Did I Fall Asleep? Observations on Dollhouse Season One

Shit TV sci-fi is great.

It’s also shit.

*   *   *

It’s also great.

*   *   *

I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of endings — of codas, of climaxes, of twists; Alias series two, A Handful of Dust, Zabriskie Point, Dil Se … anything that confounds expectation or convention, anything that has a transcendental quality in relation to the main bulk of the text.

The last episode of season one of Dollhouse takes such a jump; it’s a standalone piece a million years in the future, running at a million times the pace of the preceding eps, with a dozen times less inhibition. It comes as the breath of fresh air that all narrative moving image ought to be.

The end is great, but you really get there first.

It’s true, there are certain likable strands of Dollhouse — Mellie, Alpha — but there are both some base problems with the show and some specific cases in which the Dollhouse is clearly located within the snowman.

*   *   *

So Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse is a show in which a secret underground corporation — that titular toytown — wipes the minds of its operatives before sending them out on rescue missions//booty calls, reprogrammed specifically for the case. Moody plum Eliza Dushku heads up the cast as ‘Echo’ — no, she’s not a border collie — the no-nonsense ‘active’ being hunted by Tahmoh Penikett’s distractingly dire FBI agent.

So you’re probably thinking, ‘Dollhouse’ — Joss Whedon — Eliza Dushku — this show must have a lot to say about powerful women.

You said showerful...

Sorry — sorry — no, Dollhouse is a veritable essay on women being mistreated as objects.

...you said... showerful...

Anyway, let’s get to the real fun stuff.

*   *   *

Exhibit A:

In the third episode of the show — the third episode — the unthinkable happens. Remember in Buffy when there was a band introduced in the Bronx and you felt really weird, like you were being subjected to product placement or the results of a really long casting couch? It’s like making the diegesis do things it doesn’t want to. It’s sick and it’s wrong.

Now imagine the state of affairs several years later. Not only is there a musician as a central character — in the third episode — but the lead (who is also the producer) goes undercover as a backing singer — a backing singer — for said musician character. In the third episode.

Things that should never have been allowed: No. #1

Lol, don’t worry, I made that all up. Dollhouse is great. Joss Whedon only makes good calls. The Dush doesn’t sing.

Here’s what really happens:

Things that should never have been allowed: No. #1.5

Psych! It gets worse; they have a sing-off.

In the third episode.

Blah de blah, they sing some songs, nothing’s wrong here, it turns out the musician does drugs — which it turns out are bad — and that she was hiring her stalker all along:

Fake Fylenhaal

Echo herds them all to safety and goes home to the Dollhouse, where she promptly gets herself wiped.

*   *   *

Exhibit B:

Toward the end of the series we encounter evidence that not only have the ideas run out — worldwide, it seems — but that reason has become equally thin.

The leader of the Dollhouse, played by Olivia Williams (the mind boggles, but is thankful), transplants her recently-deceased gentry friend into Echo’s bod so that she can solve her own murder.

*   *   *

Exhibit C:

And finally, here’s the — wait, wait — wait —

*   *   *

To solve her own murder.

*breathing exercise*

OK. I’m OK. So she goes to her own funer-

*breathing exercise*

So sh-

*breathing exercise*

-and she tracks down her killer. She reaffirms her love for her toyboy (turns out it wasn’t him) and en route we have a thousand conversations about horses.

Episode 10: Welcome to Horse Planet

Yes, actual horses.

*   *   *

Exhibit C:

And finally, here’s the best — and worst — part of — and best — series one of Dollhouse. It’s absolute genius. It’s… just… it makes me so very happy…

In full circle we’ve come from the last episode to the very first scene of the show. The Dush still has her brains, and is in conversation with Olivia Williams’ Dollhouse boss. She’s signing herself up for the programme, but she’s somewhat reluctant.

Olivia Williams tries to talk her round.

“I’m offering you the chance to start again. A clean slate.”

Echo retorts.

*breathing exercise*


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