Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Dollhouse

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A few quick Dollhouse reflections in light of tonight’s “season” finale. Spoilers below, naturally.

* All in all the Alpha plotline was fairly disappointing, my appreciation for Alan Tudyk aside. It reduced a little too neatly to a run-of-the-mill serial-killer plotline when there seemed to be much, much more potential there. I’m not calling network interference, necessarily, but things seemed rushed and a little undercooked. Joss fumbled this one.

(UPDATE: To be more precise, he fumbled the plotline in almost exactly the same way he fumbled the Adam and First Evil storylines on Buffy. The composite event—which shouldn’t have been caused by a mechanical malfunction—should have made Alpha actually Godlike. Alpha’s portrayal in this episode ruins almost everything about what was interesting about the character to begin with. It’s also somewhat inconsistent with the way the event had been portrayed in earlier episodes, especially with regard to Topher and Adele’s puzzlement over how it happened—which is not to suggest Dollhouse has a particularly good record on the consistency front in any case.)

* Called the Fred situation last week, though I was hoping she’d known she was a Doll all along. I think the character had significantly more potential that way—though it’s interesting to think that she was just set up to be the hero of the second season, the Dollhouse’s only self-aware victim and the audience’s new clearest focal point for narrative identification.

* Which also makes her a pretty good candidate for season two’s Big Bad.

* Neil and I spent a lot of time last week talking about Dr. Saunders and whether or not her Dollness suggests that the Dollhouse is able to do direct editing/programming of memories (“imprint code”), as opposed to a fuzzier, less exact approach (“imprint soup”). (I’d always assumed imprint code, and that most of the characters would turn out to have been modified in some way or another; Neil was more skeptical.) At first glance, this episode suggests they can edit directly—but the more I think about it it seems more likely that every Dr. Saunders is a Doll.

UPDATE: Though the fact that Fred/Saunders remembers a version of the Alpha attack that explains her scars may shift the balance back towards direct editing / imprint coding again.

* Is Victor really gone? He was one of the best actors on the show, that’s just not possible.

* It will would be interesting to see whether Mellie is really released. I’m also curious what deal Ballard signed; “I’m nobody” suggests he agreed to do the rest of her service as a Doll, whereas I think most people were expecting he’d be hired as a handler.

* Since the Dollhouse’s contracts aren’t legal, of course, there’s no reason not to have your cake and eat it too. Once Ballard is enslaved, bring Madeline back in for a treatment.

* It also remains the case that you’d want every employee to be a Doll, all things being equal; see Dr. Saunders above. Why would they even let Dominics, Boyds, and Tophers in the door, when they can cook up compliant and perfectly loyal substitutes in-house? One possible answer to this might have to do with the exact nature of the Doll programs; if they’re imprint-soups as opposed to imprint-codes, maybe there are structural limits to how long they can be used before the personality imprint goes bad or breaks down.

* Echo/ED remains, by far, the least interesting thing about this show. I was really hoping they’d kill off the Caroline wedge so at least something interesting would happen there.

* Well, that’s a little unfair; apropos of the Great Transporter Debate this episode makes it a little hard to see how the process of being “wiped” isn’t itself necessarily death. If we accept that continuity of consciousness is required for metaphysical identity—and we wave our hands at things like sleep for just a moment—then it would seem to be the case that “Caroline” can be hypothetically restored after her five years are up and she’s hypothetically released from her contract. But it’s equally clear that the person who wakes up in Chrissy Seaver’s body is not metaphysically identical to the original Caroline. So how can the one revival result in a “real” resurrection and the other in a “false” one? What’s the difference between “copy” and “restore”? It could only be Ballard’s “soul,” which, like Topher, I scoff at. So it seems to me that when you’re switched off, that’s it, you’re dead, which has some pretty serious implications for comas, head injury, amnesia, insanity, aging, sleep, and just about everything else having to do with what we naively believe consciousness is.

*Hope you noticed and enjoyed the brief Firefly shout-out as much as I did. Take that, Fox. (UPDATE: Missed at first the Angel bit about souls in jars—it was a double shoutout to both his unjustly canceled shows…)

Sadly, despite the hopes of all good nerds, that’s probably it for Dollhouse. But “Epitaph One” comes out with the DVD this July, and there’s even rumors today that Joss might spin-off that into a new show. Because spin-offs of failed one-season flops are so very common.

Written by gerrycanavan

May 9, 2009 at 2:30 am

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