Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dollhouse 1.02: The Target

I know I’m really late to the party on this one. I watched the first half of Dollhouse on Friday night before going to bed, but had a really bad headache and couldn’t finish it (and, to be honest, it was kinda scary!) Then I typically stay off the blog for the weekend for the most part, and I took yesterday off, and shopped. So here I am, probably saying things everyone else has been saying already.

There were a few comments about the opening theme music last week, and after two weeks of this, I have to say, I completely agree. I really dislike it. I dislike the music, the images, everything. I miss the soulful cello that opened the Angel theme song, or that creepy organ music and loud guitars of the Buffy theme. I was never a huge fan of the Firefly theme (please don’t hate me, Browncoats!!) but it worked perfectly with the series, and gave it exactly the feeling it needed. This song? I dunno… and shots of Eliza seductively pulling up her stockings just aren’t doing it for me, and seem to be sending out the wrong message.

What is that message? I really think something that will need to be addressed on the show (SOON) is that Echo is basically a highly paid prostitute. And I’m uncomfortable with that. Her mind is being frakked with, her body is being used, her emotions are played with. I’m hoping this can only go on for a few more episodes before she starts taking control of her life. But then again, that’s probably the point of the show. Joss could be sending out a powerful message about women as objects, and while we sit at home on our couches, cringing that she’s being chased through the woods as a human target by some psychopath with a bow and arrow, this could be a statement about women in general. But what that is, I haven’t quite figured out yet.

I don’t want to become that person that a few non-Buffy viewers have accused me of being on this blog. I’ve gotten some posts from people asking what is wrong with Buffy fans, that we’re just lemmings who will follow Joss Whedon to the ends of the earth. Well, it’s because he created Buffy. He moved us in ways we’d never been moved before, certainly not by a television show. He made me cry, he made my chest and stomach ache, he made me laugh, he changed the way I talk. (You know you ALL say, “Oops, my bad” when you do something wrong now… admit it…. I turn all sorts of nouns into adjectives by adding a y on the end of them.) Then Angel got off to a bit of a bumpy start, but he ripped my heart out, threw it onto the floor, and laughed an evil laugh over my heartbreak as Wesley slipped deeper and deeper into himself, as Fred was eviscerated, as Gunn had his heart torn from his body, as Doyle died. And then Firefly came along. I wasn’t as emotionally attached to it in the beginning, mostly because of Fox (DAMN YOU, FOX) refusing to allow me to get attached by botching up the episode order. But now it’s a rich, deep, beautiful series. One that we all wish was a LOT longer.

And then came Dollhouse. I haven’t been this excited about a TV show since… jeez, I don’t know when. And the first episode had a lot of potential. The second episode was really good – my heart was pounding as Echo was running through the woods being hunted, and her handler was losing the signal in his van. But I’m already hearing people saying they don’t get it, they gave it the two episodes and that’s it, and they’re outta here.

Whenever I start a newbie onto Buffy, I give them season 1 and assure them to stick with it… and if you can get to the middle of season 2, you’ll be hooked. Only one person watched right to the end of season 2, “Becoming, Part 2,” and then said, “Meh. I don’t really want to see any more.” (Yes, he said that after THAT episode… you know who you are, I know you’re reading this right now, you.) ;)

I think what is missing is the Joss Whedon wit. I keep waiting for a line that will be SO over-the-top hilarious I won’t stop laughing. But nothing. There’s barely been even a smile on my face. I get the darkness, now PLEASE, Joss, give me some light.

What I am starting to notice, however, are distinct similarities between this show and Buffy. (I know… poor Joss… he’ll never be able to escape that.) In the woods, the fight between Echo and Psycho Boy on the ground was just like Buffy fighting a vampire. Right up to the guy almost choking her and then Echo/Buffy grabbing an arrow/stake and putting it in his neck (notice that just like Buffy would have put it in and pulled it right back out, Echo did the same thing, rather than leaving the arrow in his neck). The only difference: the guy doesn’t disappear, but stays behind to wreak some more emotional damage.

Boyd is like Giles, the man worried about his charge, becoming emotionally invested in her as if she were his child. The Dollhouse is like a larger and more present Watcher’s Council, forcing Echo to do these things as if it were a calling. The difference: Buffy was chosen; Echo apparently chose this life. But she just doesn’t know it. (And just like the Watcher’s Council, Adelle is a Brit. Ooh, you nasty, evil Brits!!)

I’m intrigued by that extremely jarring scene at the end of the first episode where we saw two dead people on the floor and someone watching a video of Echo. This is obviously the overarching plot that Joss is working toward. And they’ve introduced the horror of Alpha, the rogue doll who tore up the place but left Echo alone (until now). I’m wondering if he could be the season 1 baddie that eats it in the end, or if he’ll be an ongoing thing.

Someone pointed out last week that the names of the dolls are from the International Radio Operators Alphabet. Here’s the alphabet, so we can see what future characters will be named. We’ve already got Alpha, Echo, Victor, and Sierra:

What were your thoughts? Please tell me you’re going to stick with it, too! I believe in Joss, and I wonder if Fox is watering down the initial episodes. Here’s hoping his trademark sense of humour will be back soon.


Anonymous said...

I think FOX is actually a little unsure about this Dollhouse. There are all sorts of rumors about which episodes were supposed to air when.

The first two episodes were ok but I wasn't blown away. I'm a little surprised by the misogynistic tone of the series so far given what Joss has done in the past. And I'm not sold on going on this journey with Echo towards self-realization yet. That is the eventuality of it all, right? She has to break free from her prison at the Dollhouse and she'll have to composite in some way, maybe not just like Alpha. But something like that. I'm also concerned that none of the characters are going to be very likable, even Echo herself.

In the end, it's a solid actions show and probably will be week in and week out. But I fear the story may not be enough to keep me interested. I'll give it a couple more weeks to be sure.

Anonymous said...

i never watched angel or firefly and got into buffy really, really late -- mostly through you and MW -- though pretty much all my friends adore it. so while i appreciate the joss love and totally get it, i was never really a part of it and didn't have any expectations or pre-conceived notions about signature joss moves (that bit with echo pulling out the arrow a la buffy and the stake? didn't even notice that!) or dialogue going into dollhouse, which, maybe, is to my advantage. i went into it with a total tabula rasa, so to speak. ;)

that said, i like it, but i don't love it. even from what little buffy i did watch, i can see there are lots of similarities between those characters and these ones (TWOP even did a thing on it: http://www.televisionwithoutpity.com/show/dollhouse/dollhouse_spot_the_joss_whedon.php) and even as a casual fan, i admit it's throwing me off a little.

like brent said above, i don't find any of the characters to be very likable, even echo. sympathetic, yes, but not especially likable. there's no one i tune in for specifically who is uber-cool, or who has an endearing or self-deprecating wit; there are no pairings or love triangles to obsess over. and maybe that's an unfair criticism -- we're only two episodes in.

that said, the misogyny doesn't bother me, mostly because i don't think it's going to continue; it's a construct so we can get to the meat of the main plot -- echo will figure out what these, well, echoes of herself mean and what the dollhouse is doing and it'll be all girl!power! from there on. it's uncomfortable and disturbing and sinister, absolutely, but in my opinion, it's to set up echo's revenge against the people who are doing this to her ... the more of a Big Bad (there you go, nikki -- that's a buffyism i use!) they are, the sweeter her victory will be.

i like it, but it's no lost, mad men or dexter!

Anonymous said...

I like the darkness that we're getting from Dollhouse. Maybe Topher is supposed to provide a bit of levity, and is failing spectacularly.

The story is intriguing to me, and the characters, too. Amy Acker's doctor is interesting; and I'd like to see more of Helo and Echo's handler. Give the characters some time to develop!! It's hard to like Echo, as she doesn't even have a personality, and her fake implanted ones will change every episode. Maybe that's why she's an empathetic character, but not a likable one.

I'd like to see some of the other dolls' stories; maybe that would alleviate the misogyny, if we saw it from one of the male dolls' perspectives.

Hopefully they'll kill of Topher soon and we'll get some levity.

I'll stick with it as long as FOX does.

Anonymous said...

maryelere, that's a good point. If we saw more of the male actives, beyond bad alpha, that would help. I'm thinking that will change. I'm not looking for a victor-centric episode, just something that doesn't make this look like a brothel.

I have been reminded constantly about the movie "The Island" which is drastically underrated IMO. The difference is that the actives get to leave frequently instead of just being a replacement. While I doubt that there is any shred of a chance the dollhouse could be kept secret (based on number of clients, very public engagements) I'm willing to believe that for now. I almost wonder if this is a "Prison Break" scenario where they'll have to blow up the premise of the title by the end of the season. Because I don't believe the show can survive as a secret Dollhouse for that long. The Actives are leaving all. the. time. There is a homicidal active out there. I'm not sure what happens when you blow up the Dollhouse but I'd be interested in finding out. I know I'm getting way ahead of myself... sorry.

Anonymous said...

Firefly is the only Joss Whedon series I have seen, plus (before that) the movie Serenity. Enjoyed-em both.

I watched the Dollhouse episodes, and I can't say I'm that impressed. Music: meh. Dushku: meh. Nothing really stands out.

1.01 was better than 1.02, which I found predictable. The flashbacks seemed to only serve this episode, nothing more. And why is it that more often than not when you see a chessboard on TV the positioning is wrong, with the board turned 90 degrees? Very sloppy. I mean, how hard is it to remember that the bottom left tile is black? Is there really no one on the set that knows this or looks into it?!

Anyway, the show hasn't lost me as of yet. Curious to see what the story arch of the Dollhouse-investigation will bring.

Anonymous said...

I've been afraid of this for a while now; a lack of mainstream appeal. Buffy, Angel, and Firefly all managed to bring in 4-5 million viewers a night, which is just not enough for Fox. Let the Cancellation Countdown begin.

This is really too bad, because I already really like this show. I thought the real highlight of "The Target" (aside from the Middleman) was Boyd's miniarc: he goes from seeing Echo as an object, to the imprinting scene (which clearly affected him) to caring deeply about her welfare in the present-day plot. Others have hypothesized this sends the message that routine behaviour -- everyday, "meaningless" rituals like shaking hands, asking how someone's day is, etc. -- builds up and transforms acquaintances into friends. I agree and think it all feeds into the overarching theme of identity.

As for the overarching plot, I see significant movement on it. Alpha is shown to have a specific purpose for Echo (he doesn't just want Ballard to find her, he's trying to instigate a "composite event" in her like the one he had). The Dollhouse figures out Alpha has targeted Echo, which no doubt will attract their attention. Echo, thanks to Alpha, is closer to self-awareness. She goes off-script when Boyd finds her, asking if he trusts her rather than vice versa, and she ends the episode making the "shoulder-to-the-wheel" gesture behind Lawrence's back after he mocks her.

Other things I liked:

-We learn Alpha cut up Dr. Saunders' face, but left her alive -- traumatized, but alive. Sentiment, or something more?

-Harry Lennix's face when Echo gushes to Boyd about how great her date was that night and yeah, okay, he's heavy and most girls wouldn't look at him twice but it's what's on the inside that counts, right? Yes, we are supposed to think this is gross.

-"You know what else gives people the right to live? NOT HUNTING THEM!"

Anonymous said...

I like Boyd, I like Ballard (because he's Helo) but that's about it. I think the Dollhouse is run by Wolfram and Hart's prostitution department. I think Topher is a bleached Warren. I think Echo should be played by a better actor.

Joss has said something about exploring human trafficking with this show. Maybe it will get better. I sure hope so, because the temptation to go back to Flashpoint and not just at the CTV website is very, very tempting.

Echo chose this life (or what she knew of it). Did she do something very, very bad she's trying to forget?

One thing I've really liked about Joss' work thusfar is the theme of redemption (ummm, Spike...) but are we going to get that here? Or just one evil baddie going against an evil baddie organization?

Beth said...

I'm sticking with it until I see just what Joss is getting at. Two episodes--and 1.1 definitely not the original pilot, don't know for sure about 1.2--are just not enough. The ratings are better than TSCC--and that's just live viewing; add online and DVR--probably significant addition.
For some viewers seeing intriguing possibilities already, check the atpobtvs.com discussion board

Anonymous said...

First off... I have no problem watching Echo roll up her stockings...ahem.

Secondly, I agree the sex thing is a little much. What I liked about the first episode was that she was imprinted to rectify a situation. The second ep? High-priced whore. Really, what was the arrangement? "We're going to go hunting, then I'll bang her and bring her home?"

My concern is that they're firing too many things at once. I would have liked to see more build-up with Echo and the Bunny-people in the field, doing missions. Then, as the season progresses, start showing the moral ambiguity of the situation, add in the external foes, etc.

It's almost like they're frantically shoving in multiple story arcs just to get them in (in case they get cancelled.

There's something to be said for a slow build. Let us embrace the characters first, then challenge the viewer's established affiliations.

That said, my wife and I will continue to watch.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

A lot of the comments remind me of people who read a few pages or even a couple of chapters in a complex book and then give up. Is this the attention span of the "modern"? Will the short story emerge fully triumphant?

Anyway, here's my reaction to 1:1:
I thought I was going to be somewhat disappointed by the premiere episode of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse last night (13 February 2009), but I wasn't. I liked it quite a lot. The set (which rivals the Serenity set of Firefly) was magnificent. The episode was full of typical Joss Whedon themes—existentialist and social ethical themes revolving around conscience, identity, role playing, gender, belonging, created families, patriarchalism, and corporate power—and touches—foreshadowings of things to come if Fox allows the show to last for more than 13 episodes (beware of the Fox). Eliza Dushku was superb in her switch from biker girl to infantile Echo to damaged profiler. I never suspected she had such range in her. Olivia Williams and the rest of the cast were wonderful. And there was even a bit of humour in a very serious show.

While I was not disappointed in the show I am disappointed with some of the reviews. There have been some excellent reviews of Dollhouse. Those of the ever perceptive Cynthia Fuchs (PopMatters) and Heather Havrilesky (Salon) in particular standout. Some of the other reviews, however, should make us reflect on the nature of contemporary literary, film, and television criticism and the ideologies and values that underlie it just as the dominant modes of academic analysis of literature, film, and television should make us reflect on the social and cultural factors that construct criticism in the ivied halls of the academy. Alessandra Stanley's review in the New York Times is as shallow as a typical US movie and television show and not worthy of a newspaper that is supposed to set the standard for art reporting in the United States. Tom Shales's review in the Washington Post is a mumbo jumbo of snark, missed opportunities for thematic analysis, and so full of contradictions—dissing Dollhouse for its formulaic qualities (uh, dude, its a genre show, genre is formulaic on one level) while seeming to praise the work of "rip off" artists David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino (the latter ironically borrowed heavily from Buffy in Kill Bill) as to be somewhat amusing. Misha Davenport's review in the Chicago Tribune damns Dollhouse for its lack of humour apparently assuming that every Whedon show must be a retread of Buffy. Alan Sepinwall's review in the Newark Star-Ledger takes Dollhouse to task for its lack of realism making, in the process, a mistake many amateur and armchair critics make. Literature, TV shows, and films, as many before me have pointed out, make their own realities, make sense in the context of their own manufactured worlds. The notion that fiction has to be like real life (something not even documentaries can accomplish) is, to say the least, silly and sophomoric.

I liked Dollhouse very much. I intend to keep watching it. Joss Whedon never fails to touch me both intellectually and emotionally (quite an achievement for an auteur in a film and television world dominated by the juvenile and by juvenalia). It touched me in ways that shows like Alias and Fringe never can. Frankly, J.J. Abrams increasingly limited role in Lost is the best thing that ever happened to that show. I haven't been able to stay interested enough in any Abrams product because they seem all surface and no depth to me. This all surface and no depth, all style and no story, tendency in US cinema and television, is, of course, a dominant trend in a media system dominated by an obsession with the 15-34 demographic. Even the so called US “art” cinema, a cinema which includes the films of both Lynch and Tarantino, is dominated by this all surface and little depth mentality. As critic Jonathan Rosenbaum pointed out much US art cinema is a cinema for audiences blissfully unaware of the innovations of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s European art cinema, a cinema which both Lynch and Tarantino mine extensively (all the while depoliticising it). I will be able to stay with Joss Whedon's Dollhouse just as I stayed with his Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. Whedon's work is more than just eye candy. It is also candy for the nerd cinephilic mind. And I am a nerd.

Anonymous said...

Whedon and ED are on record saying that the show does really get the full Whedon "feel" until episode 5 or 6. Given that Buffy season 1 was mostly weak, and Buffy and Angel seasons generally started weak, I am willing to give it a half a season (10 or 11 episodes) to make a judgment.

J. Maggio said...


Great comment, but I would take exception with the point that Tarrantino and (especially) Lynch depoliticize their films. Lynch films are pretty explicity politcal in that they argue that under the surface of American myth is a darker reality and/or our independant Cartesian identities are stable beings. QT's politics are more subtle, but I believe they exist in the way we comprehend the narrative of the film. The non-linear narrative of his movies suggest a political / social understanding that allows us to understand the inter-connectedness of the world in modern global techno-capitalism. (There is also some much less subtle "girl-power" in Kill Bill and Death Proof, but those political messages are--to me--less interesting.)

Agreed totally on JJ Abrams, who seems to be an "idea" man more than a guy who can craft a show with compelling human elements. (In this sense he is like Lucas.) Whedon--and Sorkin--are creators in television who seem to be able to have interesting ideas and craft great human stories. (I guess I should add Milch, Chase, David Simon, and Ron Moore to this list.) ALlan Ball seems like more of a Abrams: He has neat ideas but can not execute them without some clumsiness.

Anyway, I enjoyed your comments.

David Kociemba said...

When you feel discomfort at Dushku rolling up a nylon, what you're feeling is that you're being implicated in tainted pleasures. The show takes one of its more carnal appeals and twists it to make sure that you don't get away with the kind of ogling that provides the demand that human trafficking meets.

You have to start somewhere bad to make the improvement be really felt by the audience. You can't deal with exploitation in your subtext without actually referencing exploitation.

Remember how the series would look after The Witch if you had no idea what was to come afterwards. It's just the second episode, and already Echo's got the hole in the psychic prison wall.

Also, remember that Eliza's an executive producer on this show. On another show, you'd be worried about pressure being put on a beginning actress. Eliza's got power to control how she's being represented in the series.

And remember that BSG's crusading paladin is investigating the case.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Nikki, where is the trademark Whedon Wit? Without it, the show just seems flat, and the characters aren't engaging me, and I want to love it, I really do. The best part of the second episode, for me, was the few minutes at the end when the blonde guy was being all sarcastic with Echo and as soon as he turns away, she smacks her shoulder and starts having flashes. Go with it Joss, make it wittier and the characters more interesting!

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely going to be sticking to Dollhouse. I just recentley discovered Buffy and Angel. (I started Buffy in November, and I started Season Six last night. I just started Angel Season Three last night, too.) Anyway, Buffy's pilot was amazing, but pretty much all the other first season episodes, save a few here and there, were mediocre at best. Then came "Prophecy Girl." Then came the answer the few but fanatical fans had been waiting for. Bringing in tons of new viewers, the second season was milestones beyond what Buffy Season One had hoped to be.

That said, all you Dollhouse skeptical-ers (Not a word, but if Joss can do it, so can I =D), give it a fair chance. And if you're expecting it to be as fantastic as Buffy was, don't. Only once in a blue moon does a show that heartfelt, hilarious, thrilling, and horrifying come along. But Dollhouse WILL be good. First of all, Joss Whedon. No explenation needed. Second of all, Eliza Dushku and Amy Acker, who are both great actresses. While the concept may be similar to Buffy if you really analyze it, it is also completely different and a truly innovative show.

If you're only reading the last line of this lengthy comment, just watch it. Give it a chance, and if you run away from it now, you're going to be REALLY missing out.

(Gives blog back to Nikki)

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

Genre, of course, is formulaic. On a social and cultural level it fulfills a (manufactured?) need that humans seem to have--a need for repetition. Genre films and television shows allow viewers to endlessly see the same thing over and over again with little variation (kind of like that Dr. Who episode where the Doctor, stuck in a time loop, keeps doing the same things over and over again). I wonder if this need for repetition is why so many Buffy viewers didn't continue to watch Angel (a show with much less humour than the show it spun off of), didn't continue to watch Firefly, and seem to be tuning out and dropping off of Dollhouse?

I don't think Whedon (though his work clearly reflects a number of common themes) is someone to endlessly repeat himself. He has, in other words, left Buffy behind. Apparently Buffynatics cannot, however.

For those of you out there who want Dollhouse to be another Buffy I would ask you why? If you need a Buffy fix why not just get out your Buffy DVDs or go to Hulu.com. If, on the other hand, you want to watch a new Whedon show I suggest that you watch the Dollhouse that is rather than the Dollhouse that is not.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

I have a problem with what appear to be universal statements such as “Dollhouse is misogynistic”. What is my problem with such a common--common in academic and intellectual culture--statement? My problem is that it elides the social and cultural act of reading, the historical act of reading. Such a statement phrased as it is implies that academic and intellectual readings stand outside of history and are universal rather than socially and culturally constructed. I find such an implied assumption problematic.

This is not the only problem I have with some contemporary academic and intellectual textual analysis. Statements claiming that a TV show like Dollhouse is misogynist are not only founded on ahistorical assumptions. They are also grounded in antiempirical assumptions. They are, in other words, generally not grounded in any empirical (survey, questionnaires, ethnographies) exploration of how a random sample of readers beyond the academy actually read a show like Dollhouse. The implicit assumption here, I guess, is that only the trained academic or intellectual reader (the academic equivalent of the du Lac cross?) knows best when it comes to deciphering a text. But is the reading of one situated reader universally generalisable?

Is it any wonder that so many historians and social scientists find some contemporary media studies rather problematic?

Kelsey said...

I like it. I've now watched 4 episodes and while it is darker then his other shows and I do miss the wit, I can tolerate the odd off kilter line like the one JJ said, "You know what else gives people the right to live? NOT HUNTING THEM!" I think it is a growing show, as Echo grows and develops a personality, she'll become more and more likable and the more backgound that we get, like why Alpha is so crazy and so fixated on Echo, and why Ballard is so driven to find the Dollhouse even though everyone laughs at him, and exactly WHO is an active, and how creepy is Topher going to get, and why did Caroline feel she had to become an active. To a certain extent, some of it reminds me of "The Pretender" with the whole new job each episode but I do hope that this has a fighting chance and that it doesn't get Fireflied, but I like to think that Fox learned it's lesson cause I still need to know what was really up with Shepard Book.

Anonymous said...

I really liked it when you talked about the similarities between Boyd and Giles -- it works! So, too, does the comparison between the Dollhouse and the Watcher's Council, although at least the WC (hey, didn't realize that acronym till just now) could claim a measure of nobility of purpose. Adelle claims it, but it's a weak claim unsubstantiated by what we've seen....