Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dollhouse: 'Gray Hour' & 'True Believer' (1x04 & 1x05)

On the eve of the much hyped episode where Dollhouse “gets good,” it’s as good a time as any to catch up on the show’s two most recent episodes. Perhaps the best way to sum up my feelings about the show is to just say that I watched “Gray Hour” Tuesday, and “True Believer” on Wednesday. Before this show started, it would be hard to conceive of sitting on new Joss Whedon for over a week, but I just didn’t have a huge urge to watch either episode. The greatest strength of Whedon’s previous shows was their relentless addictive quality, the way they drew you into a world and got you so attached to the characters that you barely even care what’s happening plotwise, just spending time with the characters is enough.

Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, the series’ premise seems explicitly designed to prevent that kind of attachment. The show remains intellectually interesting, I like every episode I see, but there’s nothing to love there. It’s the kind of show that I could easily see myself drifting away from if it didn’t have Joss’s pedigree. I very rarely decide to stop watching a show, most of the time, I’ll just have a whole stack of episodes back up on me, until it’s a few months later and I just wind up never watching them. And, it’s largely Joss’s name, and the promise that episode six will be great that’s keeping this show from going down that path.

As I said, there’s a lot of stuff to like. The “man reactions” plot in “True Believer” was great, both for its infusion of humor into the premise, and for raising some interesting questions about the nature of the actives. And, again, I found myself wanting to spend more time with that plot than with the main action. I heard someone describe the actives’ dialogue as sounding like the way that actors in a porn sound, oddly inhuman, and I think that’s a perfect description. It reminds me a bit of “Pornomancer” from The Filth, and I’d like to see more of that weird sleaziness explored.

But, we spent most of our time with the mission, and I just don’t really care about the outcomes of these missions. They succeed, they fail, it doesn’t make a big impact on me because I’ve seen so many of these kind of stories on TV. The hour long network drama has a structural imperative that makes even new stories feel like something you’ve seen before. It’s only our emotional engagement with the characters that makes it feel fresh, and that’s just not there at this point.

Whedon’s previous shows had a wide range of great actors. So far, I’m not so sure we’ve got that here. Olivia Williams is totally one note as Adele DeWitt, and Franz Kranz as Topher is also one note, and annoying to boot. He feels like the Hollywood idea of a tech nerd, where Jonathan, Warren and Andrew felt more like real nerds. I think Eliza Dushku’s doing a pretty good job, but the cast standout is unquestionably Dichen Lachmann as Sierra. You believe her complete transformation into other characters. I love the moment where her eyes open as Taffy in “Gray Hour” and she becomes that characters, a totally different person from who she was in “Stage Fright.” And, she pulls off that drugged porn star vibe better than anyone when wandering the dollhouse.

At this point, I’m waiting for the show to kick it up a notch. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s not great. Hopefully this next episode will be the one to take it up a notch and finally start to get an emotional hook to go along with the interesting concepts.


Kould bE aNyone said...

Your post on The Invisibles # 12 drew me in but reading you've enjoyed every Dollhouse episode I know I can't trust your taste.

Patrick said...

I think the show has a lot of flaws, but I have enjoyed, on some level, all the episodes. There's enough intriguing stuff in there to keep me watching, and I think every episode has had at least one really effective scene or concept. Does that make for a good show? No, there's a lot of stuff I enjoy without loving, or even considering a worthy use of time. But, I do think the show is a bit better than some people give it credit for.

egamipeaks said...

It really does get better in Episode 6, in fact there is one pretty chill inducing sequence.

RAB said...

I'm wondering if you've had a chance to watch episode 6 yet, because I'm very keen to see your reaction to it.

Patrick said...

I saw episode 6 and did really enjoy it. I'm going to write it up, hopefully today. It was a pretty big jump over the rest of the episodes, primarily I think because it positioned the Dollhouse as something to be afraid of, rather than this kind of benevolent helper organization they'd tried to play it as earlier in the series. Using Echo as this enigma and Ballard as the central character made a lot more sense.