Wednesday, May 6, 2009

FORUM/OPINION: The Merits and Greatness Of Dollhouse...


So, I don’t get much time to watch a ton of television. However, when you don’t have much homework (thank you Journalism Major), and free television (thanks Campus View), you can’t help but get addicted to a few shows. One of those shows happens to be reaching its season finale this Friday.

Dollhouse is the newest television show from Buffy/Firefly creator Joss Whedon, and stars Eliza Dushku. It tells the story of Echo (Dushku), a young woman, and the newest member of a special group called “Dolls”. Dolls are people who have been wiped clean of any previous personality quirks and memories, allowing for the leaders of the special group to imprint her and the other dolls with special skills, to fit specific jobs. Ranging from memories, skills, and even languages, the technology allows for each doll to be set perfectly for any specific engagement. The skills have been taken from a group of real people, and the dolls are held in a special building, known as the “Dollhouse”.

Hunting down these people is special agent Paul Ballard, who despite the mocking from his cohorts, is determined to burn The Dollhouse down. To only add more problems for the leader of The Dollhouse, Adelle Dewitt (Olivia Williams), is the newly rouge doll, Alpha.

Alpha is the closest thing that this show gets to a villain, and due to what is known as a “composite event,” all previously implanted personalities resurfaced at one time, and in his escape, he took the lives of many dolls as well as staff members. However, he decided to let Echo live, and has been subsequently sending packages to our hunter, Ballard, pertaining to Echo. Posing as the Dollhouse’s architect, he leads Ballard to the Dollhouse, and leaves with Echo. That is where we sit at as I write this.

When discussing this show, as it is with most of Whedon’s work, the overarching theme is the most interesting point.

Over the span of the series, it has been a strong thriller in the style of “The Most Dangerous Game” (The Target), a basic kidnapping film (Stage Fright), or even a small scale investigative drama with hints of film noir-esque dialogue (Echoes), there is always one thematic element that runs through this film.

The human memory is the most important thing about the person.

Over at WatchingDollhouse, there is a brief post about a certain statement made by Adele Dewitt:

“An active is the truest soul among us”.

How can this be? Are we in a world so screwed up and drunk off of technology that being wiped clean of all memories is what we see as true, or is it simply that a blank human is the most bluntly true organism that we can relate to?

This is the main theme that this startling show attempts to convey. It’s an interesting premise, a solid cast, and a mixed bag of results.

There are two specific episodes, Stage Fright and Needs, from this season in which you see the dichotomy of this series.

Stage Fright, the third episode from this season, is the epitome of what makes this show fall flat. The story is a bit lame; Echo goes undercover as a backup singer to protect volatile pop star Rayna Russell from an obsessed fan, and while it was a fun episode to sit through (mainly because you get to see more of Eliza Dushku than you do for the rest of the series), but it’s a really haphazard episode.

The premise, while allowing for an interesting comment on the human condition, also plays up the fact that it can basically be called the Echo Variety Hour. She goes in and out of a horrible New York accent, the script is a bit stiff, and it was played up as a bland and sort of standard action thriller with a kidnap element, which isn’t nearly as interesting as shows on the opposite end of the spectrum, such as Needs.

Needs, my favorite episode of the series so far, is the polar opposite of episodes such as the pilot or the aforementioned Stage Fright. It is a much smaller episode scale wise, as it plays primarily within the Dollhouse, but not only does it bring great performances, but instead of sticking to Echo, it plays up the series more ensemble type of storyline. It gives each of the dolls a bit of time on screen, and while it may seem like a lame way of getting back-story for the dolls, one thing Whedon has always been able to do is to get back-story in ways other than obnoxious voice over’s and flashbacks. Wither it be introducing a new member (Harry Lennix as Boyd, Echo’s “Handler”) allowing for the discussion of the technology used and the back-story of the Dollhouse, or specifically in Needs, giving each doll a reason for having a sudden burst of memory, I give Whedon a lot of respect for his skilled way of getting back-story.

The main thematic point of this story is that the main reason dolls have sudden spurts of memory is that the people being used have a specific need for closure. Wither it be a mother who lost her child, or a woman who needs to set things free, the need for closure is so strong that no amount of memory wiping can clear these people’s souls. This is a distinct turning point, as it looks like this may be the reason for Alpha’s sudden rage, and also him leaving Echo intact, as well as him sending information on Echo to Agent Ballard.

On a smaller, more straightforward level, the series, while a mixed bag, features a really great cast. Including Harry Lennix, Olivia Williams, and a great performance from newcomer Fran Kranz, where some of the episodes may falter, this cast always brings their A game. Where this series succeeds is in episodes in which equal time is given to the supporting cast, particularly when equal time is given to the dolls, and their stories. In many of the episodes, Echo is the primary focus (which is understandable, as she is the lead), and it really brings out Dushku’s flaws. She’s really great at playing the “bad girl”, and while she’s not bad, she just doesn’t really hold her own, when the brunt of the story is thrust upon her gorgeous shoulders.

However, much of the flaws in her performance are saved in the interchanges between her, and her handler, Boyd (Lennix). In most series, the handler and the doll would have a much more sexual or intimate relationship, but something Whedon has been able to get across is a much more platonic relationship, similar to the relationship between Buffy and Giles from Whedon’s famous series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The pacing to the series is great, and while it does switch genre pretty much every week, as we are nearing the end of the season, the show is getting to be much more lyrical in its pacing, and much more liquid in its plot. It’s sticking to action, and while there are hints of other genres, it’s not as jarring as in early episodes. It started off switching from a chase style episode, to a kidnapping picture, to a heist show, whereas it is starting to stay in a realm of action thriller, making the plot much more apparent and much more viewer friendly.

We are 11 episodes down, and I hope that this little write up will intrigue at least one person to maybe sit down and catch the season finale. It’s not an easy watch, at least for a new viewer, but with a brief look of its Wikipedia page, and a quick read of this, I think you will be able to get the most of it all. You will have to do some work while watching. This is not a show to throw on while doing a Sudoku.

The Dollhouse Season Finale will air this Friday at 9 pm. The entire season is currently available on Hulu for free viewing.

Come back later for more news, notes, and hopefully another write up, only this time, it will be on Fringe as it will be hitting it’s finale this upcoming Tuesday.

Go see something good!

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