Dollhouse was a short-lived television series that aired on Fox from 2009-2010. It was the second Fox series attempted by creator Joss Whedon, the first being the western/sci-fi drama Firefly. Like Firefly and most of Whedon’s creations Dollhouse had a fervent cult-following, even leading to a campaign to keep the show on the air before it even premiered. The Dollhouse was essentially a designer brothel that pimped out pretty people to the highest bidder. The dolls (or actives) were desperate volunteers who committed five years of their life in service of the Dollhouse in exchange for some personal freedom they sought. The actives had their memories wiped and were regularly “imprinted” with whatever identity and memories that the Dollhouse’s clients ordered. It was heady stuff to say the least, and it’s impressive that Fox aired the series as long as it did.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum Eliza Dushku starred in the lead role of Echo, the number one active in the Dollhouse. Week after week we saw Echo go through various “engagements” as she was imprinted by technician Topher Brink (Fran Kanz), protected by handler Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix) and watched carefully by house operator Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams.) Outside the Dollhouse we followed FBI Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) on his mission to uncover the Dollhouse conspiracy and rescue the damsel in distress. All that is really just the tip of the narrative iceberg that is Dollhouse. The series also saw plenty of cameos from frequent Joss Whedon collaborators like Amy Acker, Alan Tudyk, Alexis Denisof and Summer Glau. Eliza Dushku gets the job done well enough in the leading role, but in a show that required actors to regularly play different characters, it certainly had its breakout stars. Enver Gjokaj and Dichen Lachman played Victor and Sierra, the resident “dolls in love.” Enver Gjokaj in particular was very impressive, especially when he was called upon to portray cast mate Fran Kranz’s Topher.
The series is a testament to Joss Whedon’s talent for circumventing traditional television conventions and storytelling. It’s a morally murky show that has you questioning who you should actually be rooting for: who is the hero and who is the villain? It is not a perfect show, with uneven pacing (especially near the end because of impending cancellation doom.) Another notable flaw is that despite her best efforts, Eliza Dushku does much better in a supporting role than she does with top billing, (see Faith Lehane.) In spite of an abrupt ending Dollhouse is impressive because like its protagonist Echo, it was constantly changing identities and growing because of it. If nothing else, it is a great study on the subject of individuality, personality and technology.
Final Grade: ★★★★ 4/5 Stars
Rent It? Joss Whedon and sci-fi fans – Yes