Dollhouse Episode 1 Review
Saturday, February 14, 2009 | Author: Mad Typist
Well, the first episode of Dollhouse has come and gone, so what did we all think about it?

I think as a dramatic episode, it was merely okay. A C+ grade at best. However, as a vehicle for information, I give it an A-, because we learned a lot of things about how the Dollhouse runs, which I hope will pay off in the long run. I enjoyed it overall, so I'm down for next week (which is reportedly much more interesting). 

What I thought was interesting is that several of the supporting characters really stood out for me, and I find myself eager to learn more about them. Harry Lennix was great as Echo's handler, and I believe that his apprehension about the Dollhouse is a nice counter to Olivia Williams's character and the techie guy's (Topher) self-assurance that what they're doing helps people. I'm also really intrigued by the Amy Acker character (the woman with the crazy facial scars) - I suspect that her backstory could be really interesting. We know that Amy Acker can deliver - her performance in the last season of Angel was really great - so I hope we get to explore what makes her tick (and twitch suspiciously) soon. I was only somewhat interested in Tahmoh Penikett's character, FBI agent Paul Ballard, but I do want to thank Joss for that gratuitous kickboxing scene where Tahmoh graciously shared his fantastic body with us all.

I enjoyed the badass introduction of the new assassin model of Sierra. Dichen (pronounced "Deechen") Lachman is a captivating looking woman, but at certain angles I can't help but think that she resembles a certain star from the 80s....

Cheap jokes aside, I know that several reviewers who got advanced copies of the first 3 episodes had a lot of nice things to say about the character of Sierra, so I'm interested to see how her character acts in situations as compared to Echo. We have yet to be introduced to the other character who will be featured heavily, Victor, a male doll.

I know some people on the Teh Interwebz thought Eliza's performance was somewhat flat, particularly when she reverted to doll state. However, I sort of liked the wide-eyed, trusting doll version of Echo, since Eliza's eyes had the same semi-blank expression that my cat gets all the time just before he falls off the furniture. I was so-so on her hostage negotiator character, but I'm partial to a more badass Eliza (a la Faith).

Now, for some things I didn't like. One, the opening sequence with the motorcycle racing felt like it went for an eternity and was poorly shot and edited. Two, I missed Joss Whedon's signature quippy feel to the dialogue, which I think may have spiced up some of the scenes (part of the problem is the shifting nature of several of the main characters, since the dolls will be constantly shifting "voice" as they move from persona to persona). 

While I sort of bought Topher's explanation that imprints are an amalgam of different people who have been scanned, and that to capture that person's knowledge, you end up scanning their less desireable features as well, I'm still not sure why a high tech organization like the Dollhouse would choose to imprint obviously crippling features like asthma. Like, was there only one person in the world with hostage negotiation skills? Why scan a person with asthma? That's like intending to craft a high-wire walker persona, and then choosing to scan a gymnast with a fear of heights.

So, what did we learn in this episode?
  • Dolls are actual humans who have had their memories wiped (this is in contrast to my initial impression, which was that dolls were going to be genetically grown bodies that never had a personality to begin with). It seems that many (if not all) of them were probably coerced into joining the Dollhouse, since the first scene between Echo and Adele Dewitt (Olivia Williams) implied that Echo was in some sort of legal conundrum severe enough that she was willing to sign her life away for 5 years.
  • Dolls have a limited period of service apparently. Since they are peddling physical skills (such as assassin training) and companionship among other things, it makes sense that dolls would serve little use after they aged too much. However, it brings up an interesting point: who is there to make sure that Dollhouse holds up their end of the bargain and releases the dolls at the end of their service? Assuming this organization is super secret, I can only assume that dolls are not given the chance to communicate the terms of their service to the outside world before they are taken in.
  • Apparently the process of becoming a doll for the first time is really unpleasant.
  • Dolls are programmed to return back to base if something goes wrong.
  • While the Dollhouse will put the dolls in dangerous positions, ultimately, their #1 concern is preserving their property (since Langsdon was clearly supposed to rescue only Echo if the hostage situation got out of control).
  • One doll, Alpha, may have gone rogue. I believe he's the naked guy you see at the end of the episode watching the home video of Echo. It looked like he was in the home of her parents, which begs the question - did Alpha murder her parents?
  • Imprinting isn't a perfect science, and they cannot manufacture personalities from scratch. Therefore, they had to do brain scans of real life people.
I'm looking forward to next week's episode at this point. My impression of the pilot was identical to how I felt after watching the Fringe pilot - it was okay, but I'm not completely on board yet. Still, just the other day I was catching up on Fringe and was impressed at how much the show has improved over the past few episodes. So, I'm hoping Dollhouse will really start to gel for me as the season progresses. Overall grade for episode 1 is a B-.

One last thing - the first scene where it's revealed that Echo had sex (multiple times apparently) with the client brings up some interesting issues worth debating. Is it possible for a doll to consent to sex? By her actions, I can only assume that the personality imbedded in Echo at the time sincerely liked the guy and wanted to have sex with him. If we assume that personalities are programmed such that they have tendencies only (but not hardwired mandates) towards particular actions, can we say they have free will? Is it ethical for the client to sleep with Echo if he truly does care for her, and she for him? 
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