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Dollhouse premiere: Ghost

DeWitt: "I'm talking about a clean slate."
Caroline: "You ever try to clean an actual slate? You always see what was on it before."

Yes, it held my interest. It has potential.

But you know what bothered me? It didn't feel... Whedony. And that was odd, when we essentially had Faith and Fred living in a set that looked like Wolfram and Hart. It felt like it was taking itself too seriously, overreaching a bit. And I mean that also in the sense that there was no humor whatsoever. In a show written by Joss Whedon. Is that because it's difficult to have humor when your characters have no sense of self?

The basic premise does have an almost endless potential for good stories. More adult stories, too. Buffy and River all grown up, imprinted with people like "Eleanor Penn", a human being with flaws and foibles and past traumas. It's a dream role for an actor. And there's the underlying mystery of the Dollhouse and Echo herself to be solved. Why would someone voluntarily submit to a sort of slavery that is the death of self? Who owns the Dollhouse, and why does it exist? And what was going on at the end of the episode?

In the zoom zoom department, there was plenty to catch and hold the Dollhouse demographic's eye, at least during the first part: fast motorcycles, Eliza Dushku dancing in skimpy, sexy clothes. We even got Tahmoh Penikett with his shirt off sweating sexily and working out his rage issues boxing with another guy; not our forthright upright Helo at all. At least they know their audience. It was an interesting choice to go with the cliched librarian look and such a troubled personality for the second part of the episode. A message that we're not just gonna get fluff. I didn't expect that we would.


-- Echo's real name is Caroline, and she was a college student. She did something wrong, "actions have consequences", and she signed up for a five year "term." If she lives that long, which doesn't seem likely. Her conversation with the boss, DeWitt, made it sound like DeWitt was an authority figure Caroline knew.

-- Paul Ballard is FBI and has been assigned to investigate the Dollhouse for fourteen months. He was recently divorced, and seems to be a hothead. He feels that people in the Dollhouse may just as well have been murdered.

-- I liked Boyd, Echo's "handler". He seemed to genuinely care about Echo's welfare, as well as the little girl kidnap victim.

-- Topher completely creeped me out. I don't know if that was intentional or not. He looked like a friendly nerd, but he didn't feel like one.

-- I thought Sierra was interesting, and we only got smidgens of her: receiving her initial programming whatever (while she was writhing in pain), and when she was all supersoldier coming to Echo's rescue. We didn't see any of the other "actives."

-- Amy Acker's character, Doctor Claire Saunders, was a great big question mark. It felt like she was a prisoner; Topher kept looking at her oddly. Where did she get those scars? What is she doing in the Dollhouse? It was like she was a project gone wrong, hanging around because there was no other place for her to go.

Bits and pieces:

-- The title of the pilot episode is "Ghost". We were told that the kidnapper who abused "Eleanor" was the ghost, but in fact, it's Echo herself. She's literally an echo; she responds with what has been downloaded into her.

-- Conditioning isn't perfect. Echo showed discomfort or possibly discontent a couple of times. Curiosity about what was happening to Sierra. Reluctance to get into the Chair. When Gabriel referenced the Dollhouse obliquely and talked about what had been done to "Eleanor" as a child, Echo's conditioning weakened and she flashed on Topher hurting Sierra.

-- The code names are from the NATO phonetic alphabet.

-- Nearsightedness and asthma went with the Penn imprint. That and the cliched librarian look were not a convincing look for Eliza Dushku. And by the way, I'm a librarian. We don't dress like that. It's a stereotype that really bugs me.

-- Symbolism? All over the episode. In particular, I thought the closing with all of the "dolls" in their little beds, below the floor and under glass, symbolized what these five people are.

-- I recognized the names of all of the producers. I've even met some of them, from going to so many Buffy/Angel events.

-- Summer Glau and Eliza Dushku, looking oddly alike, did promos together during the entire two hours of Terminator and Dollhouse. Come to think of it, they're both lead actresses that Whedon chose, so maybe their resemblance wasn't all that odd.

-- I appreciated the limited commercial breaks. Unfortunately, even though they were short, there were too many actual breaks and they increased as we neared the end of the hour. Breaks concentration.

-- The guy at the end who was sitting there naked after killing two people, looking at the video and photo of Caroline. This was right after they showed us a folder labeled "Alpha", another phonetic alphabet letter. Was that Alpha?

Quotes: (what there were of them)

Topher: "There's nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so, man friend."

Topher: "She's living the dream."
Boyd: "Whose dream?"

Echo: "A fatherly type."
Gabriel: "Like Edward James Olmos."
Yes, Battlestar, I'm going to miss you.

Ballard: "Wash your hands. And your shoes."

I liked this episode better the second time I saw it. There's stuff going on here. It could be good,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Hi Billie,

    My first impressions were pretty much the same as yours - I wonder whether we'll get any of Joss' wonderful humour in the show? I hope so. Topher looks the most likely candidate to bring home the funnies. I find him a bit irritating at the moment...but maybe he'll grow on me.

    And like you say, people prancing around in sexy clothes...what's not to like? Liked the general plot. Liked the fact that virtually all the characters seem to have interesting pasts that I want to know more about. Liked the premise of the Dolhouse and want to know more.

    So far so good. And this Friday night triple Scifi bill is bloody marvelous!

  2. Thought it was decent. It got my interest but, I know exactly what you are saying as far as writing goes. I had told my brother the same thing, that it didnt seem, and this was my term, "Whedon-esque". No humor and the dialogue was a bit awkward.

    Funny, my first reaction tothe set was "That is Wolfram and Hart!" :)

    I love Amy Acker, hope to see more of her, and I think her job was as doctor or physician for the dolls?

    Loved your reviews for Buffy/Angel, looking forward to your take on the upcoming episodes :D

  3. I couldn't help but wonder how much the network had interfered with the script & production in general. The show could definitely develop from here, but for the moment it felt too generic. Which is hard to believe when you consider the premise!

  4. I thought it was a servicable pilot. Not outstanding, but it did a decent job of introducing the characters, the basic premise, and the world, and piqued my interest enough to get me to tune in next week. (Of course, I was going to do that even if the pilot was awful. I like to give shows at least 3 or 4 episodes to grab me.)

    I thought the extended dancing scenes with Echo and the boxing scene with Paul were hilarious. The shower scene, too. Such obvious "sex it up" scenes. A little somethin' somethin' for everyone. Tammoh and Eliza are both looking good.

    I was not bothered by the nerd programmer (although, in retrospect, his nonchalance about what he does was kind of creepy). I really didn't like Reed Diamond, the Chief's blond "henchman." He was skeevy. I want Boyd to hurt him.

    I was alternately amused and irritated by the ads with Summer and Eliza. Nice to see the Whedon ladies together, but their patter was very stitled and awkward. I hope they don't do that every week.

    Paul, I, too, loved having the Sci Fi Friday triple bill! I probably sat on the couch for waaaay too long last night, but it was fun!

  5. I agree with your review. I expect the series will improve greatly. The pilot introduced the characters, set up the premise, and explained the flaws in the technology that will affect the storylines later. Now that we know what is what, the stories will likely really kick off as Echo becomes more self aware.
    Remember even the Buffy pilot, although it had some of the typical Whedon humor, was not up to what we came to expect from Whedon. It really didn't hit it's true pace until the second season. It may not take that long for Dollhouse, but I am willing to hang on till then if neccesary.

  6. I am not going to attempt to make any general critique on the merits of the show as I am willing to wait and see where it goes. Three things I did notice:
    1) No humor, as several have already noted. Not only no humor but no observations about life in general
    2) The dialog just did not have any Jossian spark that I so delight in. I can't recall a single bit where I thought to myself "Boy, I wish I could say something like that".
    3) Seems totally episodic in structure but I will give it time to establish a mythology.
    I do badly want this show to succeed.

  7. Did anyone else catch the shout out to BSG? "I want someone fatherly... like Edward James Olmos". Very nice!

  8. well for me it showed that it may be a great show but as every one notice the way everybody speaks it is very normal and without the humor...

    i do not see it see coming and it may be on purpose like he is trying to do sth different this time...who knows... but i got the feeling that i want to continue watching...
    it held my attention.

  9. I had been looking forward to this show based on the fact that it was Whedon and Eliza and Amy Acker and Harry Lennix (who is one of my favourite actors). In truth, I wasn't really sold on the premise, but thought I would give it a shot mostly because of some things Eliza had mentioned during the first couple of promotional interviews for the show.

    She mentioned something about how Joss wanted to explore the nature and role of identity. That is, who are we and why do we do we things we do if there is no starting point (personality) to begin with. Eliza also said that Joss wanted to shake/disturb viewers.

    I love dark and complex show, I thought I could deal, I was ready.

    And then, I was disappointed.

    Where was the Whedon humour? Why was I not feeling riveted about all the mythology? Why was this pilot so...generic? Why did I wanted to know more about Amy and Harry's characters than Eliza's?

    I'll give it a couple of more episodes before I throw in the towel. All in all, I'm hedging my bets, but I don't like what I've seen so far. That worries me since I've always liked the Whedonverse (including smaller/lesser known shows like "The Inside".)

  10. The thing that bothered me was Echo being imprinted with asthma, as if it is a personality issue.

  11. Personally, I really don't think they did a great job of setting up the premise -- shouldn't they have given us an inkling as to why she would submit herself to this place? That opening scene just seemed very abrupt, like we were thrown into a situation where we should've known what was going on when we obviously don't.

    Not sure what to think about the ending scene, either -- was that Alpha going rogue and killing someone close to Echo? I'm confused, but I'll give it a few more shots...

  12. I saw an article in Rolling Stone where Joss says that he will never do another TV show. It sounds like Dollhouse has been as dispiriting as Firefly with regard to dealing with the network. He really sound fed up and that what we saw was not at all the show he wanted to make. He wanted to investigate the human condition and identity etc and Fox wanted a shoot-em-up with lots of scantily clad girls (and I have absolutely nothing against scantily clad girls but that alone cannot carry a show). Frankly, I think this show is DOA which obviously disappoints me to no end.

  13. "Frankly, I think this show is DOA which obviously disappoints me to no end."

    Jesus, it's only the pilot, people.
    I found this episode, in a word, interesting. Not "amazing" or "mind-blowing", but it made me curious. I pretty sure more depht will soon be added to the characrets...
    I hope...

  14. Billie, will we be getting non-blog version of the review but you don't a Season 1 section in the Dollhouse section.

  15. Hi, Shawn:

    Yes, absolutely. I'll be archiving Dollhouse reviews as I do with every other show. Hopefully today, even, when my review of the second episode goes up.

  16. Caught this episode on Tuesday now that sci-fi have finally premiere the series. I have to admit that I wasn't impressed.

    In the past four years we've had amazing pilots from shows like Lost, Battlestar Galactica and Heroes to name three but this pilot felt a little too tame for my liking.

    Logistically and morally, there are plenty of holes that can be picked at the idea of the Dollhouse. Why would anyone in their right minds want to be part of something like it?

    I can see that along with Caroline most people are co-erced into it and the ones that actually volunteer are nuts.

    Morally, it's degrading. Being forced or allowed yourself to be imprinted into something else to cater to another person's needs. Topher talked about the dolls living the dream but I fail to see how this actually benefits them at all.

    Echo is yet a character I have no idea on how I feel. We saw her as a date for a rich playboy and then as a hostage negotiator who was abused by one of the men who took Davinia. The latter role was the more difficult to pull off but Dushku did alright.

    It might have helped if they had gone with a more darker plot than the little girl being snatched (although there were allusions to child abuse). Plus I am intrigued about this Alpha person and their interest in Caroline/Echo.

    In terms of the remaining character, I adored Boyd (very Giles/Dixon/possible Jack Bristow), was intrigued by Claire, thought Victor was cute, liked Sierra and could tolerate Dominic.

    The only characters who left me cold were Topher (the standard sexless TV nerd, a frightening mash up of Warren/Andrew when a Xander type personality would've been needed) and Paul, who's motives for trying to take down the dollhouse don't seem compelling to me.

    I know the show gets better with later episodes but this was an incredibly underwhelming pilot, 7/10.

  17. Started my fourth rewatch and I´m surprised to say that the show grows on you.
    I liked how when she saved Davina, she kept saying "you´re free" but not only about Davina, but Eleanor Penn. Justice was served.

  18. I'd forgotten how good this show was!

    Topher creeped me out from the get go, but in an interesting way. I'm pretty sure he was supposed to be creepy.

    Are there only 26 dolls in the dollhouse? I always wondered. Also, would anyone think I was insane if I said their little cubbies always looked really comfy cozy to me?


    You were right about Alpha, Billie. Bravo...Which is also a letter from the NATO alphabet. :)

    'We didn't see any other actives' We did actually we just don't know they're actives yet. Mwahahaha

    Oh, also you said you liked Boyd. I liked him too. Until, well, you know. I think Whedon used the preconceptions we have about his style to play with us in this respect. His shows generally have the mentor father figure (Giles, Book, Lorne in some respects) and Boyd looked to be fulfilling that role. Oh my God I just realized there was that whole 'father figures put people at ease' line. Boyd is a father figure who put as at ease. DAMN Joss is brilliant.

  19. Love the review billie... i started tgis series today for d same reason as many.. bcos its frm joss whedon. after the pilot though i feel underwhelmed...
    i made the serious error here..i watched d unaired pilot after tgis thinking thr wud jst b minute changes n that blew my mind!!! if only that was d original pilot...
    lookibg forward to d rest of d two seasons :)

  20. Shruti, the first four or five eps are okay, but a little underwhelming. And then it speeds up and stays in high gear until the end. So hang in there! It's really worth it.

  21. First time watching. I'll defend the premiere and possibly the rest of the earliest episodes. It was honestly 'Not Bad' territory and I'm perplexed by all the disappointment I remember being expressed about the beginning of this show that put me off of properly considering it (I was already watching The Sarah Connor Chronicles and for some reason I assumed the premise was too similar). I think I would've stuck with it had I watched it as it aired blindly. I mean I see why it didn't really land for most people, too, but I found the intrigue of seeing how Echo might break out of the organization and what Alpha's deal is good enough to string myself along. So far he sounds almost sympathetic, Dollhouse does seem like a fucked-up organization and doing all the wrong things for the right reason is still essentially wrong. I spoiled myself on who Alpha turned out to be (not on purpose! It's just that the first episode I decided to drop in on when it was airing was that reveal lol.. it was spooky though even without context so I'm excited to see that played out properly) and I'm not particularly upset about it, but, that also means I can't know for sure whether I would've kept up with this show if I didn't have the extra motivation to reach that landmark.

    Olivia Williams is a beautiful woman, and whoever plays Victor is a guy I remember from Community ("I love these guys, they make funny with their mouths") so I'm just always grinning in whatever scene he's in. Heard lots of praise about him.

    "I've got a blow-up doll and she looks like you
    A little girl
    Well, the two of us have made a special world
    Little girl...

    So welcome to the dollhouse
    Welcome to the dollhouse
    Welcome to the dollhouse...
    I got it all set up for you!"

    Goddammit I better get that creepy song out of my head and stop associating it to this show


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