Saturday, March 14, 2009

"I prefer man-reaction"

You know, I don't have a lot of time to sit around and watch TV. I've got a stack of library books I could be reading. I'm getting the complete collection of Yes, Minister on DVD from the library. I'm twitching from worrying about possible future unemployment (like we all are).  So I don't watch a lot of pretty good TV. It's got to be great or so godawful it's funny.

So Dollhouse had another pretty good episode last night. I'm just waiting for great to kick in.

The actual episode, True Believer, has Faith Echo being blinded and turned into a religious fanatic named Esther (seriously, aren't there any religious fanatics named Britney or Tiffany?) so she could be a human camera for the ATF. Echo infiltrates cult with ease, and practically trips over all the guns they've got stockpiled there. So the ATF decides to barge in before Boyd can safely extract her, and complications ensue. Echo/Esther Meanwhile, Victor has a thing for Sierra, and we get yet more evidence that the whole brain-wipe thing is not quite as effective as Topher claims. At the end of the episode, we get the now-obligatory hint that Echo is remembering things from her engagements.

And that's the real problem with this episode. It's at least the third or fourth time we've had this hint. And while that's entertaining for an episode or two, waiting for the payoff is getting more frustrating. I don't know if the fault is in the writers room or with the Fox executives meddling, but I need this show to start moving forward right away. Echo needs to wake up. Sierra and Victor, too. They need to become real characters. Because the one-off episode plots are only fair to middling. They're executed better than average, but I've seen heists, and hostage rescues, and bodyguarding pop stars, and the most dangerous game, and I've definitely seen cults before. A lot. Those fairly mundane plots are not what this show could be good at. This show can be about paranoia and identity on a really, really weird and awesome level. 

Whedon's made it deliberately harder for himself in some ways with Dollhouse. With all three of his previous series, he built a core group of likeable, funny characters who acted as a family unit. Even a bad one-off episode from Buffy or Angel is watchable because of the humour and character moments, not to mention the ongoing plots. But with Dollhouse, the plot demands a group of people who are somewhat alienated from one another. The dolls are being forcibly denied that kind of bonding (although they're trying, like bison). The rest of the characters are functionally villains or outsiders. Whedon's definitely trying something different, something less viewer-friendly than his previous outings, and it's always good to see a creator stretching himself. Because the alternative would be repetition and boredom.

So, it's been five episodes. Which calls to mind the Five Ep Rule I instituted after episode two, ie, you should give every show by a respected creator at least five episodes to get off the ground.

So the judgement is, this show has a shitload of potential. But so far, that's about all it has. And that potential will keep me watching for a while longer. Hey, it's still better written than the average action/SF show that does plots like this. (Have you tried to watch Knight Rider? It's like gargling with broken glass and hydrochloric acid.) I love that this is an SF story about neurology and identity. I don't love that it's going nowhere fast right now. 

If it dies right now, Dollhouse will be the least among Joss Whedon's TV shows. If it gets moving in some direction, it could be better than Buffy or Angel. 

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