A Dollhouse Retrospective

KT takes a moment to look back.

As you’ve probably noticed, we’re big Dollhouse fans here at Raked, and I’ll be the first to admit that the show has taken up a large enough chunk of real estate in my imagination that it’s easy to forget that the show premiered less than a year ago.  Remember this?  Aww, how cute and excited we were.  And I know I’m waiting with baited breath for tonight’s series finale.

As Dollhouse fans, you could say we’ve had a rocky time of it.  Certainly the show hasn’t been perfect, and we’ve met a compelling bunch of character who are leaving all too soon.  So before we get our last look at the Dollhouse’s future in “Epitaph Two,” let’s take a moment to look back at our Year of the Dollhouse.

There were moments of glory.  Topher’s brand of Joss-speak has been a joy to chuckle over.  His awkward romance with Bennett was so sweet and his birthday party with Sierra in “Haunted” was probably the silliest, yet most poignant sequence the series has offered.

Echo was not often a highlight for me in season 1, but I very much enjoyed her in “Spy in the House of Love.”   She had developed enough self-awareness to offer her services to Topher, and her investigations as Sherlock Echo were cleverly written.  And I’ve just loved Echo since about “Meet Jane Doe” — she’s become deep and soulful as well as badass.

A definite highlight: Enver Gjokaj and his masterful ability to slip in and out of a character.  I will definitely be interested in his next projects.

And yet, a  person always has some nitpicks.  For me, the glimpses of Caroline in season 1 don’t always seem like the same person as the Caroline we seen in season 2.  Boyd’s speechifying scene with Adelle, Topher, and Echo in “The Hollow Men,” struck me as… well, hollow.  And there’s something distressing about the way the end of season 2 has become a massive effort to prevent “Epitaph One” — to keep the tech from getting out and being abused — when part of the point of the show is that the tech is already being abused right there in the Dollhouse.  Adelle’s rationale about helping people is also hollow.  Also, despite what I said earlier about Topher’s Joss-speak: “man reaction.”  Just not a huge fan of that one.

Lastly (pending, of course, the contents of “Epitaph Two”), there are some things I’ll always wonder:

If everyone in the Dollhouse has compromised morals, what did Adelle do?  Or sweet little Ivy?

Who was Whiskey’s original self?

What was the full story on Boyd, really?  Season 1 gave us all those “ex-cop” hints, and clearly he’s got the skills (not to mention the resources to cover up Nolan’s murder).  But now he founded Rossum in the early ‘90s with Clyde Randolph?  Something’s missing from this puzzle.

All that of course only scratches the surface!  What are some of your highlights, nitpicks, and burning questions?

One season for Whedon?

With the end of Dollhouse looming, commenter CS lent us his thoughts on Joss Whedon–past, present, and future–for a Raked guest post.

And so this Friday, as we say farewell to all of our friends at the Dollhouse, it’s time to take a look back and revisit Joss Whedon’s television career. And, as self-proclaimed fans, to suck it up and admit to ourselves that maybe Joss’s creations aren’t built as well for TV as we tend to think they are. Now I’m not about to start bashing Whedon, as I’m a genuine fan of his work. In my opinion, the four series he’s created have been among the best on TV.

But let’s take an unbiased and complete look at his run on TV thus far: two successes followed by two premature cancellations. Which of these pairs is the exception to the Whedon rule? As fans, we all want to say it’s the cancellations and that given another chance, Whedon will prove the naysayers wrong. But maybe it’s not that he’s had a bad run of luck lately, so much as he had a run of good luck at the beginning. Not that Buffy and Angel didn’t deserve their success. They did. But both these shows had some help starting out. Due to its movie beginnings, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was somewhat of a household name before it began. It was also a show about teens on a fairly new network that had just begun building its schedule around teen shows. Not to mention that it debuted at a time when networks were more prone to give a show a chance to build an audience. As for Angel, it was a spin-off of a very successful show with a strong and loyal fan base. It brought that audience with it and kept them by not straying too far from its monster hunting roots.

Firefly and Dollhouse didn’t have these same advantages. Whedon’s name, of course, brought in the faithful, but new viewers were tougher to find. Neither show was given a real chance to develop an audience, and we now have to come to terms with the idea that Whedon isn’t going to get a fair chance at that from the networks. Firefly had 14 episodes televised out of order. Dollhouse had a midseason start, a renewal that admittedly occurred out of fear of fan retaliation, and an early cancellation resulting in what could be considered a rush to the finale.

So we ask, how can Whedon continue to present his ideas on TV and still have everything he wants told? As a creator or as fans, we all just want a complete story, right? No missing parts. No unanswered questions. But when networks have no patience and no faith, how can this be accomplished?

Here’s my thought: Maybe Joss needs to begin creating and developing his series more in the vein of certain anime series, such as Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo, selling to networks what would be a complete single season series. Within that single season you’d get a complete story, beginning to definite end, with no intent for follow-ups (except potentially an occasional movie or miniseries). There’d still be fan hype, a built in cult following, and big DVD sales based on Whedon’s involvement. Both network and fans would benefit from a more compact and concentrated series with more quickly paced plot development and fewer but higher quality filler episodes. Many series hold off or space out certain events because they are plotting later seasons as they write the current one. There’s no need to do that when you know your series will be completed by episode 22. Consider if Dollhouse had employed this idea. If the series had been intended to only last one full season, we’d still have the same beginning and same end to the series, but the show likely would’ve been stronger with better planning and pacing, while still having approximately the same number of episodes. The standout episodes would still stand out, but each episode on average would quite possibly be of higher quality.

The argument still remains, of course, that a network would still attempt to cancel a show at midseason. But I’d like to imagine they’d think twice knowing the show would be gone at the end of the season anyways, with its story finished and ready for DVD sales. But maybe that’s just me being hopeful.

Your thoughts?

Recap Review: Buffy’s Ubervamp

The Ubervamp

Perhaps it’s because of the major vampire craze that’s going around, but lately I’ve thought about the Ubervamp, a super form of vampire that appeared in Buffy‘s seventh season. There’s one thing that’s bugged me. We’ll get to that.

In case you’re wondering, the Ubervamp (if you haven’t seen him) ain’t pretty. And he ain’t alone. There are hundreds of them (at least). And while they might not be the big bad of the season, they certainly are a badass minion that does a lot of damage.

Honestly, the first Ubervamp we saw kicked Buffy’s ass hardcore, making her basically a giant bruisy pulp. Even her super speedy healing didn’t help her out with that matchup.

And the Potentials new it. They certainly couldn’t face an Ubervamp if Buffy couldn’t. And it took Buffy a few tries to finally defeat the beast.

Which brings me to my question: If that’s the case, then how did the Potentials–even with their newly acquired Slayer powers–kill so many Ubervamps in the last battle?

Now, I’m a huge fan of Whedon, and I’ll follow his stories for quite a while, but I never really got over this small little hole in logic. True, they had been trained, but if the veteran Slayer (Buffy) needed a few tries to get it right, how did they fall in line so quickly–and so successfully?

Ok, it wasn’t all successful. A lot of them died in the process and now live in a giant crater that is/was Sunnydale. But for those survivors, and even others before they died, got some good Ubervamp carnage in…and it just bugs me.

So maybe some of you other Buffy fans can help me out with this. What do you think? I mean, even Dawn was getting some Ubervamp killing in. Dawn.

Dawn.

And that’s just wrong.

image from photobucket.com

Dollhouse: With Your Life

Raked would highly suggest you not read this post unless you’ve seen the penultimate episode of Dollhouse. She’s is still mourning the loss of her show–and a certain favorite character–and she’s not holding back.

DOLLHOUSE: 2.12 “The Hollow Men”

With one episode left and last week’s incredible cliffhanger, you knew this episode would be big. And with Joss Whedon manning the ship, you knew there’d be some carnage before it sailed off into the sunset.

This week we said good-bye to two of our favorites. If you’ll notice in my first line, I call attention to one of them. And I’ll get to that right…now.

I miss Boyd. And you know, after first I thought his demise was just too fast. How could we have seen him develop as the big bad in just one episode? Well, a cliffhanger and one episode. We didn’t get to see it enough. We didn’t get to see him turn as evil as the founder of Rossum really should be!

But then, I realized, that was the point. As the viewer, we were seeing Boyd pretty much as Echo was seeing him. We trusted him. We loved him. How could we suddenly believe that he was the evil one behind the Dollhouse? How could his intentions be less than moral?

It was a sense of disbelieving. We still loved him, even as he was turned to a doll and handed the grenade. We didn’t want him to die. Certainly not in an innocent, clean state. It just made it that much harder to watch. We certainly didn’t feel righteous or happy with his death. It hurt us just as much as it hurt Echo.

But what about Mellie?

Well, to be honest, I wasn’t surprised. We were given that hint in “Epitaph One” that something bad happens to November. I didn’t figure she’d make it out alive.

For some reason, I thought that when they had programmed her as Mellie, they would have removed her sleeper status. Clearly, they did not. But do I really think that Mellie would have had the strength to fight through the sleeper? I don’t think so. But she did, nonetheless, and clearly, she couldn’t handle it. It’s actually interesting to think about how Whiskey handled her discovery that she was a doll and the way that Mellie handled it. Very different. But both very conflicted.

Don’t get me wrong. Mellie’s death was still sad and I’ll miss her. I just was less surprised. And the setup that Ballard thought Adelle was at the right hand of Rossum? That was just fantastic.

Ultimately, I don’t know what’s next. I liked that we finally know why Caroline was picked. I still fully expect some secrets and shockers in the next episode. But honestly, this one was a hard one to watch. I’m going to miss Boyd. I still do. I don’t like that he’s gone.

So what do you think will happen in our final episode of Dollhouse? Do you have predictions? Anyone you think will (or won’t) make it through?

I’m not sure how much more I can take. And now I’m pouting…why does it have to end? I mainly mean the show here, but now that I’m thinking about it, doesn’t it scare you a bit? The idea of a Brainpocolypse?

I guess we’ll just have to see in a couple weeks

Dollhouse: He’s paid not to look surprised.

KT’s mind has been blown, though happily in a less messy way than Bennett’s.

DOLLHOUSE:  2.11 “Getting Closer”

Holy cow.  This year, everything I thought I knew about the Dollhouse has been turned on its head.  And yet, so much of the episode seemed like the logical continuation to what came before.

Last spring, we saw Caroline sneak into a Rossum-affiliated lab as an animal rights activist and come out knowing that Rossum is guilty of more than just animal testing.  I guessed at the time that there was a gap between those events and the scene at the beginning of “Ghost,” in which Caroline reluctantly signs Adelle’s contract.  Now we see that there was a significant gap:  Caroline had time to force a horny security guard help her break into Adelle’s office, become friends and roommates with Bennett Halverson, and plan a major operation involving explosives (which implies a few things too, since in “Echoes,” Caroline didn’t strike me as someone who knew about bombs).  I had been really curious about that gap, so I’m glad we got to see what she was up to.

I suppose it goes with the territory (“ack, our show’s just been cancelled and we have to wrap things up!”), but there’s something very weird about Adelle’s position — the extreme urgency of declaring war on Rossum after finding out that civilization will fall due to schematics she offered up on a silver platter.  Everything escalated so quickly, there was barely time to take it all in. (And yet, the episode was filled with slow, character driven scenes — more on that later.)

I’m about to start a full re-watch of the series, and something I want to look for is Adelle’s track record of bad decisions (or at least, “bad” in the eyes of her bosses).  She appears super-confident and super-competent, but was getting Caroline back so urgent that they had to kidnap Bennett Halverson?  After all, she put Echo in the Attic just to dig around for information, with no guarantee that Echo would figure out how to escape or how quickly she might manage it.  Surely there might have been more subtle ways of getting her help, ways that wouldn’t lead to Rossum soldiers flooding into the Dollhouse.

Except that maybe they would, since it seems Boyd (Boyd!) is the head of Rossum Corporation.  That was the reveal that completely blew my mind, but now my question is, how much power does he really have?  Is he on the same page with board members like Mr. Ambrose, or is he at odds with some of them?  The latter seems likely:  since he killed the soldier threatening Topher and Echo, I assume he was not the one who called the forces in.  But who knows.

Throughout the series, Boyd has been particularly concerned for Echo and interested in her development.  Was it her potential that drew him to take the handler job, or has he been grooming her for something ever since Caroline blew up the Rossum building in Tucson?  Was she meant to be a special project for Rossum (to be useful or profitable), or as something to use against his enemies within the company.

(Speaking of Tucson, isn’t it awfully convenient that Adelle was in town when Caroline made her move?  And why exactly did Adelle have files on Caroline and Bennett in her office at that time? — I’d expect that information to be stored at Rossum HQ, not on paper in every ‘House.  Odd.)

But as fascinating as the plot twists were, the most beautiful moments were the slow, character driven ones.  The brilliant, bizarre romance of Bennett and Topher (with the inevitable Whedon ending).  The wrenching “Epitaph One” scene between Claire and Boyd.  The reveal of what Paul has lost.   Topher starting to fall apart, yet finally recognizing Ivy for her talents.  And as a member of the church of Firefly, I loved Caroline’s comment early in the episode that Bennett could probably kill someone with her brain.

Clearly, it’s going to be a wild ride to the finale and one that will put our characters through the wringer.  I’m only sad that it has to end!

Raked’s TV Top Ten List of the Decade

We’re signing off 2009 tonight, and we’re bringing in a new user: 2010. We’re not just ending a year but a decade this time (though some of you historian/mathematician types might disagree), so in honor of that, I’m posting this blog in honor of the best things about TV of the decade.

I’ve sorted my thoughts out as general ideas that seemed to have grown in the past ten years (though, to be fair, more so in the last five since my memory is rusty). So here goes:

Raked’s TV Top Ten List of 2000s (in no particular order):

1. Creativity: Sure, all our hopes and dreams get dashed when our favorite shows get canceled, but you’ve got to give it up for the creators of series that truly incorporate a distinctive idea in the show, moving beyond the normal ER drama or procedural. Think Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone, and even our favorite sci-fi shows.

2. Music: Note: This is music, not montages. I don’t know the exact year that the WB started the trend of showing which songs were played in the episode, but it’s certainly grown since then. Now music plays a huge part of television. There are certainly times that I think of a show when a song plays on the radio. I attribute most of this to Scrubs, as that show certainly brings a lot of fantastic music to plot.

3. Musicals: Ok, so most of you hated them. But some were fun! Look at Buffy and Scrubs. They’re kinda weird, but they’re rather funky. I enjoyed. And this naturally brings me to…

4. Web Series: One of the newer innovations to television, and all resting on the wonderful series that is Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Plus, you’ve got The Guild, which I was introduced to over Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed, and it’s a whole new way to watch TV. All because of…

5. The Writers’ Strike: I’m sure most of you hate me for putting this on the top ten list, but honestly, it was a defining time for TV. Viewers finally noticed that TV goes beyond the pretty faces on the screen and there were smart people behind it. Plus, I got to meet Joss Whedon at one of the rallies.

6. The Middle Tier: Ok, I know that most of you see the cancellations of the series in the 2000s, but what about the middle shows that stuck around? I’m always impressed with this story of One Tree Hill, where it was never really huge, but it got enough viewers to have the freedom to stay on-air and do what it wants. Now it’s a wacky, popular show that for some reason I’m still watching. And you know it’s not the only one.

7. Cable Series: First, it was the HBO and Showtime series, and now we’ve got TNT, TBS, and USA. Don’t even forget the cable network that brings you Mad Men. These award-winning shows are coming from somewhere beyond our typical networks, which has really caused a shift in recent years. And some damn good television!

8. Neil Patrick Harris: Is it fair to put a person on the top ten list? Honestly, somehow in the past few years, he’s gone from long-gone child actor to one of the most entertaining. Heck, he’s even made us like musicals. I could say that he’s lengen–wait for it…

9. Fun Add-Ons: Dary. In the fun tribute to NPH, let’s think of the web add-ons to series. I’m not thinking merchandise, but instead, the viral things on the web that are in conjunction with shows. Can anyone say How I Met Your Mother? I don’t know how many external websites that show has now. Plus, think Big Bang and the Penny Blossoms website. Oh yeah, it’s out there.

10. Fan Support: I did leave this one for last because it did seem like a big one. But if you start with Jericho move through Chuck and land in the Dollhouse, you know what I mean. Fans just don’t give up anymore–and that’s a good thing.

So there’s my list. What did I miss? Let me know in the comments.

Dollhouse: The truth about Senator Perrin

KT wants active politicians, but not quite like this…

DOLLHOUSE:  2.05 “The Public Eye”
DOLLHOUSE:  2.06 “The Left Hand”

I’m going to assume that most of you watched these two back to back, like I did, and treat them as a unit — ’cause if I try too hard to pick apart what happened in the each half, I’ll probably confuse us all. So!  Deep breath.

Espionage.  I love complex plots, and I love twists, and this one’s a doozy.  Rossum’s plan seems to be to get Senator Perrin in place, get him to investigate Rossum and the Dollhouse, then clear Rossum of all charges, having gained the reputation and high profile status that in future will make him able to push legislation that will favor Rossum — possibly even able to make a bid for the presidency.  Eek.

And despite the best efforts of a whole bunch of people, I think that’s generally what we saw.  By denouncing Madeleine Costley as a mental patient and the Dollhouse as a conspiracy of Rossum’s competitors, Perrin becomes the clever investigator who figured things out and Rossum is seen as the victim of slander.  Wow.

The peek into Rossum and Dollhouse’s internal politicking is fascinating and a little bit intoxicating with the wide open spaces of what we don’t know:  goals, protocols, past relationships.  It becomes very clear that there are some serious trust issues within the organization.  If Rossum’s Mr. Harding had trusted Adelle with even a portion of the truth, she and the rest of the LA Dolhouse would have left well enough alone.  If she had not clashed with Mr. Harding in “Belonging” over Sierra, Adelle might have trusted him and left well enough alone.  I love how such a self-contained episode as “Belonging” sets off a big chain of events here.

The effect is to create a tussle between the LA Dollhouse and the Washington, D.C. Dollhouse — the latter still trusts Rossum, the former doesn’t (at least at the moment, and snippets of “Epitaph One” suggest that this trend will continue).  The rivalry between the Houses and the immediate antagonism between Adelle and her D.C. counterpart makes me wonder how much of that is corporate culture and how much might be the result of past dealings between the two.

As usual, Echo and Ballard are wild cards.  By the end Ballard is entirely AWOL, and Echo’s statement about her bad guys being less bad than Daniel Perrin’s bad guys is as close as she comes to loyalty.  After a lot of running around, we leave her wandering the streets of D.C. without her GPS chip.  So Adelle thinks Echo can practically handle herself?  That went well.  As we well know, Sierra and Madeleine are not the only dolls Adelle has a soft spot for.

[More dolls and geniuses after the jump!] Continue reading