Season One of Dollhouse: Did I Fall Asleep?

June 1, 2009

Season One of Dollhouse: Did I Fall Asleep?

-Jess d’Arbonne

EDITOR’S WARNING:  There be SPOILERS in these here WATERS!

It’s no Buffy or Firefly, and it definitely isn’t Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Joss Whedon’s new show Dollhouse is something entirely different. Like, really different, right down to the legions of different characters actress Eliza Dushku plays from week to week. It’s also a different kind of show: a sci-fi series masquerading as a primetime thriller.

Despite a dubious start while the show’s creators found their bearings, I found Dollhouse intoxicating from the start. It quickly picked up speed, racing ahead through the plot twists at speeds other shows never even consider for fear of crashing. I soon found myself stationed religiously in front of the tube on Friday nights, more concentrated than a can of orange juice, just waiting for the next secret to be revealed.

Now that it has officially been renewed for a second season (and with good reason), it’s time to wrap our brains around the first season of this unique new show… if we can.

At its core, Dollhouse is about identity. What makes a person who they are? How easy is it to erase that identity and replace it with another? The Dollhouse in the title is a very underground, very illegal organization offering a bizarre, titillating, and morally ambiguous service. The Dolls—or Actives, as they are called—are blank slates, people whose memories have been wiped, allowing them to be imprinted with any personality, any identity the client desires. The Dolls can be anyone and do anything during their limited Engagements with their filthy rich clientele. Want the perfect date to impress your friends at that class reunion? Need a blind person to spy on the religious cult living in your backyard? Looking for a chef to make you the perfect three-cheese omelet you’ve been hankering for all week? The Dollhouse has you covered. Dushku (Angel, Tru Calling) stars as Echo, a Doll whose habit of going off-mission and thinking outside the box gets her into trouble as often as it advances the juicy—sometimes creepy—plot.

Since the principle Dolls Echo, Victor (Enver Gjokaj), and Sierra (Dichen Lachman) have drastically different identities from week to week, each episode is bound to surprise. In a 12-episode season, the show has more shocking twists than a water slide. Assume nothing, and especially don’t think you know who anyone really is.

The routine of Doll mind-wiping is creepy and enthralling. At the end of each Engagement, the Doll very calmly goes back to their handler, “ready for their treatment.” Not a word is spoken about how their current personality is about to come to an abrupt end. After they’re wiped they say with ritual seriousness, “Did I fall asleep?” The Dolls exist in a childlike state between Engagements, perfectly innocent and clueless. Creepy? Exceedingly so. Want to see more? Yes please.

We enter the Dollhouse this season a short time after a mysterious accident, in which a “composite incident” caused a Doll to go rogue, wreaking general mayhem and murder in the Dollhouse before escaping. Alpha remains the mysterious antagonist for the entire season, popping up once every few episodes like a bad rash to muck things up for the Dollhouse according to his own nefarious plans. Defending the Dollhouse against this menace are Adelle Dewitt (Olivia Williams), a cross between the commander-in-chief and the madam, Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) the quirky genius behind the Dollhouse’s technology, and Echo’s handler, protector, and all-around father figure Boyd Langdon (Harry Lennix).

The Dollhouse is faced with another threat in the form of Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett of Battlestar Galactica), a determined FBI agent hot on their trail. Obsessed with finding Caroline, the girl Echo used to be, Ballard believes the Dollhouse to be no better than a slave trade, dealing in murder of the mind, if not the body. Yes, he’s a bit dramatic, but you’ve got to admire the guy’s pluck and tenacity. Our first earth-shattering plot twist comes when it is revealed that both Ballard’s mob contact and his girlfriend Mellie (Miracle Laurie) are Dolls, placed in his life to lead him on a wild goose chase and keep tabs on him.

But the Dollhouse has bigger worries than FBI agents and rogue Dolls. From within the plush confines of the Dollhouse, a threat is growing. Some of the Dolls are becoming self-aware in their childlike state, forming friendships and crushes. Despite Topher’s best efforts at wiping their minds, Victor falls in love with Sierra, and Echo shows an amazing ability to adapt, learn, and remember. While initially seen as a problem, Echo’s growing self-awareness helps to protect the Dollhouse when it is revealed that there is a spy in their midst. Echo not only requests to be imprinted, but snoops out the spy (head of security Laurence Dominic, played by Reed Diamond) and takes him down herself. “I’m not broken,” she declares while pummeling said spy, and we are left to wonder: Is that the imprint talking, or Echo herself?

Things come to a head when Ballard finds the Dollhouse and breaks in, unwittingly helping Alpha in his dastardly plans. And who plays the enemy rogue Doll? None other than Whedon veteran Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Arrested Development), pretending to be the paranoid designer of the Dollhouse before revealing his true identity as the scalpel-wielding evil mastermind. The two-part season finale becomes a race to save a life—Caroline’s life, Echo’s old life, the person she used to be and the soul she can never be separated from… it’s all very existential. Old enemies become allies, secrets are revealed, and the delicate existence of the Dollhouse is thrown into peril! Intrigue and excitement abound!

At the end of the day, Echo saves everyone with a little help from the unlikely team of Boyd and Ballard, and we get season two, so everybody wins.

Visually, Dollhouse is jaw-droppingly beautiful. No expense was spared in constructing the set of the luxurious, feng-shui Dollhouse, and it shows. But besides the décor, the actors provide a delectable menu of eye candy. Seriously, there are an unusual number of uniquely beautiful people in this phenomenal cast. It’s almost unnatural. Whedon’s strength lies in his ensemble casts (just watch Buffy and Serenity), and despite the range of characters each actor plays, together they form a dynamic, fascinating troupe. The Dolls show extraordinary range, playing characters with not only different personalities and life stories, but vastly different nationalities, abilities, and ages. Dushku makes a surprisingly good 50-year-old society woman, and Gjokaj is breathtaking when imprinted with Dominic’s personality: an actor playing a character playing another actor playing a character. How’s that for complex?

Even the non-Doll characters give multi-layered performances. But it’s the relationships between these characters that truly drew me into the show. There’s the father-daughter relationship of trust, pride, and protection between Echo and her handler Boyd, touching for its sincerity and heart-breaking when they are separated. The budding romance of Ballard and Mellie is adorable in the crush stage, and deeply disturbing when he realizes she’s a Doll sent to spy on him. And in a truly gratifying twist, ice queen DeWitt only shows her true vulnerability to Victor’s Roger imprint, whom she engages for a secret rendezvous on her day off.

Getting renewed for a second season was never a sure thing. From day one, there was talk of Dollhouse getting cancelled. For fans of Whedon, the feeling of dread and anticipated disappointment was all too familiar, after his cult series Firefly was cancelled with only 11 of the 14 episodes aired. News of a season two in the works means fans of Dollhouse can breathe a sigh of relief, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Season one moved unusually fast for a plot of only 12 aired episodes. This might have been a sign of the show’s creators preparing for the possibility of cancellation, trying to bring closure to the show after a single season. Since so much was revealed in the first 12 episodes, we have to wonder: What’s left to tell in the Dollhouse’s story?

News of season two is still relatively recent, so there’s a lot of speculation as to what we have to look forward to. Season one left us with a few unanswered questions: Who inside the Dollhouse has been feeding Ballard information? What will happen to Victor as a Doll now that his face is scarred? Will Doctor Saunders stay with the Dollhouse now that her past has been revealed? Have we seen the last of Alpha?

Season one of Dollhouse feels like a roller coaster ride. It starts of slow and unsure of itself, then quickly picks up speed and hurtles its viewers through hairpin turns. By the end you feel breathless and a little frazzled, trying to understand what just happened in front of your eyes. The opening credits is dreamlike and creepy for its watery images and the theme song that sounds more like a lullaby. Though the repeated shots of Echo make it seem like the All Dushku All the Time Show, anyone who sticks with it past the opening will realize that Dollhouse is not just about one woman and her strange quest for identity, but about the cast as a whole, flaws and complex relationships included.

If you’re looking for a healthy dose of ass-kicking and sexual tension, Dollhouse has your prescription. If you like complex interpersonal struggles, thrilling heroics and savory intrigue, come to the Dollhouse. If you’re looking for the guy or gal of your dreams, give the Dollhouse a call. If you want to know how what happens next…wait for season two.

WORDS: 1,615


Hiatus, Shmiatus

May 16, 2009

Shmiatus kind of looks like a real word… Anyway, so we fell off the face of the Earth because life stuff happened, college graduation, etc.  However, expect updates of the things we’ve been playing/doing geek-wise real soon.

Terry has a review of Code Geas: Lalouche of the Rebellion that’s definitely worth reading in the meantime: CHECK IT.  Anyway, thanks for listening CHIL-DREN, this is THREE DOG, WOOOOO!

…and you’re reading Not So Random Encounters.



Kevin Shields has Apparently Been Kidnapped…

April 10, 2009

Ok not really, but I’ve been listening to the “Second Stage” on NPR, and I can’t help being struck by the thought that Shoe Gazer music is back, at least stylistically a bit. Listening to all of these new bands like The Pros, Papercuts, Loxsly, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, it’s like they have taken the lovely fuzzy guitar tracks from “Loveless” by My Bloody Valentine and are recording Mates of State/generally twee-ish vocals over them… and it’s great! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining at all, I just am constantly amused by the cycles music goes through.

Seriously though, NPR Music’s Second Stage is worth listening to, they’re playing lots of unsigned bands that had to record an entire album in the month of Februrary and it’s really great because they didn’t have a million years to doubt themselves, they just recorded and were done because they had to be, and there’s a raw honesty to it that’s great.


What We’re Playing!

March 30, 2009

This week we’ve got some repeats and some new things happening over at NSRE:

Amanda/Seamus: I’ve been playing mostly Final Fantasy VI Advance (GBA).  I’ve never played this game before and I have to say that I have fallen in love!  It’s so awesome now that I’m getting the hang of blitzes, I find the random battles actually fun, I enjoy all the side characters and Kefka is a bit of a bastard.  It basically has everything I love about Final Fantasy games in it… except Triple Triad, but that’s ok.  Locke’s beating up people for clothes and infiltrating places mission was AWESOME and I’m loving Sabin, Cyan and all the rest of the crew.  I’m currently on the Phantom Train.  Oh YEAH!  I also started playing through Oblivion again (XBOX 360).

Conor: seems to be mostly playing RE5 again, he played through it on normal and is now playing through on Easy and then Hard in order to unlock Sheva’s tribal costume as well as to get all the guns with infinite ammo and other fun unlockable things.  Also, he and Chelsea were playing Left 4 Dead again recently, trying to conquer Expert mode at last… our newest theory is using two real people and two computer players is best because the computer players see the special infected first and there is less friendly fire.

Jes: Doesn’t really play video games but did an excellent job with that one fight in Kingdom Hearts 2 4 years ago 🙂  We’re very proud of her.

Expect real updates soon, I’m just trying to do real people things and apply for jobs so that’s been cutting down on my video game intake of late.



The Rack Jack #5

March 28, 2009

Marvel and DC, as every fan knows, are going through a number of transitional phases.  Marvel has Dark Reign and all that is involved in outright saying that “yes, our universe is now run by the bad guys.”  And DC has all the fallout from Infinite Crisis, and the apparent build up to yet another series of big events.  However, faith can be restored when both titles take one of their main characters and start putting out good, interesting, well written stories that make us forget all the insanity on a universal scale and focus on the people and characters we enjoy.

Week of 3/25/09

  • Daredevil #117 (Ed Brubaker). Return of the King, Part II. Wilson Fisk is back, and that means one thing, the criminal element has a kingpin again…y’know, besides Norman Osborn. Not just A Kingpin, but THE Kingpin. After hearing about his adventures away from Hell’s Kitchen, I never felt that he was written off just for the sake of plot, it felt natural, as did his return to NYC. But in a world filled with evil, where does Fisk fit in? Why, it’s going to be just like to good old days, right? I honestly don’t know. With promises to return the underworld to glory, he also approaches DD with an interesting proposition; to take on The Hand, who have been encroaching, and Fisk “doesn’t intend on surviving.” Perhaps the Kingpin can help Matt forget about Milla, the legal battles, the federal government, his affair, and get him back to some good old fashioned daredeviling!
  • Battle for the Cowl: Commissioner Gordon (One Shot). Batman is dead. Batman. Is. Dead. What? You don’t believe it? Ask his oldest friend, Commissioner James Gordon, who learns this the hard way. This story takes you on a narrative journey inside Gordon’s head as he has to deal with Gotham now that the Dark Knight is gone. Yet, if you read carefully, I could swear some of these thoughts belonged to Batman himself, it looks like working with the Caped Crusader for so many years rubbed off on the Commish. A poignant and touching story about what happens in a world gone mad, showing what Batman comics have always tried to teach us; you don’t need powers to be a hero, you just need to have a sense of justice, and the commitment to do what is right.

I have a good feeling that both universes are getting the footing again, stabilizing and dealing with the promises they made so long ago for new, COOL stories that will blow our minds in a good way.  Until then, we can enjoy the snippets of little stories and small pleasures.  Thankfully, I have yet to be disappointed by any of the Battle for the Cowl titles, so I highly recommend them.

‘Til Next Wednesday.



What We’re Playing

March 23, 2009


So I’m in a play that goes up tomorrow so I haven’t had much time to write things but after tomorrow, life will have slowed down some.  Anywhere, here’s

Conor is currently playing Apollo Justice, RE5, Fallout 3

I’m playing Final Fantasy 6 for the first time, Fallout 3, Fable 2 (kind of…), Fire Emblem, and Trauma Center: Under the Knife ( which is ABSURD).

Also, Chelsea and Joe are playing RE5 and there is a lesson learned:

All black people apparently sound the same, at least as far as RE5 is concerned.  They are all Jamaican.

Anyway, hope alls well, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled program soon, the play I’m in opens/closes tomorrow.  If you’re bored, you should listen to this radio show, it’s done by some friends of ours from 8-10 on Mondays: “Another Castle” on ETIN.





Andrew Bird is “Not a Robot, But a Ghost”

March 18, 2009

Andrew Bird continues to record music that I greatly enjoy.  His albums traverse great distances stylistically and have range that I cannot attribute to many artists that are recording today.  His work is DENSE and full of life, working well as background music for other activities while at the same time holding up to deep concentrated listening.  It soars and meanders with both electric and analog influences as well as his iconic whistling.

Noble Beast and Useless Creatures are heart-warming.  He has returned to some of his strongest pop-based work a la Armchair Apocrypha.   Andrew Bird has grown.  There are more fuzzy guitar sounds layered over then violin with his voice emerging from within it, with all the elements flowing together like a perfectly stirred glass of chocolate milk.  “Natural Disaster” is a beautiful guitar song/anthem with finger picking that almost feels like Nick Drake by way of Crosby Stills and Nash (just via guitar playing, not the oodles of harmonies).  It’s a lovely dreamy little song.

You could read Pitchfork and hate this album because Andrew Bird usually explores a new genre each album and instead with this album he has decided to tighten up his sound and pull all those influences he’s been exploring into something really great.  But why would you?

He wrote the album that he wrote, and you can listen to it and enjoy it, driving around somewhere late at night with no particular destination, perhaps sitting in the car with someone that you like, stealing looks at each other and having haltingly awkward conversation

(This video belongs to Andrew Bird, no copyright infringement is intended)