Television: Dollhouse

Starring: Eliza Dushku, Harry Lennix, Fran Kranz
FOX, Fridays at 9:00 PM


Like so many other television sci-fi cultists out there, I like Joss Whedon. I loved Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. So now I'm trying Dollhouse, despite my lack of love for Eliza Dushku. (And right now they're playing Lady GaGa's "Let's Dance," so points deducted for that, too.)

And why is Walid from Day 6 of 24 here?

Never minding that, the simple premise of the show is as follows: Dushku plays "Echo" a living "doll"--a person who can be programmed to become whomever clients of the Dollhouse require. This includes (apparently) escorts, kidnapping negotiators, and plain ol' kick-ass agents. Echo is wiped clean after each escapade, not able to remember what or who she was. From what I can determine, it's rather like restoring factory settings to a CPU.

There's also an X-Files kind of element in which a federal agent has been assigned to seek the Dollhouse, which many others in the Bureau believe is a fiction. But of course this one agent doggedly believes it's real.

The use of the name "Echo" is an interesting if obvious choice by Whedon. Echo is, of course, the mythological nymph who loved to talk. When she tricked Juno, the goddess cursed Echo to only repeat the words of others and never to be able to speak for herself. Then Echo fell in love with Narcissus. But of course she couldn't tell him, and meanwhile he was too wrapped up in himself to notice. So Echo pined away until all that was left of her was, well, her echoing voice.

Also, Echo has begun to remember little "echoes" from her past. Chalk it up to a flaw in her programming, triggered by coming into contact with something/someone from her history--she is becoming self-aware. Oh no! (Insert feminist rant here.) If they can do this with women, why not men? Where are the good looking guys? After all, when I was a little girl, I had boy dolls as well as girl ones. Any way you slice it, the answer isn't flattering. It's all girls in the Dollhouse because they're somehow "easier" to program (suggesting weaker minds), or because they're what clients want (pretty girls), or because it's what the people running the Dollhouse prefer (pretty girls). You could try and spin it that the women are, in fact, stronger, which is why they're the ones chosen, but physically that's simply not completely sound. Some women are strong--physically and mentally--but in most cases men are built more solidly, and you can't insist that women are always the better choice for any given "engagement" the Dollhouse might have on its roster.

My husband points out that Dollhouse takes a lot from The Pretender: someone special, capable of being anyone, all things to all people, something new and exciting every week. And meanwhile there's a shady organization behind it all. I can see this, but Jared's childlike wonder made The Pretender a wonderful chiaroscuro, whereas everything I've seen thus far in Dollhouse (yes, just one episode, and a reworked pilot at that) is decidedly dark--all dark. Just no humor at all, no levity. Like swallowing lead. But maybe that's just the first cast of the fishing line, sinking into the water, soon to reel viewers in.

I'll give it a couple more episodes anyway and see what kind of trajectory it takes. After all, there's nothing else on Friday nights, so if you're going to be home (and I always am), you might as well watch.


Anonymous said...

there were male "dolls" they just were not the focus of this episode -- looks like we will see more next week

and as much as I liked the pilot I really do think it is a huge rip-off of "The Pretender" which is disappointing given how original Whedon's concepts have been in the past

Manda said...

hmm, I missed the male dolls somehow (my mistake, mea culpa), but I'm glad to hear they exist; let's hope we do see more of them . . . I wonder if the Dollhouse works like a modeling agency, in which the clients just choose from a big book of headshots? or if the "housekeepers" pick the best person for the job? (that's just me musing openly)

Anonymous said...

I saw male dolls in the shower. The communal shower. How was that all totally asexual? Do the dolls not have a libido? Anyway, I was a bit disappointed by the fact that it seemed to be lacking some of Whedon's wit and originality, too. I'm hoping we'll see more of that as it goes on. I actually like Eliza. I really liked her in Tru Calling. Keith doesn't like her either. It seems Eliza is one of those actors that people either really like or just plain don't care for. I got a bit of a Dark Angel feel from it and another one of friends said it felt a bit like Alias. (I've never seen Alias, though.)

Manda said...

I think they must turn off the dolls' sex drive when it isn't needed (for "escort service" purposes). After all, a pregnant doll wouldn't do them much good! Although I guess they could just sterilize them? Hmm. Maybe they just don't want to deal with emotional entaglements, so all emotions are "off" more or less when a doll isn't active.

I equate Eliza with Jessica Alba, and I don't like either of them. Not sure why; they just hit me wrong in some way.