And so we've come to an end of "Dollhouse." A review of the finale - or, really, some thoughts about the series as a whole - coming up just as soon as I tell you that I used to be a landscape architect...
What an odd little show was "Dollhouse." The premise seemed like a silly idea - or, at least, the early execution made it seem so - Eliza Dushku seemed miscast in a role that called for more versatility than she could muster, and the best and most important episode by far is one that never actually aired on television. (And if you didn't watch it in its many non-TV iterations, I hope you were able to make some sense of "Epitaph Two," because the finale assumed you'd seen it and didn't bother with hand-holding.)
And yet somehow, Joss Whedon and company made me care enough about the show and, especially, about its characters, that I... Well, I'm not exactly sad it's over, because I still believe the concept was too limited, and what made the last run of episodes so good was that Joss and company knew the end was coming and they didn't have to hold back. But I'm happy that Joss got to mostly end the show on his own terms, to give characters like Victor and Sierra and Topher(*) some closure, and to finish the story he started - even if he had to do it in a rushed, shoestring budget way.
(*) Ultimately, the degree to which I was invested in Topher's fate - Topher! - may be the most incredible thing about "Dollhouse" from "Epitaph One" on. This was a character I viewed as symbolic of most of what wasn't working about the show in the early days, but once Topher began developing a conscience, Fran Kranz and the writers consistently knocked it out of the park. I have no idea if this was a course correction or the plan all along - show us an amoral man, then show him discovering morality with the highest stakes possible - but damn, did it work.
Because here's the thing about Joss Whedon: he makes me care about the kinds of shows I shouldn't (and usually don't) care about. Vampires hold no intrinsic appeal to me, yet I never missed an episode of "Buffy." The premise of "Firefly" is fundamentally silly, yet I love that show and have watched it and the "Serenity" movie many times over. And, again, here was a show that had no business working, yet I found episodes like "Man on the Street," "A Spy in the House of Love" and "Belonging" to be terribly engrossing. And he does that because he's great at creating and casting characters(**), and at making them seem real and vital and sympathetic no matter what the show is about. I think space cowboys are silly, but I cared about Mal Reynolds. And, ultimately, I wanted things to work out okay for Victor and Sierra - or, at least, for them and the other characters to get some kind of ending.
(**) He's particularly good with supporting characters. Buffy and Angel were interesting to a point, but "Firefly" is the only Whedon show where I found myself liking and being entertained by the star as much as I cared about the second bananas.
And "Epitaph Two" offered plenty of closure, as well as just enough in the way of happy endings to feel satisfying without completely undermining what we saw in "Epitaph One."
Priya and Tony wind up together with their son, albeit after a lot of bumpy years and a lot of USB uploads for Tony/Victor. Topher gets to undo all the personality wipes his tech called, even if he can't undo all the collateral damage that came with it, and he has to sacrifice his life to do it. (Though after his knowledge of all the pain he caused, death was an obvious blessing for him.) Paul dies, but Alpha (returned, reformed and mostly sane) finds a kind application for the dollhouse tech, and for Echo's ability to absorb and control multiple personalities at once, by arranging for her to imprint herself with Paul - to let him into herself(***), when she couldn't do it metaphorically when he was still alive.
(***) And because that moment comes so late in an incredibly busy finale, we don't have to spend much time dwelling on how the logistics of this would work. If Paul is now a part of Echo, and she can love him, does that mean her other various personalities can have relationships with each other?
There's not enough time (or money in the budget or days on the schedule) to provide closure for everyone (Dominic, Whiskey), but an imperfect but often moving finale feels right for this show, you know?
We can argue about whether Fox meddled too much with the early episodes of the show, or if the concept itself was going to make "Dollhouse" a non-starter for a broadcast network-sized audience. But Fox did renew it, and they gave Joss enough warning to wrap things up, and they kept to their promise to air all the episodes in a relatively timely fashion (give or take a telethon). The show ultimately didn't work commercially, but the treatment was vastly better than a different Fox administration gave "Firefly."
Still, my ears couldn't help but perk up when FX president John Landgraf said at press tour that he had an upcoming lunch scheduled with Joss. Joss has sounded reluctant in the past to leave the familiarity (and, of course, the bigger budgets/paychecks) of network TV for cable, but I'm guessing/hoping this experience has finally convinced him it's worth sacrificing some dollars for more creative freedom and reduced viewer expectations. I think an unfettered Joss Whedon could make an absolutely kick-ass show for FX, or HBO, or whoever's smart enough to hire him and mostly leave him alone. And if the "Dollhouse" experience, while ultimately not a success, leads to that, then this will all have been worth it.
What did everybody else think?