Kevin Andrew Murphy February 14th, 2009
After attending Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse panel at last year’s Comicon, I was eagerly awaiting the premiere. So were friends, and there was even a party with a showing of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog to get us in the mood for more Joss goodness. And then….
Well, while I don’t want to give any spoilers, Fox has put Dollhouse alongside The Sarah Connor Chronicles in what makes sense as a scifi block, but had promos with Summer Glau and Eliza Dushku that, if the sound were turned off, looked pretty much like 976 commercials: “SciFi girls want to talk to you. Just call them. They’re waiting….”
Regardless, there was talk at the party about how Fox had asked for revision up on revision so that the first few episodes had been turned into something other than what Joss was wanting. Something with more cop drama and explosions. But since I can’t really discuss the truth of this without spoilers, they’ll be there after the fold:
Here’s what I saw in the pilot. We’ve got this girl named Caroline (Dushku) who gets into some nameless but undoubtedly bad trouble such that she makes a Faustian bargain with Unpleastant Authority Figure Lady (hereinafter UAFL) such that UAFL gets to scrub her mind and use her body for five years, after which point UAFL puts her memories back and all the unpleasantness goes away for good.
After being brainscrubbed for UAFL by Blond Geek Boy, Caroline is rechristened “Echo” (with nice mythological resonance, but with the scifi explanation that all the dolls’ names are just military lingo for the alphabet) and goes to live in the Dollhouse, which looks rather like a fancy health spa except for the electroshock therapy sessions going on upstairs where they scrub people’s minds and download them onto old zip drives. (It’s amazing the uses you can find for old technology.)
The Dollhouse requires a great deal of suspesion of disbelief. One is that scientists with a health spa filled with childlike innocent dolls will let them just wander around anywhere they want, including into electroshock therapy sessions which Echo finds understandably upsetting and not the massage therapy she was looking for. We also see Amy Acker playing a young Geek Girl With a Significant Facial Scar Not Covered by Make-Up.
More problematic than that, the basic premise is that ludicrously rich people are paying for the dolls to be downloaded with personalities for their own personal “Fantasy Island” weekends, whether that fantasy is sex or assasination or something in between. Which is fine, except that in the ubiquitous world of cell phone cameras and MySpace pages, its not that credible that the dolls would remain anonymous for that long, especially with the high class circles they mingle in.
Which of course gets us to another of the players, the Handsome Cop Guy who’s out to track the Dollhouse down. We find out that he has a hobby of being a boxer, but I’m thinking that a few less headblows and general thuggery and a bit more sneakiness and eavesdropping and he’d already have tracked it down.
Anyway, we find that Echo’s first mission is to be fantasy motorcycle party girl for some guy who pays for the perfect weekend and the perfect girl to go with it, then finishes it off with giving her a Kay Jewelers cheap gold heart pendant which looks rather sub-par for someone in the gazillion tax bracket. Regardless, she gets her memories scrubbed, becomes Echo again, then becomes super negotiator woman to save the kidnapped daughter of some latino mob boss.
As super negotiator woman, we find that Echo has been downloaded with not only real people’s personalities, but also their disabilities. She’s now nearsighted so she can wear sexy librarian glasses and asthmatic so she can pull out an asthma puffer and have attacks at dramatically important times. This is explained by Blond Geek Boy, basically him saying that all the dolls are roleplaying game characters and you have to take some disads to get extra points to put in the stuff you want. Really. Well, those weren’t his exact words, but pretty much. I was wanting to ask him what would happen if one of the dolls was downloaded with the memories of an amputee or someone of the opposite sex. Or both. “My legs! I have legs! I can walk again! And I have breasts too…. WTF?”
I expect this is something we’re not supposed to think about too hard, or at all, but in any case, Echo is paired with Former Cop Guy (and token African-American cast member, so don’t confuse him with Handsome Cop Guy) who helps her along with the negotiations until things go south since it turns out that one of the memories that Echo was imprinted with came from some woman who was formerly a victim of Child-Abusing Kidnapper #3, which is why she became a super negotiatior, before commiting suicide and having her brain put on a zip drive by Blond Geek Boy (or maybe Geek Girl with a Significant Facial Scar).
It’s actually a cooler plot twist than it sounds, and the first episode ends with another cool plot twist of someone watching old sorority videos of Caroline in the middle of corpses of the people who possibly were the former owners of the sority videos.
In any case, that’s the pilot of Dollhouse, which has some intriguing characters, but more cops and former cops shoehorned in than any non-cop show really needs. Instead of a dogged FBI boxer, why not a reporter? It certainly worked for The Hulk, and would be easily modernized to a blogger. And I’m really not certain why The Dollhouse is employing a former cop either, except in that I strongly suspect some Fox exec got it into their head that they need to put cops in everything, so Joss compromised with a former cop.
Scuttlebutt has it that of the next two episodes, one will be better, one will be worse, then the show should hit some sort of stride. Which I dearly hope for, since I’ve enjoyed Joss’s previous shows. This? Well, there was an awful lot crammed in. But we’ll see where it goes.