If you’ve been following my reactions to Joss Whedon’s new show Dollhouse, you know I was luke-warm toward it at first, then really annoyed with it, then after seeing episodes 6 and 7, I really started to like it and said it was good, but not quite Joss good yet.
Well, now I’ve seen episodes 8 and 9, and I’m loving the show.
Since episode 6, “Man on the Street,” they have fixed the anthology-show weakness that plagued the first five episodes, and each episode has focused on the Dollhouse and its people rather than on the misadventures of their clients-of-the-week. The evolution of Echo as a character is fascinating to watch, considering there’s not supposed to be a character there, but there most definitely is. Those are some still waters running very deep. And the development of relationships and character backstory gets more and more compelling; in this latest episode, “A Spy in the House of Love,” we find out the major secrets of a couple of characters, one of which is a complete surprise and leads to a much deeper understanding of that character, leaving incredible potential for the stories ahead.
There are many themes at work here. This latest episode played brilliantly with matters of trust, from the first conversation between Echo and her handler Boyd, to the implications of their final scene. And seeing the Tabula Rasa Echo step forward as an instigator of significant action was a masterstroke of storytelling and character; I literally got goose bumps.
That a character with no agency develops agency through her own innate strength, even while devoid of her past and identity, is an incredible dramatic device. This show is all about how people use people, and issues of power and responsibility and all that, but the most important thing it’s about might just be the re-enfranchisement of the disenfranchised.
Who on earth could be more disenfranchised than the dolls? Their very selves ripped out of them, programmed and reprogrammed to serve the desires of others, they are the ultimate slaves. And here we have one of them somehow growing as a person right before our eyes, and you just know there are big things ahead.
And hopefully we’ll get to see all of the big things Whedon wants to show us. Fox is playing its usual bullshit games with the show, and now for some reason has decided to show this entire season (and a tenuous “kudo” to them for doing that, at least) except the thirteenth and final episode. Apparently the 12th wraps up the season tidily, and the 13th is sort of a coda after the fact…but still. It doesn’t indicate that the network is supporting the show, and doesn’t bode well for a second season.
But, hopefully they’re watching the reviews, which have been excellent since episode 6, and will recognize they have a gem on their hands and will allow it to grow. This is not just a damn good show, after all.
This show is Joss good.
[NOTE: As of this writing, you can watch episodes 5-9 at www.hulu.com. The show started really getting good in ep. 6, but 5 is pretty good and has some impact on events in later episodes. If you haven’t seen them, catch ’em while you can.]