Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Joss Whedon's Dollhouse

I've recently completed the first season of Joss Whedon's latest stab at TV sci-fi/drama, Dollhouse (thanks to Netflix). I know the second season won't be on DVD for awhile (the season finale probably won't even air until January I am assuming) and I know it's been cancelled, so there won't be a season three. That said, however, I still want to take a moment to sing the praises of a show that has been a consistent adrenaline rush (that's to say, it will be missed).

If you don't know about Dollhouse, let me give you a little plot synopsis. The titular house is an underground (literally) agency patronized by wealthy clients seeking anything another willing party might be able to provide: a fantasy, a savior, a best friend, etc. That willing party is a volunteer called an "active" whose individual memories and characteristics have been wiped in order to imprint them with whatever memories, personalities and skills their clients need. When not providing services to clients, the actives are blank slates and act much like dazed children. Each volunteer signs a five year contract to work for The Dollhouse as an active, at the end of which their own memories will be returned and they receive their compensation.

The central character of the show is an active named Echo (the name given to her by the agency; we find out later that she was originally a college student named Caroline). According to The Dollhouse's founder (played by Olivia Williams), Echo is one of their most popular actives - and it's not hard to see why. Echo/Caroline, played by Eliza Dushku (who was also the show's producer), is young, beautiful and strong. Conflict arises, however, when Echo begins to have flashes of memories from her real life and the lives she has led as an active. There is an interesting morality question that emerges - a similar one that I bet has been argued amongst advocates for and against sex work. Actually, there are several discussions that could come to light as a result of Dollhouse - the question of how much power those with technology should have and how much progress is too much? I happen to think that a drama that produces that kind of debate is worth watching.  

While it wasn't a completely flawless show (there were times when audiences would need to suspend not only disbelief but logic and the witty banter would occasionally give way to either awkward dialogue or pretentious monologue), the idea of and behind Dollhouse had so much potential - so many stories could have been told. There were already episodes in which we discovered that characters we'd been acquainted with had been actives all along - unknown to them or anyone around them - and episodes where clients were not entirely forthright regarding their plans for their chosen active. Every episode had audiences brimming with questions and holding their breaths/biting their nails through the twists thrown at them.

But it's over now and all fans have to look forward to is Season Two's completion and its release onto DVD/Blu-Ray. Unless, of course, Whedon creates a comic book afterlife for these characters as he has with characters from his other efforts - Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly to name two. I, for one, hope he does.

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