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Renovations at the Dollhouse

May 7, 2009

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I haven’t posted anything about Joss Whedon’s sci-fi look at “consensual slavery” since March, but I just want to quickly mention that, whatever the show’s flaws, the last two episodes have been overall pretty terrific and hopes are high for a sharp season finale. Because of very low ratings — ameliorated to an unknown extent by good  DVR numbers — it may well also turn out to be a series finale…sort of.

(One episode, done on the cheap, appears to be a basically a DVD-only deal at this point. There’s no reason to fear that the season will end on a cliffhanger, however. Whedon’s done at least one season finale I can remember — the borderline Bunuelian dream episode, “Restless” from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer — that was really a coda to the season’s main story and a very cryptic hint of things to come. I’m guessing the 13th episode, wherever it ultimately lands, will be in somewhat the same spirit.)

Whedon has brought out his writing big guns for the final three shows of the season/run, including his brother Jed and wife Maurissa Tancharoen, who appear to have been crucial to Whedon’s very successful web experiment, Dr. Horrible, and veteran TV writer and dormant writing blogger, Jane Espenson, most recently of Battlestar Gallatica but a deservedly well-known star in, you should pardon the expression, the Whedonverse. (She also wrote a hilarious episode of Andy Barker, P.I.)

The first episode of the final three was an increasingly clever and poignant stand-alone murder mystery in which the Dollhouse’s manager (Olivia Williams of Rushmore) uses the dollhouse technology to resurrect a friend who wanted to solve her own death. The unlikely premise worked despite the pretty apparent reality that Eliza Dushku just doesn’t yet have the acting tools available to play the kind of jaded, sharp-tongued upper-crust quasi-Anglo socialite the episode called for. The following episode resumed the show’s main arch, and we’ll leave it at that. (Plentiful spoilers are available just about anywhere else you turn, however.)

I will get a bit spoilery, though, and mention that another smart move was the all-too-literal mothballing of the obnoxious security chief played by Reed Diamond, of Homicide: Life on the Street. However, in one of the funniest moments of the entire (not terribly funny) series, he was impersonated to perfection by the doll, Victor, when some information was needed. Vowel-challenged actor Enver Gjokaj — oh, for the days when actors changed their names if they were even slightly hard to pronounce — has emerged as the show’s best acting surprise.

Speaking of acting, while star/producer Dushku can be very moving and effective, but has been a sore disappointment when called on to plays roles far outside her usual range, fellow fem-doll Dichen Lachman, who has numerous fans, has left me wondering what the fuss is about. However, Olivia Williams has been doing a great job finding her inner George Sanders, and Harry Lennix as the apparently well-intentioned ex-cop, Boyd, only gets more interesting in a potentially colorless role.  Also, the initially annoying Fran Kranz, who is scheduled to turn up in the horror film Whedon cowrote, The Cabin in the Woods is steadily improving as the resident head geek, an increasingly interesting, highly amoral, variation on past Whedon characters. It probably helps that he hasn’t had to call Boyd “manfriend” any time recently.

When Dollhouse first started and on through several episode, I was starting to even forget why it was I enjoyed Whedon’s shows to an absurd degree. I’m starting to be reminded.

If you want to catch up on past Dollhouse episodes, the last five (unfortunately not including the semi-reboot, “Man on the Street”) are still available via Hulu.

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And for those who think they see a sexist subtext in Dollhouse despite, or perhaps because of, Joss Whedon’s well known feminist bonafides, here’s some actual text from John Hyatt, just pre-Slow Turning, on a similar theme, who I’m sure didn’t mean it quite the way it sounds to me today….

2 Comments
  1. I am so annoyed with Topher and just see him as a Warren knock-off. There’s nothing new or interesting about him for me. The less screen time he gets, the better.

  2. Hey, Marilyn. Thanks for stopping by.
    I’d see Topher as closer to a smushing-together of all three of the Buffy geeks (well, with Jonathan’s niceness definitely de-emphasized), but, like I said, I do think Kranz has been making the character increasingly his own, particularly in the last few episodes and the writers have helped by giving him less annoying ticks and a bit more depth. Still, I certainly get your point. He’s not yet the kind of character I want to spend huge amounts of time with. More Adelle and more Boyd, more Amy Acker, less Topher works just fine for me right now. Actually, I’m still celebrating the departure of Reed Diamond’s security guy character, though he was getting more interesting before his “retirement.”

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