It would be fair to say that Joss Whedon is a creative genius. He not only gave the world Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel, but he also re-invented the western genre with Firefly. He has worked as a script doctor on films such as Toy Story and Titan A.E. and his first time in a film director’s chair produced Serenity, a big screen outing for the Firefly team, which not only garnered a cult following, but was – in my view, at least – a pretty amazing film.
I have, if you haven’t guessed, a huge soft spot for Joss Whedon. Buffy The Vampire Slayer was and, in fact, still is my favourite television series. But recently, and no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to get into his zone and I think I may have to blame this slightly on Dollhouse. Please note if you are only watching this show in the UK now, what I’m about to discuss does contain some spoilers.
The idea of Dollhouse is, as I understand it, the brainchild of both Whedon and its star Eliza Dushku. It was a concept, so the story goes, they came up with over lunch one day. Dushku had signed a five-series development deal with Fox, and while talking about ideas they came across this one and stuck with it.
Dushku plays the lead, Echo, an active within the Dollhouse who has her memory erased and a new one implanted for any assignment she is sent on, be it that of a bank robber or as the perfect girlfriend. They are looked after by Handlers and, should the situation take a turn for the worse, they can be extracted. Thrown into the mix is a rogue active, Alpha, who wants to bring the Dollhouse down and take Echo for himself.
I’ll admit straight off the bat that Dollhouse is a very good original idea; I was intrigued by the concept of dolls, blank canvases, so to speak, who can literally become anybody. But the reality of how it was introduced on screen failed to, in any real way, live up to the hype. And one of the main factors of this is the fact that, although you can feel Whedon’s influence over the project, he doesn’t really make a proper appearance until episode six, where you can feel his vision really begin to take shape. But it felt like it was a little too late.
After plodding along for what felt like an eternity, and with most of the episodes slightly reminding me of plots that took place in V.I.P., the two-episode season finale really wrapped the show up well (you can thank the ever wonderful Alan Tudyk for that). But it can’t be ignored that the show was critically unsuccessful, with both the industry and fans alike. Cancellation looked inevitable, but Fox really did pull a bit of a surprise when they renewed for a further 13 episodes. Now here is a slight conundrum for the show; has it played its ace card too quickly?
Alpha is a great character and you have the feeling that the creatives on Dollhouse thought the end was nigh, and they may as well wrap the story up. It’s a story which could have carried on into season two; after all, Alpha is not the really big season baddie we were used to seeing in Buffy. He carried with him more about the workings of the Dollhouse and what can go wrong. Having him escape does free him up for the future, but the mystery has mostly dispersed.
In my personal opinion, I think the best course of action for this show would have been to follow the plot progression that Angel did – from fighting against, to walking into, the offices of Wolfram & Hart. The audience always knew they were up to no good and eventually the tables were turned and Angel & Co took over the offices, which led to them taking down the beast from the inside (which could have played out for a further season, but the show was cancelled prematurely).
Yet the progression to that point took the best part of five seasons, and Dollhouse could learn a lesson or two from that, as Whedon did mention he had a five year vision for the show.
However, with the slot it’s currently been given by Fox for its second season, I’m not holding out much hope for a third, and it simply might not have the space or ideas left to develop as it should. We’ll find out in the autumn…