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Dollhouse is the Premise of Dollhouse

February 25, 2009

The reception for Dollhouse hasn’t been the best out of the gate, but since it is a Joss Whedon series, it naturally has its own built in defenders. This was the series which had a petition to FOX not to cancel it, so it figures that its defenders won’t go down without a fight.

Here’s James at Culturatti arguing that the premise of Dollhouse isn’t really the premise of Dollhouse.

they basically say they can’t see something like this going on for years and years — you know, Echo getting a new imprint every week, simply going on dates with new guys every week etc. They think that would get pretty boring. And they’re right. If that did continually happen every week — Echo gets new imprint, goes on date, has sex with guy, goes back to her ‘treatment’ and then it’s all over with — that would be incredibly boring, and I wouldn’t watch it.

But here’s the thing. Does anyone really believe that’s what going to happen? Does anyone think that Joss actually believes he could sustain something like that for too long? Or would want to? Or that that’s what the whole plan is? I highly doubt it. I always assumed that Echo would start off as simply the ‘perfect prostitute’ character, but then something would happen to make her evolve into something else.

Now that’s plausible enough on the surface of it. After seeing the ending of Serenity, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that Firefly wasn’t a series about Mal Reynolds, but about turning River into the next Buffy, a process that required killing off half the crew, something people who actually watched Firefly for the characters, didn’t appreciate. Echo is another female warrior and Dollhouse The Target suggests that Alpha tried to set up a situation where Echo would form a composite memory like he did under stress.

The problem with this whole scenario is that it amounts to arguing that Dollhouse isn’t the premise of Dollhouse.

Now the premise of Dollhouse is that evil corporation creates programmable dolls by mixing and matching human memories and offers them up for hire. There’s only so many places this premise can go.

  • Echo can form some sort of composite memory and connect with Agent Ballard while working undercover at the Dollhouse. Hello J.J. Abrams, you know that show named Alias you did. Well it’s getting a second run through the wash.
  • Echo can leave the Dollhouse and go on the run, that would jettison 90 percent of the premise that has been so carefully built up. But I’m sure if Dollhouse runs past a season, we’ll see that as a story arc at least. Still that turns Echo into The Fugitive, which dispenses with the need for Dollhouse’s whole premise.
  • Whedon can introduce this universe’s version of Vampires or Reavers, possibly in the form of composite memory dolls like Alpha, for Echo to fight.

The flaw with all and any of these scenarios is that they depend on jettisoning major chunks of the Dollhouse premise. If we’re going through all this just to turn Echo into another slayer style heroine, then Joss Whedon figured a great way to kill the show before he can even get there. This doesn’t apply to Firefly, because it actually had an appealing premise. Dollhouse doesn’t.

Do you recall people complaining that Mal and the gang can’t just keep flying through space dodging the law and trying to land the next big score. Or that Buffy can’t keep on killing vampires?

Mostly not so much because those premises weren’t bad or boring. Dollhouse’s is. Is there something better waiting behind the curtain? Probably not so much. Otherwise Joss buried his lead and his show will pay the price.

Outwardly Dollhouse shares some of Firefly’s character structure, a mentally damaged girl surrounded by a cast of characters with their own agendas. The problem is that the cast doesn’t amount to much, and River never took center stage in Firefly, the way Echo does on Dollhouse.

One Comment leave one →
  1. James17930 permalink
    February 27, 2009 5:33 am

    I don’t mind if something is derivative as long as there’s a unique or interesting take on it (like they were able to do with Buffy); I mean, look at the most popular shows today — Lost, 24, Desperate Housewives etc. — they’re all derivative in their own ways too.

    I agree a major chunk of the show’s world might have to jettisoned to take us to where the show will/has to go, but I wouldn’t necessarily blame Joss for that; I think it might have a lot to do with Fox. This could have been a very interesting character study show, if it had of been allowed to be done that way (although you can argue Dushku’s acting may or may not have allowed for that, but anyway); every week could have been like a little vignette, constructed around solid writing and good acting, which told something like, in effect, a short story. That, if done well, could have been a really good show.

    But this is Fox. “Where everything must be action, all the time.” Why have the first two episodes been so loaded with action and Echo almost getting shot/arrowed if Echo really is supposed to just be, in effect, a hooker? Either Fox are pushing the action angle hard, or Echo really was never meant to be what she was presented as and we’re going to be moving out of these initial stages very early on.

    I agree that, at this point, Dollhouse is not as good as Firefly was. But, Buffy and and Angel both had bad first seasons before getting really good, so I’m assuming the same could be true for DH. That’s why I’m just hoping it gets a chance to get there.

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