Saturday, February 21, 2009

Could We Just Wipe Last Week From My Mind?

Dollhouse: The Target
Season 1, Episode 2

There's not too much mistaking my rather open scorn of the premiere of this show. Not only was it deserving of a thorough bashing because it was directed in an unengaged style and was full of numerous scenes worthy of being cut and contained the great enemy of a well-written script, the enormous coincidence, but the fact that it was written and directed by Joss Whedon just wreaks of betrayal. It was the difference between getting your butt kicked by a bully at school versus your favorite uncle. One just hurts more... not that I'd know from personal experience.

On the bright side, its always thrilling when a show you are preparing to walk away from sucks you back in. Mostly because I get to say, "Just when I thought I was out...... they pull me back in!"

The main problem with the promotion of this show is that Eliza Dushku's Echo absolutely cannot be the main character. At least she can't right now. A main character that is effectively a blank slate brings nothing to the table. If they continue down the road hinted at during this episode that she can maintain pieces of what she remembers, then we can buy her prominence. But for now the only two characters worth following are Tahmoh Penikett's FBI Agent Paul Ballard and Harry Lennix as Echo's handler, Boyd Langdon.

Langdon should be the audience's eyes into the Dollhouse organization since he is involved deeply, but at the same time is the one person willing to question the morality of what they are doing and his arc in this episode going from being utterly ambivalent about Echo to genuinely caring about her is the correct approach. Also, it's nice to see more of the background on his early days with the company, establishing the accident involving Alpha should have been the start of the series... this is the danger of what Echo could turn into as well as what is hunting her.

The main assignment of this week, of her being engaged for a weekend date (although that would work better if we didn't just see it last week) and being hunted by mentally unbalanced young man, works well because it isolates the characters of Echo and Langdon. This makes them appear less as cogs in a big machine and more as individual people who can be placed in jeopardy and we should worry about. The fact that it's all a ploy, supposedly by Alpha, the rogue super-Doll (kind of like the Snake Eyes G.I. Joe toy that was cooler because he had a sword and was a badass) helps the show develop a cohesive main arc, rather than the one-shot style of last week. Ideally, your pilot should actually encourage people to come back for another episode, just fyi.

And I cannot stress this enough. The idea of Echo being able to recall things from previous imprints, even while in a cleaned slate status, absolutely needed to be introduced in the first episode. It seems utterly reasonable as an effect of a poison the spoiled rich boy hunting her down tricked her into taking. The fact that it was most likely provided by Alpha (because who would know more about remembering imprints), ties in excellently back to the main storyline of the series. Anytime you can make major character developments NOT be random (i.e. just happening to confront a kidnapper that took the person you were imprinted with), that's the way to go.

Agent Ballard comes off as far more of a joke to his co-workers in this episode, which is exactly how he should have been introduced (yeah, I know I've said that a lot this week). The most crucial needed development yet to be made is establishing why he is so driven. The character can't just be obsessive about this case for no reason. Since this is basically a story of missing girls, it would be easy enough to give him some history with this subject like a sister running away or a mother abandoning him for no known reason.

The entire episode works both to establish the series and more importantly the characters because it gives each of the actors something in their wheel-house. The hot and outdoorsy girl Echo is downloaded with is directly out of the Faith mold. Ballard striking out as the one man who believes and cares out of a moral imperative reminds us of more than one arc for Karl "Helo" Agathon. Langdon is the one character that lets the talented Lennix stretch beyond what I've seen of him before (mostly in "24" and "E.R.") and after this week, there's little doubt he can carry the bulk of this show for an extended time.

Now as positive as the review sounds, there are still significant holes in the series, mostly the rather limited range of Dushku. That could very well kill the series as right now it revolves around the idea of her actually being a completely different person every week and not just slightly altered flavors on the same meal. And while I can disregard the first episode, it is very important that Ballard not be isolated out of the main storyline for too long. The photo he receives of Echo is a good starting point, but at some point he needs to at least catch a glimpse of Echo in person or meet Langdon in some manner to bring the storylines more in sync. And at some point, he needs to be the A plot of an episode, which hopefully will help the series lose it's "Crazy Engagement of the Week" vibe.

Final score: 3 stars out of 5

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