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"Dollhouse" Tv Series - 1x02 "The Target" - Ifmagazine.com Review

Saturday 21 February 2009, by Webmaster

Despite the rocky start with DOLLHOUSE, I have to say I have total faith in Joss Whedon as a writer and creator of challenging and groundbreaking new series. His voice is unique and the worlds he creates can often times be all-immersive.

That said, DOLLHOUSE has been rough-going from the get-go and it’s obvious the powers-that-be (not Wolfram and Hart mind you) have diluted his magic touch. They’ve constantly asked for changes upon changes to the show’s format leading up to last week’s gutted and awkward debut and this week’s second episode, which in some ways is a sort of second pilot episode, sort of implies the show is getting back on track.

While things have gotten better, it’s clear there’s still a long road ahead before the show finds solid footing (but if anyone is going to figure it out, it’s Whedon). The most immediate problem has to do with its lead character Echo (Eliza Dushku). She’s a real person, who has allowed her mind to be erased by a company that implants other people’s memories in her so she can be whatever a client wants her to be. Is it a pleasure doll, a lawyer, a scientist, an ass-kicker? It changes every week, but that interesting conceit is also the show’s biggest flaw. Without any real character traits of her own, she becomes a supporting player in her own series and as “The Target” proves, the show itself almost understands that dilemma, resulting in the heart and main soul of the series falling to Echo’s handler Boyd Langdon (Harry Lennix).

It’s through Langdon’s eyes, we see what the Dollhouse is sort-of about – flashbacking to when he became part of the company, and his initial detached relationship with Echo, to his now full trusting of her. Lennix is one of the best things in the show – and one of the few detached elements (because after all, just about every Dollhouse employee is pretty cold and methodical in this “product” they’re offering to the elite general public who are willing to pay top dollar for what are essentially human toys).

In a riff on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, Echo is whored out to an outdoorsman (the exceptional Matt Keeslar from the vastly under-rated THE MIDDLEMAN TV series) who turns out to be a maniacal hunter. He wants Echo all alone in the woods, so he can hunt her down and test her own survival skills. During this time, Echo starts to break down and see former versions of herself. Is her previous “imprints” seeping into her current lie, or is her previous life reaching to the top for survival?

Add to that, the revelation there’s a rogue “Doll” named Alpha running around carving people up (and perhaps involved in this little test of Echo), and you have a huge mythology already being set into motion.

This mythology also includes an F.B.I. agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) trying to uncover the secrets of the Dollhouse, and the Dollhouse’s chief of security Laurence Dominic (Reed Diamond) who feels Echo should be destroyed, since she’s obviously the target of Alpha’s obsession. Incidentally, Alpha spared her in his (or is it her?) escape from the facility that resulted in a full-on Doll bloodbath.

While writer-director Steven S. DeKnight gets to the bottom of some of the DOLLHOUSE’s initial plot defaults, he also enhances what the show needs to be and that is a mythology driven series.

So much time was devoted in interviews Whedon and the network gave about how the series was going to be primarily standalone episodes, with mythology sprinkled throughout. Yet, the second episode in, and there’s already a “Previously on DOLLHOUSE” that was so wrong and will make absolutely no sense whatsoever to a viewer who missed last week, that they would have been better off not having that teaser at all. “The Target” itself did a great job of explaining what’s going on without it.

It’s a shame, the standalone mandate was given, because ultimately, mythology-driven stories are what Whedon does best. Take the car keys away from him and tell him to drive the vehicle without it, and you force him to sit in the driveway for an hour, trying to get the car to move.

So where does that leave DOLLHOUSE? Well, for one, this episode definitely improves upon the concept. And it’s clear, Langdon is the audience’s entree into the series and not Echo. All the other mumbo jumbo is actually rather superfluous until, of course, at some point (we hope) Echo wakes up partially and realizes who she is and has no need to be imprinted anymore. When that happens and she can use all the abilities from all the lives she’s lived under the Dollhouse roof (and also introduce the audience to her OWN personality), then the show can truly live up to its vast potential.

Until then, we’ll have to see if the lessons learned here are applied to next week’s episode. I’m in. Let’s hope others are just as patient and feel the same way.