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Old May 19 2013, 04:52 PM   #1
DigificWriter
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Return to the Dollhouse

I was browsing through Amazon Prme's Videos library yesterday looking for something to watch, and decided to rewatch Joss Whedon's last foray into television, Dollhouse (the first few episodes of which I had watched when they premiered on FOX 4 years ago), and also decided to start this thread as a place to post my thoughts on the show and hopefully get others to offer theirs.

One note: I'll be watching and reviewing the series in chronological order as opposed to airdate/DVD order in the interest of maintaining the highest clarity of story and narrative.

Now, let's get started.

Ghost
Some people - actually, probably a lot of people -might disagree with me, but Ghost is, as of now, the best pilot episode Joss has ever written and shot, and here's why: he willingly strips it of most of his own stylistic trademarks, giving us an episode that feels more like an episode from Stephen S. DeKnight or David Fury, which is what the series needed as a first episode because it's a decidedly different animal from anything else Joss has done up to this point in time.

Immediately after reswarching the episode, I found and listened to a podcast roundtable discussion about it, and I realized something that had never occurred to me before: Echo, and by extension ALL of the Actives, are a representation/manifestation of the thematic storytelling direction Joss wanted to go with River's character on/in Firefly/Serenity.

Story-wise, Ghost stands out as Joss' best pilot ep because it not only tells us everything we need to know about the characters and their world, it also establishes a pattern of making viewers think they're watching a standalone ep that isn't actually a standalone ep at all.

In closing, I give Ghost a 9.0 out of 10, and reiterate what I said about it being Joss' best pilot to date.

The Target
Although Ghost was written and shot to replace the episode Echo and serve as the series' pilot, The Target could also very easily been used as the pilot if the 'Previously on Dollhouse' montage/recap had been omitted, and would have been, in some ways, a better introduction to the series than Ghost (which is funny given how highly I praised Ghost above).

The Target is a much more character-driven episode than Ghost, and gives us, as an audience, an excellent glimpse into the characters' heads, particularly Boyd Langton and Echo, especially in the story's waning moments when we learn/discover that the 'keywords' Echo was programmed to respond to aren't working and we see her 'take charge' and take out Richard.

The episode also continues the pattern established by Ghost of giving us a story that might seem standalone but actually isn't.

The juxtaposition of Langton and Echo's story with Paul Ballard's is also handled very well, establishing several things about him and his part in the show's unfolding narrative that the pilot really doesn't.

Despite what I said above regarding The Target having all the elements that could've let it serve as the pilot, Ghost is ultimately the better episode, although not by much.

The Target gets an 8.8 rating from me because of its character-driven main story and the ways it helps establish things that Ghost didn't cover.

***

I'll be back later with a review of Stage Fright and Gray Hour. In the meantime, I'd like to hear other people's thoughts on the series in general and Ghost and The Target specifically.
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Old May 19 2013, 10:41 PM   #2
Seven of Five
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

I quite enjoyed Dollhouse, but that may have been enhanced by me watching it in a marathon over a couple of days on Netflix. I thought the concept was fascinating, and enjoyed the arc that spun as the show gathered speed. Echo was perhaps an iffy lead character, but there were plenty of other well drawn characters to pick up the slack.

I understand that the show was cut short, and a lot of the future storyline happened in a rush at the end of season two. Whilst that's a shame, I think the limited run ultimately helped the series. I could have seen the story twisting and turning in strange directions before receiving appropriate closure.
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Old May 20 2013, 01:15 AM   #3
DigificWriter
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

Stage Fright
I seem to recall this episode getting very mixed reviews when it initially premiered, but I personally think it's a great ep for the following reasons:
* It's a 'message ep', and 'message eps' have traditionally been among the best-written eps of Joss Whedon's series, regardless of whose name actually appears on the ep

* It furthers Paul Ballard's story arc nicely, and fleshes out Adelle's character by showing us that there's more to her than just 'the British chick running the Dollhouse'

* It adds to the unfolding tapestry of the Dollhouse universe by introducing us to Victor and establishing that while Ballard might think he's in control, he's being heavily manipulated by Adelle

* It gives Eliza Dushku a chance to showcase the full range of her talents

* It fleshes out Echo's characterization by showing us that she's able to transcend her rigid programming, which provides a nice point of contrast to what happens to her in the very next episode

I'd like to know how much, if any, help Joss might've imparted to his brother Jed and sister-in-law Maurissa, because it certainly carries a lot of his stylistic trademarks (being the first ep of the season/series to really do so). I'd also like to know if Jane Espenson had any input into the ep because it really reminded me of her episode Earshot (as well as the episodes Eternity and Older and Far Away).

The ep isn't the best of the first three eps, but it's a very solid ep and gets an 8.8 from me.

Gray Hour
When I initially watched the series, this ep stood out as by far my favorite, and that impression didn't change upon rewatching it.

Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain created a story that not only serves as the perfect counterpoint to Stage Fright in terms of what it does for Echo's characterization, but that also seamlessly and nicely furthers Paul Ballard's story arc and deepens the mystery of Alpha.

We also get to see some nice interplay between Sierra and Dominic and Adelle, as well as some nice character-building moments for Topher, who comes across in the ep as someone who does genuinely care for and about the Actives under his care.

As much as I love the ep, I wasn't sure whether it deserves a higher rating than Ghost (even though, in my eyes, it's the better ep), so I 'hedged my bets' and am giving it the same rating as Ghost, a 9.0.
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Old May 20 2013, 03:31 AM   #4
Forbin
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

The show was better than, for whatever reason, the viewing public thought of it. I never understood the derision directed toward it by some. To me, it was the one true Science Fiction series on TV, using one of my primary requirements for good, hard, science fiction: Postulate a scientific development, then examine how it affects not only individual people but society as a whole. Dollhouse did that in spades.

Plus, ya know, Eliza in sexy outfits.
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Old May 20 2013, 03:40 AM   #5
tighr
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

I enjoyed Dollhouse, and the turn in season 2 was bolstered by the fact that it had a direction. You've already noticed by now, but many of the season 1 episodes are standalone and can be watched in any order, which is both good and bad in a way. Season 2 was truncated, but told a story.

Plus, with Echo getting a new personality in every episode, we never really get to know Echo (or Caroline, for that matter), and that hurts development because we don't really care about her as a character. This changes in season 2, as well.
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Old May 20 2013, 03:56 AM   #6
DigificWriter
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

^ I have to respectfully disagree with your assessment of Echo as a character during S1 and your assertion that S1 is largely comprised of standalone episodes. As I pointed out in my reviews, Ghost, The Target, Stage Fright, and Gray Hour aren't truly standalones; they just seem like they are. As for Echo, she is not by any means the blank slate you think she is even though she has no innate personality any more, as each of the first four eps tells us or demonstrates things about her character that carry over from ep to ep.
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Old May 20 2013, 07:07 AM   #7
tighr
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

DigificWriter wrote: View Post
^ I have to respectfully disagree with your assessment of Echo as a character during S1 and your assertion that S1 is largely comprised of standalone episodes. As I pointed out in my reviews, Ghost, The Target, Stage Fright, and Gray Hour aren't truly standalones; they just seem like they are. As for Echo, she is not by any means the blank slate you think she is even though she has no innate personality any more, as each of the first four eps tells us or demonstrates things about her character that carry over from ep to ep.
You're entitled to your opinion, of course, but I got the impression from the original post that you've only seen maybe four or five episodes of the series in total. Revisit my analysis after completing the series, and you'll see that we don't really get to know Echo until much later.

When Dollhouse first aired, much of the criticism aimed at Dushku was that she seemed emotionless in the role of Echo. Sierra and Victor came off as much stronger than she did, in part because their characters were in love.
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Old May 20 2013, 09:40 AM   #8
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

^
I don't see that as being any kind of problem because in the first couple of episodes the dolls are essentially props with modular identities. The actual characters are the people who work for the Dollhouse and also Agent Ballard.

I saw this on Netflix a couple of months back because honestly their sci-fi library is pretty small. It was surprisingly solid, if there's a couple of weak episodes (the one about the pop singer), it mostly works because it's willing to let you hate most of its cast, although it sort of wants you to come around to them at the end.
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Old May 20 2013, 07:56 PM   #9
DigificWriter
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

I just finished True Believer and Man on the Street, but before I review them, I wanted to comment on a few other things:
1) I don't understand or agree with this idea that Eliza Dushku is emotionless when she's Echo. Based on the first six eps, I look at Echo and I see a character who does in fact have a personality, albeit a very childlike one. She reminds me very much of some people I know who have developmental disabilities, as well as the character of Red-verse Astrid from Fringe. Through the first six eps, I look at Echo in her Doll state and I see someone who is friendly, adaptive, resilient, and caring, with a natural calmness and charm that subconsciously draws people to her.

2) Each of the first five eps feature a Previously on Dollhouse recap, which belies their supposed nature as standalones; they also feature thematic and character carryover that links them together on an individual level as well as linking them together in terms of the ongoing story arc of the season/series.

3) I concur with Forbin's assessment that the show is better than perception would indicate, and in fact think it's on course to possibly eclipse Firefly - which I absolutely love - as Joss' best series to date.

Now, my reviews of True Believer and Man on the Street.

True Believer
I don't recall being all that impressed with True Believer when I initially saw it, but I gained a new appreciation for it upon a second viewing.

The ep's plot is fairly standard procedural material, but what makes it stand out is the character information and interaction, both in the Dollhouse and out in the field. Echo's Imprinted persona is equal parts Joan of Arc, Anne Frank, and Eleanor Penn (her Imprinted character from Ghost), and Eliza is able to make you believe that she's exactly who and what she says, especially in the beginning.

We also get some nice and humorous interaction between Topher and Dr. Saunders that sets things up nicely for the next episode and starts to flesh out Sierra and Victor's 'blank slate' characterization, as well as some scheming from Dominic and some nice use of Langton's investigative instincts, which leads to the series' first use of Joss' trademark narrative curveball storytelling in the form of Langton uncovering Agent Lily' s complicity in staging the entire premise for raiding the compound and Echo and Langton being brought in to help out, and in the form of Dominic knocking Echo out.

Ratings-wise, I'm giving this one an 8.5; it tells a solid, if unspectacular, story that throws in a couple of narrative curveballs and sets stuff up for the next ep.

Man on the Street
This ep really reminded me of Goodbye, Iowa from Buffy's fourth season and Shiny Happy People and The Magic Bullet from ANGEL's fourth season, all of which mark a narrative turning point of sorts for their respective seasons, and consequently feels much more quintessentially 'Jossian' than the first five eps.

There's a lot going on in this ep narratively, what with the situation involving Sierra and Victor, Paul Ballard's investigation and developing relationship with Mellie, his first face-to-face encounter with Echo, and Adelle getting more involved in manipulating and orchestrating things to fit the outcome she wants, but nothing feels tacked-on or rushed.

it's also nice to see Patton Oswalt in a Joss Whedon show, even in a bit part, and there's a nice bit of symmetry in the way the ep ends, with his character getting his 'perfect day' even as Adelle's machinations tear Paul Ballard's life apart.

This ep is by far the best of the season thus far, and therefore gets a 9.5 rating from me.
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Old May 22 2013, 03:14 AM   #10
DigificWriter
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

Pushing this back to Page 1 by popping back in to say that I've reached the halfway point of Season 1, and have officially fallen in love with the characters of Topher and Adelle, especially after what happened to them in Echoes (which I'll cover in more depth when I post my full, official review of the episode).
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Old May 22 2013, 08:27 AM   #11
Ain Jalut
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

I always had a thing for Sierra.
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Old May 22 2013, 01:49 PM   #12
tighr
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

Ain Jalut wrote: View Post
I always had a thing for Sierra.
Me, too.

Although, I didn't like Dichen's character on Last Resort.
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Old May 22 2013, 02:00 PM   #13
DalekJim
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

Love Dollhouse, best thing Whedon's ever done. Proper characterisation and adult sci-fi themes. Much more memorable than Firefly.

Love the way it ended too. Especially that Boyd twist. Stunning, brave television.
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Old May 22 2013, 02:23 PM   #14
Forbin
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

Tell ya the truth the Boyd twist was the only thing I didn't like. Too out-of-left-field gimmicky for me.
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Old May 22 2013, 03:43 PM   #15
Deckerd
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Re: Return to the Dollhouse

DigificWriter wrote: View Post
Immediately after reswarching the episode, I found and listened to a podcast roundtable discussion about it, and I realized something that had never occurred to me before: Echo, and by extension ALL of the Actives, are a representation/manifestation of the thematic storytelling direction Joss wanted to go with River's character on/in Firefly/Serenity.
Probably a mercy that he switched shows and actors to do it then, since if Summer's 'cockerney' accent was anything to go by, it would have been a disaster.
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