Monday, September 28, 2009
DOLLHOUSE SEASON PREMIERE - MY REVIEW
I came very late to the Dollhouse party and mainly got there by accident. I was working one night and bored so I started watching Dollhouse on Hulu.com and about halfway through really began liking it. I don't care for Eliza Dushku at all, she can't act, she's not really that pretty and on screen she seems either fake or flat. That whole thing works in Dollhouse because she doesn't have to be anybody for a long period of time, right when she starts chewing up the scene she's gets a "Treatement" and we're back out again.
As season 2 kicks off everybody is still reeling from the effects of Alpha's (the bad Doll) violent visit to the Dollhouse. Echo (Dushku) is now on loan to Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Peniket) the obsessive FBI agent who invaded the Dollhouse at the end of last season and was then given a job helping to find Alpha. SOMEHOW that meant he and Echo go undercover to find an arms dealer. Echo's programming has led her to become the wife of the arms dealer which disgusts Ballard as he pines for her.
Meanwhile Dr. Claire Saunders (Amy Acker) is having a complete mental breakdown. Since discovering she was a doll reprogrammed to be the house Doctor and that her face was cut up by Alpha because he wanted Echo to be number one, she's been focusing her rage on overly dorky Dollhouse brain Topher Brink (Fran Kranz). Echo's former handler Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix) grows more concerned about Echo's evolution and her ability to resist the mind wipes. He's also grown fond of Dr. Saunders which makes her even more unstable.
That's essentially the opening episode and to be honest it's kind of a clunker. It isn't bad per-say it just isn't great, it isn't the episode that should have kicked off the season. Season 1 ended with such a great high that this even toned episode is almost boring. I realize it's the first episode but there's little done with the relationship between doll's Victor (Enver Gjokaj) and Sierra (Dichen Lachman) which was one of the best things about season one. There's a cool little ending bit with them but I wanted to see more.
The main problem with the story is the arms dealer thing which goes from stupid to absolutely unbelievable in record time. There is supposed to be this tension between Echo and Ballard that isn't there mainly because both Dushku and Peniket are one note actors. Dushku does sexy/confused and Peniket does angry/bitter and that just doesn't make for good chemistry. There's also the wrap up of the arms dealer story which is so beyond believable that it feels like the writers stuffed it in to give a reason for Paul Ballard to become Echo's new handler.
The thing that does really work is the weird venomous tirade of Dr. Saunders against Topher Brink. She hates him and it is obviously hurting Brink each day. Amy Acker is awesome as the ruthless Dr. Saunders and as each mind game gets worse she gets better at being a bitch. At the same time Acker plays the Dr to where you feel bad for her and riding that line is never easy. Even Fran Kranz brings his A-game to his portrayal of Topher in this episode. The final confrontation between the two of them is the best scene of the episode and the most well written thing on the entire show so far. Amy Acker is leaving the series and that will leave a considerable hole.
What Joss Whedon and the other writers for Dollhouse need to be careful of is losing the humanity of each player. Paul Ballard has started to suck so badly as a person you don't care what he does or who he is, in fact when he's on screen I tend to doze off. They also need to make sure they don't vilify too much Claire DeWitt (Olivia Williams) the cougar-like head of the entire Dollhouse. Last season she had a lot of sides and layers but in this episode she struts around like Cruella DeVille and that's kind of beneath who she is.
I've been a big fan of enough of Joss Whedon's stuff to realize he's the master of the slow-roll-and-boil. Things creep along and then BANG take off so I'm still excited to see where season 2 goes as the year progresses. With this episode I just saw some of the same cracks in the armor that started towards the end of last season and I'd hate for those to become giant holes that consume an otherwise good show.