Monday, March 16, 2009

Dollhouse Demise

We are big Joss Whedon fans here in Columbia (Maryland). Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a great show that slid into being a really good show. The first three seasons really are some of the best TV ever made. Angel is the rare TV show that got better and better as it went along. Firefly was cruelly cut down in its youth, before it fully gelled into greatness. It was certainly the most detailed and well thought out vision of the future ever on TV.

Naturally, we were excited about Dollhouse, his new show on Fox. The premise is intriguing: a secret company that provides made-to-order people who can fulfill your romantic fantasy, negotiate a tough kidnapping situation, crack an "impenetrable" safe and steal fabulous art, or anything else someone might want a person to do. The company is called Dollhouse and the "Dolls" are men and women who have no personal identity and are given new composite identities based on the clients needs or wants. After the job is done, the identity is wiped until a new job comes up.

The pilot was okay; the following episodes have been a steady decline. Normally, it takes a while to get to know all the characters and what is going on. With Buffy, Angel and Firefly, the early episodes had interesting premises that helped to fill out information on the characters and the situation they are in. So far, that has not been the case with Dollhouse. Interesting premises have led to let downs. But some background first.

Eliza Dushku plays Echo, a young and troubled girl who signs up to be a Doll under mysterious circumstances. We then follow her on her various assignments. Naturally, for the show to be interesting, the identity imprinting and wiping has to be faulty in order to stir things up. Several hints are given that she remembers things that should have been wiped and the viewer wonders if she is some sort of double agent infiltrating the Dollhouse to bring it down.

In one episode, she's imprinted as a safe-cracker but then her safe-cracking identity gets wiped while she's in the safe so she doesn't know how to get out. The other safe-crackers (who don't know about Dollhouse, they were just hired for the job) eventually have a shoot out with the security of the building. One of the safe-crackers has a smoke bomb which he throws and he and Echo duck around a corner and escape. Interesting premise, lame ending.

Another episode has Echo hired as a bodyguard in secret for a pop singer who is so famous that she has a stalker fan who threatens to kill her and she herself has a lot of problems with being famous. It's an idea seen with a lot of real female pop stars and celebrities. They become self-destructive to the point of being suicidal. Which is what this episode is about, but there is nothing new or original in her character. Bad writing lets the viewer down.

Which brings us to last week's episode, "True Believer." In it, Echo is imprinted as a blind woman who has a sincere religious faith and is sent into a Waco-like compound of religious zealots. Their leader has led other cults under other names and was supposed to be in jail for life but got out on a technicality after two years. Some of the people in this compound were in another compound in Texas that had a meltdown. It is unclear if he led that compound or just led some of them out to his new compound. At any rate, they follow him more or less blindly.

The ATF uses Echo (who's been given some sort of eye-implant camera, just go with it) to gather evidence to allow them to go in and take out the leader. She does that; the leader assumes that she is a mole and slaps her around some. She can suddenly see again after being slapped, which she attributes to a miracle. The leader comes to accept this and decides to burn down the building all the people are in while Echo reads from the Bible about the three men in the fiery furnace from the prophet Daniel. In Daniel, the three man are unharmed by the flames through a miracle of God. The leader claims another miracle will happen here--the flames will protect the true believers and consume the bad guys. People start coughing and choking; he reassures them that they will be safe. Echo clonks him over the head and tells everyone to get out to save their lives. They believe her and rush out to safety with the ATF.

A lot more goes on in the episode, but I think the significant stuff has been covered. See, the episode is a metaphor about Joss Whedon. No, he is not Echo, infiltrating the compound of bad TV and leading his fans to safety. Rather, he is the cult leader and we his fans are blindly following him, waiting for the show to get better, even though we are choking on bad scripts and some really mediocre dialogue. We are being told to stay in the burning house. Angie and I have decided to flee for our lives. Join us and live!

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