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Dollhouse: Echo (Unaired Pilot)

[This is a review of the unaired pilot episode for Dollhouse, entitled "Echo," which is available on the fourth disk of the DVD set.]

Topher: "This is cutting edge science in a house full of hot chicks."

Yes, there are lots of familiar scenes from the first few episodes. But there are a lot of differences, too. No kidnap plot. No Eleanor Penn. No opening date scene, no wild dancing, no motorcycle, no Alpha.

This pilot explains more clearly what the Dollhouse is, and how the programming works. It shows Adelle explaining things to a new client, and Echo as a lot of different actives. There is an interesting emphasis on the Dollhouse as a refuge for those who find life unbearable, as well as the positive effect that pro bono work has on the physical and emotional health of the actives. There is a stronger emphasis on Echo surpassing, or circumventing, her programming. And we see the lunchtime "flocking" of Echo, Victor and Sierra that we saw much later in episode four. ("They're a little bit bison.")

There's a lot more of Topher, his fixation on his "man-friend" Boyd, and his dislike of and antipathy toward Claire. (Claire: "I'm compiling a report." Topher: "I'm making a paperclip Eiffel tower.") He calls Claire "The Phantom," which I can only assume is a nasty reference to the Phantom of the Opera. He says she could have done something about her scars.

We see Sierra entering the Dollhouse for the first time, dressed in a pink suit, upset, and looking like someone beat her up. We see Victor undercover with Paul, as in the aired pilot, but we learn Victor is a doll here instead of much later in episode three. And Ashley Johnson plays Echo's major pro bono effort, an addict and hooker who is saved and counseled by Echo. In the aired Dollhouse, Ashley Johnson had a more complex role in the finale, instead.

One of the major flaws with the first season was that Echo and Paul were kept apart way too long. Here, Echo was initially set up in a role similar to the one played later by Mellie. (We don't see Mellie at all.) Echo is supposedly searching for her missing sister, who has been taken by the Dollhouse; she meets Paul in the basement scene, and Paul takes her to his apartment. He doesn't fall for her ruse, though; she gets his gun away from him and shoots him twice, leaving him for dead. She is ready to follow him to the hospital to finish him off, but Adelle is ordered by a higher up to leave Paul alive, instead. (And there is discussion that Echo is not supposed to be programmed to assassinate. And possibly a hint that she chose not to kill Paul.)

Did it introduce too many plotlines? Possibly, but I could have lived with that. This unaired pilot is better written, a lot wittier, much more Whedony than the one we got. It certainly would have been more intriguing to watch, and more satisfying to review. In fact, it's a lot closer to what I was expecting, which I suppose isn't surprising since it's Joss Whedon speaking with his own voice.

This second pilot situation happened with Firefly, too. Whedon was able to make the second Firefly pilot really terrific. I wonder if this time their request for a second pilot took the heart right out of him, and he went through the motions and didn't really try to put his own stamp on the aired pilot. If so, who could blame him?

Joss 2, suits 0.

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

12 comments:

  1. I'm really glad you reviewed this, Billie. I keep forgetting to mail in the old Netflix to get the Dollhouse DVDs, and you finally gave me a reason to trek to the post office.

    And: "A pink suit"? Was it as awful as that sounds?

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  2. She wore pearls, too. I should have mentioned the pearls. :)

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  3. Ahh...like a CoCo Chanel/Jackie O./Maude Simpson suit. That's better. (I was picturing a trashy horror.)

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  4. Yes, I'm posting another comment on my own review. Pathetic.

    But I'm sitting here watching the extras on the DVD and Tim Minear says, "What people don't understand about killing the first pilot is that, since the time of the Aztecs, the first pilot has always been killed, the heart ripped out of it, and it gets thrown into a volcano."

    This was just so perfect that I had to share it with everyone who ever reads my little review of the unaired pilot.

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  5. Ya gotta love those Buffy/Angel/Firefly writers, always with the witty and the funny.

    I did a review on the Dollhouse DVD and pretty much agree full stop with what you wrote. This was entirely better written and produced than its replacement with more emphasis on exploring the inner workings of the dollhouse rather than a tawdry mission of the week scenario.

    It’s a shame it had to be sacrificed to the gods and chucked in that volcano.

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  6. Hey Billie! Are you going to review the "Lost" episode "Epitaph One"? That was an awesome episode too!! :)

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  7. Hehe I agree with your review Billie, much more Whedony. If only the suits at Fox had kept their stupid noses out. I actually liked this pilot about twice as much as the official one. I couldn't wait for the UK DVD set (though it's on preorder) so illegally downloaded this, but I am very glad its on the DVD as most fans will be in agreement that Echo beats Ghost hands down.

    Can't wait to read your review of Epitaph One - there's So much to say about it!

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  8. I'm working on a review of "Epitaph One" that should go up tonight or tomorrow.

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  9. Ahh, I still have to write something about Epitaph One. I had such a scoop on that, having seen it weeks ago. :D

    Oh well, I'll have to watch it again anyway. And my Bluray won't arrive until late August. I definitely chose the wrong shipping method on Amazon.

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  10. Nice review of a great episode!:)

    Just to add; i can't help but notice how much better the scenes (especially Ballard's) play in 'Echo' than when reused in the series where they often seem illogical or shoehorned.

    And the acting - Eliza (for one) seems much better here than in any of the first four episodes.

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  11. OK, NOW I'm angry with Fox. I just finally watched this, and seriously - it was GREAT. Maybe not the best episode ever, but certainly a lot better than that birdheaded (and not very interesting) pilot. Honestly, I'm not sure why this one was objectionable? And even if it was too dark or violent, that could have easily been toned down, rather then have the entire premise redone.

    Did anyone else notice that the bride at the party is the woman who played Cindy in Season 2? Wouldn't that have been great if Echo was at Senator Perrin's wedding?

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  12. This isn't just a different pilot, this is a whole different direction for the show to take, and frankly, if this had been continued, it may well have become popular enough for Joss Whedon to get his full 5 year plan done in Dollhouse. What a shame.

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