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Stylish, Inventive - And Completely Addictive!
Dollhouse - Season 1 (DVD)
Member Name: missrarr
Dollhouse - Season 1 (DVD)
Date: 18/12/11, updated on 18/12/11 (66 review reads)
Advantages: Stylish, brilliant acting, strong premise, great escapism
Disadvantages: Can easily take up your entire day....
I was lent the DVD of series one and was told I would love it - at the time I was working in a very intense job and didn't think I'd ever have the time to pay attention to it properly (I used to watch a multitude of films and series before starting the job but almost entirely stopped) but one day everything just got on top of me and a couple of autumns back I put this on to try an episode and found myself still there hours later when my then housemates got back in, and then got them intrigued as well.
Buffy fans will recognise the name of Eliza Dushku instantly from her days as rogue Slayer Faith in BTVS; she and Joss Whedon worked together to bring this project to fruition and in its two series it became another cult classic with high action, sci-fi storylines and strong acting underpinning another well-produced series.
The Dollhouse is an agency operating a selection of "actives", that is people who have effectively signed up, through various reasons be they sinister or of their own volition, to have their minds temporarily wiped and stored and allow their bodies to be used by the agency for whatever purposes their high-paying clients require.
Dushku plays Echo (although she doesn't realise that in a prior stage of life she was Caroline), one of the primary actives that feature in the series. At the time of her becoming part of the organisation, the Dollhouse has become an urban legend which has grown into an obsession for an FBI agent who is determined to track down the source of the rumours, fervently believing them to be true and hell-bent on bringing the organisation down even more so once he has become aware of the apparent disappearance of a pretty girl called Caroline, who he rightly believes to have become part of the agency.
In their dormant state the actives are calm, simple people who exist to be their best, to eat well and work out almost constantly - a way in which their controllers can ensure they have a ready supply of fit, healthy and beautiful actives which can then be mentally manipulated into being whatever they want them to. This is done at the hands of their resident "science guy" using technology similar to that used in The Matrix. As such, each active can become anything they are required to be - the perfect assassin, date, partner...you get the idea. In the particular 'Dollhouse' we see in this series, this process of mental manipulation is administered by goofy genius Topher, at first a seemingly flippant and materialistic character who seems perfectly comfortable with the strains the Dollhouse puts on its unwitting actives.
Each active has a keeper responsible for their well-being when out of the Dollhouse, and also charged with returning them there for a treatment which will remove their temporary personalities.
The first couple of episodes of this series were enjoyable but focused largely on the explanation of the premise behind the show and then resorts to Buffy-esque action storylines which are perfectly enjoyable escapism, setting the background story but also providing each episode with a storyline whilst the basis for the more in-depth content of the series as a whole, as the flaws behind the Dollhouse principle become more apparent and grow into storylines of their own.
For me the benefit of watching this series on DVD is that soon after the first two episodes, which are great TV and very inventive on their own, the truth behind the Dollhouse begins to emerge, the darker storylines start to evolve and the process behind FBI agent Paul Ballard's destructive obsession, as well as the extent to which the Dollhouse organisation are able to try to cover their tracks and infiltrate his life, become apparent. As well as this it becomes obvious that people had different reasons to joining the Dollhouse agency, be they sinister or otherwise, and the problems the exist below the surface of the organisation start to make themselves clear to those trying to control and manage the Dollhouse and the actives within it.
Dollhouse was another early victim of low ratings in America and was axed after two series, but in that time Joss Whedon put together yet another imaginative sci-fi gem.
For me the reason this series works is a combination of a great idea, brilliant characterisation and development from the production and writing team and a whole wealth of really strong acting performances from the cast.
Given the unusual premise of the show, i.e. that the actives are meant to effectively be devoid of personality, certain relationships are portrayed beautifully, such as that between actives Victor (Enver Gjokaj) and Sierra (Dichen Lachman). Tahmoh Penikett portrays the obsessed FBI agent Paul Ballard with brilliant intensity - as well providing more than his fair share of the eye candy on show! - whilst other stand outs are British actress Olivia Williams as the straight-laced and refined manager of the Dollhouse, Harry Lennix as Echo's morally compromised but deeply caring keeper and Amy Acker as the even more emotionally disturbed and questioning Dollhouse doctor, struggling herself with the lasting effects of the last time that one of the actives, Alpha, broke out of his docile state and took out his rage on the Dollhouse from the inside. Dushku herself is very strong as Echo, this role allowing her more breadth than her Faith from BTVS and also portraying the active's struggle as memories of who she has been asked to be start to break back through her subconscious and start to cause her to question her situation.
As I mentioned, the first two episodes of this series are good fun, well acted, high octane and full of action as the basic plot starts to develop, but for me the real strength to the show is Whedon's ability to put many layers to his shows, encapsulating not just the glamorous and high action aspects to the plot but also the deeper psychological issues, the emotional compromise the characters have to make and the personal reasons behind all of their being involved in the Dollhouse. Without wanting to spoil any of the plot, I would say that Miracle Laurie is brilliant in this respect as Mellie, but you'll have to catch the show to see why as this is a very powerful aspect to the story and gives a more human aspect to much of the premise of the Dollhouse.
In conclusion this is a great DVD for escapism and the quality of the directing and acting means it's not just another sci-fi series that showed up on the basis of a fun new idea and a stylish, good looking cast. I thoroughly recommend it and it has become my favourite choice for when you just have to crash out and indulge. As it was produced around 2009, it also still looks very modern whereas now Buffy The Vampire Slayer and to some degree Angel can sometimes now look a little dated.
I picked up my DVD via an eBay transaction but Amazon currently retail it for £9.99. It's classified 15. The DVD is in a standard-sized case which holds four disks, on which you have 12 episodes, plus features such as "Making Of...", deleted scenes and also a special called Epitaph One, the sequel to which appears on the Series 2 DVD; this is a special connected to the series looking forward to a future affected by the current role of the Dollhouse.
Summary: One of my favourite recent series
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