Dollhouse: Ghost

“There’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

My expectations for this episode were rather absurdly ambivalent. On the one hand, I’ve been ecstatic since I first heard that Joss was coming back to TV (and the wait felt like it was killing me). On the other, I knew that pilots in general aren’t my thing; that Whedonverse pilots (or even first episodes of any season) are never the best of the bunch; and that Joss re-did this pilot after some talks with Fox. So then I found myself hoping that the pilot would be accessible enough for non-genre fans, so at least we could get as much Dollhouse as possible.

I think the pilot did just that: introduced a new concept with lots of shine and gloss, gave us a potential formula for stand-alone episodes, and hinted at the possibility of a narrative arc that follows this Alpha thing. All of that was good.

I wonder how the stand-alones will stand up, of course. Echo’s emotional reaction to the kidnappers was tough to watch (child abuse is not funny), but it’s a problem that we, the viewers, know she’ll forget forever within hours. What are the stakes in a plot like that?

Bigger stakes were planted in the Agent Paul Ballard plotline. Tahmoh Penikett is so sexy that I’d watch a show with him reciting the alphabet for 50 minutes. Luckily, it looks like it’ll be even more exciting than that, particularly when the crime-investigation plot meshes with the Alpha plot.

Like Bille, I noticed the lack of Whedonisms, particularly in the Topher scenes. He’s a cross between Xander (lovable geek) and Knox (lovable evil geek), right? At first blush, a few of his line deliveries felt a bit off and not quite Joss-worthy. But maybe that’s the point—he’s not Xander or Knox, so why would he ape their intonations? I’ll bet dollars to donuts that as the actors find their feet we’ll have new speech rhythms and neologisms to add to the fan lexicon.

Joss’s other shows—whether Buffy, Angel, or Firefly—all depended strongly on a sense of place. Buffy was set in the type of mid-sized modern American town where no one knows anyone else, but there’s still only one good coffeehouse. Firefly was about infinite space and the homes we build to keep out the dark. Angel was LA, particularly the not-yet gentrified sections of Hollywood, Echo Park, Angelino Heights, and downtown. The geographical specificity of these shows helped the mythology (vampires, Wolfram and Hart, BlueSun and the Alliance) feel relevant and possible—gigantic developments seem more alive when the setting is self-contained.

It’s easy (too easy for a Joss show) to read Echo as an allegory for the ways that personalities can shift and morph in a different LA, the one inhabited by wannabes, has-beens, and never-weres. But even if we avoid that slippery slope, it raises the question of how this show is going to establish a sense of place while zipping all over LA, and how it’s going to tackle, or create, the gigantic developments, especially when the potential Bad Guys are just as mortal and human as any other human traffickers.

Random Things:

• Loved the Edward James Olmos shout-out.
• Echo’s skirt was so short that I felt old. This is particularly odd given that I’m actually younger than Eliza Dushku.
• Amy Acker: you kick ass.
• Is neural modification the new black? Chuck, Fringe, Dollhouse—there are probably a few out there I’m not watching, too.
• When the dolls/actives are in Spa Heaven, what do they think is going on? Or do they just not care?
• Does geek chic explain Topher’s clothes? Or is Fox just hoping we’re clear on the fact that he’s a techie who probably has a crush on Echo?

I’m curious to see where the show goes from here. And I’m excited to see the next episode.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

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