[caption id="attachment_1508" align="aligncenter" width="462" caption="Looking for the positives"][/caption]
Dollhouse - "Stage Fright" (Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon)
Joss Whedon and crew are continuing to run on goodwill with me. After Joss gave me Buffy and to a lesser extent Firefly I have been willing to give him a chance with his other material because I know he can deliver. However, I am being stretched by Angel, Dr Horrible and his hit and miss comics (from X-Men to Buffy).
I am only persisting with Angel because it is part of the wider Buffyverse. Otherwise, its poor plotting, boring and inconsistent characters and lack of continuity would have turned me off.
Like Angel I have found myself saying throughout the first three episodes of Dollhouse “but how?” or “but what?” and then immediately saying, “never mind”.
So I have to stop being at all concerned about how a super secret organization ever gets customers, how Topher manages to get any rest when he appears to be the only person monitoring the Actives’ activity (and we know that some missions are 24 hour), why Sierra wasn’t programmed to be both a number one fan and someone kick-ass (like Echo was programmed to be singer and protector), why was Victor wiped as Lubov and then sent out again as Lubov the next day, and other things if I could be arsed.
There were two moments in this particular episode that made me feel uncomfortable. I have the right to be challenged and made to feel uneasy but this show doesn’t deserve that right because it simply isn’t good enough. So when the manager backhands Rayna I think we are meant to feel that this may be a deserving slap after ten years of frustration working for this demanding and ungrateful diva (albeit heartbreakingly unhappy). However, she is so poorly characterised that her unenviable position isn’t made real and instead brings out a “who cares?” about her “plight” attitude in people. However, it must actually be awful to be in a goldfish bowl for so long but Julia Roberts’ line in Notting Hill said it all and better than anything in this episode: “I've been on a diet every day since I was nineteen, which basically means I've been hungry for a decade”. So in short, that slap felt in bad taste and mean.
This series hasn’t even reached the level of reasonably entertaining and mildly thought-provoking and it needs to do that before it can show me a woman suffering and it not seem gratuitous which is what happened when the stalker made Audra sing. She is terrified and upset and can barely do as she is asked. This scene felt completely unnecessary because it simply confirmed what we knew: he was a nutter. Unless in a future episode Sierra remembers this moment and uses it to her advantage then all it did was make me feel bad.
However, as I have said before, I am tired of characters suffering (or having others suffer on their behalf) so that they can develop so even if this does happen in the future it is still boring.
I have found it scarily easy to write negatively about Dollhouse but after three episodes it is a failure as far as I am concerned. People say look at the first three episodes of Buffy because they weren’t great but I don’t accept that a series made ten years ago by a first time showrunner can be compared to his fourth series made in a climate that demands it hits the ground running.
So why isn’t it good enough? The dialogue is often heavy-handed. Too many characters say something to Echo that have double meanings that are basically groan-worthy, e.g., Rayna asks if Echo/Jordan was born in a lab or some such clunky thing. Adelle at the end justifies her actions to Lawrence by recapping the episode. Paul’s “we split the atom – we made the bomb” speechifying was a tad obvious. The acting is inconsistent. I’ve on Eliza Dushku’s side for the last two episodes but her mannered gesticulation spoiled the scene when she confronts the singer in front of the mirror. I am giving her a chance because at some time she will be asked to do something more than act Faith-like (other than the sexy be-suited businesswoman type from “Ghost”). However, it is worrying that the actress who is generally known as not being very good in Neighbours is more convincing and is showing a more effective range (that’s one thing I did like about Sierra/Audra being kidnapped, Dichen Lachman’s performance). Finally, based on the first three episodes, the storylines are unengaging, clichéd and derivative.
Phew, after all that generally incoherent moaning I might try for some positivity. To reiterate, I do like Lachman (and she shares my birthday) and I loved that Lubov was Victor after all. Hopefully, Mellie is still a doll too. The scene between Lubov and Mellie (Old Navy and coffee) was an actual treat with both actors interacting well (and funny dialogue too). I thought Olivia Williams was better in this episode too. I think she will be better as a character if they tone down the haughtiness. And dammit, I am interested in the Dolls’ awakening: the shake of Echo’s head at the end was a great ending.
Of course, I will keep watching and my last three reviews of the series will involve the words “Joss, how did I doubt you?”