Sunday, December 06, 2009

Series of Tubes: “Dollhouse” 2-Part Reaction

First up, I have to confess something: as excited as I was for the return of “Dollhouse”, I didn’t watch the episodes live on Friday, because they conflicted with a Cavaliers game (check out LeBron2010.info for my thoughts on that).

Then, after I did watch the episodes yesterday, I really wanted to share my thoughts on them, but instead I got completely caught up watching a ridiculously exciting day of college football, so I had to save my thoughts for today. In that time, io9.com posted a recap that pretty much echoed my unpublished thoughts (no pun intended). 

Still, I want to say some things about the two-part episode that was easily the highlight of the aired run of “Dollhouse” so far (again, I’m excluding “Epitaph One” from any comparisons).

I loved these episodes (and for all the crap we’ve given Fox about its mistreatment of the show, airing these together on one night was a great choice, even if that wasn’t the network’s motivation for doubling up on “Dollhouse). I have to admit that I did not see the twist that Sen. Perrin was actually a doll, and it was so inspired that I didn’t mind that yet another seemingly real person turned out to be a doll (a technique that was over-used in Season 1, when Victor, November and Whiskey were all presented to us as real people before being revealed as dolls).

Also, it helped that Perrin wasn’t a complete fabrication as a doll. The D.C. Dollhouse had taken the real person -- a partying washout who came from a storied political family -- and imprinted a modified personality on him. This seems to be yet another step toward the future we saw in “Epitaph One”. Previously on “Dollhouse”, we were always led to believe that you couldn’t imprint an existing mind, but obviously that’s no longer the case. Additionally, Topher created a device that can disable a doll remotely -- a handheld version of the technique he used in the serial killer episode earlier this season -- again showing how this tech that was once confined to these houses is now spreading.

What I found most interesting though is that the L.A. Dollhouse is being set up by the creators of the show as a rogue element within Rossum, finally establishing a group to root for in the show aside from the constantly changing dolls. The io9 article touches on this, but had this been the setup from the get-go (or, more realistically, the set-up that developed halfway through season 1), this show might have worked better. Remember, Joss Whedon’s “heroes” aren’t always the good guys. Angel was a vampire who was once the most murderous creature on the planet. “Firefly” centered around a band of thieves (well-meaning thieves, but thieves nonetheless). “Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog” actually cast the villain as the antagonist. Really, the only Whedon creation that had true “white hats” as heroes was Buffy, so it’s clear he’s willing to work in murky waters. Adelle, Topher and Boyd have become worth rooting for this season, because it’s becoming clear that despite their compromised morals, they’re not quite as evil as their bosses (or, to quote Echo, when referring to the D.C. Dollhouse, “I think her bad guys are badder than my bad guys.”).

While Adelle and Topher have done their own set of horrible things over the first season and a half, it was clear in Friday’s episodes that they’re not on the level of their D.C. counterparts. As the head of the D.C. house, Ray Wise actually seemed to revel in his evil (not a stretch, considering his last role was as the Devil, in “Reaper”, another show cancelled before its time), and Summer Glau’s Bennett went completely off board with her own evil plot -- a nice contrast to when Topher disobeyed Dollhouse orders with positive intent.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the AMAZING job done by Enver Gjokaj (Victor), who was imprinted with Topher and did a spot-on impression of Fran Kranz throughout the episode. He doesn’t get much screen time, but whenever he does, he tends to steal the show. When you see an episode that has Eliza Dushku essentially being Faith from “Buffy”, and Wise and Glau playing characters incredibly similar to the most recent characters they played, Gjokaj stands out for his versatility.

Still, it’s tough to watch episodes like this and not feel bittersweet. Sure, they’re great, and they even show how great the show could be on a whole, but we know that’s never going to happen, since there’s only seven episodes left.

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