Dollhouse: The End
It seems fitting that I should start the New Year (and my new intention to blog more regularly) off with a review of a series that I previously foretold would be cancelled…in it’s first season.
Well, it was cancelled, about a quarter of the way into Season 2, and last night was the final episode, a sequel to Epitaph 1. Now that the show is forever off the air, and there will be no other Dollhouse comic books or webisodes or any other media element to tantalize, I feel it’s only right to express my full sentiments about the show.
It wasn’t great. It had great promise but I found myself only moderately attracted to it’s premise. And several times had to force my way stubbornly through many episodes when I simply wanted to turn the TV off. The writing was spotty at times, and some dialogue felt absolutely grating – especially in the episode last night with the utter terrible example of future speak, “Log off!” Ouch, that one elicited a pained chuckle.
What really sells a Whedon show is the relationships between characters, and how they interact and grow together/apart. So what was ultimately very disappointing about the last half of Season 2 was the pacing. OK – I get that he was trying to tell the story with only six or eight episodes. I don’t begrudge the creators, writers, actors that need and desire, but I’m not sure it worked.
I’ve never really seen a series DO what Dollhouse did – tell the whole story in such a short time span. And now that I”ve seen it done…I’m not sure I want it. I’m not sure I like it.
At what point does the desire to see what becomes of the characters – their transformations over time – start to un-tether you from the characters? And when you see what awesomeness you are missing because of the rushed story lines (as you realize that each episode is like a full season of amazing) – there is definitely a painful pang.
It’s a bit of S&M from the writers to the hardcore audience – and almost feels like rubbing it in our faces that we are missing so much. It’s like we’re the delinquent parent that is only dropping in on our kids once every year or so – learning about everything we missed, and checking out again.
Checked out is a good phrase to describe how I’ve felt over the last few episodes. Especially when Boyd went turn coat. It was hard for me to really get on board with that sudden shift in character, and my interest drifted away after that. For me – Boyd was the center of morality for the show. The only one who truly seemed grounded in real life. I didn’t get to really see his change, and so his death and betrayal felt bitter and hollow.
After suffering through the last agonizing spasms of five seasons worth of story telling crammed into the latter half of a second season…I would have to say I’ll take the Serenity route any day. A heart-warming episode that leaves you with warm fuzzies for the characters.
Epitaph One – while set in a brutal future society – was the ending that Dollhouse truly deserved. Which makes Season 2 and it’s twists all the more bitter.
Honestly – I’m not sure what my emotions and feelings are about the end to Dollhouse. It took awhile for me to like it. And once it really started getting good…it started getting bad again because of the sonic boom storytelling. Again – it’s hard to fault the production team, who were giving the audience what it thought they wanted. It just turned out to be NOT what this particular viewer wanted.
Perhaps the best final statement of a show is an under-statement. Perhaps it is NOT telling the whole story – but perhaps leaving the audience with the impression that the characters are quite capable of dealing with their futures. Maybe killing off one or two of the actors, as is the signature Whedon way, but allowing the other characters to exist in the sense of assuredness that they are prepared to meet the mysterious future.
I was left feeling strangely hollow by the death of Paul Ballard – was touched by Alpha gifting him to Caroline, but for the most part unmoved. The death of Topher and Boyd were more impacting, which perhaps has more to do with acting. I’m not sure though – Paul never felt like a character fully explored. We never really got into his head in anyway to understand what drove him – outside of pure obsession, perhaps. And obsession is not that flattering. In a way – the love story between Echo and Boyd was more poignant and heart breaking. We were never quite sold on the Paul/Echo love fest.
Just as we were never quite sold on Caroline. And as the main character of a show – we NEED to be sold. While Dushku wasn’t always able to pull it off – she had some real moments. Denying those to her is dishonest. But Dushku was best as Echo…and Echo…didn’t have enough time to develop as a real person. She felt like superhuman and a bit cold – like Superman. My theory on Superman – it’s hard to emotionally rally behind someone who so far surpasses the humanity around them. Echo had a hard time connecting with people in that she was so far advanced from them, which is perhaps why the Paul/Echo relationship never really cohesed. The only person she was connected to on any level was Boyd – as her handler. She proved on many occasions that she would risk her life for him. Whereas Caroline seemed smarmy and excessively idealistic. There was no good middle ground between Echo and Caroline for us to identify with as an audience.
What Dollhouse did well? Establish it’s world. Joss is amazing at creating realities and filling them with rich characters, ideas and names. The lingo of the show was so well established by episode two that the vocabulary to the audience rolls off the tongue naturally (which sets up future speak to be a rather poor contrast). Wedge, handler, tech, attic, active – for fans like my husband and myself – these are concepts and words we can banter with easily. Whedon-phrases are like the language spoken between twins, lovers or best friends – while the world at large doesn’t understand their meaning precisely – those in the know CANNOT ignore their implications.
Overall – the ending of Dollhouse sounds another chime for me in the death knell of television as the medium in which wonderful stories will be told. And it resounds pretty hollowly for the fate of shows highlighting female leads, female writers and producers. The Hollywood trend of leaving women out in the cold is also being echoed on the small screen.
The only truly unique and captivating comedic/dramatic stories are now for the most part being told on Cable. Or the internet. Outside of the crappy reality TV I’m forced to resort to more and more frequently, I am honestly hard pressed to get truly excited about much other television programming anymore.
Dollhouse – even with it’s hit or miss writing and wobbly lead actress – was one of those shows I was truly excited about tuning into one a weekly basis. And it’s sad to see it go.