Friday, July 31, 2009
So, I watched the mysterious thirteenth episode of Dollhouse last night and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on it with you all, whether you like it or not. This is today’s blog, deal with it. Anyway, in a nutshell, my reactions are thus: It was sloppy, unfocused, riddled with holes and unnecessary moments, and lacking any real resolution, let alone any real coherent answers.
So, Dollhouse is the meandering, somewhat muddily-purposed show created by TV Legend and Internet Sensation, Joss Whedon. It’s his fourth show and it shares many, many good things in common with his previous three shows, which were all pretty awesome. Now, mostly this list includes, well defined characters, strong female roles, some neat-o ideas and interesting twists, not to mention some surprisingly funny moments and some general bad-assery.
However, while I enjoy the show Dollhouse, I have to admit that, for the most part, it does lack one specific and important thing that the other three had in common: A strong linking story and/or a focused purpose.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many linking threads within the show itself, but, as I’ve discussed before, if you were to ask “What is Dollhouse about?” You would be hard-pressed to come up with a concise elevator pitch of an answer beyond the show’s, admittedly open-ended and interesting, hook, which is:
Mind wiped Humans, called Actives, are kept in a fancy-pants condo underground so that they can be hired out by a ultra super-secret corporation, for various purposes, as demanded by a list of elite clientele. These Actives can be imprinted with various personalities and skill sets, so that they can be anything that the list of elite clientele may require (hookers). Echo (Eliza Dushku) is one of them, but when she… uh… And then what?
I don’t know what.
And that’s always kind of been my main problem with the show: “And then what?” From the moment the show was first announced, that paragraph above was basically all you could ever find about it, except for the “And then what” I tacked on at the end, which, to me, is shocking. I mean, that’s not a show synopsis, right? That’s a hook. So, what is this show about?
But like I said: I’ve already covered this… twice…
So, anyway, a few years ago, Fox watched the beautiful and delicate flower, that was the mistake of canceling Firefly, bloom into a moderately successful little movie for Universal. Fox realized then that had they allowed Firefly to receive the love and care it needed, it could have bloomed into something fucking huge, which is exactly what Fox had been looking for when it green-lit the show in the first place… a bankable, reliable, geek TV franchise… Well, they dropped the ball, so when Whedon came a’ knocking again, with his desire to work with Eliza and with her being bound by contract to Fox, the studio wisely green-lit his new project, hoping for a second attempt to try to catch some Whedon-lightning in a bottle.
Unfortunately, Fox, being the uber-douches that they are, they couldn’t help but interfere in the show’s process. This decision, despite the fact that their entire history of this practice shows this to be unwise, nearly resulted in the death of the show, which, thankfully, was able to limp its way into a second season. Fox, however, because they suck mega-ass, are still pissed at Joss for being successful after they canceled him the last time, so they decided to trash his original pilot for Dollhouse and forced him to re-shoot. Joss does, because what other option does he have, and then through the course of the series precedes to cannibalize the unaired pilot and redistribute the important ideas amongst the remaining episodes. As a direct result of this, and because of the way DVD box sets are put together, apparently, Fox and Whedon found themselves with only 12 episodes when 13 are needed. So Whedon rushes out and films a 13th episode. And of course, Fox refuses to air it. Why? No one knows, although I suspect that A. Fox was being petty, because they’re dicks. B. They were hoping to re-croup some of the money they poured into the show and didn’t get back because the show was only kind of successful, even though it was mostly their fault due to their interference, so they put it on the DVD set only, which forces most fans to buy it. And C. Fox is run by assholes.
Where was I…?
Oh yeah, so ok, so mysterious, unaired 13th episode is found on the DVD set only. Also, there were rumors of some post-apocalyptic-y goodness, so I was very interested. And, so, in the fullest of time, it came to pass that last night, I finally got to watch it.
Here’s the synopsis:
Everything past here is filled with spoilers, but come on, you really can’t guess what’s going to happen? Pay attention, for God’s sake, you Geek Dilettante.
Dollhouse, Episode 13: Epitaph One
The show opens on the girl from Dr. Horrible, alive and in a Post apocalyptic future, and man, is she dressed for it too, military-ish jacket, some scarves, a bit of dirt on her cheek and an MP-5 (look it up, lazy) awkwardly slung around her neck. I bet she’s wearing combat boots. Oh! She totally is. This is DEFINITELY a dystopian future, people. Anyway, she is scouting for someone. We can see flames in the background while she uses some ridiculous faux-military talk and some even more ridiculous Future-slang on her Walkie Talkie. (Star Trek doesn’t do this, how come any show set 9 to 20 years in the future always does? “I need some greenbacks, speedy, or the black-boots are gonna lay Napalm-death on my habitat, man.” … Fuck you.) Then she throws away her walkie-talkie. The camera pulls back to reveal the horribleness of the post apocalyptic near future, where the world is nothing but the back of a construction company lot. Uh, oh… rampant trash-can fires.
(Okay, I should pause here and explain that the reason for the extra snark is that Whedon claims this is his best work ever, and while it’s a fine episode, let me assure you, the man is mistaken. Also, I’m feeling caustic.)
So anyway… The little group is a disparate mix of clichés: Man hero, square jawed and obviously not the main focus (dead), Girl Hero, spunky, sensitive, mousey (Whedon fav), Guy jerk, a guy and a jerk (Whedon snark mouth piece), Superfluous girl, destined to make poor decision (dead), Little girl, oh so cute, but holder of dark, squinty-eyed secret (Yawn… dead), Old guy, one foot in the grave before the episode even started (dead).
They are searching for a safe haven because the world is now populated by Butchers (28 Days Later Rage infected people), Dumb Shows (Like zombies, but alive and without the brain hunger and saddled with the dumbest Future Slang name ever) and others called Wielders (Number 35 on the list of things the show didn’t really bother to address, but it might be people who have hi-jacked someone else’s body, but then, how would I know, since they never really say...)
Also, people now are deathly afraid of Tech, as they call it, or anything that broadcasts a signal, as apparently the technology that was used in the Dollhouse to imprint the Actives has been upgraded, so that it can be used to create a massive impromptu army (ala Stephen King’s The Cell) or by people who want a new body (ala Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs books), or to mind wipe a population, presumably by an invading country in order to lessen resistance (ala The Republican Party). Okay, but wait, you say… Wasn’t she using a Walkie Talkie in the beginning of the show? Yes, she was… Oops… Sloppy. Yes, she did throw it away, but you’d assume in this new world, they would just never pick up shit like that, wouldn’t you? Yes, you would… sloppy.
So, the group hides in the sewers and discovers the entrance to the Dollhouse. There they start loading Old Man with memories they found on the Dollhouse mainframe, in order to put together what happened. In a nutshell: Dollhouse tech gets out, surprise, surprise, man… blows it all up, damn you! Craziness reigns. Wars, body theft for immortality, oh the horror, man’s inhumanity to man, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria, blah, blah, blah, boom. The regular cast can be seen lamenting the inhumanity of it all while dressed in the appropriate amount of scarves and military jackets. MP-5s abound. There is also lots of patented Whedon Crazy talk/Oracle speak from a few characters… oh, dear show watchers, glean the important bits, like hard candy among falling leaves, crumble, crumble, there’s a killer among you, like dreams… breaking into smoke…
Then, the superfluous girl decides to strip down and shower. We are shown that she has a nice butt and then she is beaten to death from a single blow by the Mag-lite of Doom. Was that a bad decision on her part? I don’t think so, I mean really, who would have seen that coming? I know whenever I’m in a freaky-weird, dark, abandoned underground spa, the first thing I do, The FIRST thing, is strip naked and shower. It’s always a good idea to take a little time to wash the ol’ wang, especially when the World has ended and there are crazy people hunting you.
Even better, this is a waste of time for more than one reason. This murder is only used so that when Whiskey reveals herself (Fred from Angel) we have a moment of “oh, my God, Whiskey is a Ca-Razy killa!” But this only lasts for about one minute and seventeen seconds as the remaining characters decide to believe the mind wiped and therefore kind of retarded Whiskey and then proceed to completely forget that A. Naked superfluous girl is dead and B. That there’s still a killer on the loose. And guess what? That comes back later and totally bites them in the ass. I am serious as a heart attack.
You would think that whole murder thing could have been removed and the time it used better utilized to maybe, I don’t know, lay some more linking back-story, as during all this, we’re still tripping through various people’s memories, even though its never shown at what point most of these people submitted to the download… but… well… sloppy… And according to this back-story, there is a safe haven out there, where people can download anti-mind wipe software into their heads or something. It turns out that Eliza is the new Moses. You can tell by the scarf and the pistol in the back of her pants, because in the future, while there is NO shortage of sub-machine guns, there is apparently a complete lack of pistol holsters. You just can not find those fucking things anywhere. I defy you to find a holster anywhere in a dystopian future. Nope, just stick it down the back of your pants, because its not uncomfortable at all, or hard to hold there, should you suddenly need to run.
So they download Eliza into the little girl, who turns out to be a random body hijacker killer or something. Which, sidebar: How the fuck was a 10 year old supposed to have wielded the Mag-lite of Doom? Superfluous naked chick was not only wet and slippery, but she was shown to be twice as tall as the little girl. Did the little girl have a Mag-lite of Doom AND a Step-ladder of assistance, as well?
Anyway, THEN… Butchers invade. Rawr! Roar! Breaking and punching! Ka-boom! ‘Splode! Bang! Bang-bang-bang! Run! Look out! I’ll cover you! Stay alive, no matter what occurs and I’ll find you! Quick, up the elevator shaft!
Now THAT was exciting.
So, anyway, they climb this elevator shaft, which, judging by previous episodes and whatnot, is easily a thirty plus floor climb, all the way to the Lady from Rushmore’s office. There, we find a Post Apocalyptic camp and a Remembrance wall and we see a broken L.A. Skyline. The fate of the rest of L.A., however, being that 99% of it is only three or four stories tall and we are 30 to 40 floors up, remains a mystery. As does the rest of the World. The remaining heroes: Girl Hero (what? She survived? Shocking!), Guy Jerk (Hey, whadda ya’know, he wasn’t such a jerk after all), and Little Girl/Eliza (a character with a new lease on life), climb out the window, up a rope ladder and out of sight.
What do you suppose was up there? I’m hoping it was Hang-gliders.
Anyway, that was the episode. No real answers, no real resolution. Its like a glimpse of things to come, and that’s it. Nothing is really accomplished in this episode in relation to the rest of the season. Is this just a toss-off or does the second season pick up from here? If so, there goes the show’s whole hook, which is: each week Eliza wears different fetish gear. Now, this isn’t such a bad thing, in fact, I would love it if the show suddenly became a post apocalyptic survival show. I bet that would really piss off Fox too.
“What!?! I thought we bought an underwear/bikini show with hot chicks showering and kicking in skirts! What the fuck is this combat boot, smudged dirt on the cheek shit?”
Hi-Yah! Take that, Fox!
Although, I don’t believe this will happen. No, instead, I bet we return to the whole Eliza’s character trying to secretly break free of her mind control and bring down the Dollhouse and the Rosson Corp, without getting caught and wiped again, but big fucking deal, right? We now know that won’t happen, because we already know where these characters end up, and it wasn’t like this future glimpse was witnessed by a time traveling character or anything, someone thrown into the future and then taken back in time, so they can’t do the “We have to change the future” story, no, it happened. They showed snippets of what happened and what led to life amongst the Construction Company Lots, the show may not have answered much, as far as the questions posed by the previous season go, but it at least somewhat explained this. And regardless of whether we know it all or not, we still know its coming, which renders all the characters' struggles in between then and now a moot point, so do we really have to sit through the long version of those flashbacks? I hope not.
Here’s what I hope for.
Hang-gliders on the roof and then a continuation of the 13th episode, with both a narrowing of focus, but aided by a larger world view, and flashbacks to what characters have been doing in the interim as needed. Also, a larger story arc.
That’s what I hope, anyway.