Let me be upfront about something: I’m a fan of Joss Whedon. I have always enjoyed his tales, from “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” to “Firefly”. I always found his stories to be captivating and his characters loveable… even the bad guys. I don’t know what it is about his style, but it’s fantastic and enjoyable.
“Dollhouse” didn’t have much success in the appropriately termed “Friday Night Death Slot” on FOX. However, in the minds of fans that quickly fell in love with the characters and premise of the show, Joss Whedon hit another home run.
For those individuals who haven’t had active architecture embedded in their brains yet, the show goes a little something like this: A Dollhouse is a place where the rich and powerful can go to have their every wish fulfilled. Need to assassinate a powerful CEO in charge of a rival company? Want to hire the perfect sexpot for your birthday? Do you require a world class hacker than can breach the strongest firewalls? Then you want to head down to the Dollhouse and hire a Doll.
A Doll is a regular person like you or me. Well, maybe not me. You see Dolls are extremely attractive people who sign a contract for five years of service to the Dollhouse. At the start of their five year tenure, each Doll has their mind imprinted with “active architecture”. In laymen’s terms, this gives the Doll the ability to be imprinted with a multitude of skills, personalities, behaviors… basically giving you the ability to create whomever you like to do whatever you like.
When not on a mission, the Dolls are put into a child-like emotionless state, and participate in activities like yoga, painting, and meditation in the Dollhouse. The original personality is uploaded to a hard drive and placed in a protected archive, so when the contract expires, the original personality is reinserted back into the original body. To the former Doll, it would seem as no time has elapsed. They are given a large sum of money for their service, enough to live comfortably for the rest of their days.
In the show we follow a small, but full cast of characters portrayed brilliantly by a very talented group of actors who were robbed during this year’s award season:
Caroline/Echo (Eliza Dushku): Caroline was a very liberal college student who wanted to expose The Rossum Corporation (the secret founders of the Dollhouse program) for their dangerous experiments on humans. She broke into a Rossum lab and tried to sabotage it by planting explosives. She was captured and was forced to become a Doll against her will and was given the call sign “Echo”. She is the most requested Doll at the Los Angeles Dollhouse. She is also blessed/cursed with the ability to hold onto every persona she has had inserted into her mind.
Anthony/Victor (Enver Gjokaj): Anthony, or Tony as his friends call him, was an Afghanistan war veteran. After his tour of duty overseas, he was diagnosed with a severe case of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). He went to the Dollhouse with the understanding that once his five year contract had expired, his original persona would be placed back into his body, but his PTSD would be completely cured, thanks to the mind altering abilities of the Dollhouse. The Victor persona began to fall in love with another Doll in the house named Sierra, despite having the ability to understand what love is.
Priya/Sierra (Dichen Lachman): Priya was an Australian who moved to Venice Beach, CA. She lived a very bohemian lifestyle as an artist. One day, while attempting to sell her work on the boardwalk, she met a rich doctor who quickly became obsessed with her. He offered to throw her a party to showcase her art. He hired both Echo and Victor to be his ultimate wingmen at the party. They attempted to talk Priya into seeing how desirable the doctor really was. The doctor’s plans backfired when Priya was immediately attracted to Victor. When Priya rejects the doctor’s advances, he becomes violent and Priya runs for her life. He has her captured and admitted to his hospital. She is kept drugged up on psychotics and is diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. The doctor then contacts the Dollhouse and tells them that this beautiful girl has no family and would be a perfect candidate for a Doll. Priya is transformed into Sierra and she and Victor inadvertently rekindle their initial connection. In reality, the doctor has created the opportunity to be with his obsession whenever he likes, often times having Sierra dress in costumes and revealing outfits.
Madeline/November (Miracle Laurie): Much isn’t known about Madeline’s life outside the Dollhouse. We first meet her alter-ego, November, living across the hall from FBI agent Paul Ballard who is hot on the trail of the Dollhouse and eager to prove to his superiors that this urban legend is real. November is a sleeper agent and under deep cover in order to keep an eye on Agent Ballard. She has been tailored to fall madly in love with the FBI Agent, and he falls for her in return.
Alpha (Alan Tudyk): Alpha is the main villain of Season 1. He’s one of the first dolls created at the Los Angeles Dollhouse, and just like most technology, the prototypes are always have a few kinks to work out. Alpha has a similar situation to Echo in that he has many personalities swimming around in his head, but unlike Echo, his personalities are mostly psychopaths and killers. During what was dubbed as a “composite event”, all of Alpha’s personalities emerged at once causing a severe psychotic break. Alpha escaped the Dollhouse and killed and maimed many of the helpless Dolls walking about. When he came across Echo, he left her alone because he became obsessed with her, swearing that he would return for her.
Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams): She is the big boss of Dollhouse LA. She’s cold and business savvy, but it’s clear after meeting other Dollhouse’s bosses that she treats her Dolls differently than others. She’s like a pineapple; abrasive on the outside, but sweet on the inside. She frequently sent Victor on missions for a client named Ms. Lonely Hearts, who was in fact Adelle seeking an emotional and physical relationship. As she observed Victor and Sierra developing a deep seeded love for one another, she grew disappointed at the site. She is viciously loyal to her staff and the Dolls.
Topher Brink (Fran Kranz): Topher Brink is a genius. He’s an expert in neurology, programming, and a proud geek. He’s responsible for imprinting and wiping the Dolls before and after each mission respectively. He enjoys his work and is frequently boasting about his skills. Out of all the characters in the Dollhouse, I think the fan boys can resonate the most with Topher. He was also the recruiter responsible for bringing Sierra from the asylum to the Dollhouse.
Boyd Langdon (Harry Lennix): Boyd is a former cop who became Echo’s “handler”. Each Doll is observed and escorted by one of these Handlers on each mission. He is very protective of Echo and often poses philosophical points of view to Adelle when discussing the Dolls and their work.
There are a few other characters I could write about at this point, but the list is already so long, I think I’ll move on at this point. I’ve covered all the major players. In addition, these descriptions fit everyone at various points in Season 1.
Season 1 is long over, but I wanted to briefly mention it because it never quite sat right with me. The characters felt disjointed, the plot was interesting enough to keep me watching but was confusing as well. Was I watching a mission of the week show, or a character drama with long running story arcs. I also never really felt the connection between Paul Ballard and Millie/November. Overall, Season 1 was pretty decent. It felt like a shopping cart with one wheel that doesn’t quite work right.
Season 2 fixed that wheel, turbo-charged the shopping cart with nitrous, and added a mounted machine gun. I felt like this was finally the show I was waiting for. It’s like Season 1 was a prologue and I finally started seeing Chapter 1 of this epic tale. Unfortunately for myself, and all of the other fans of this show, there would only be that one chapter. I felt Season 2 was a little rushed, but it makes sense considering they were trying to wrap up the story nicely. I felt the series finale was strong, action packed, and I didn’t have any major issues with it. After seeing the finale, I could see how this series could have lasted for at least five solid seasons.
Dollhouse didn’t work for people because it didn’t find its footing early on. Its timeslot didn’t help things, and FOX didn’t really market the show well. I think if Whedon had defined the show better in its first season, the show could have done better. I think Dollhouse will be looked back on with great potential and once again, Whedon manages to hook you with characters you care deeply for in a very short amount of time. It’s no Firefly, but it’s a fantastic show with beautiful visuals and fantastic actors.
Let me touch briefly on the acting… TOP NOTCH! A lot of critics knocked Eliza Dushku’s performance as Echo and I have to defend her. She played her various characters well, but a lot of her time in the first season was playing an emotionless Doll. She did so in a way that subtlety let you know she was different from the others. Harry Lennix, Dichen Lachman, and Olivia Williams were fantastic supporting characters as well. They managed to show a wide variety of emotions accurately and their performances always felt real, especially Dichen Lachman during her flashback episode showing Priya’s depressing past. Fran Kranz did a fantastic job as Topher. He felt like the heart of the Dollhouse staff and managed to bring a bit of humor to this cast that are busy dealing with morally grey topics. There is also a brief romance between Topher, and a character played by Summer Glau of Firefly/Sarah Conner Chronicles fame that is adorable and if your heartstrings aren’t plucked… you have no soul. Alan Tudyk also puts in a fine performance as the psychotic Alpha. I read somewhere that he should be cast as the next Joker in the Batman series and now that I have heard that, I couldn’t think of another person to play the role, and still do justice to Heath Ledger’s legendary performance.
I’m starting a new paragraph here because I feel like Enver Gjokaj deserves his own praise separate from the rest of the cast. When we’re first introduced to Victor, he had a flawless deep Russian accent. Then we saw Victor’s innocent Doll voice, followed by a wide variety of characters: a hopeless romantic, a soldier in the US Army, an art dealer, an NSA Agent, a serial killer, Kiki the female fun loving college student, and even a second Topher. He played each part flawlessly and every performance was completely believable. I honestly feel like Enver was robbed during this awards season and should have at least been nominated, if not won awards for Best Supporting Actor. I look forward to seeing more of this fine actors performances and Enver, if you read this, I have a leading role for you… cause just like everyone in LA, I’m a writer.
So after all that, what did I take away from this show? I enjoyed the actors performances, the overall plot, and the universe Joss Whedon created. I am disappointed I won’t see more tales of Echo and the rest of the Dolls. I plan on buying the DVDs and placing them firmly next to my Firefly boxed set, where they belong. I hope you go out and buy them too!
Well done cast and crew of Dollhouse. Although FOX sent you to The Attic, your fans will remember you. Thanks for the memories!Last 5 posts by Josh Singleton
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