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Old January 5 2014, 11:52 PM   #1
Shamrock Bones
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Dollhouse - A Review

I caught this show when it first started back in 2009 but had it on in the background while I was at the computer and didn't pay much attention. Then I lost track of it after 3 or 4 episodes. I also came to believe that this show didn't have much potential, so I never went back. I figured it was an adventure-of-the-week type thing where we'd see Eliza Dushku repeatedly play the escort or assassin or whatever.

I was wrong.

I decided to watch the show after a few years of rumblings about an arc and the infamous first season finale "Epitaph One" and found that it was indeed something much more. It was pretty much presented as a scifi version of a brothel/consulting firm where girls would be programmed each week with a new personality for their latest assignment. What I saw instead was a story that involved human trafficking and the people behind it, almost all of whom are cold enough to do this job yet find themselves troubled by what they do on occasion. It was that group of people who drove the story in the beginning, not so much Eliza Dushku's main character Echo and her weekly adventures as a programmable doll. She and her fellow "actives" as they're called, spent a lot of time early on as empty shells who came off as used and abused. You felt bad for them. What would then unfold over the next two seasons included a number of things... 1) some major developments for Echo and a few of the actives, 2) the dollhouse staff becoming like family to eachother as well as the viewer as they challeneged the system they were under, and 3) technological developments that literally changed things on a global scale. The show evolved into something entirely different in its short 26-episode run than what it started off as. And despite being cancelled, it managed to get a satisfying conclusion, probably due to Whedon's skill at crafting a season ending that served as closure yet allowed for more. It did look pretty final though, so maybe he was leaning toward seeing that they show didn't have a chance and decided to give the ending more finality.

If you've heard about this show and didn't think that the premise was worth a shot or that it was cancelled and therefore didn't get an ending, this is not the case. Check it out. It's a short series worth watching.

SPOILERS for those who've seen the show…
  • The unaired pilot wasn't very good. I found it to be a weak start that was hard to follow. Things fell into place with the real first episode though.

  • I liked the episode where the dead woman came back to tie up loose ends by having her personality imprinted into Echo. This put the nature of imprinting in a new light. Up until that point, I assumed that the actives were simply programmed with a bit of fake behavioral traits so that they could carry out their assignments. With this development though, it looks like the imprinting process goes further than that. It looked like they were going with the idea that real people, dead or otherwise, could be fully transferred or brought to life though an active. The obvious answer of course is that the imprinted personalities are clearly copies but I can believe in some form of "transfer" if you go with the idea that if you can reconstruct a mind with a sense of awareness behind it, you basically have the person back.

  • The reveal that Allan Tudyk's character was actually Alpha came as a big shock. It would have been nice if I were just as surprised with Harrison's reveal in Star Trek Into Darkness. That's the first thing that came to mind. Dr. Saunders being Whiskey was also a surprise. I didn't see that coming even when she said she was in the dollouse 24/7. The show has been good at laying little bits of groundwork like that here and there.

  • Gotta love the names they used for the actives. Alpha, Echo, Sierra, Victor, etc. It got me more aquainted with the phonetic alphabet. They seemed to have had more than 26 actives though, so what were the others called?

  • I heard about "Epitaph One" being a post apocalyptic future that started with the dollhouse and now I finally saw it (at the end of season 1 as intended). It's innovative television. I don't think I've seen a show where we got to see what is going to happen down the line. At least not like this. I don't think that technology like this, if it existed, would get out of hand to this point though. By the way, I thought the little girl was played by Abigail Breslin, but it wasn't her. I didn't realize this until I saw "Epitaph Two".

  • I got so immersed in the episode with the baby that I found myself rooting for Dushku to get away.

  • All that drinking of tea left me with a craving for tea one night, so I had go make some.

  • I watched "Belonging" twice. The first time, it was hard to watch, not just because of what Sierra had to go through but because it was a pretty big reminder of how we can sometimes do questionable things and look the other way. The second time I watched it, it came off as a little over done in laying on that message and a lot of the players were out of character because of it.

  • The evolution of Paul Ballard was a fascinating one. He started off as an FBI agent, then ends up working for the dollhouse, then becomes a doll, then ultimately dies and ends up living on in Echo as an imprint.

  • The actor who played Victor did a fantastic job chanelling Tohper.

  • Eliza's real-life boyfriend Rick Fox made a brief appearance as an active in season 2.

  • Boyd turning out to be the big bad who was running things at Rossum was another startling revelation. He died but I'm sure he would have appeared frequently in flashbacks had the show continued.

  • I heard that Joss had a 5-year plan for the show. I can't see how it could have been extended much beyond season 2 though. It looked to me like the second season was made with two possibilities in mind... A) Squeeze a lot of the full plan into season 2 in case it gets cancelled. and B) If the show were to continue, leave room for the gang to travel around taking down various dollhouses, which I heard was Whedon's plan for season 3.
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Old January 9 2014, 02:03 AM   #2
Alex1939
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Re: Dollhouse - A Review

Don't post here much but I do think this show was underappreciated.
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Old January 9 2014, 03:38 AM   #3
Apple Goblin
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Re: Dollhouse - A Review

I love Eliza and this show should have been given another season.
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Old January 11 2014, 12:26 AM   #4
Dead Possum
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Re: Dollhouse - A Review

Agent Richard07 wrote: View Post
[*]I heard that Joss had a 5-year plan for the show. I can't see how it could have been extended much beyond season 2 though. It looked to me like the second season was made with two possibilities in mind... A) Squeeze a lot of the full plan into season 2 in case it gets cancelled. and B) If the show were to continue, leave room for the gang to travel around taking down various dollhouses, which I heard was Whedon's plan for season 3.[/list]
Based on what I've read the last few episodes, from the Washington DC arc to the finale were a highly condensed version of the 3 seasons he wanted.

It was a great show and deserves a lot more attention. Most people seem to watch the first few episodes and stop.
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Old January 11 2014, 12:28 AM   #5
JoeZhang
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Re: Dollhouse - A Review

Awesome Possum wrote: View Post
Most people seem to watch the first few episodes and stop.
I think I maybe got two episodes in (she was being hunted in the woods???) and stopped - it was just shit (but sounds like it got a lot better).
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Old January 11 2014, 12:53 AM   #6
Wereghost
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Re: Dollhouse - A Review

I actually like most of the standalone episodes. I thought many of them brought something new, even if it felt like the A-plots had been stolen from genre shows of the seventies and eighties. (The survival one reminded me of an episode of The Incredible Hulk, and the rock band one an episode of Quantum Leap.) But even the derivative episodes tended to play with the show's basic concept and offer a new twist on it.
Common wisdom has it that the show didn't really hit its stride until Whedon's episode Man On The Street (seventh or eighth episode, I think) but to my mind it's easy to overstate the increase in quality that it supposedly delineates. (If any episode represents a sea change in the show's direction, surely Epilogue One would be the prime candidate anyway.)

Agent Richard07 wrote: View Post
[*]The actor who played Victor did a fantastic job chanelling Tohper.
Enver Gjokaj did a fantastic job of pretty much every role he played, particularly as a teenage girl at a nightclub (if I recall). But VicTopher is almost worth watching the entire show for in his own right.
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Old January 11 2014, 03:47 PM   #7
Shamrock Bones
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Re: Dollhouse - A Review

Awesome Possum wrote: View Post
Based on what I've read the last few episodes, from the Washington DC arc to the finale were a highly condensed version of the 3 seasons he wanted.
Good to know that he did indeed get it all in. Everything happened fast, but it didn't feel rushed.

Awesome Possum wrote: View Post
It was a great show and deserves a lot more attention. Most people seem to watch the first few episodes and stop.
JoeZhang wrote: View Post
I think I maybe got two episodes in (she was being hunted in the woods???) and stopped - it was just shit (but sounds like it got a lot better).
Yeah, the episodic format that was supposed to hook the viewer actually turned a lot of people off.

Wereghost wrote: View Post
I actually like most of the standalone episodes. I thought many of them brought something new, even if it felt like the A-plots had been stolen from genre shows of the seventies and eighties. (The survival one reminded me of an episode of The Incredible Hulk, and the rock band one an episode of Quantum Leap.) But even the derivative episodes tended to play with the show's basic concept and offer a new twist on it.
I liked that they'd set up what looked like a typical episode and then had something go terribly wrong, causing the story to go in a whole new direction.

Wereghost wrote: View Post
Common wisdom has it that the show didn't really hit its stride until Whedon's episode Man On The Street...
It was probably the bit about Sierra's abuse that did it.
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Old January 11 2014, 04:13 PM   #8
Forbin
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Re: Dollhouse - A Review

Wereghost wrote: View Post
Common wisdom has it that the show didn't really hit its stride until Whedon's episode Man On The Street
What I recall reading was that the network demanded the show be an episodic whore-of-the-week format, so Joss gave them that for the first bunch of episodes, then with Man on the Street he started doing it the way he wanted.
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Old January 11 2014, 10:21 PM   #9
DevilEyes
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Re: Dollhouse - A Review

Dollhouse is a very underrated show. I liked it a lot and I agree with most of what you say. I only disagree about the unaired pilot. I think it was excellent, unlike the aired first episode, which was average and not very exciting. I remember seeing it and not getting the wish to see more of the show, it looked almost like your typical procedural. The only problem with the unaired pilot is that it would have revealed way too much about the season 1's storyline.

Unfortunately, I was spoiled on who Tudyk was playing, but fortunately, not on almost anything else.
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Old January 12 2014, 11:00 AM   #10
JoeZhang
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Re: Dollhouse - A Review

Agent Richard07 wrote: View Post
Yeah, the episodic format that was supposed to hook the viewer actually turned a lot of people off.

[
It didn't bother me that it was episodic, it bothered me that it was rubbish, the acting in particular was absolutely awful.
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Old January 12 2014, 11:13 AM   #11
Sophronisba
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Re: Dollhouse - A Review

I think the acting gets better, too. It took them a while to find the characters. In particular, Fran Kranz gets a lot less irritating as the series goes on.
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Old January 12 2014, 12:19 PM   #12
Ensign_Redshirt
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Re: Dollhouse - A Review

Yeah, the show was shit (or at least rather bland and unappealing) until the arc started to kick in... which was around the 7th episode of Season 1 ("Echoes").
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