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Playing with Dolls: An Advance Look at Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse" Pilot Script

I am still trying to catch my breath.

I'm talking about my reaction last night after reading Joss Whedon's brilliantly evocative script for his new seven-episode drama series for FOX, Dollhouse.

If there's one thing that Dollhouse has been this development season in Hollywood, it's been THE script to try to get your hands on. After weeks of conniving, begging, and bartering, I finally managed to get my greedy mitts on the script and hungrily devoured the 54-page script in about fifteen minutes, seemingly without pausing to breathe.

While I had extremely high expectations for Dollhouse (I always trust in the Joss), I was worried that, after all of the hype and hoopla, it wouldn't quite live up to my preconceived notions about the project. I am happy to say that not only were those expectations matched but they were exceeded. This isn't latter-day Alias by any stretch of the imagination: while there are still costume changes and choreographed fight sequences, it delves into bigger issues of morality and mortality and asks hard questions about the ethical ramifications of science and technology.

Yes, there is much more to Dollhouse than meets the eye and Whedon succeeds here by filling his script with a multitude of morally grey characters engaged in one of the most sickening and intriguing displays of human trafficking ever devised. I don't want to spoil anything but I will say that there there's an unexplained back story (referred to as Alpha) that will likely come into play down the line and the power structure within the Dollhouse is a fluctuating, living thing unto itself. As for the Dollhouse itself, it certainly didn't "look" anything like I expected it to based on the information that was trickling out during casting: it's not a draconian prison nor an icy SD-6-type operations hub; instead it's more like a serene, Japanese-influenced, high-tech spa for the Actives.

But there's a real undercurrent of danger lurking here and the staffers--from jokey and amoral tech Topher and gruff handler Boyd to the physically scarred Dr. Claire Saunders and manipulative overseer Adelle DeWitt--engage in a high-stakes game of human chess, with the Actives little more than expendable pawns. Or, well, dolls.

As for Dollhouse's lead character Echo, this is quite a role that Whedon has written for Eliza Dushku, allowing her to play a variety of personalities and moods in a single episode. In fact, we get to see Echo in no less than five (off the top of my head anyway) identities in the pilot episode alone. As we all know, Echo is struggling with self-awareness, as she begins remembering things from her previous "engagements" that she shouldn't, things that should have been wiped clean from her memory by Topher. Things that her "captors" don't want her to remember.

So is it an action-adventure yarn? A story of science gone mad? A tale about a cop determined to get at the truth no matter what the cost? Or a metaphysical drama about the nature of memory and identity? Why can't it be all of the above?

In the gifted hands of Joss Whedon, Dollhouse is a beautiful enigma wrapped in a riddle, a gripping conspiracy story for the ages filled with urban legends, memory tampering, and long-buried secrets coming to the fore. It's a Shakespearean story of hubris and likely vengeance, filled with sound and fury and signifying, well, lots.

I'm hungry for more.

Joss Whedon's seven-episode drama Dollhouse launches this fall on FOX.


Anonymous said…
OMG!! This sounds amazing! I totally trust the Televisionary Opinion and I am so relieved that this lived up to you expectations because now I know I am going to love it too!
This is definitely the show that I'm looking forward to the most this season. Especially after this glowing review!

I'm also happy to see Joss doing something a little darker. I think it's going to be very interesting...
The CineManiac said…
I'm insane with jealousy right now, but glad to hear it's "SOOO GOOOD!" (To Quote Teen Girl Squad)
Can't wait to see the finished product.
Unknown said…
Thank goodness Joss decided not to pursue the tortuous, dead end style of Firefly. I'm looking forward to Dollhouse. It sounds to me more akin to La Femme Nikita than Alias. (Both of which I loved.)
eAi said…
Is it only going to be 7 episodes or may it be extended?
Anonymous said…
If it gets better ratings than Firefly, it will go much much longer than 7 episodes, eai. That was just the original blind commitment made by Fox without even seeing a script.
Amy said…
This made my day!
Page48 said…
Nothing torturous about "Firefly". It was a beauty. If this puppy is half as appealing as FF, I'll be a happy camper.

It does put me to mind of "Nikita", and if it rocks anything like "Alias" did, I'll pick up the phone and order a full season myself. What is it with 7 episode seasons these days?
Anonymous said…
I am so jealous that you once again got to read something as cool as this. I was intrigued about DOLLHOUSE and now after reading your amazing review I can't wait to watch it. Any one know when Fox will launch it with baseball once again derailing their schedule?
Anonymous said…
This sounds fucking brilliant. Thanks for making my day with the Joss scoopage. I want to watch Dollhouse now!
Anonymous said…
WOW. Now I can't wait for it!
Anonymous said…
For everyone making FOX pot shots (and I used to be one of them), remember that FOX has a new head honcho, Kevin Reilly. He previously was at NBC where he kept a lot of ratings-challenged shows alive simply because he thought they were worth saving, like FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, THE OFFICE, and 30 ROCK. Now, I doubt if given FOX's corporate structure he will be able to be quite as patient, but I suspect he'll change FOX's quick trigger finger. He has already renewed SARAH CONNOR despite somewhat disappointing ratings and he is the one who gave the order for DOLLHOUSE. He also has ordered a new Ron Moore series called VIRTUALITY. In other words, he seems to be in the process of putting together a really good group of shows besides AMERICAN IDLE. And he hasn't been on the job quite one year.

Besides, FIREFLY, which I thought was utterly brilliant, has been one of 20th Century Fox's best selling DVDs for several years. They are acutely aware now, it is hoped, of the kind of intensely dedicated audience that Joss Whedon attracts. And given how much he is idolized by TV critics, this will be THE most talked about new show of the upcoming season.

In other words, I think the rules have changed.
Anonymous said…
Thank ytou so much for reporting that!

I'm looking forward for Dollhouse and I trust Joss will do a great work.

Please, when and if you can, give us more details about the pilot and the characters. :)
Anonymous said…
This sounds like a big rip-off of two animes, Gunslinger Girl and Darker Than Black. In Gunslinger Girl there are "dolls" and were they live is nicknamed the "dollhouse." They perform whatever task they're told to and have "handlers." In Darker Than Black there are also dolls that peform tasks, whatever they may be, and can have personalities, ideas, etc uploaded to them. There's even someone named November!

I used to like Joss Whedon, but after this I just think that he's just a copy cat. If you don't believe me watch a few episodes of these two far superior shows.
Anonymous said…
"watch a few episodes of these two far superior shows."
You mean superior to a show that hasnt even finished production on its first episode yet? WOW! they must be good!!!

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