Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse – a quick review

Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse series is an interesting piece of work. What seems to be a mish-mash of sci-fi ideas dating back to when Arnold Schwarznegger’s character first got his brain reprogrammed in Total Recall all those years ago.

That’s what happens in the Dollhouse. Beautiful people come in and have their brains erased resulting in a seemingly peaceful state that is also unsettlingly like a bovine dumbness. At least that’s the look I read from Eliza Dushku’s eyes when I watch this. Their handlers hire the ‘dolls’ out, programmed with a personality to suit their discerning needs. It’s kind of like brainwashing meets whorehouse from what I can see.

Obviously I’m generalising. The ‘dolls’ can also be programmed with whatever skillsets are required. In the first episode, Dushku’s character, Echo, becomes a kidnap negotiator, and in the next episode, she’s suddenly got the skills to match an outdoorsy rock climber/hunter as his perfect date. It’s reminiscent of those ‘downloads’ Neo would get in The Matrix, that instantly gave him new abilities and knowledge. Except with Dollhouse, those skills aren’t cumulative, they’re erased at the end of every assignment.

To Review?

Echo prepares to have her memory erased (again)

I decided not to review Dollhouse on the strength of the first episode alone. Sometimes a pilot can leave you dissatisfied or wondering what the hell’s going on. In this case, there were many questions left open.

First off, I was concerned about the underlying concept: how would we watch the same character with an essentially different personality each week? More importantly, does Dushku have the acting chops to convince us that she can be all these different characters? The early indications are pretty good, especially since Echo is obviously a neural meltdown waiting to happen. Some of the weaknesses in the brain erasing system seem to hint at an interesting story arc for the series.

Secondly, I was a bit disappointed in the ‘paranoid outsider’ agent tasked with finding out about the secretive Dollhouse. He’s ridiculed by his colleagues for getting such a lame investigation. Isn’t that a carbon-copy of Agent Ellison in The Sarah Connor Chronicles? Yawn.

Things to like

  • The strange relationship between Echo and Boyd Langton (her handler). In episode two, we got to see how the two came together and the bond of trust between them. However, Echo seems to forget Langton each time her memory is erased.
  • Laurence Dominic – the chief security officer at the Dollhouse, and a nasty piece of work. He had a disturbing conversation with Echo at the end of episode two which makes me wonder if he’s friend or foe to the ‘dolls’. Where Langton seems to have compassion and some feelings of guilt about his role, Dominic is a pretty unlikable character so far. Nice to see Reed Diamond back after his stint in Journeyman.
  • The shifting character of Echo, and wanting to get to the bottom of who she is and how she came to the Dollhouse. Was it voluntary or do they just kidnap people they like? Her flashbacks did refer to her wanting to do good, so does that imply that she went in for the good of humanity (or something)?

As I say, it’s too soon to tell with Dollhouse. Many watchers are worried that FOX’s history of canning shows before they’ve even got going. That’s my concern too – after Journeyman became a victim of the writer’s strike, just as it was getting interesting.

I think that kind of puts pressure on Dollhouse to get moving quickly, establish some interesting characters and storylines. I have no idea where the series is going at this point, but I’m looking forward to finding out. Just don’t cancel it too soon.

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