A Few More Disjointed Thoughts on Dollhouse

dollhouse

I’ll post my comments after the jump so I can talk about spoilerish stuff, so if you still haven’t seen the season ender, “Omega,” don’t click to read more…

Okay. Again, don’t read on if you’re concerned about spoilers.

I watched “Omega” this morning, and have let it stew in my mind a few hours. I don’t think my thoughts are soup yet, but I think I’m at the point where I can start talking about it.

Overall, I’d give season 1 a B. Raise it to a B+ if you count only the latter half of the season. Honestly, during the second half, I’d have expected the final grade to be higher, but as strong as it was, it still managed to miss a few highs it could have hit, I think, with just a bit more care.

“Omega” (the 12th episode, with the epilogueish 13th only to be available on DVD, where if the show is canceled it will live on as one final bit of “fuck you” from Fox to its viewers) encompassed so much that was going right with the show, but also some of what was wrong with it before it started getting really good. It was written and directed by Tim Minear, whose work generally is kinda goddamned brilliant, but this time out looked like it needed to be run through the ol’ word processor another time or two.

Some of the writing was great, but there were moments where I cringed. Having Ballard sanctimoniously declare “What have you people done?” was a ridiculous bit of cliche, and Tahmoh Penniket delivered it with the stentorian clumsiness of a star of a SciFi (oh excuse me) SyFy original movie. Embarrassing . The line about slavery and a black president was as gratuitous and self-indulgent as could be, as was the ham fisted fireflies line. Both jerked me right out of the narrative and into awareness of the writer’s mind.

One other minor thing: the reveal that Dr. Saunders is an active would have worked a hell of a lot better had they not telegraphed it earlier with Dominic calling her Whiskey.

Lots of stuff worked great. I loved some of Alpha’s lines (the “I’m not a multiple personality…one of my personalities has multiple personalities, but I don’t…” and “I’m not bluffing…well, I am…maybe he is, but the rest of me aren’t…” bits were great), and Alan Tudyk really ran with this character.

On the other hand, I thought Alpha wound up kinda unimpressive by episode’s end, way too easily vanquished by Echo, and sort of ridiculous when he ran away from her with a gun in his hand while she was unarmed. I get that he didn’t completely want to kill her, though he essentially had Caroline’s “wedge” in hand to kill over and over at his whim…but that whole final chase just fell into the worst sort of TV action “suspense.” It made me think of the Samurai Jack episode where Aku tells Jack something to the effect of “It’ll be the way it always is if we fight…you’ll barely defeat me, and I’ll turn into some small animal and fly away shouting ‘Curse you Samurai Jack, I’ll be back!'” Alpha didn’t kill Echo because she’s the star. And Alpha escaped because narratively he was supposed to, not because of any real cleverness on his part.

And I’m haunted by what they could have done in this episode that would have made a mockery of the by-the-numbers poignancy we got. The set-up was there for a major Joss Whedon twist that would have brought on a darkness even darker than Alpha’s, and which would have heartrendingly thrown the show into its possible next season on a really troubling note:

They should have let Alpha kill Caroline.

He killed the woman her mind had been downloaded into, yes…but they let Echo and Ballard get her backed-up mind safely back from Alpha (another embarrassing bit of narrative that showed us Echo’s amazing crawl-hesitantly-onto-a-beam ability).

They should have had Alpha smash that thing to bits. Or had Ballard try to catch it, and fail, deepening his sense of guilt by not letting him manage to save Caroline at all, giving him that much more reason to try to keep Echo safe as her handler in the future.

Or the wedge could have been destroyed in the fracas with Alpha, and he could have kidnapped Wendy/Caroline. The idea that Topher could rescue Caroline’s mind if they could only get her back from Alpha could have hung dramatically over the episode, or even the start of next season if there is one…and then they have Alpha kill Wendy/Caroline, making it impossible to bring Caroline back ever.

Echo is way more interesting than Caroline. Watching her become someone new is a hell of a lot more interesting than it can be watching her get Caroline’s mind back. Killing Caroline as the culmination of this first season would have been a brilliant stroke…and that final shot of Echo about to drift off to sleep, whispering Caroline’s name, the name of a woman lost forever because she signed herself away to the Dollhouse…would have had far more of the power they were looking for.

(And yes, Joss, if you ever read this, I would like to do some writing for you some time). ;)

So, yeah, I was somewhat disappointed in the finale. That said, I did really enjoy it overall, and I still think, for all its season 1 misfires, Dollhouse has the makings of a great series, and I hope it gets more time to develop.

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