Couch Pumpkin: Sofa Adventures
News and reviews for the big and small screens…where potatoes fear to tread.

Life in plastic – Dollhouse 1.1 and 1.2

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Eliza Dushku as Echo

Dollhouse is Joss Whedon’s new show – and eagerly anticipated by his legions of fans. Whilst I do not count myself as a devotee, I have enjoyed some of his work (Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, the episodes of Firefly I have seen so far, and Buffy to some extent, although I lost track of it in later seasons). I also have a massive…thing for heroines. My heroine du jour is Kara Thrace, whom I adore wholeheartedly, but another action babe that captured me in recent years was Dark Angel’s Max Guevara. So these two things combined made me quite excited about Dollhouse, which features Buffy alumna Eliza Dushku as Echo, an ‘Active’ who can be imprinted with various personalities by her handlers at the shady Dollhouse. (spoilers below)

I stumbled across the original script for the pilot a couple of months ago and enjoyed it thoroughly. Unfortunately Fox got cold feet and demanded rewrites, I suppose because they thought some of the elements were confusing. I definitely think this contributed most of the problems of the opener – too heavy handed in its exposition, too intent on showcasing the strengths and weaknesses of the dolls. It was slow to begin with, although once the kidnap story got underway I became more involved. Eleanor Penn was a strange character in some ways, especially as she was so easily undermined by the flaws inherent in her imprint (asthma and trauma from being kidnapped herself). It was also a weird engagement to choose for the first episode, because it really highlighted the flaws in buying in an imprinted doll rather than a real negotiator! I enjoyed the episode overall, but definitely preferred the original script, which tied the plot hooks together (Ballard and Caroline particularly) much better.

In comparison episode two was fantastically good fun. I was genuinely shocked when the seemingly good natured huntsman turned on Echo/Jennie, and again when the ranger was in on the plan. Langton is becoming my favourite character and I loved the developing fatherly relationship with Echo. I think he has a secret or two in his past, or he wouldn’t be compromising his values to work for the DH, so I hope he gets a good backstory. I liked the way that Echo/Jennie was able to fight against her programming and protect her handler. You got the sense that her imprint was just a normal girl who liked sports and wanted a fun weekend with a good looking rich dude, and suddenly had this horrific game forced on her – her strength wasn’t supernatural like Buffy’s or Max’s, but that of a threatened woman who wasn’t going to give in. The Alpha storyline is intriguing and I suspect he may be trying to encourage her to ‘composite’.

The series is certainly not perfect. It is a little hard to warm to Echo when she is a different person from week to week. Many viewers have also expressed concern that the DH basically prostitutes its Actives, or worse, forces them to be raped mentally and physically. I can’t say I am overly disgusted by this, because I think Caroline did consent to everything (although we don’t know yet how far she was coerced). Furthermore I think we are meant to be critical of the DH. Ultimately I see a Truman Show type situation developing, with Echo realising how important her freedom is. I do hope they go on to show male Actives in a variety of roles, including sexual engagements, to redress the current gender imbalance. I also hope that a wider range of engagements is explored – how about a grieving parent using an imprint of their child just for one day? A dying person getting their last wish? An interfering father hiring Echo to be his lonely daughter’s best friend? There’s a lot of scope beyond ‘the perfect date’ or ‘super soldier woman’. I have found myself looking forward to the next episode,however, so I will probably keep watching. I think there is great potential, if only Fox will let it show!

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One Response to “Life in plastic – Dollhouse 1.1 and 1.2”

  1. I’m glad to see that you see the potential in the series, whereas so many others are writing it off already.

    I also agree that the Pilot seemed flawed, and you could tell Fox screwed this one up again just like they screwed up the first episode of Firefly (in that they aired the second episode first, then only showed the actual pilot episode once the series had been cancelled).

    So, hopefully, all the current bugs get redressed and we get something that can grow out of what is already an interesting start.


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