The man never ceases to amaze me.
The skinny on Dollhouse is that it is the story of a group referred to as “actives” that has their personalities wiped clean…thus becoming blank slates…then having alternate personalities imprinted in their mind in order to become the ultimate fantasy for those able to afford this escort service.
On a deeper level, the show is entirely about evolution and how a person can grow from nothing.
In the first episode, we meet Echo (Eliza Dushku), the most requested doll in the Los Angeles dollhouse. She begins with sex, a motorcycle race, and dancing before her handler calls her in for a “treatment”. Based on her companion’s reaction to her leaving, we quickly discover that she is little more than a glorified hooker to him.
As the show continues, we meet two more regular actives in Sierra (Dichen Lachman) and Victor (Enver Gjokaj). We meet Echo’s handler, Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix), an ex-cop who does his best to protect her. We meet Topher Brink (Fran Kranz), the brilliant morally corrupt scientist who sees the actives as playthings rather than people. We meet the FBI agent, Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) who is attempting to prove the actual existence of the Dollhouse. We also get to know the dark figure that is the head of the Los Angeles Dollhouse, Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams). There are other characters, of course, but these are the credited stars of this vehicle along with Mr. Whedon. About the only one I would mention is Alpha (Alan Tudyk) played by one of my favourite actors…ironically, also in Joss Whedon’s TV show Firefly and film Serenitywhich I will discuss next week.
As the show goes on, it is shown that Echo is never quite the blank slate that she is supposed to be after each engagement is wiped from her memory.
The show only was given a 26 episode run, unfortunately. 24 of those would be “regular” episodes as the group explores what happens as the human brain gets wiped and re-written over and over again. Two episodes however, Epitaph 1 and 2, delve into the long term ramifications of what such a technology would do about ten years further into the future turning our known world into a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
Looking back on the show, I was already a fan of Harry Lennix and Alan Tudyk, but the show has added two new actors to those I will keep eyes on with Fran Kranz and Enver Gjokaj. Enver Gjokaj as Victor and Fran Kranz as Topher Brink steal the show on more than one occasion…at one point, in particular, Victor gets imprinted with Topher’s personality and it is the funniest point of the entire series…if one watches the extras afterward, apparently both actors were asked if Fran Kranz had his voice dubbed over Enver for those scenes.
The first season does leave one feeling slightly empty as the main character, Echo, is still pretty much a blank slate…and I will also admit that I do not care for Eliza Dushka’s perfomance. In addition, Tahmoh Penikett may be a fellow Canuck, but I found his portrayal to be cardboard and it was as though I was watching Helo from Battlestar Galactica all over again.
The second season, however, the writing gets a boost…and about half way through it rises again specifically with an episode that explains the origins of the doll, Sierra.
The show is not Firefly…again, I will address Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity next week…but it is a damned good show. The show, however, had a similar problem that Firefly did in that it requires too much thought for regular network television in the US to work. Generally, people do not like to have to think about their entertainment and thus, this show was simply too much for the average viewer to swallow.
It is easy to see why this concept did not sell, but it is the type of material that my brain cannot eat enough of. Conspiracy, action, mystery and comedy…and, as with all of Whedon’s projects…not all is as it seems.
The one place this series does beat Firefly, however, is that it has a chance to finish. The show’s cancellation was handed down prior to the final two episodes and, thus, gave the writers a chance to finish the story lines with some satisfaction.