The former Fox show Dollhouse aired just 13 episodes in its second and final season. Dollhouse was created by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon. Aside from Buffy, Whedon has not had good luck with his television creations. His previous show Firefly, which also aired on Fox, was pulled after only airing 12 of its 13 filmed episodes. While Firefly spawned a legion of fans (knows as Browncoats) and a theatrical film, Dollhouse failed to ignite much excitement from anyone. It’s unfortunate because Dollhouse was full of potential stifled by endless attempts to attract new fans by repeatedly restating the concept episode after episode.
I can see why the show might have been a turn off for people. Its concept is hard to embrace. Dollhouse stars Eliza Dushku as Echo, a “doll,” who is programmed to be someone’s fantasy. Often times those fantasies involved sex, and seeing someone forced into a kind of sexual slavery is not exactly most people’s cup of tea. Being that many of the characters were dolls, who were always different people, it was hard to find someone to root for. The characters that weren’t dolls were often quite despicable and it was hard to like anyone at all. Still, even with those drawbacks Dollhouse, at its heart, was a very engaging and clever show.
Season Two is a bit of a reboot. After the excitement of the last few episodes of Season One, I expected the second season to start out with a bang. It didn’t. The beginning of the second season is reminiscent of the beginning of the first. The dolls are programmed and go out on different missions. The story arc established during the last half of the first season was pushed almost to the background. It was like the show was being reintroduced.
It is not until more than half way through the season that we see the menacing Alpha, brilliantly played by Firefly’s Alan Tudyk, again. The show does pick up speed in the second half of the season, but there was not enough time to do everything the show hinted at. Instead storylines obviously meant to span a lot of time were wrapped up in only a few episodes.
What is there is quite engaging. The episode dealing with the mysterious attic, the place “broken” dolls and dissidents are sent to, is one of the best of the entire series. There is a great guest appearance by Summer Glau (Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) as the Washington D.C. counterpart to Topher (Fran Kranz). Speaking of Topher, he is the most interesting character on the show. During most of the first season, he was extremely unlikeable. He was annoying and completely amoral. Topher is the brain partly responsible for the development of the doll technology, and that is a burden that begins to weigh heavily. At first he was only interested in solving the puzzles of the mind. He was so pleased with his brilliance at hacking into people’s minds like a computer, he forgot they were people. We see in “Epitaph One” that the realization he is messing with the essence of humanity has caused him to descend into madness. We get to see sparks of that realization in Season Two.
We do get to see more about the mysterious Caroline, whom Echo used to be. It would have been nice to have more of Caroline’s back story earlier. I think knowing more about Caroline would have given audiences more to root for. There would have been more of a reason to feel sorry for Caroline’s predicament. I do like the idea that Echo has become her own person. She is not just an empty doll. She has developed (with the help of Alpha) her own distinct personality. It is a personality that doesn’t want to be destroyed and given back to Caroline.
It’s surprising religion or spirituality did not play a part in Dollhouse Echo/Caroline is one body that has housed two minds. If Echo is her own person, does that mean Echo has her own soul. And, who created Echo? Was it just Topher’s programming and Alpha’s manipulation, along with remnants of Caroline’s will? These are complicated issues never dealt with. It seems as if that there had been a determination that there are only brains and no souls.
Parallel to the idea that Echo has developed beyond doll state, there is a storyline between Sierra (Dichen Lachmen) and Victor (Enver Gjokaj), two dolls who have fallen in love. Their love exists whether they are in doll state or have been programmed to be other people. It’s a nice touch to show the cracks in the doll technology.
There is a heartbreaking episode showing how Sierra came to be at the dollhouse. This episode is integral to Topher’s role and his evolving viewpoint on the work he is doing. Victor does not get as much of a featured back story, but we do learn why he is there. Enver Gjokaj’s acting is a highlight of the series. Gjokaj effortlessly changes personalities so flawlessly it’s easy to forget he’s even doing it. His dead on impersonation of Topher is not to be missed.
While Dollhouse was by no means a perfect show I still would put it in the “cancelled too soon” category along with Firefly. Dollhouse had so much unrealized potential it’s a shame it did not catch on with audiences. It would have been great to see more about the head of the Dollhouse, Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams). I could never figure out where she came from or why she was involved with the organization. I’m sure more would have been planned for her had the show continued. I also have to wonder if the twist revelation in “The Hollow Man” (second to last episode) would have been the same if the show had been renewed. I am grateful the show drew to a final conclusion, unlike Eliza Dushku’s previous show Tru Calling, rather left the audience hanging forever.
The DVD features commentaries on two episodes, as well as outtakes, deleted scenes, the shows defining moments, and a looking back discussion with the cast and Joss Whedon. I really enjoyed the “Looking Back” featurette. It had Joss Whedon, Eliza Dushku, Alan Tudyk, Dichen Lachmen, Enver Gjokaj, Miracle Laurie (Mellie), Fran Kranz, and Olivia Williams. They discussed their favorite moments on the show and what it was like playing their characters. It was a good wrap up to the show, and a nice farewell from cast.