There are few men in the TV industry with as much geek cred as Joss Whedon. After creating the wildly popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spinoff Angel, Whedon went on to create his shortest lived show, Firefly, which eventually spin off into its own film. Thankfully for fans, Whedon didn’t stop there with his creations and (after a brief detour for the Dr. Horrible online shorts, that is) and he birthed Dollhouse. Amidst rumors of tumultuous scripts, a misshapen pilot and numerous other delays, the series finally debuted on the Fox network. Sadly it bowed out after its second season, as it never quite made it out alive from the death slot that is Friday evenings. On the plus side fans of the series can now enjoy it in its entirety on DVD and Blu-ray.
Joss Whedon’s take on the ultimate identity theft follows a cast of Actives, or Dolls, who serve as agents of Dollhouse, an illegal underground organization providing elite clientele with programmable human beings. Personality imprints allow Actives to temporarily become anyone or anything—the perfect burglar, lover, spy or assassin. When the mission is completed, memories are wiped clean. The all-star Dollhouse cast is led by Eliza Dushku as Echo (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tru Calling, Angel) and Tahmoh Penikett as Paul Ballard (Battlestar Galactica).
Dollhouse is an intriguing concept and while I wasn’t jazzed about it from day one, I still looked forward to it. I was, after all, quite a Firefly nut and enjoyed Whedon’s other works, so I knew I’d have to at least give it a fair chance. The Friday debut came around and I eagerly tuned in and…well, I was disappointed. But I kept watching. For five more weeks I kept watching before I finally threw in the towel. The show started out rocky enough to begin with but why some of the earliest episodes dealt with some incredibly cliché and irksome scenarios, I don’t know. It seemed like they were trying to keep audiences away from this show…which for me (and numerous other Whedon fans I know) was enough to turn me off of the show.
For one thing the show started out to such a confusing extent that it was hard to really figure out where the series was going. The FBI sub-plot was the only interesting element of the show for me and every time Echo was sent on a mission, I honestly couldn’t care less. Her side-stories often had jack-all to do with the overall story of the show that I wondered how and why we were spending so much time on them. I get now that Whedon just wanted to stretch the story out to the point where we got very accustomed to our main characters (despite them never really having a personality at all because…well, they were all wiped dolls).
Really it was a hard show to even warm up to because the only constant was the organization and the FBI sequences, which struggled to go anywhere. I honestly and truly do not know how such mediocre TV got on the air with Whedon involved, because while he can have his own mediocrity at times, never has he had such a rocky start to a show. I also get that a lot of it was likely Fox involvement, butting in and deciding that doing something else would be for the better of the show. Needless to say that didn’t work (does it ever?) and once the show found its footing, it actually became very good. By the end of the first season we got some truly fantastic episodes and my hope for the second season continued to grow…up until it actually started, anyway.
My immediate reaction to the early episodes of season two was “wait, didn’t we do this already in season one?” Granted the FBI angle was twisted around as Paul was now working with the Dollhouse, but we still were gifted with quite a few mundane Echo doll-plots that just really felt lifeless. As much as I appreciated the extra guest stars (and BSG alumni), the plots regressed to season one level with a new dash of confusion as they really weren’t explaining what the “jobs” were until about halfway into the episode. I frequently thought I’d missed something during a commercial break, only to find out that they explained it all towards the middle; this did seem like a bit of an experiment as we broke away from that during the season as well…although honestly the dynamic by the end of the season was so very different as everyone and their mother were rebelling against the Dollhouse.
With a mere thirteen episodes comprising this season, it’s really hard to gauge it. There really was just a lot of mediocrity throughout, although once Summer Glau showed up things started to turn around again. The sequel to the DVD/Blu-ray only “Epitaph One’ that closed out the season wasn’t nearly as good as it should have been, but it was a fitting end to the series regardless. It’s definitely an intriguing concept for a show, but there was just too much working against it—the timeslot, Fox, and Whedon’s lofty ambitions. It’s a show that simultaneously felt rushed as well as excruciatingly long and even as a massive fan of Whedon’s past work I couldn’t get into this show. I tried until the bitter end, but for me it was a collection of great ideas that were never properly executed. A strict Rental and nothing more.
Fox unleashes Dollhouse’s second season on Blu-ray in a standard width Elite Blu case that houses the three discs inside. Slipcovers are foregone and there really isn’t anything else about the package to make it stand-out—aside from the stark white background with Echo’s body plastered on the cover. Yeah, I guess that’ll move a few units or so. Menus are simple and easy to navigate.
Video arrives in the form of an AVC encoded 1080p transfer. There is nothing really spectacularly original about the color palette of Dollhouse, although the Dollhouse itself is a very warmly lit and soothing place to look at. There are plenty of excellent shots to show off the visual clarity that this series possesses, with lots of detail and whatnot tossed about the season. There’s also a bit of grain for good measure, but overall the video for this series looks spectacular. Audio, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, is similarly exciting, with plenty of surround work and subwoofer output throughout the entire set.
Retrospective with Joss Whedon and cast roundtable about the series
Comic Book – Each Blu-ray and DVD comes with a 28 page exclusive limited edition comic book by Dark Horse Comics. Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, joined by longtime Buffy the Vampire Slayer artist Cliff Richards, take us on an intricate trip through the precise moment when the Active technology went global, and how the protagonists from Epitaph One and Two narrowly avoided death, and worse. Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen wrote the Epitaph episodes of Dollhouse Seasons One and Two, and currently write for the Starz series Spartacus. This is their first work in comics. Artist Cliff Richards has drawn more Joss Whedon-related comics than any other artist, including issues of Buffy Season Eight.
Yeah, not a massive list but the retrospective is exactly what this set needs to feel complete. No commentaries are included but their lack of presence really isn’t felt because this roundtable is able to tie things up so nice and tidy. Definitely something worth checking out for fans of not only the series but also of Whedon. The comic book is also a nice addendum to the set (and makes you wonder exactly what’s packed in as those 28 pages add quite a bit of weight to the set).
Overall a set that’s Recommended for fans. If you’re not a fan, however, then please skip it on by as you’ll really not get anything out of this second season that’s worth revisiting.
Dollhouse – Season 2 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.