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Dollhouse Series One – some thoughts (part 2) 14 August 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in TV Review.
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The show also has an excellent supporting cast including Harry Lennix (Lock in The Matrix sequels) as Echo’s reluctant handler Boyd Langton, the hilarious Fran Kranz as the technical genius behind the imprinting process and Brit Olivia Williams as Adelle DeWitt, the steely queen overseeing this Dollhouse (as we learn there are many more dotted around the globe). There are also a number of supporting dolls which, like Echo, are little more than pretty faces, though ‘Needs’ – an episode in which the dolls are given their real memories back to obtain a sense of closure from their past lives – does show promise that one day they could become fully formed characters in their own right. This series also suffers from one-too-many ‘they were a doll all along’ reveals; it was shocking the first time around, not the fifth.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the season however is episode 11 ‘Briar Rose’, featuring a guest appearance from Whedon regular Alan Tudyk as the man who supposedly designed this Dollhouse. After an intriguing but unnecessary ‘Echo as a children’s councillor’ lead-in the episode hits its stride and pulls out one brilliant moment after another, building to a climactic reveal which will leave you worshipping at the altar of Whedon once more and wondering where writing of this calibre was five hours ago.

‘Briar Rose’ sets up what should have been a spectacular finale; instead what we get is two people talking in a warehouse for 40 minutes. It’s a brave/stupid choice that fails to generate excitement at any point and unforgivably manages to destroy the good work done building up the myth around Alpha in the preceding 12 episodes. The ‘lost’ episode 13 ‘Epitaph 1’, available only on DVD in the US but airing recently on the Sci-Fi channel in the UK, proves to be a marginally better conclusion, offering a tantalising glimpse of the future in which the imprinting technology has literally led to the collapse of human civilisation. As an indication of where the series is heading ‘Epitaph 1’ is fascinating (though I fear Whedon may have played his hand a little early like if he had told us about Miranda in the last episode of Firefly) but the episode itself fails to get the pulse racing like Heroes’ stunning season one flash-forward.

Despite the very slow start we learn a lot about Echo from series one, in particular how she went from being a college student called Caroline to a doll. Along with episode 12’s disappointing cliff-hanger what this implies is that Whedon has a significant change of direction planned for subsequent series, which will hopefully result in fewer ‘missions of the week’ and more arc episodes. After sitting through the first season I’m glad that Whedon has been given a chance to iron out the problems with a second season but unless there’s a dramatic ratings boost in the States it’s more than likely that season two will be Dollhouse’s last. The show contains some of the Whedon-verses best elements and its worst, with unexpected twists and turns coming out of its ears and a very dark undertone to it all. But some dreadful characterisation, which wouldn’t look out of place in Hollyoaks (the less said about ‘Stage Fright’ the better), and uninspired scenarios almost threaten to derail the series before it can get going. Thankfully the show still has potential and at least if it all goes tits-up, we can relax – safe in the knowledge that there will be a brilliant film to look forward to in a few years time.

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