Saturday, December 12, 2009

Series of Tubes: “Dollhouse” Saving the Best for Last

During each of the past four episodes of “Dollhouse” (which have aired on the past two Fridays), I’ve had a moment when I asked myself, “where was this awesomeness when the show was teetering on the brink of cancellation?”

But on some level, we couldn’t have had these episodes of “Dollhouse” while the fate of the show was still undecided. Not only did cancellation remove any remaining creative shackles, but it also forced the powers behind the show to move forward at a breakneck speed.

Last night’s two episodes -- which, unlike last week, were actually for the most part two distinct episodes -- were again amazing, and again give us glimpses of how this show ends up at the future we saw in “Epitaph One”. Also, we finally got to see what Eliza Dushku is capable of in the role of “Echo”, and she didn’t disappoint. In these recent episodes, Echo is becoming her own defined character, and not just a series of individual imprints. It’s actually giving us the “character to root for” that so many people complained was lacking in the early episodes.

Rather than re-hash the plot of the two episodes, let me just say that these are the kind of episodes the show should have been doing from the beginning, but couldn’t do because of the re-vamped pilot. By going engagement-focused early on (something Whedon has admitted was as much his choice as the network’s), they had to do a slow build to what we’re getting now, otherwise stuff like Echo’s growth, the evil-ness of Rossum and the Alpha/Ballard rivalry wouldn’t have made sense. But that didn’t need to be the case.

Go back and watch the original pilot, the one that’s only available on the DVD/Blu-ray. Imagine if they had progressed quickly from that (which itself was practically a condensed version of the first 6-7 episodes of Season 1) to the Alpha/Echo stuff at the end of last season, then condensed the first four episodes of this season into two, then gotten into the stuff they’re doing now (where there’s so much more going on than the slow-developing stories of Season 1). That show would have been so much more enjoyable to watch than the show Dollhouse ended up being.

BUT (and here’s the big but)... that show could have only been sustainable for a single season. They would have burned out the creative arc somewhere between 17-22 episodes, including Epitaph One (the unaired season 1 finale) and Epitaph Two (this year’s series finale). Maybe, on some level, Dollhouse would have worked better as a single-season series or even a jumbo-sized mini-series, but no network on the planet would have made that commitment.

As it is, I feel like the episodes we’ve seen the last two weeks get us closer to what will be a somewhat satisfying conclusion to this series, something that was seriously in doubt just a month ago.

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