Created by the one and only Joss Whedon, Dollhouse is an exciting and thought-provoking television series that uniquely centers itself on a character who consistently changes from episode to episode. That Whedon and Co. are able to get us to care about the character is a testimony to the creative elements behind the show and to the performance of the dazzling Eliza Dushku.
Dushku, who worked with Whedon on Buffy and Angel, stars here as Echo. She’s an “Active” or “doll,” meaning she has had her personality from the outside world essentially wiped clean so that she can be “imprinted” with a new one to serve the purposes of well-to-do clientele.
The dolls are housed, as you might expect, in a facility called the Dollhouse. They are also guided through their various imprints by handlers who are tasked to an individual doll and given code phrases that trump the new imprint and enable instant rescue from dangerous tasks should the need arise.
The first season of Dollhouse, now available on DVD from FOX, largely covers the story of how Echo came to be a doll in the first place and highlights some of her adventures with her handler, Boyd Langton (Harry J. Lennix).
The adventures of FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) are also covered in the first season. Ballard believes in the existence of the Dollhouse while most people in the outside world, and most people in the agency, tend to believe it to be some sort of urban legend. Ballard obsessively tracks the Dollhouse, believing Echo to be the key to something much more significant.
Inside the Dollhouse there's also Topher Brink (Fran Kranz), the quirky scientist behind the technology of the Dollhouse. Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams) is the head of this particular branch of the Dollhouse, and we are given clues that there are multiple branches (more than twenty) worldwide. Adelle answers to a higher authority and generally believes that what is being done with the dolls is a good thing.
Whedon’s Dollhouse does well to ask various ethical questions about the nature of humanity and of good and evil. By giving characters different moral positions inside and outside of the Dollhouse itself, he generates a dialogue that sheds light on both sides of the coin. Langton, for instance, tends to be fairly unconvinced of the morality of these dolls and what they are tasked to do, whereas Topher and Adelle believe they are actually doing good in the world.
The DVD release of Dollhouse features a total of 14 episodes, although only 12 made it to air. "Echo," the original pilot of the series that was presumed "too confusing and dark" by test audiences, is thankfully included as is "Epitaph One," an unaired episode that follows the season finale.
The beauty of Dollhouse lies not just with The Dushku but also with the smaller details of the stories. It is interesting to follow Ballard as he learns more about his neighbour (Miracle Laurie) and finds himself unable to resist feeling something for her. A subplot involving the Dollhouse’s physician, Dr. Claire Saunders (Amy Acker), is also fascinating.
The DVD set includes a few special features and trailers. There's a fairly routine making-of featurette and an interesting piece about how the Dollhouse was designed. There are also two episode commentaries ("Ghost" and "Epitaph One") and a handful of deleted scenes.
Dollhouse strikes a nice balance between popcorn television and thought-provoking obscurity, proving once again that Joss Whedon is one of television’s most intriguing and interesting talents. Check out the first season of Dollhouse on DVD today and watch for the second season starting late September on FOX.