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Friday, October 23, 2009

Dollhouse, Flashforward, and a few SF links.

* Both Dollhouse tonight and Flashforward yesterday were noticeable improvements over a string of weak episodes, but problems persist. On Flashforward, the characters remain essentially interchangeable ciphers, with almost no tension or mystery surrounding their relationships or their individual participation in these events. (This is perhaps the one area where the show really should have cribbed more from Lost.) But the tease that China may have been involved is a nicely paranoid reading of the disastrous consequences of the Flashforward for the Western hemisphere and a clever post-9/11 twist on the novel, which has no such subplot—and the connection of the isolated L.A. office to a larger investigatory framework has been much needed. And the episode was just more fun.

The Sierra episode of Dollhouse was good, but I can't help feeling as though the show is being quietly retooled yet again; the actions of most of these characters just aren't commensurate with either half of last season. In particular, most of last season was devoted to a multi-episode arc in which the Dollhouse staff struggled to stop the dolls from "glitching"—but now the exact same glitches are considered perfectly acceptable to everyone involved. Echo is allowed to openly discuss her newfound continuity of memory without consequence or even particular interest from the staff, while Victor and Sierra are apparently now allowed to openly date. What has happened to account for this radical shift in Dollhouse policy? Dr. Saunders's disappearance and the generally chaotic atmosphere that plagues the Dollhouse week to week should incentivize them to keep a closer eye on the dolls, not give them freer reign.

Likewise, the idea in the episode that the Dollhouse staff had been "misled" about Priya's situation—a fairly clear attempt to retcon one of the characters' most heinous crimes—doesn't really hold up to scrutiny; patients in mental institutions can't consent to secret medical experimentation (or, for that matter, sex slavery) any more than kidnapped women can. There's no excusing what's been done to Priya either way, and that Topher supposedly believed he was somehow "helping" her barely qualifies as a fig leaf. I think I preferred the harder edge of Original Recipe Adelle and Topher 1.0.

Other things rankle, too. The violent final scenes in the Evil Client's House are well-acted, but the sequence of events makes little sense outside the heat of the moment. What did Priya and Topher think was going to happen, and why were they so utterly unprepared for what obviously would? Topher would have given her a ninja update at the very least.

Seeing so much praise for this episode from critics and the Twittotubes just shows again how badly people want this show to be better than it really is. I'm still enjoying Dollhouse, but abandoning the 2019 arc and failing to sign Amy Acker as a regular are starting to look like fatal flaws for the series. Even an heavily hyped episode that (for once) didn't focus on Echo doesn't compare to last season's stellar second half (1.6-1.11 and 1.13). I hope the upcoming focus on Senator Wyndham-Price and the inevitable introduction of Summer Glau help pick things up.

No new episodes until December, in any event.


* Harlan Ellison has won $1 from Paramount Pictures in his suit regarding Star Trek's "The City on the Edge of Forever." In fairness, $1 was all he asked for.

* Christopher Hayes reviews Ralph Nader's "practical Utopia," Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!.

* And Gregory Cowles reviews Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City for the New York Times.

Lethem’s Manhattan is an alternate-­reality Manhattan, an exaggerated version where an escaped tiger is rumored to be roaming the Upper East Side and Times readers can opt for a “war-free” edition dominated by fluffy human-­interest ­stories. Instead of terrorist attacks, an enervating gray fog has descended on the financial district and remained there for years, hovering mysteriously. (Mysterious to the novel’s characters, anyway; investigators may want to subpoena DeLillo’s airborne toxic event.)
Looks good.