Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dollhouse is My Safe Haven

Last time I wrote about Dollhouse was after the pilot, at a time where it had promise but wasn't there yet. It took me the summer to come back to it, but having marathoned the first season in just a few days, I can say that it had a hell of a lot more than promise by the time the season ended. Dollhouse is not only completely different than anything else I've seen on TV (just try explaining it to someone who doesn't watch), but it's also easily the best first season for any Joss Whedon show (Firefly included). And as with many great shows, each episode is better than the one before it.

Although I just said how difficult it is to explain the show, the premise goes something like this: in LA, there's a facility where this secret organization imprints personalities into hot young people for whatever their clients wish. One day, any given hot young person (known as "actives" or "dolls") may be designed to give a guy a perfect date. Another day, a hostage negotiator. Or a master thief. Or a bodyguard/back-up singer.

That concept right there supplies some good procedural fun for the first 5 episodes (and as far as "mission of the week" shows go, it does legitimately do it well), but things quickly get a lot, lot better. Cause there's a number of other different things going on. First off, there's an FBI agent (BSG's Helo) out to expose the Dollhouse. For another, there's an ex-active named Alpha with a sociopathic streak who's got his eye on our girl Echo (Eliza Dushku), who, by the way, is starting to remember things between engagements. Toss in a loyal handler for Echo, a tech geek I hated at first but gradually grew to sort of like, and a sympathetic doctor (Amy Acker, better known as Angel's Fred), and you've got an ensemble worthy of a Joss Whedon show.

For awhile I've been wanting to write about Dollhouse to highly, highly recommend you watch it, but I'm also writing now having just seen the famous unaired episode, "Epitaph One," available only on the DVD set (thanks netflix!) In many ways, my feelings about the episode mirrored my feelings towards the whole first season: at first I wasn't all that into it, and by the end I couldn't be more pumped for season 2 and thankful the show got renewed.

See, "Epitaph One" is anything but a typical episode of Dollhouse. Designed as a series finale in case the show was canceled, it takes place ten years in the future, in a post-apocalyptic world where the imprinting technology has gone berserk in ways the show barely started to hint at. The episode follows a group of survivors not featured on the show (including Dr. Horrible's Penny!) as they find the Dollhouse and figure out how to find a Safe Haven (hence the title of this post) from all the craziness.

Watching a bunch of people I didn't know wandering around what seemed like the set of the new Terminator movie wasn't super fun, but once they get inside they hook up the machine and start bringing on "memories" - scenes with the real cast showing the future of Dollhouse. Some of what we see is kind of spoilery for where the show will actually get to go. But for the most part the episode does a great job teasing what's ahead - showing the barebones of the story without giving away any specifics. By the end of the episode, all major characters' fates are still unknown, and there's a sense that even Penny's story doesn't end there.

Even with only one major character featured in the non-"flashback" sections (and Echo only in a few scenes at all), it manages to blow your mind while still being a wonderfully dramatic and self-contained episode. And Dollhouse is now officially one of my most anticipated season premieres this fall. Seriously, you gotta check it out.

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