The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: Whedon’s Dollhouse Is Officially A Failure

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Image         SPOILER ALERT!

I am a huge Whedon apologist. I even defend Season Six of Buffy, because I see its purpose, even if it went too far in it. I hated the last two seasons of Angel and yet I see the sense in them and to this day think Angel had a better finale than Buffy. And I don’t even have to mention my undying love for Firefly.
But after seeing Dollhouse’s pre-final episode last week, even I have to admit that there wasn’t much to love about Whedon’s newest mindchild. So I am calling it before I have seen the official end (to be aired this Friday): it is a failure.

How this show even got around to a second season is still beyond me. To be honest, even as a Whedonite I was done with the Dollhouse after the first season. I could not see it going anywhere interesting. It touched upon a few intriguing concepts – prostitution, human trafficking, identity – but it did so very clumsily and not with the same panache Whedon used to have when dealing with “The Big Questions”. He had a way of hiding the big within the small, but Dollhouse was overly blunt.

The phenomenon of Foxification has been discussed on this site (too bright, too sexy, too formulaic), so I don’t need to reiterate the point. The women on Dollhouse were too scantily clad, the men were too much of the “hero and protector” mold, if they weren’t rambling nerds. As charming as Topher could be, he didn’t hold a candle to such lovable nerds as Wash and Xander.
Eliza Dushku did what she could and I don’t blame her at all for the fact that the show missed its mark. Dichen Lachman on the other hand… boy, I doubt we will be seeing her and her horrible accents again anywhere soon. Unless Whedon gets another project and decides to recast her, as he is known to do with actors he feels an obligation to.


What do you mean, I am TOO naked?!

The best thing about Dollhouse may have been the guest appearances by Alan Tudyk as genuinely insane Alpha. Or maybe Tahmoh Penikett, if just as eye candy for the ladies as his character Ballard became less and less relatable the more they messed wit his brain.

While in the first season of Dollhouse I was longing for the overall story arc to advance faster, in the second season I wanted it to slow down. From a production standpoint both paces were logical, of course. In Season One Whedon didn’t want to move too fast to give “viewers new to Whedon” a chance to ease into the show and at that point it wasn’t at all clear how long the show was going to run. Imagine it would have been a  huge hit, but Whedon had blown 50% of his story in Season One. Couldn’t have that happen. But by Season Two it was more than obvious this would be the last season, so Whedon had to put it all out there to finish his story.

He lost me in the process. I couldn’t follow anymore who betrayed who by doing what, who was imprinted with what personality and why Amy Acker had to appear time and time again as different people. I get Whedon’s love for her, but I didn’t need her in the pre-final episode as the shell of the second Rossum founder.

In any case, the ending last week’s episode hinted at doesn’t seem satisfying in the least. Ten years into the future we will see the rest of the motley crew still fighting to save the world. Will Whedon cop out and have them succeed or will he try to retain some sort of integrity by making it more of an Angel-esque ending, as in “They know they probably don’t stand a chance, but they are going to fight anyway.” The general problem with either ending to Dollhouse is that I am not invested enough in any of the characters to care either way. If they end up saving the world though, it’ll probably leave a sour taste in my mouth and I won’t reflect well on the series in years to come. Cop-outs just don’t suit Whedon well.

The big twist two weeks ago that Boyd was the evil founder of Rossum came as no surprise for reasons I still cannot really explain. It probably had to do with the sloppy set-up, the hopping around between times (so many flashbacks in the last couple of episodes) and the fact that so many characters had appeared evil then turned out to be good only to seem evil again (Adele DeWitt at the forefront of this). I expected yet another turnaround and I got one.

I didn’t get nearly enough cool fighting action in the series either. I always loved the fight sequences in Buffy and Angel. Raw and rough and always creative. In Dollhouse the fights just seemed so 90’s action movie.


I failed. I am sorry, guys!

Some of my anger towards Fox from previous years and the mistakes the network made back then was appeased by the fact that this time around they treated Whedon with a certain amount of decency. They gave him a second season despite questionable ratings for the first and let him finish his vision. I am just not sure Whedon thought his vision all the way through before he started it. Nor did her dare (or was he not allowed to?) to use the same excellent camera movement, lighting and mixing of genres that made his previous TV outings a success.

No matter how the finale will pan out – whether only slightly disappointing or completely lame – Dollhouse will go down as an attempt at something big on Whedon’s part and I don’t think there is shame in failure, as long as he admits that Dollhouse didn’t achieve what he aimed for. Not by a long shot. The ball’s in your court, Joss!





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(combine at will, all times EST, only new programming listed)


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