Dollhouse was created by Joss Whedon and stars Eliza Dushku who he worked with on Buffy and its spinoff Angel. It is also good to see them working together again after Dushku reportedly turned down a Buffy spin-off based on her character, Faith in order to take the lead role in Tru Calling (shame really Faith was always a more interesting character than Buffy). Dushku plays Echo a Doll or “Active” part of illegal, underground organization known as the Dollhouse. The Actives are hired to wealthy and powerful people to fulfil their every need from prostitution to assignation and anything else they can come up with. The science-fiction twist is that the Actives have their minds wiped clean and before each mission have a new persona imprinted. The new personas are constructed to make the dolls perfectly suited to their mission or “engagement” as Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams) the leader of the Dollhouse insists on calling them. At the end of each engagement involves the Active being wiped again before reentering the dollhouse. Most of the episodes concentrate on an “engagement” and seem to be stand alone, however there is an ongoing narrative that develops from episode to episode. This narrative has two main threads; firstly the Actives begin to show signs of residual memories or instincts of their past life and their persona from “engagements”. The other element is FBI Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett – best known from Battlestar Galactica) who is on a solo mission to find and closedown the dollhouse that no one else believes exists.
The first thing fans of Joss Whedon’s other creations will notice is the real world setting, it replaces the supernatural fantasy of Buffy and the outer space of Firefly with present day LA where the wiping and imprinting of minds is the only science-fiction element present. You soon realise this isn’t relevant as like all his previous shows it is the engaging characters and the well written stories that matter and not the setting. It doesn’t have the same comedy as Buffy or Firefly but that is clearly intentional. Like in previous shows Whedon is not afraid to ask moral questions in his creations. It also explores the idea a persons memory is their identity, taking a different but equally valid path to Blade Runner or Total Recall.
I know it has received mixed reviews but I struggle to see why, the show really has a lot going for it. True it isn’t as good as Firefly but not many shows are! My only advice is not to drag it out for too long. Both Buffy and Angel really lost their way in later seasons whilst Firefly left the fans wanting more. Dollhouse should things up after two or three seasons to avoid it getting cancelled mid plot. Having said that I have seen the first eight episodes so don’t know how the rest of season one or season two will pan out. There have already been a few nice twists involving the characters making it is clear anyone is fair game for a shock revelation. I know there will be more to come.
I have now seen the rest of season one and it doesn’t disappoint. The plot unfolds a little bit each episode and the last two are amongst the best in the series. I have also seen episode 13 “Epitaph One” (Look out for Felicia Day, Penny from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) set ten years in the future. It is an interesting one; it gives a different prospective by showing the consequences of what the Dollhouse is doing. However it does this without doing much to advance the plot of the present day series. I suspect it was made thinking the show would be axed. I understand this episode wasn’t screened in America but was here in the UK. The unaired pilot that appears as a special feature on the DVD should not be watched until after the series as it spoils a few of the plot twists and its continuity doesn’t fit the series. It is however worth seeing as it has some great scenes. Many of the questions raised are not explained and there are lots of plot threads left without closure so I am really looking forward to season two.