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Shows promise, but ultimately it is Dullhouse.
on 25 October 2016
It's been a long while since we watched Dollhouse (both seasons) and it has now settled in my mind as to what it actually was!
Like most series, it starts a little rickety as it establishes itself and the characters, the problem being that one of the main characters (played by Eliza Dushku) doesn't really have an established character at all since she plays a "doll" - a person who wants to escape their past by signing a contract with a shadowy corporation and having a new identity programmed in on a regular basis to satisfy "clients" who generally seem to want these dolls for seedy purposes at best. While it becomes obvious that a residual character remains after each mind-wipe, this doesn't really change much about the overall plot conceit in the short span that the series was eventually fated to play out (2 seasons) and there was a sense of it being firmly episodic sci-fi like the old Star Trek series, where the same people move between scenarios and conundrums and their characters seldom seem to change as a result of their experiences. So this felt like a bit of a regression in that regard, when the rest of the Sci-fi universe was moving on. Even so, the series eventually hits some sort of a stride, but becomes a victim of its own desire for complexity and mystery. Although "all is explained" by the close of season two, the first season pretty much rambles to a close with a sense of Whedon trying to give it some form before it gets cancelled - which to his credit he manages and gets a second season.
In itself, season 1 is watchable but disposable - it entertains for the desired timespan and is then done - leaving us to hope for more structure and diirection in season 2. This arrives, but I guess because the series was under close scrutiny and under threat of cancellation, the structure is basically the tired old theme of faceless corporations pulling the strings and another brilliant-minded character (Alan Tudyk - who was "Wash" in Firefly) intervening to do his own exposé in his own way. It was what Chris Carter did to damage the X-Files and Millennium, it has been done to death and really needed to be reinvented in some subversive way. I really thought Whedon would be the guy to pull this off, and I really hoped he'd pull through, but the second season was far weaker even than the first in its hurriedness and its sense of being written on the fly, with ideas being put out there that were not fully realised and which needed to be walked back in subsequent episodes.
As this is a review of season one, this is relevant because, if you are hoping that it is the beginning of a satisfactory story/plot arc, you'll be disappointed and may as well devote yourself to a series that failed less dismally (I'd recommend Firefly, personally, since its potential for a far broader expansion of its universe was far greater, and it ended as it began, with a great cast who far more convincingly entered their roles and played them to the end).
Untimately the fates of Dollhouse and Firefly were determined by backers without the courage to create something that might fill a niche, but would be remembered well in the final outcome. As such they both came out half-baked when they could have been so much more. Maybe Whedon should work with European backers next time? :)