It’s taken me a week to write up my thoughts on the Dollhouse season finale “Omega” because the episode embodies a lot of what’s wrong with the show as a whole and I wanted to spend time thinking these things through. The result is lengthy but, I hope, thoughtful and not just a snarkfest.
There will be snark, oh yes. But I canceled the fest (like they should have canceled this show — zing!)
While most people were busy counting the Whedon alums wandering around this episode, I noticed an even more disturbing one. Fantasy readers may remember a SciFi Channel movie called Aztec Rex that Genevieve pretty much tore apart for everyone’s amusement. Remember the Aztec princess who was neither Aztec nor princess-like? Eagle eyes may have caught on to the fact that she was played by the same actress that plays Sierra.
I can’t hold Aztec Rex against the poor woman, though, because we all need to eat. But imagine my surprise on discovering that the actor playing Alpha’s handler was also in Aztec Rex! Marco Sanchez played the 21st century sensitivo Rios, who eventually married the lovely princess.
This episode fails for allowing two Aztec Rex alums to be on the same set. If they’d had a scene together, people’s televisions would have exploded.
All right, on to the less silly complaints.
12 Episodes And Already Continuity Is Kinda Messed Up
Were you surprised to discover that Alpha’s convergence event was not brought on spontaneously but by Topher deciding to imprint all of Alpha’s past personalities on him? I was. I had the impression from earlier episodes that they aren’t sure how it happened. I think Boyd even asks Topher at one point how and Topher says he doesn’t know. (Fans are free to correct me on this.) But Topher does know because he’s the one that did it, however accidentally.
For most of the show we’ve been led to believe that Alpha was some kind of crazy anomaly that was possibly due to his being super smart or something. But really it was just a computer glitch. I feel slightly misled.
Perhaps Whedon & Co. hadn’t fully worked out how and why Alpha went crazy when they started writing the show. This seems unlikely given how much the different episodes tie together. Plus, there are only 12 of them. It’s entirely possible I misunderstood what characters said in earlier episodes, though. But I’d be interested in seeing how many others thought the same thing I did.
Alpha Does Things For No Reason, Film At 11
Alpha’s motive in the last two episodes is to get Echo out of the Dollhouse so he can turn her into Omega. Okay. What I don’t get is why a few episodes back he hired someone to hunt her down like an animal and then a few episodes later remote-wiped her. He kept putting her in harm’s way in order to… what? What’s the endgame there?
His sending information about her to Ballard makes sense. Maybe menacing Echo was meant to unsettle the Dollhouse staff. But again, why endanger the woman he loves (or thinks he will love when he makes her an ubermensch)?
This just goes along with my overall disappointment in Alpha as a character, but I would be interested in hearing theories about this aspect.
One thing I do appreciate about Dollhouse is Whedon’s willingness to change up the game. I was worried back during New York Comic Con when Whedon said that Paul and Echo would have several chances to “meet for the first time” and responded to a question/criticism about having Paul never actually finding the Dollhouse by likening it to Murder, She Wrote — if people didn’t keep dying whenever Jessica Fletcher came to town, there’d be no show!
Many shows have a great but limitedly-sustainable premise. How they deal with that generally determines how good the show ends up being. Television has changed since the 80s and it’s no longer acceptable to show the same basic plot structure over and over for years. I should say it shouldn’t be acceptable. Not for good television.
Thankfully it appears that Ballard will not be repeating the same “almost got ’em, I’m so close, I know it exists!” story ad infinitum. Now he’s “working” for the Dollhouse. In Season 2 I’m sure we’ll get to see him trying to take it down from the inside.
Whedon’s statements at Comic Con may have been made to intentionally mislead (he’s done this before with story points, sort of going for meta-mystery elements). If so, I’m not sure whether to give kudos or not. Yay for keeping a lid on spoilers; boo for doing it in a way that makes me assume you don’t know how to make series television work in the 21st century.
The major downside to this resolution was the loss of November/Mellie. The actress who plays her — Miracle Laurie — is fabulous. I hope they find a way to incorporate her into Season 2.
She’s So Special!
At various points in the first season characters remark on or obsess over how Echo is “special.” Dollhouse personnel note her ability to cleverly improvise within her programming to come up with non-straightforward ways to fulfill her mission. The audience gets to see that even when she’s in her “blank” state she retains something of her imprints and perhaps her original self.
Topher glimpses this in “A Spy in the House of Love” when Echo asks to be imprinted so that she can help him. Dewitt and Topher later attribute this to Echo’s evolution and surmise that she did this in order to eliminate her enemy in the Dollhouse, Dominick. How Echo knew before the big reveal that he was the mole does not concern them. What’s important is that Echo is special.
And if that point was not hammered in enough, the season finale brings it on home when we discover that Alpha has been obsessed with Caroline/Echo since the moment he laid eyes on her. Sure, he was showing signs of being a bit crazy before this, but Caroline’s specialness pushed him over the edge.
(I will pause here and note that I find this notion to be seriously problematic, but to explain why it would take a separate essay, so I’ll skip it for now.)
But really, is Caroline/Echo that special? What qualities does she have beyond being pretty? Beautiful women fill the Dollhouse. While Eliza Dushku is good-looking, she doesn’t merit this kind of obsession. One could argue that it’s something in her essence or charisma or soul, as Paul Ballard put it, that makes her so extra special. But if I was meant to understand that by Dushku’s acting alone, it doesn’t surprise me that it never struck me as apparent.
Echo is the show’s main character, so of course it focuses on her. Early on Paul Ballard had a reason for that focus — someone sent Echo’s picture and name, the first face he had for the Dollhouse. But Echo would have continued to interest us — as much as one can be interested — without Alpha’s exemplary obsession.
Alpha’s character arc hingess on him being stuck on a woman he doesn’t know, and the arc and the show falls flat on this score. Alpha is less compelling, less interesting, and less menacing when everything he does he does for the love of an empty shell. Perhaps that’s the point but it’s a boring point.
I would hold out some hope that next season the writers might be persuaded to drop this theme, but as so many elements of the show revolve around it, I predict that things won’t get better in Season 2, but worse.
38 Brains, One Character
Briefly: Eliza Dushku has had the opportunity to dazzle us with the range of her acting over the course of this season. She did not. In this final episode she had one more chance to shine. She had a great example before her — Alan Tudyk as Alpha struggling with the different brains in his brain, switching smoothly between them without making it look hammy and overdone. Then he puts a ton of personalities into Echo’s head and Eliza gives us… well, the same vague “kick-ass chick” character she’s been playing for eleven previous episodes. It shouldn’t be a surprise that we never saw her switch between them. There was nothing to switch.
Fight Fight Fight!
The crux of this episode rested in the fight scene between Echo/Omega/whoeverthehell and Alpha. It could have been the season’s centerpiece. Instead, like many things in this episode, it was a disappointment, .
I was actually ready for their climactic scene to explore the theme set up in “Briar Rose” — will the prince save the “princess”, or can she save herself? It was one of the more successful things Dollhouse has done as a show. We’re given three princes: the one who wants to save her, the one who wants to protect her, and the one who wants to own her. These princes aren’t unqualified good guys, and in the end you don’t want any of them to win.
But it gets messed up when Echo/Omega can’t even save herself properly. She gives Alpha the beat down but none of her 38 brains thinks to ensure that he’s either dead or immobile so he can’t, I don’t know, pick up a gun and shoot someone. Alpha runs away with Caroline’s wedge, drops it in a precarious place, and Paul gets to save the day by catching it as it falls.
Briar Rose, indeed.
Speaking Of That Scene
This dialogue made me lose all respect for Caroline forever:
Caroline: You have to put me back. You have to put me back in that wedge. Because we need to get Wendy back in her body.
Echo: Why do you have to go back in the wedge? Why don’t you come home?
Caroline: I did sign a contract.
There are several things that annoy me about this line The least among them is that I feel it was written just so Echo could say:
I have 38 brains. Not one of them thinks you can sign a contract to be a slave. Especially now that we have a black president.
There’s that witty dialogue everyone has been saying they miss so much. Too bad it’s at the expense of anything resembling sense.
Yes, Caroline signed a contract, but under duress. It looked to me like if she could get out of it, she would have, back before he was shoved in a wedge. So what is this “I signed a contract” crap? This girl was independent, supposedly, and a fighter. Couldn’t there have been the tiniest spark of spirit in her? Could she not have said, “I would, but won’t they just track me down?” and Echo could have convinced her that it would be worth it. Instead we got this.
Alpha Escapes, or: Someone Doesn’t Know When to Quit
Remember the first season of Heroes? Remember how Sylar was a big scary shadow in the corner for half of it and then a vaguely disappointing non-shadow in the rest? Remember how we were promised, over and over, that the season would end with Sylar’s death and how, as that end got closer, we were so glad of it because he’d become more than tedious at that point? Remember how betrayed and annoyed we were to find out that he was, in fact, not dead and would go on to banally menace us for the next three seasons?
That’s how I feel about Alpha.
Not that the show promised us that Alpha would die. I just hoped it really hard. As mentioned above, his character arc doesn’t satisfy and I don’t foresee it “evolving” into something more interesting. This is not a slam on Alan Tudyk, whoturned in one of the most compelling performances this show has seen. If I were Dushku, I wouldn’t want him back because he showed me up so badly. Still and all, Alpha was good for about half a season. It would be much more satisfactory if he was done. (Also much more if Echo had been the one to do him in.)
Conclusion: Really, FOX? You Cancel Sarah Connor But Keep This?
Having given Dollhouse 12 hours of my time and marginal benefit of the doubt, I am left to wonder why in the world FOX is allowing this show to continue when better shows are gone? We all still mourn Firefly and we all make mistakes, but that’s no reason to get gun shy.
This is, oddly and tangentially enough, akin to what is currently happening to Family Guy. FOX pulled the plug on that show too early as well, and a groundswell of fan rage and DVD sales showed them the error of their ways. Family Guy got a second chance and triumphantly returned to the airwaves. But now it’s a shell of its former self having spent all of its stored up wit and replaced it with offensive jokes about rape.
I sense a theme emerging.
FOX seems afraid to cancel FG for fear of making another stupid mistake. Perhaps they are also afraid of making the mistake of not giving a Whedon show enough time to become the most groundbreaking thing evar. What they are overlooking is that this show has an ick factor of 11 and problematic elements it shows no inclination to fix. If FOX is so eager to be giving shows a second chance, why don’t they bring back Alien Nation?
They’d find a way to mess that up, too, I’m sure.
Season 2 of Dollhouse is coming, kids. I say we start taking bets now on which television shows and episodes they will choose to rip off now that they have a “mandate.”
Spread the word!