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Apr. 12th, 2009

Holy shit, this week's Dollhouse was brilliant.

And here I was already more or less convinced that the show had finally lost me after the last three episodes did very little for me, but I'm back on the cheering squad again. Also the please-show-don't-get-cancelled squad.

1.05 I thought was a very clever, if not very emotional engaging episode the way it played with the theme of the garden and man's yearning for innocence; the guy from the religious sect who needed so much to believe, to guard his hard won refuge and its purity against the world; and, almost as a parody, a perverse mirror image, the enforced state of innocence of the 'dolls', maintained not through fear of God, or guns, or an angel with a flaming sword, but by an embarrassed Topher and a clinically detached Dr. Saunders going over hours of video footage looking for untoward erections. And it doesn't work, can't work, because the story in the Bible about the Fall of Man already acknowledges that self-awareness and the ability to make decisions and take action are basic human nature, even if it's often hard and painful and we might not always want it; even if we go badly wrong sometimes. But to try to escape from that is even more dangerous, and forcibly trying to recreate such a state is bound to end in disaster. It already did for Jonas Sparrow, and the threat of the mysterious Alpha, or Echo as a potential second Alpha is hanging over the Dollhouse.

1.06 was a good episode too, despite IMO being occasionally a bit too obvious, too forceful about making it clear how wrong the Dollhouse is, just in case someone hadn't picked up on that before, because the show is best in its more ambiguous moments, and on an almost-meta level where it discusses human nature and human relationships. The conversation betweeen Ballard and the guy who hired Echo in the empty kitchen was very good, well acted, and once again, very cleverly done.

1.07 didn't do a lot for me. I guess it was supposed to be lighter, funnier, a relief after the first half of a very dark season, but it didn't really work for me.

By 1.08 I was pretty convinced that I was obviously a freak, because I liked the show better when everyone still hated it, because I found the intellectual concept far more fascinating than the majority of the characters.

So on the whole Dollhouse has been a bit of a bumpy ride, but 1.08 was definitely one of the good episodes, maybe the best so far.

Just when I was starting to mentally rant about Ballard and Melly and their complete lack of chemistry, there's this scene with her being switched out of sleeper mode and giving him her message from the Dollhouse and then being switched off again and he kissing 'Melly' because he can't let on what 'November' just told him. Ouch.

Will there anything be left of the ruins of their brief and fake relationship? That's what I'm wondering most at this point - which of the relationships will be salvaged at the end of the show, and if anything, how much of it? Or will it be just a big Where do we go from here? moment?

And then there was Adelle and 'Victor' which was unexpected and brilliant and one of the best and most heartbreaking scenes on the show so far.

I've been vaguely thinking for a couple of episodes now that Adelle DeWitt just might be the most fascinating character on the show, male or female, and this episode certainly confirmed it. In a way, you can of course see where her character is based on Lilah, and it mightn't have worked as well with a different actress (or, worse, have Stephanie Romanov play the part) but the way Olivia Williams takes the character and makes it her own, especially in this episode, makes Adelle one of the most interesting female characters I've seen in a while.

I wonder though, is it only I for whom she's becoming the emotional focus? Is this entirely unintentional? Is it because I can kind of see a fangirl crush on Olivia Williams coming on? Or because she's one of the best actresses on the show?

Because I'm going to say something heretic here, but Eliza Dushku isn't so very good, IMO. I don't really understand much anything about acting beyond when I like it, so I can't really put my finger on it, and I'm probably being unfair, but but she just doesn't seem have to have... quite the range you need for Echo? Sometimes it works, sometimes she just doesn't convince me at all. And often I'm not seeing Echo, or Caroline, but Eliza, which is why I don't think bringing her into this show was such a good idea to begin with; there's too much Buffyverse baggage. I had the same problem with James Marsters playing Captain John on Torchwood - when someone has played such an iconic part on a very popular TV show IMO it's problematic to bring them over into another show, especially when there are any similarities or connections at all. The characters never start with a completely clean slate. Even if the actor is very good and very versatile, for me it's almost always a tiny crack in the fourth wall.

The problem with the show for me always was, and still is, to an extent, that - the Dollhouse staff aside - it's so hard to get a grip on any of the characters; to like, or even identify with any of them. Ballard would have been the obvious candidate at first as the supposed good guy trying to rescue Caroline and bring down the Dollhouse, but I can't even find a lot of sympathy for him. Melly wasn't exactly interesting, but for a while it looked like she was intended to be the 'normal' character one could identify with and who'd offer an outsider perspective, a bit like Gwen on Torchwood. But JW quickly deconstructed this possibility, and along with it her relationship with Ballard, which, to be honest I found neither interesting nor convincing before, so didn't regret much when it ended.

JW isn't making it easy for his viewers, that much is certain.

And the 'dolls'? I find the glimpses we get of the original Caroline occasionally emerging behind Echo fascinating, but it's the process, the idea that fascinate me, not the person, and what we learned about her life so far I found boring. Even 1.08 couldn't get me interested in any of the people hidden behind the actives, if what we were seeing were their real personalities at all.

On the whole we're still seeing the show very much from the inside perspective and the most interesting and best explored characters are the Dollhouse personnel. Langton is maybe the overall most likeable character, but the fact remains that despite his constant criticism he keeps working for the Dollhouse. But he losing Echo, sincerely regretting the loss of a relationship that was never real to begin with and only based on imprinting was another of the genuinely touching moments in this episode.

And there's the leitmotif again - the onesidedness of relationships, how we can never really know or understand each other. To quote a different show, all love is unrequited - although in this case it begs the question, is it even real, and does it matter whether it is or not?



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 12th, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC)
This week was the first time I watched a full episode of Dollhouse. I was lost until I went to Wikipedia and looked up the plot of the series.
Apr. 12th, 2009 01:25 pm (UTC)
I can imagine... It's certainly very different from everything he's done before.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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