So Long to the Dollhouse

The inevitable finally happened and the Whedonverse weeps once more. The Dollhouse has shut its doors. The sad reality, however, is Dollhouse turned out to be a house of cards with too much stacked against it from the onset.

But that’s been analyzed to death in other forums, blogs, and water-cooler geek gaggles. Instead, I want to focus on what in the second season got it canceled. I think the biggest thing is Fox deciding not to show Epitaph One, pretty much heralded now as the best Dollhouse episode up to this point and quite possibly the most significant. For it’s in this episode that we finally get a glimpse of what the Dollhouse technology has wrought. If we didn’t get why the Dollhouse was such a threat to humanity, the audience sure as hell got it now. Only the audience comprised of Itunes subscribers and DVD buyers, not the general viewing public.

So therefore when it was time for the second season to start with Echo acting as bride for Jamie Bamber as an undercover mission set up by Ballard, we didn’t really get what the big deal was if you hadn’t have seen Epitaph One. Without Epitaph, the ending to the episode is kind of pat. Ballard will work with Echo to take down the Dollhouse. Same tune, different conductor. But it’s these two that end up as key cogs in the resistance once the Dollhouse tech has run amok in the dystopian future of Epitaph. Without Epitaph the ending doesn’t have the intended resonance.

And Whedon made a huge mistake in not getting everyone up to speed with what happened at the end of the first season. It took me a long while to get my bearings on where everyone was at. I think a recap and some exposition would have been beneficial. With jumping right in where we left off, the viewers probably got frustrated and switched to something easier to grasp. Say this for procedurals and episodic drama, it’s not really essential to follow long arcs. Even if you don’t really know the characters, you know their job (cops, detectives, lawyers) and you know what the plot is (solve murder, successfully bring someone to justice).

In any case the decision is made so we’ll see what happens in its final stretch beginning with two back-to-back episodes tonight. We know that Wesley Wyndham-Pryce himself Alexis Denisof is in a recurring role as a senator (possibly of the Kelly persuasion) but we also know that Summer Glau is returning to the Whedonverse as a nemesis for Echo. Hopefully, the show will go out with the bang it so richly deserves. The episodes have been getting better. The last episode recounted Sierra’s story and turned out to be the most emotional and tragic story of  Dollhouse thus far. And where Joss goes more pain is sure to follow step for step.

So what happens now? Weep not for Whedon. For the old fashioned medium of motion pictures he’s soon to be releasing Cabin in the Woods with his old Mutant Enemy ally, Drew Goddard. Then it’s time to recruit the pipes and personalities in part two of the Dr. Horrible series. And speaking of series, Season Eight of the relaunched Buffy comics is entering its home stretch. After a quick break, Whedon will return to wrap up the Buffy comics series (and possibly the Buffyverse) with season number nine.

And what will befall our Dollhouse family?  Where will their respective chips fall you wonder?

Eliza Dushku is a resilient actress who always seems to find some new venture. She’s got a doozy right now that she’s also producing, a biopic on Robert Mapplethorpe starring her brother. I’d love to see Dushku successful doing independent features a la Parker Posey.

Tahmoh Penikett might be the biggest question mark, but not the cause for most concern. He’s got Ronald Moore and Joss Whedon in his corner so I’m sure he may call in a favor from either of the two auteurs. And speaking of favors, don’t be surprised with SyFy giving him a cameo or two on their programs. Helo’s a marketable bloke. He should be fine.

Harry Lennix and Olivia Williams are professional character actors. They’ll also be fine.

The concerns are for Fran Kranz, Enver Gjokaj, and Dichen Lachman. They’re relatively unknown and I can see them getting pigeonholed very easily. Now granted Whedon’s last television venture, Firefly, led to some non-names getting assigned names pretty easily. Summer Glau got the lead role of Cameron in the Sarah Connor Chronicles. Nathan Fillion is reaping much-deserved success as Richard Castle. And Morena Baccarin is finally getting notice as the leader of the Vs, Anna.

But with the Dollhouse actors I believe it’s different. Even when it at first wasn’t getting much notice, Firefly and Serenity amassed such attention that you kind of knew that its actors would thrive elsewhere, either in genre or out of it. Dollhouse is such a divisive show even amongst fans who follow Whedon, that I think the best we can expect is a guest spot on Warehouse 13 or Eureka. The chances of these actors finding success in the mainstream doesn’t seem likely.

Because whether we like it or not the delineation between genre and mainstream entertainment has reestablished itself. Television has become very cliquey again what with dancing shows, weight-loss shows, and weight-loss shows featuring dancing littering the broadcast landscape, with one or two oases of creatively diverse entertainment.

Which is why for the time being Joss Whedon’s best option is to lay low and let his imagination proliferate through the internet or comics. Dollhouse seemed to be his attempt at another uber-feminist hero journey with a more apocalyptic slant. The public’s not ready for that. But as Whedon has shown with his past creations he’s always been a bit ahead of the curve. And eventually everyone catches up.

No time like the present for that to be proven once again.


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