Friday, May 22, 2009

My Review of Dollhouse's 1x01: "Ghost"

Written And Directed by Joss Whedon

Echo/Caroline: “I know. Actions have consequences.”
Adelle: “What if they didn’t?”

I swore to myself that I wouldn’t touch this series with a ten foot barge pole but the last time I adopted that kind of attitude, I ended up caving in and reviewing the series and thanking my lucky stars that I did. Maybe I’ll feel just as thankful with this series as well.

I caught this episode on Tuesday now that the Sci-Fi channel in the UK finally got up off their backsides and premiered the series, I felt oddly compelled to take it on. As summer TV goes, I need more programmes but in terms of opening episodes, I have to admit that I wasn't impressed and Joss Whedon is one of the best damn writers on television.

In the past four years we've had amazing pilots from shows like Lost, Battlestar Galactica and Heroes to name three but this pilot felt a little too tame for my liking, which is strange given it’s general premise and the amount of discussion that can be generated from the very topic of mind-wiping people.

Logistically and morally, there are plenty of holes that can be picked at the idea of the Dollhouse. Why would anyone in their right mind want to be part of something like it? I can see that along with Caroline, most people are coerced into it and the ones that actually volunteer are nuts. There’s no way in hell I’d allow myself to be coerced into doing it but Adelle did seem to have Caroline/Echo over a barrel.

Morally, it's degrading. Being forced or allowing yourself to be imprinted into something else to cater to another person's needs is just reprehensive, plus aside from physical and legal consequences, there’s also got to be some emotional ones too. Topher talked about the dolls living the dream but I fail to see how this actually benefits them at all.

Echo (the name of Caroline the Active now has to go under) is a character I have no idea on how I feel about. We saw her as a date for a rich playboy and then as a hostage negotiator called Eleanor Penn who was abused by one of the men who took Davina. The latter role was the more difficult to pull off but Eliza Dushku did alright.

It might have helped if they had gone with a darker plot than the little girl being snatched (although there were allusions to child abuse, especially when Eleanor disclosed more on her former captor to Boyd and Gabriel). Also the extraction was something of a disaster what with Mr Sunshine getting a clean shot at Gabriel and Eleanor getting caught by the kidnappers as well.

Still there does seem to be an ongoing arc as well as in Whedon dynamic, a Big Bad to look out for. I am intrigued about this Alpha person and their interest in Caroline/Echo. Why is Echo/Caroline so important to Alpha and how long do we have to wait for them to make a move as well?

In terms of the remaining characters, they’re certainly a mixed bunch with some of them working better than others. Then again, this is a debut episode so I can’t gripe that every character wasn’t perfectly vocalised. There’s a remaining twelve episodes to give us perfect depth on the assorted regulars.

I adored Boyd. To me, the character had a mixture of Giles, Dixon and possibly even Jack Bristow. He certainly displayed a fatherly affection for Echo and even seemed appalled by what the Dollhouse was doing to all of the Actives in question. Maybe he’ll try and change things from the inside or maybe he’s a mole.

On the contrary, Adelle the iron lady in charge of the Dollhouse was another character I cared for. Yeah, the icy demeanour is hardly original or breathtaking and while I didn’t totally buy her sympathy for Gabriel when his daughter was snatched, I couldn’t help but like her. I guess I’m weird in that way.

I was also very intrigued by Claire, the doctor of the Dollhouse. Amy Acker is always a pleasing bit of casting and she certainly raised some interesting questions, namely what happened to her face and why did she flinch when Echo asked if someone took care of her? Maybe she’s a botched doll or something. Topher kept looking at her in a strange way as well.

In terms of the other dolls, we met two more besides Echo. Superficially, I thought Victor was cute, though the Russian accent was a bit much in certain scenes and I sorted of hated the bathroom confrontation with him and Paul, though there was amusement generated from it as well. Victor had no clue about the Dollhouse when Paul was demanding answers. Apparently on engagement, actives are unaware of the Dollhouse. I suppose there’s a degree of logic in that.

However I really liked Sierra and although she didn’t get much to do, I do have a good feeling that she’ll shine later in the season. She certainly came through for Echo towards the end of the episode, so that’s a good start with her. Plus Echo seemed enthused about the idea of having a friend and concerned when she saw Topher imprinting her.

I could also tolerate Dominic. Nothing against Reed Diamond but I don’t think Dominic is meant to be the most complex of characters but this is Joss Whedon and I’m sure they might be some hidden depths with the character but here, he was little more than right hand man for Adelle and nothing else.

So, the only characters who left me cold were Topher and Paul. The former came across as the standard sexless TV nerd, as well as being a frightening mash up of Warren/Andrew when a Xander type personality would've been more needed for this kind of show. Topher’s breezy attitude about his work is Dexter-esque and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Paul, whose motives for trying to take down the Dollhouse don't seem compelling to me. Plus he was way too much of a meathead for my liking. I’m not criticising Tahmoh Penikett but I almost sided with the FBI bosses during that dressing down meeting than Paul himself. I’m hoping over the course of the season the writers give him a strong personality, especially seeing as morally, we should be on his side. He did allude to the imprinting process in the least flattering of descriptions.

Also in “Ghost”

There was an original pilot as well for this series but FOX made Joss Whedon change things. They do seem to have a penchant for doing that. Sci-Fi did some edits as well to the episode and it trashed Prison Break in the ratings, UK wise.

Adelle: “I'm talking about a clean slate.”
Caroline/Echo: “You ever try to clean an actual slate? You always see what was on it before.”

Caroline was a college student but what the heck did she do that Adelle could force her into becoming an Active? Plus there does seem to be some prior feeling that they know each other.

Matt: “Oh my God, you are a sore loser.”
Echo: “I wouldn't know, I've never lost.”
Matt: “That's OK, the first time you're always just a little bit sore.”

Topher: “We're great humanitarians.”
Boyd: “Who would spend the rest of our lives in jail if anyone ever found this place.”

I’m not sure if I like the credits for the series. Unlike Buffy, Angel and Firefly, they don’t really jump out at you and perhaps they’ve should used clips from all of the cast members and not just Eliza Dushku.

Topher: “Look at Echo, not a care in the world. She's living the dream.”
Boyd: “Who’s dream?”
Topher: “Who's next?”

Claire (re memory): “Does that bother you?”
Echo: “Should it?”

The set for the Dollhouse does very much look like Wolfram And Hart, though glass windows over the Actives beds? Are Adelle and company that scared one of them might try to make a run for it?

Paul: “Nobody has everything they want. It's a survival pattern. You get what you want, you want something else. If you have everything, you want something else. Something more extreme. Something more specific. Something perfect.”

Topher (to Boyd): “Achievement is balanced by fault, by a lack. Can't have one without the other. Everyone who excels is overcompensating. Running from something. Hiding from something.”

That being said making someone near sighted and asthmatic seems especially stupid when they’re on an engagement. And the actives names are taken from phonetics.

Gabriel: “You told me you were good with people.”
Echo: “I misspoke. I'm good at people.”

Boyd: “The older man. You know him. He's the one who took you. They never found him.”
Echo: “He said he was a ghost. You can't fight a ghost, but he was heavy, the weight of him. Ghosts are heavy. Ghosts are sheets with holes cut out.”

How long has Echo been an active? It’s not five years right but definitely a while since Caroline’s meeting with Adelle.

Caroline (on video): “I'd like to take my place in the world, like Mrs. Dundee taught us. Global Recovery, Doctors Without Borders... The world is in need of serious saving. And I want to travel. Travel around the world as I save it. In a private jet that I pilot and designed. Okay go ahead and laugh yearbook monkey. I know, I'm such a cliché. What can I say, I want to do everything. Is that too much to ask?”

Standout music: Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” during Echo’s first engagement.

As an opening episode, “Ghost” did set a template for the show’s premise, the kind of stories it can and will probably do and is certainly something that will inspire a certain amount of debate. Superficially there are some gratuitous moments with Eliza Dushku in a skimpy dress and Tahmoh Penikett, all topless and sweaty boxing. I know the show gets better with later episodes but this was an incredibly underwhelming pilot.

Rating: 7 out of 10.


Chrissy said...

I really liked Dollhouse once it got into the later half of the season. The early episodes aren't bad, but they're also nothing special.

I don't really like Ballard's obsession with freeing Caroline. Until the season finale aired, I just didn't see that he really cared about stopping the Dollhouse but instead only cared about saving Caroline. I'm still not a big fan of his character or even convinced of what he is doing with the Dollhohuse.

I really like Adelle, Boyd, and even Topher. I think they are the most intriguing part of the show. Caroline's back story doesn't really impress me, but I would love to know more about what the Dollhouse is really about and what these non-dolls are doing in the Dollhouse.

shawnlunn2002 said...

Wow thanks for the comments. As opening episodes go, it had some ups and downs.

I've not heard good things about Caroline's back story. Paul got on my nerves in the episode.

I'll see The Target tomorrow.