cannot be counted as a central character, since she is a different person in every episode.  The male lead, Agent Paul Ballard is somewhat enticing, but every time I see him I think of Helo.  (Note: Ballard is played by Tahmoh Penikett, who just ended his performance as Helo in the acclaimed Battlestar Galactica mere weeks ago.)    And even the appearances of Whedonverse alums Alan Tudyk and Amy Acker have not raised excitement.  The show has gotten much better as its gone along, but it’s still missing something, that X-Factor.

Echo_Dollhouse

And I think I know what it might be.   I mentioned earlier that Dollhouse is designed as a vehicle for Eliza Dushku.  Whedon is a writer, first and foremost.  And a writer’s first duty is to tell a good story.  The casting is at best an after-thought.    In Dollhouse, the show was created to suit the actress.   It is in many ways, her costume.   And it is reflected at every corner.  All of the actors in the show are technically good, but their performances feel hollow.   It is as if Dollhouse is a mirror image of Echo herself, a blank slate being artifically filled.

The show is also thematically estranged from Joss’ previous productions.He’s known for creating strong, independent female characters.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly all featured women that were stronger than their male counterparts. Prostitutes were seen as ‘Companions’; strong, respected and independant women, not to mention treated as Ambassadors to some degree.   Characters Willow and Cordelia begat from humble roots and became all-powerful demon— thingies.   Dollhouse, however is frought with helpless women.  Sure, Echo and fellow Doll, Sierra are known to kick butt from time to time.  But far more common are the scenes where they are being rescued and protected by their handlers such as Boyd Langton (played superbly by Harry Lennix) or Agent Ballard.   And worse, many of the relationships in that regard are intensely creepy or perverse.  Langton sees himself as a father-figure to Echo, but he is just as culpable as her captors.  By contrast, Ballard wishes to rescue Echo, whose real name is Caroline. But his brutal methods pushed by an obsession with the Dollhouse and Caroline have only served to push her away and towards Langton.  So who is the villain in this scenario?  And the worst offender is Topher, the man who programs the Dolls.  He is their doctor and care-taker and is sort of a funny, quirky little man… but I can’t help but feel an intense rapist vibe from him.  It’s all quite mad.

As I put the finishing touches to this piece, Briar Rose, the second to last episode of the season is drawing to a close.  Harry Lennix and Tahmoh Penikett have had a fight scene nearly as beautiful as it is brutal.  Alan Tudyk and Amy Acker are bringing a kind of magic to the screen that I wasn’t sure the show was capable of.    And the twist at the end… brilliant.

But will it sustain me?  Can the show sustain itself as is?  And on a studio that has shown a lack of confidence at every turn. That smell you’re sensing? Is the scent of  eminent success, or is it the chill of an approaching icebeg as the show sinks like the Titanic?   

Part of me wonders if the fight for the show is about how good Dollhouse is/ could be, or if this is some sort of subconscious retribution for Firefly’s untimely death.

As a Browncoat, I am not sure I’m ready to give up, but I do think that it will take a mircale to keep the show going.  And in the end, I might rather see what Joss would come up with given a fresh start at a different studio or network.  

At any rate, I will be purchasing Dollhouse when it comes to DVD this summer.

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One response to this post.

  1. […] has been argued by me that Dollhouse should have been allowed to die a quiet death.  Some have argued otherwise. While I still think it’s ridiculous to suggest […]

    Reply

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