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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I'm having trouble getting into DOLLHOUSE. A while ago a reader wrote in to ask if Joss Whedon wasn't breaking the rules by having a series in which he could tell any sort of story because his central character kept changing who she was. My answer was more or less "Let's see if Joss comes up with a consistent template based on something subtler than genre."

I'm not sure he has. But I think a bigger problem is simply that the whole premise of DOLLHOUSE is that the central character ... has no character. She's a different person in every episode. And when she's not being different, she's being a blank slate -- a bit of a drip, really.

How do you fall in love with her when you don't know who she is?

The concept seems compelling. But maybe Echo's the wrong main character. Maybe the detective who's trying to find her is the main character, and she should keep showing up in his life, convinced she's someone else. He's pursuing the impossible, trying to get her to remember who she is, and it's not working. Maybe that's what the show wants to be.

But maybe Joss is a little bit in love with Eliza Dushku, so that's not going to happen, is it?



I think Echo is slowly developing as a character- each episode, we find out that there is more and more to her (and her memory) and less and less to the people around her.

EXAMPLE: In the first episode, she really did seem like a complete blank slate. In the second episode, she made a hand gesture that made it seem like she remembered things subconsciencely, and there were hints that the people running Dollhouse might be "dolls" too. In the third episode, she and Ciara had a connection post-wipe that made it seem they remembered more than it seemed.

I couldn't get into the first episode of Dollhouse, either, but the show is growing on me. Maybe the build-up is just a LOT slower than for most shows?

Maybe Whedon is hoping that if we stay long enough, or if Echo is thrown into enough jeopardy, that we'll start to care about her? Especially if there are hints that she's a "real" person in a world of fakes?

But I would watch Dollhouse regardless for the action. Love the fighting- its choreography, the locations. And its pacing- each act, there's a fight, and each fight is better/bigger than the last. Not too many shows have a lot of awesome hand-to-hand like that :)

By Blogger Sasha, at 10:48 AM  

I'm inclined to agree. The show needs to pick up fast. I think it's a great idea, and I agree with everything you said Alex. I was thinking the same thing to myself the other day.

Whedon's most interesting character by far is the detective. Eliza is showcasing great range, but the multiple personalities is really making it hard for me to care for her. I keep getting the feeling that he's holding back for a mid-season cliff hanger or something to happen at the end of season 2. I don't want her to "slowly" remember who she is after several episodes. The pilot was good enough to establish what she's been up too. Episode 2, in my opinion, is where sh*t should have hit the fan and things go very awry because her memory interferes with her mission or something.

I also worry about the blind acting crush he has on her.

He's just gotta kill the baby, so to speak.

- Andrew

By Blogger Andrew Kosarko - Screenwriter, at 11:15 AM  

I think the pace may be slower than most people are expecting after Dr. Horrible and Firefly, but Buffy took an entire season, if not 2, to really take off and find its stride.

For me, the mystery of who Echo might turn into is enough to keep me coming back, especially after the reveal of Alpha in the second episode. I connect with Echo in the same way I connect with Jason Bourne in the Bourne Identity. He doesn't show much of a personality until later in the movie, but both him and Echo are brimming with possibilities. I care about them in that I hope who they turn into is better than what they started as.

When it comes to interesting character developments, I absolutely revel in small, subtle changes over the course of whole seasons, so I'm not minding the slow buildup. I'm guessing I'm pretty much alone on that one, though.

One thing I wish they would do is make the other characters more interesting. I agree that the detective is, hands down, the most compelling of the bunch. The rest fill predictable and somewhat boring niches, even the FBI guy nobody takes seriously.

By Blogger Lyle Jantzi III, at 11:57 AM  

My take on Dollhouse:

Despite Whedon's creative interest in Dushku, the show's success hinges on the ensemble cast in the same way as any of his other shows--it takes a lot of shoe leather to really cover all of the plot lines for each character. I think only after this third episode are all of the conflicts and dynamics in place.

I expect Echo will increasingly develop more consistent character traits in spite of the episodic memory wipes. Moreover, the other driving conflicts (Alpha on the loose, Agent Ballard's hot pursuit, et cetera) will likely snowball in the same fashion. Just because they don't yet involve the central character doesn't mean they won't eventually.

I have no qualms with waiting patiently for Dollhouse to mature, but I was also disappointed by the pilot. It seems the order of the first four episodes was completely jumbled (apparently Joss's decision), a likely cause for such a lackluster introduction.

By Blogger Unknown, at 12:11 PM  

As much as I love Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku, I'm having a hard time getting over the hurdle of these well-worn plots we've been getting from DOLLHOUSE.

- A revamp of The Most Dangerous Game.

- A revamp of the trite "hero(ine) hired as a bodyguard for a celebrity" (which seems to be out of the 1970's Bionic Woman milieu) and at one point must demonstrate she can sing.

By Blogger Cunningham, at 2:48 PM  

I'm not having as hard of time as many others, but also disagree with many of these comments.
In a way, the idea of the show (and Echo's story) is a short story format, with only hints of continuing story. I just find it more interesting, although Joss could make the themes of each episode stand out a bit more.

On the other hand, the FBI agent is the least compelling character. This is in part that we begin in the middle of his story, that he knows everything about the Dollhouse. At the beginning for Episode 2, he appears at a crime scene, knowing everything that happened. Yet, we don't know how he knows, and moreover how he knows and yet can't prove anything.
Worse, there's no connection, plot or thematic, to the main story at all. It would be nice, and more compelling, if the FBI agent's journey mirrors and/or opposes what either the Handler or Echo is going through.

As for the Alpha storyline, I have good hopes for it, but it has only begun.

Overall, I'm liking, but not loving the series. Mostly for its potential. Then again, if it wasn't for Fringe (which started craptacularly, but turned things around), I probably wouldn't have given this series as much of a chance.

By Blogger SeanM, at 3:44 PM  

Working through a backlog of Fresh Air podcasts, I just found an interview with Joss Whedon from earlier this month.

He described it as a deliberate choice to start Echo as completely powerless, completely blank, the better to illustrate her transformation in coming episodes.

I have (forgive me) faith that this will come to pass, partly because the next episode deals with Echo being wiped mid-assignment, and partly because with the end of BSG, I am envisioning the coming months and years with some panic if Dollhouse doesn't succeed.

(Note: Between the end of Angel and the start of BSG, I grew so desperate for a narrative fix that I began to watch CSI regularly, which is like taking Tylenol to help with your heroin addiction.)

By Blogger Kate, at 4:35 PM  

I think the audience is being dropped into the Dollhouse just as the sh!t is about to hit the fan. Things should run smoothly in the ordinary way for a brothel of blank slates, but some confluence of the FBI agent, Alpha and Echo doing whatever it is they are going to do is soon going to throw that off (is my guess). And what will the other characters do then?

That's what I'm interested in watching. But then I'm easily amused.

By Blogger Unknown, at 6:24 PM  

The pilot that aired wasn't the pilot script I read. The pilot script was called "Echo." The one that aired was called "Ghosts."

I think Fox fucked up. The pilot should have established Echo's personality bleeding into her "blank slate state" better. It seems Fox is more interested in the procedural aspect of the show -- what escapades Echo's going to be on next. To me, that's the boring part.

I think Episode 3 started doing the whole Echo becoming her own personality thing -- the problem is, this is the central core of the concept of the show and should have been established from the get go.

By Blogger James, at 7:26 PM  

And here I thought Dollhouse was jumping too quick into the deeper plot. I kind of wanted a couple more semi-pure procedural episodes to introduce the audience to Dollhouse, the organization, and introduce the types of things that it does. Have a couple somewhat lackluster but tight single-episode plots without so much serial plot arc then slowly "bleed" the plot/character arcs when the Dollhouse "character" had been established.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 8:23 AM  

@ James:

Wouldn't have been the first time Fox has done that to Whedon. They did it with firefly too.

That company really has a reputation (with me at least) for finding great material and messing it up, and finding horrible material and making it popular.

*slams head into desk*

By Blogger Andrew Kosarko - Screenwriter, at 12:42 PM  

I'm so sold on the concept of the series, along with the crushingly dark mood of each episode, that i think i passed the "identification problem" very fast. People are told since the beginning that Echo's a special character- she's not blank- and the really interesting thing on the show is trying to capture Echo's true personality among the various aliases..
I sure hope they won't resolve it soon for the moment they do will be the moment I'll move on...

By Blogger kadgi, at 12:55 PM  

The Lex summed it up way better than me, now that i noticed it...

By Blogger kadgi, at 12:58 PM  

Check out this guy's opinion. I watched the fourth episode with this guy's words as my filter, and I felt like I got more out of it.

My lady friend has awesomely caught up with 4 seasons of BSG in the past 3 months so that we could watch the finale together, yet we dedicate more breakfast- and midnight-talk to the possibilities of Dollhouse, even though we aren't fond of the monster-of-the-week execution of the premise. We continually have spontaneous questions like, "Why do you suppose Boyd fell in with the company? What could convince Ballard to become a handler once he finds the Dollhouse? What will Echo feel like if her 'contract' legitimately concludes and she looks in the mirror to find she's aged 5 years overnight? Do you think they'll ever give Echo Caroline's personality to throw off Ballard? Who will Echo become as these shards of leftover personality coalesce over time? Will Caroline cease to be relevant as a personality to go home to?"

Would you rather have a cheesy premise with excellent execution, or an excellent premise yada yada?

By Blogger Jeff, at 2:21 PM  

Appending to my last comment (because I am a comment whore [or 'active']:

I think television storytelling is ripe for a new way to reveal the larger plot AND sell its soap week-by-week. The repeated metaphor style (a la "high school is hell") has yet to take off in Dollhouse IMO and may never -- my disbelief is suspended more easily by weekly demons in the Hellmouth petri dish than by a progression of EXTREME!! situations in an otherwise logical world. Think Angel's genre-selling line, "It's not physics, it's metaphysics."

I wonder if the tying thread of the clients (and thus the plots) may revolve around who needs an Active for what kind of situations. Maybe it'll all turn into some allegory that in today's world you have to buy whole people before you can entrust them with your most important moments? Sure would explain the midwife thing (and its price tag) a little better.

So far though, when I watch I'm ducking anvils.

By Blogger Jeff, at 3:02 PM  

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