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Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's official: the Joss-Whedon-penned sixth episode of Dollhouse is being hyped to the stratosphere.

Cribbing from an email conversation that went out to some Poli-Sci-Fi Radio regulars early in the week, I must admit I still have some pretty serious reservations about Dollhouse. My enjoyment of the show rises each week, mostly because the much-more-interesting supplementary cast is getting more to do and some of the B plots are starting to take shape. (The less Eliza Dushku is on the screen, the better the show is, in other words.)

But some of the show's basic premises remain, frankly, poorly thought out. The economics of the Dollhouse don't make any real sense; the overhead involved and the stated price structure would make almost any of these missions cost-ineffective. (Echo as a midwife? Why? There are *already* midwives.) As Neil reminds me each week, nearly every episode contains several scenes in which characters laboriously sign contracts that would never in a million years be enforceable. Even the character of Topher is deeply problematic; if the Dollhouse were "real" he'd be one of the top executives of the company, because real companies start with a product/idea/whatever and then build a company around it, not the other around. (You wouldn't say "I want to start a company that uses brainwashed people for illegal purposes. Now I just need to find a guy who can brainwash people!" You'd start with the technology, which means you'd start with Topher. This is why I think Topher is a Doll, FYI, and Amy Acker too. And arguably the whole cast.)

But the biggest apparent flaw in the premise of the show is that the narrative structure of episodic television requires there to be major screw-ups every week, but the characters nonetheless have to believe the technology is trustworthy. So, every week they are shocked to discover the Dolls are broken, even though the Dolls are broken every single week. Not to mention that the very first one went on a huge killing spree they all witnessed.

When we combine these sorts of nitpicky logical problems with the fact that all of Eliza Dushku's characters reduce to Faith—even the blind biblethumper says "move your ass!"*—we have a series-rebooting sixth episode that Joss really needs to hit out of the park.

Unabashed Whedonite that I am, though, I think he may actually pull it off. The episode description for the eighth episode [photos] certainly sounds as if it will be actively good, as opposed to just passable...

* I am familiar with the fan-wank that these may be moments in which Caroline's original personality is shining through. And that's as fine a cover for Eliza Dushku's acting limitations as I'm likely to get, and it's good enough as far as it goes. But unfortunately it takes us right back to the far bigger problem of the Idiot Plot Device. It is completely implausible for these people to insist over and over that this technology is foolproof when on both macro- and micro-scales it's obvious to anyone it isn't. Unless there's a saboteur, or something else that accounts for the recent spate of serious systemic failures, the machine plainly doesn't work right.

(most links via the indispensible Whedonesque)