Newest Review: ... understandable to the average viewer. In an ordinary series I wouldn't mind so much, but with something that is so steeped in the roots... more
Welcome to the Dollhouse
Member Name: zombieflesh
Advantages: interesting storylines with many twists and turns, likeable characters, great acting, amazing sets
Disadvantages: takes a while to get going, not enough detail on the tech for my liking
The series Dollhouse was recommended to me by a friend, and after spotting that the whole two seasons would be airing on my beloved Syfy channel, I set my Sky box to record the lot. I much prefer to watch a TV series in a few condensed sessions rather than on a one-episode-per-week basis where I am likely to be distracted and forget parts of the storyline. I watched the entire two series over the space of about a fortnight, and although I have some minor reservations about the programme as a whole, the characters kept me hooked.
The show is created and produced by Joss Whedon, fan-boy favourite who is responsible for cult hit TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Whedon is assisted in this Production role by Eliza Dushku, who not only helped to develop the whole concept of the show, but is also the starring character of Dollhouse and worked with Whedon previously as character Faith in Buffy and Angel. They have worked together here to create a television show that has high-reaching aims and stands out from your usual run-of-the-mill TV storyline concepts. Each series has 13 episodes and the show was cancelled after just two seasons.
The overall concept of the Dollhouse is that it is a super-secret underground facility run by an incredibly powerful leading medical research company. The purpose of the Dollhouse is to provide their mega-rich clients with an active (a doll in programmed state) to suit the needs of their assignment. The dolls are signed up on a 5-year contract to serve the Dollhouse, and as part of this their personalities are completely removed, leaving only a blank shell of a person behind, who can them be imprinted with the personality, skills, and sometimes even physical attributes of whichever persona best fits the assignment. After each assignment is completed the active will have the temporary personality removed and return to their doll state. Being a zombie nut, this all reminds me of Resident Evil's Umbrella corporation, but the walking dead are actually the walking brainwashed! Of course, to the outside world the Dollhouse does not exist and is thought of as an urban legend, but there are those who are aware of it and want to expose it, as well as those on the inside that want to bring it down for good. I like the idea of the Dollhouse, and it generates lots of discussion within the episodes as to whether this is an immoral practice, with the dolls being slaves to the Dollhouse and used for whatever purpose their clients might desire. I love the idea that in this world, science has progressed so far that it is actually possibly to separate, remove, and implant a personality from the human brain. If there's one thing I wished for about the whole series, it's that I would have liked them to go into more detail with the scientific theory behind the process and give more details on the technology that is used. It's a fascinating idea, and I feel like a lot of the time this is sort of washed over with the assumption of it's an alternative view of the world where this is normal, and any tech talk is rushed through with long terms that aren't made understandable to the average viewer. In an ordinary series I wouldn't mind so much, but with something that is so steeped in the roots of science fiction I would prefer more exploration in this area rather than just showing off flashy gadgets without further contemplation.
There are a number of key characters who we follow throughout the two seasons and we begin to learn more about them as their stories develop and some of their secrets are revealed. Fans of Firefly will be happy to see that Wash (swoon!) makes a dramatic appearance in series one, and River also joins the show towards the end of series two as another kooky oddball.
Adelle DeWitt: director of the Dollhouse. Adelle is played by Olivia Williams who does an amazing job. I loved Adelle and think she is brilliant as the woman on top. Immaculately dressed, beautiful, powerful, cold-hearted, sarcastic, and English to top it off. She's hard to read and we don't get to learn much at all about her back-story, but I was really intrigued by her character.
Topher Brink: the mad scientist. Topher Brink is a genius neuroscientist, and is responsible for the technology and procedures that enable the Dollhouse to function. In a way it is scary that he has so much control over these people as he can barely deal with the basics of everyday life, and his moral compass is completely off the mark as he is so caught up in the thrill of realising his ideas without considering the consequences. Played by Fran Kranz, there is something childlike about this character and it's interesting to see how he relates to the other characters.
Echo: our leading lady. Known as Caroline in her previous normal life, Echo is the Dollhouse's number one active. She is different to the other dolls and after we see glimpses to her past it makes you question why she is really part of the Dollhouse. Echo is played by Eliza Dushku, and I think she is absolutely perfect in this character. She's completely gorgeous and pulls off the level of sex appeal needed for her "romance" assignments, and the wardrobe department have generously provided some rather provocative outfits to suit her various roles. I think she portrays all of the different characters she plays with a real sense of confidence, and I can completely believe that she is a different person each time she is imprinted with a different personality. Her mannerisms and speech patterns are all altered to convey a different persona, and in some cases she even pulls off some pretty good accents that all help to make it more convincing that she is a different person each time she's imprinted.
Boyd Langton: the bodyguard. Boyd is Echo's handler. Each doll has their own personal bodyguard, known as a "handler", to protect them while they are out on assignment. Boyd cares greatly for Echo's welfare and I like how this develops as he gains greater power within the Dollhouse. Boys is played by Harry Lennix who does an excellent job, and has a lovely voice that suits both the commanding and caring sides of his character.
Paul Ballard: the man on a mission. Paul is an FBI agent who is desperate to prove the existence of the Dollhouse and expose the truth to the world, as well as saving all of the dolls from what he believes to be a life of enforced slavery. Paul is played by Tahmoh Penniket and of all the main characters, he is the only one that I could not warm to. In fact, I would say that I actively disliked this character. I found that this role jars somewhat with the whole feel of the show, and he is just a typical justice-seeking, wannabe-hero FBI agent taking the moral high ground, that could have been pulled in from any generic action series or cop show. I think his involvement in the show is necessary to drive the plot forward but he just doesn't fit so nicely with the overall high concept of the show, and he's also the love interest focus for a couple of dull storyline branches.
There are also a few main dolls that we follow constantly through the series; Victor, Sierra, Whiskey, and Alpha. They are all beautiful and talented, and help to add depth to the storylines and relationships between other characters as well as throwing some highly dramatic elements into the plot.
What I love about Dollhouse is that it is incredibly creative and goes to great lengths to amaze you with its visions, as well as being so well written that as the plot twists and turns you will be left feeling genuinely surprised. There are some wonderful revelations that I never saw coming and were exciting to watch. The only problem is that it took quite a long time for the series as a whole to get really fired up. Some of the individual episodes really captured my imagination and were incredibly well executed in all areas, from the scripting, to the acting, to the production and direction. However the overall plot moved along slowly in the background to give the audience time to keep up with everything that was going on. It wasn't until episode 11 of series one that I finally thought "wow" and was completely drawn in to the series. Each episode is very different in terms of the assignments that we are following, and I think that gives a good representation of all the different types of things that are expected from the dolls. When they're turned active they could be anyone, and it's fun to see who they're going to be this time and what they're doing next. On the negative side, I really disliked the final episode of season one, as I thought it was quite disjointed and didn't fit very well with the rest of the series. It didn't even provide a good link into season two, as the storyline that is started off in this final episode is not touched upon again until near the end of season two. I thought that it was a bad choice of timing to use this as the season finale and I would have preferred something that provided a better conclusion to the first series, as well as leading into the next in a bit more of a flowing way. Thankfully, even though the show was cancelled, they have managed to complete season two in such a way that gives it a proper resolution and the show comes to an end quite neatly. Nearly all the loose ends are tied up and the conclusion is a fitting and well-deserved end that I think most people would appreciate and be happy with. There's nothing worse than coming across an engaging show like this and then having it simply cut off without knowing how things end. When you watch a TV series you invest time into following the characters and I always like to know that there is a complete ending, even if some points may be a bit ambiguous, but here there is a clear and satisfying finale.
Being a massive sci-fi and horror fan, I love a good loony and there are plenty of nasty bad guys that turn up throughout both seasons, from criminals and thugs to serial killers and rapists. This offers the opportunity for some scary moments and there are lots of well choreographed fight sequences. The violence is not overly graphic but if you are sensitive to this, or have issues with some of the controversial topics touched upon in Dollhouse then you may find it a bit too much as this is recurrent throughout each episode. There is a real dark side to Dollhouse, and there are sinister elements creeping in from all angles: the treatment of the dolls, the world-powerful medical research company, research and development into advanced and potentially devastating technologies, the "attic" where they send "broken" dolls, mental physical and sexual abuse, and of course mind control. I like that it touches upon some difficult topics and in some ways the show seems to have a strong moral viewpoint of either "this is clearly right" or "this is clearly wrong", but I also like that in other ways the morality is brushed away without even a pause for contemplation, and that some things can be questionable but justifiable in as much as getting the right end result makes it acceptable to use any means necessary to achieve this. It's not all so heavy, and there are many light-hearted touches to add a bit of fun or humour when needed. Some scenarios are portrayed in a very sensitive but simple way and at times can be moving and emotional, as I began to care about and become involved with the characters.
The show puts a lot of resource into having everything look a certain way, and is also enjoyable for its high quality sets. There are many different locations and settings used through both seasons and they look stunning. The Dollhouse itself is a work of art and it makes for great viewing when you see the level of detail shown to the surroundings that they've used to film each scene. Dollhouse also features a really good soundtrack. This is something that can be really hit or miss on TV shows, but where the music comes in, it works to great effect and really helps to add another level of interest to the scenes.
Overall, I think Dollhouse is an original TV show with a fascinating concept. It mixes science fiction with action in a nice balance, and also has a quirky feeling about it with touches of off-beat humour thrown in to balance out the darker side. I have a few small issues with it as described above, but in general I think it makes a good change from the usual sort of drivel that is served up on TV. It will appeal mostly to fans of science fiction, but I think that it could have gained popularity and reached a wider audience as the depth of the characters and the interesting storylines make it appealing to watch.
Summary: Welcome to the Dollhouse