I’ll be honest; I watched Dollhouse for the first time because a friend suggested it, and all he had to tell me was that it was a Joss Whedon endeavour and that Eliza Dushku – “You know, Faith from Buffy” – was in it. Faith being my favourite Buffy character, I obediently watched the first episode… and immediately had to order my own copy of the DVD.
Dollhouse follows Echo (Dushku), a ‘doll’ or blank slate, as she is hired and imprinted with a new personality for a variety of clients. If your mind is going to sordid places, well, you’re not entirely wrong – but the vast majority of ‘engagements’ involve highly specialised skillsets. Echo is engaged, for example, as a criminal mastermind, a top hostage negotiator, an undercover agent, and a variety of other professions she would usually need to study for years to master. We also meet a variety of other ‘actives’ (as the dolls are known when imprinted with a personality), along with a small cast of handlers and staff at the Dollhouse.
Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) is, frankly, a genius, responsible for honing and using the technology that allows an active’s mind to be wiped, their personality stored on disc, and a new one to be imprinted onto them. He’s effectively an overgrown child, though, for all his intelligence, and it’s hard not to like him despite his dubious ethical choices. He works for Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams), who both runs the LA Dollhouse on behalf of the rather ominous Rossum corporation, and seems to have an instrumental role in recruiting actives in the first place. They’re joined in the first episode by Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix), Echo’s new handler, who seems to have a dark past of his own and initial reservations about the Dollhouse project.
Meanwhile, FBI Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) has, after a series of failures, been assigned a case everyone thinks is a joke – to investigate rumours of a shady organisation trafficking people in the heart of LA. The Dollhouse – and a girl named Caroline, who he believes to have been taken by them – becomes his obsession. And he’s getting closer to finding the truth…
It can be hard to get into a series when the main character is someone completely different every week, but if you stick with Dollhouse for a few episodes you’ll discover that it can be done. There’s intrigue at every turn in this show, and things never work out quite the way you expect them to (Sherlockians, I’d love to hear about your attempts to deduce what’s happening). It’s not a very comfortable show to watch, necessarily – everything and everyone in it seems to be somewhat morally ambiguous and if you’re going to root for any of the characters, you’re going to have to relax your own sense of right and wrong a little – but it’s certainly thought-provoking.
Sadly, Dollhouse only ran for two seasons, but it did manage to tie itself up neatly and blow a few minds with the finale. I’m not suggesting you watch a show that leaves itself hanging this time (I know, I know, Firefly cut off mid-series and made you sad). But I do suggest you give Dollhouse a try – there’s a lot I can’t tell you about it without completely ruining the whole thing, but it’s got a fantastic cast, some stellar plotlines and twists that wouldn’t be out of place on a corkscrew rollercoaster. So have a look. See what you think.
Everything’s going to be OK… now that you’re here.
I’d give this series 3 out of 5, because it does get a little uncomfortable at times.
Eleanor Musgrove (There are three flowers in a vase.)