“Nothing is what it appears to be.” Let’s hope these words, which were the first ones uttered on the new series Dollhouse, are true. I’ll lose interest in this show if all it ever amounts to is a weekly costume change for Eliza Dushku as she takes on a new persona then climbs back into the doctor’s chair for her treatment before doing it all again a week later. Thankfully, we all know that Joss Whedon can take a show much further than our initial impression of it. So, I like to think of the “imprint of the week” as a launching point for a greater mythology, more indepth character development, and more complex relationships.
I am a little late and backwards with the way I’ve been introduced to Dollhouse. Honestly, I forgot to watch the pilot when it first aired. I did manage to catch the second episode, and I liked it enough to go watch the pilot on Hulu. Now I am all caught up and ready to share my opinion of Joss Whedon’s latest creation. My initial reaction: I am intrigued but find the show’s pacing a bit cumbersome.
“Actions have consequences.” “What if they didn’t?” This exchange early in the pilot episode gets to the heart of one of the show’s themes. The truth is, there are always consequences. The powers that be at the Dollhouse would like to think that they are making loads of money; their clients’ wildest dreams or deepest wishes are met; their “employees” are living a good life full of dips in the pool, massages, and no worries; and that no one is getting hurt along the way. I am sure that as the show develops, this perfect setup will begin to unravel. It should be interesting to watch it unfold.
“Did I fall asleep?” “For a little while.” This is the repetitious exchange of words between Echo and Topher every time she finishes a treatment. When she goes in, she is one person. When she leaves, she is Echo the blank slate. Such is the result of what is called a “wipe” and an “imprint.” Topher wipes away the personality for hire, and the next time around he imprints a new personality onto Echo. This basic premise is quite familiar, since My Own Worst Enemy had similar technology. But aside from the manipulation of personality and identity, the two shows take mostly different paths.
The Players: Here’s a closer look at the people who bring Dollhouse to life
- Eliza Dushku as Echo – Echo is the main “doll” on which the show focuses. I look forward to learning more about Caroline, the girl Echo was before she agreed to have her personality wiped and to serve a five-year term at the Dollhouse. So far the details on what the alternative was are vague, but I’d guess she is avoiding a prison term.
- Harry Lennix as Boyd Langdon, Echo’s Handler – Langdon and Echo’s relationship is shaping up to be one of the more interesting aspects of the show. He has moral qualms about his job as a handler, but he takes his responsibility for Echo seriously. In the second episode, he was willing to risk his own life to protect her from the crazy human hunter guy.
- Fran Kranz as Topher Brink – The minute we were introduced to the Dollhouse’s resident geek, I immediately thought of Andrew from Buffy. Like Andrew, Topher seems to be having so much fun with his high tech gadgetry, that he forgets to think about the negative implications and potential destructiveness of his role. It would be nice to eventually have more insight into his character, but for now he is only around to explain the wipe and imprint process. The writers need to give his character something that makes him likable, though, because so far he just isn’t.
- Tahmoh Penikett as Paul Ballard – Ballard is an FBI agent who was assigned to the Dollhouse case. He’s the only one who takes it seriously. He has a problem with people’s personalities being wiped out so that they can be imprinted with new ones. So far we don’t really know why he is taking this case so personally. But I am just happy that Penikett found a new role so quickly after wrapping up Battlestar Galactica, on which he plays fiery and loyal Helo.
- Olivia Williams as Adelle DeWitt – I know Williams best as Bruce Willis’ wife in The Sixth Sense. She plays a more nefarious role on Dollhouse. She seems to be the one in charge, and has little to no qualms about the morally questionable nature of her business.
- Reed Diamond as Laurence Dominic – Diamond most recent tv gig was on the short-lived Journeyman. And while I hope this show lasts longer, his character is not one of the main reasons to watch. He seems to be DeWitt’s right-hand man, sometimes her henchman. In the second episode he taunts Echo, knowing that her “blank slate” personality won’t put up a fight, or even know what he’s talking about. For that reason and many others, he is definitely a villain that you want to hate and do.
- Amy Acker as Dr. Claire Saunders – It’s nice to see Amy Acker’s familiar face. She played Fred on Angel, a character who, once she grew on me, was one of my favorites. I hope her role as Dr. Saunders becomes more than just a guest starring appearance. Like Echo’s handler, Dr. Saunders seems to have mixed feelings about her involvement with the Dollhouse. If the show lasts long enough, I could see a team of rebels form, including Langdon, Saunders, Ballard, and Echo, who would work together to bring down The Dollhouse or uncover its secrets. For now, though, we’ll just have to wonder how Saunders survived her attack by Alpha.
- Since there have only been two episodes so far, it’s too soon to say for sure what the structure will be. However, so far we’ve had an “imprint of the week” interspersed by flashbacks to events in the past.
- Most notably, we’ve seen glimpses of Alpha’s escape and the damage he did. (Alpha was a “doll” who was apparently imprinted with violent tendencies and fighting abilities, and he used those to his advantage when he escaped, leaving a bloody mess and a pile of bodies behind. He seems bent on exposing the Dollhouse, but we don’t know who he is or what his motivations are yet.)
- My guess is we will continue to see flashbacks a bit at a time to slowly piece together the mystery of Echo’s past, Agent Ballard’s motivation for discovering the Dollhouse, and Alpha’s path of destruction on his way to leaving a trail of bread crumbs for Ballard.
Along the way to seeing how the main storylines will connect, we’ll continue to see Echo experience life from the perspective of many different personas. At the end of the first episode, we see her former self, Caroline, say, “I want to do everything. Is that too much to ask?” We’ll get the answer to that question and many more over the course of this season. Assuming Fox lets it finish out the season. Like any Joss Whedon show, I’ll most likely watch it as long as it lasts.