I’m going to state something that’s probably considered a heresy amongst Joss Whedon fans: I was not a big fan of “Firefly.” I was not upset when it was canceled. I did not watch the movie, Serenity, until it was on DVD. And I would never, ever consider joining a Browncoat Society. Also? Nathan Fillion does nothing for me.

I did, however, love “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” A lot. So much so that I even liked the oft-maligned sixth season. So much so that I went to see James Marsters’s lame band Ghost of the Robot at the Great American Music Hall just in the hopes that he’d sing “Let Me Rest In Peace.” (He didn’t.) I’m just saying, Whedon’s association with “Buffy” means I will always look forward to whatever he does.

That said, “Dollhouse” has been a big disappointment.

I always found Eliza Dushku’s appearances on “Buffy” annoying. While I appreciated her role as a foil, and as a yang to Buffy’s yin (or is it the other way around?), I just wanted to stab myself in the ear every time she referred to Buffy as “B.” And she never impressed me much with her acting skills. Having her be the lead on a series that requires her to be a different person every week had me very worried, and unlike the many (mostly male viewers) who seem to give her acting a pass because she’s hot, I just can’t. She’s a hindrance to the show.

But all the blame can’t be placed on her. Conceptually, the show has big problems. Dushku’s character, Echo, is introduced as a blank slate; not someone you can easily start to root for. I can’t help wondering how the show would have played out if Dushku’s past and the reason for her association with the Dollhouse had been revealed in the first or second episode. Wouldn’t we have then been able to root for her to break free from her Dollhouse existence while still seeing her being “played with,” as it were?

Yes, that would take away some of the mystery of the Dollhouse, but really, how compelling has that mystery been? It doesn’t matter who is running this thing, what they are doing often involves outright prostitution using people who can not give consent; there’s no way this organization is anything but evil. Which leads to another big problem with the show: We’re supposed to be entertained by a bunch of people who, because of their roles in running the Dollhouse, can never be anything but creeps and villains. Topher? Creep. And not this show’s Xander. Not by a long shot. Adelle DeWiit? The revelation that she is a sad “lonely heart” does not make what she does for a living any less reprehensible. The only person really left to identify with is Agent Ballard, but the level of obsession his character is dealing with makes it really hard to empathize with him, too. It’s a bit of an irony that “Buffy”‘s cast of vampires, werewolves, and demons was much more likable and human.

But, that said, I did keep watching this season, mainly because I trust Whedon. I trusted he’d pull it all off in the end. And as the series headed into its season finale, which airs tonight, it did get better. Mellie’s turn from the mousy, moon-eyed neighbor to sleeper doll and kick-ass assassin was an all-around win. And I was lucky enough not to have read any spoilers about casting for the last two episodes, so last week’s Alpha reveal was a pleasant shocker.

The show’s future is still up in the air, and it’s possible tonight’s finale could be the end of the series. I’m not sure I’d be too heartbroken about that. But if the series does continue, here’s hoping the finale sets up a second season with a little less of an ick-factor, fewer accent demands from Dushku, and more of the morally ambiguous but still lovable characters Whedon has excelled at bringing to life in the past.

The season finale of “Dollhouse” airs tonight at 9 P.M. on Fox.

the author

Rain Jokinen watches a lot of television and movies and then writes things about them on the Internet. She's a San Francisco native, and yeah, she'll rub that fact in your face any chance she gets.

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  • Greg Dewar

    I always found the show entertaining, even if it did take a while to get moving. They had to take some time to set up the premise, but by episode 6 it really started to take off.

    The problem is that Whedon is trying to make a high concept “whedonesque” show for FOX, and FOX does not like crap like that. They like things that are easy to sell like “24” “House” “Fringe” and “American Idol” . The very name, “Dollhouse” is annoying – it’s clearly a “work in progress” title that never got updated. (Helpful hint: if telling people about a show you’re watching makes you look like an idiot, it’s going to be tough to sell outside the Whedonfans)

    That said, it was a nice diversion and paired nicely wth Terminator, which is likely to get the axe despite being a well written and fun show. Still, if people want high concept, you have to go to cable, at least FX or AMC, if not HBO or Showtime. Expecting FOX to put up with this arthouse high concept stuff is like expecting TGIFridays to sell gourmet organic free range haute cuisine.