Saturday, December 05, 2009

Dollhouse, "The Public Eye" & "The Left Hand": Two Tophers for the price of one

A quick review of the start of the "Dollhouse" Mid-Season Burn-Off Theatre run coming up just as soon as I enjoy some wasabi peas...
"Who are you?" -Daniel Perrin
"She's God, honey. And you've heartily offended her." -Cindy Perrin
As I said when "Belonging" aired, I don't know how much heart I have left to analyze a doomed show, albeit one that over its past three episodes (which aired with a six-week gap in between the first and the next two) has been at the top of its game.

The two-parter did a strong, disturbing job of again exploring the moral implications of the Dollhouse, here bringing back Dr. Saunders' question from the season premiere: Isn't wiping an imprinted personality just as much a murder in its own way as wiping the active's real personality? Eliza Dushku and Alexis Denisof did very well grappling with their increasing self-awareness, Enver Gjokaj was once again an incredible (and hilarious) mimic with his performance as Victor-as-Topher, and Summer Glau found a new, haunting variation on her usual twitchiness. (Though I don't understand how someone goes from being one of Caroline's eco-terrorist pals to being Topher's even-more-brilliant counterpart at the DC Dollhouse.) And we got more hints of how we're going to get from here to the horrifying future glimpsed in "Epitaph One."

But with no real future for the series, I don't have a lot to say. I'll try to weigh in on each episode after I've seen it, and possibly do a big blow-out after the finale airs - especially if Joss can figure out how to wrap everything up on what sounds like the budget for a grocery run to the local Wawa - but mostly this is an opportunity for the few remaining "Dollhouse" fans to talk about the show's final days.

What did everybody else think?


renton said...

Between Rainn Wilson and Enver Gjokaj, this was a great week for mimicry!

Anonymous said...

Gjokaj was frighteningly good with his portrayal. He is pretty much the only reason I watch the show. I can't wait for this show to be canceled so I can see him on a show that isn't best at putting me to sleep.

Katie said...

If there's somehow a third season (come on Syfy), we need a quirky, Whedon-penned episode where Enver Gjokaj plays every character.

Having said that, Dollhouse is the ultimate underdog; it's somehow worked it's way into a very good show after that questionable start to season one. With Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Lost all on hiatus, I don't think there's another show that keeps me as hooked week-to-week.

Anonymous said...

Enver Gjokaj's Topher was really unbelievable. With my eyes closed I couldn't even tell the difference.

BigTed said...

Well, these two hours were just great. And it's really annoying that this show has gotten better than ever right after being canceled.

From the recent interviews given by Joss Whedon, it sounds as if he wanted the show to spend more time exploring people's fantasies, but didn't realize that we in the audience (and, apparently, the Fox network) would be too concerned about the moral implications of what it takes to make those fantasies happen to be comfortable with that kind of a show. But now it's pretty much all about the moral implications (and the shifting motivations of the non-doll characters, which mirror the shifting personalities of the dolls). And that's actually made it a much more interesting.

I agree that it's hard to get a handle on Summer Glau's character -- is she a nutty genius like Topher or just plain nuts? And is her old connection with Caroline a ridiculously huge coincidence, or did she have something to do with making Caroline a doll in the first place (in which case it would seem as if she's already gotten revenge for her arm, so what's with all the rage)? It doesn't help that Glau portrays the character half as a charming geek and half as, well, a robot on the fritz.

Anyway, kudos all around... I'm really looking forward to the rest of the season.

Billiam said...

I loved the entire two parter: the second half is my new fav episode of the series.
The event of Perrin's testimony was heartbreaking. The bad guys won, and I felt so awful for Madeline. But I don't completely understand what they were doing to her in last scene.
I hope Echo's status at the end doesn't simply get wiped away right away in the next episode.

Fortran said...

Like everyone else, by far the highlight was Enver Gjokaj. Then again, the highlight of any "Dollhouse" ep he is in, is Enver Gjokaj.

I didn't think anything would top the gasping-for-breath-laughter I had when he channeled Kiki in the ep a bit ago, but his Topher was just amazing!

Damn, he is a find.

Unknown said...

The Two Topher Shuffle was the greatest thing this show has ever done. Followed closely by Topher punching Summer Glau in the face.

Calling it right now: Joss Whedon's next project.

Spinoff: Topher and Vicpher, Partners in Crime. Coming soon. Hopefully not to Fox.

I loved both of these episodes. It's weird, but I even though they were great, I don't feel bad that the show is canceled. I don't think I'll be joining any Save Dollhouse movements, but I'm loving it so far.

Anonymous said...

Someone must give Enver Gjokaj his own show after this, seriously.
(and Dichen Lachman or Miracle Laurie too. If anything else, Dollhouse gave these TV newcomers, as dolls, a very wide showcase of their acting talents. So, at least, I could look forward to what they'd be in in the years to come.)

An Angel callback, but I was hoping to see Whiskey pop in so I could see her and Perrin (Fred and Wesley) in a scene together. Maybe later? Fingers crossed.

I'm looking forward to watching the remainder of the show - as flawed and uneven as the show was (and there are lots to gripe about), it is something quite unique and unlike anything else on tv, and I'm glad to see it the whole way through.

Stellar Drift said...

Enver is clearly brilliant, whilst Glau seems a bit limited by now.

But the show has really emproved. Just enough it will be missed when the greed pushers pull the plug.

Alf said...

I'm not sure how I feel about the chip extraction scene. Why did it have to look like they were having sex? I guess it could be Echo's thrill at having it removed, but I can't really explain why it would seem like a sex scene from Perrin's side, too.

Finn said...

I watch this show because it is just interesting and strange enough to intrigue, and have enjoyed Joss's work before. Overall, there just seems to be something off for me with the series. It is almost like all the acting is overally mannered - perhaps on purpose because most are dolls? I found Denisof to be irritating, but maybe it grows on you because Miracle Laurie at first to me had a very distinctive style that botherd me but I find that I enjoy her now.

I have always liked Glau and thought she was very effective in her role, but have no understanding about her past link with Caroline and how that could work. And how in the world does grabbing some guys privates make him do something he doesn't want to do - maybe it does in the moment, but as soon as he recovers, can't he just say he isn't doing it and stay away from him? Nice scene but doesn't make sense.

So I guess the show frustrates me a lot but it is so unique that I watch and will be sorry it is going. I don't think you can blame the network too much though, it gave it two season, granted the 2nd one on Fridays, but the fact is no one watches, the audience isn't growing at all and in fact is declining. How can we expect that to stay on a network?

Anonymous said...

Count me in with being confused on the Chip-removal-sex scene. I don't know what the hell they were going for.

I assume Melle/November went to the attic.

I also don't think you should trust anything Bellaire said. There was a hint that she might have tried to improve her personality as she did to the senator but failed - there was a comment about how doing so might create a schizophrenic (which she seems to show signs of.)

Anonymous said...

Additionally, at first I thought Bellaire was going to be alpha. It'd be cooler if if alpha had hijacked the og bellaire and took control

Anonymous said...

I think the best compliment I can pay to Whedon, the show, and the actors is that it wasn't until there were but a few minutes in the show that I even thought of Wesley and Faith. Not until they started fighting each other did it even occur to me.


David Hanlon said...

@renton, and you can add the identity swaps on 30 Rock to that list. Cast members mimicing each other should feel cheap by now, yet it always hits that sweet spot...

Loving it all, but must express a pet peeve: it's really hard to knock someone out with a single punch. Why have a nerdy scientist make his first punch ever a knock-out when there is a perfectly good tranq gun lying about?

Hatfield said...

I thought these were both very strong, and while Denisof's acting kind of annoys me, I enjoyed what they did with him. Is the implication that he wimped out and decided to forget that he had killed his "wife?" If so, nice. And poor Madeline, trying to do the right thing and getting screwed over for it. Should have listened to Paul. I hope that's not the last we see of my old friend, because Miracle is both very pretty and an interesting actress, but things don't look good.

The episodes almost felt like they were meant to be shown together, and that made me realize something: as long as there's an even somewhat satisfying conclusion to the series, I'm fine with it ending. Like Whedon says in that epic interview with Mo Ryan, it'll be like a 26-hour mini-series, and I think that's probably for the best. This season has been more consistent so far than the first, and I'm hoping that we don't have too much filler on the way to the end. Show me how we get to that awful future, or how it's avoided, and I'll be happy.

Oh, and one more voice to the chorus of praise for Enver Gjokaj. He is this show's revelation, and I hope he finds work soon (and becomes part of the Whedon Players).

Rick said...

I thought there was an implication that "Caroline" was also an imprint- that Echo is an imprint on an imprint, and that was the point of Bennett/Topher's discussion about the unique ways she layered memories.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to think of two more idiosyncratic actors in Whedon's stable than Summer Glau and Fran Kranz. Witnessing the two of them together with their takes on Whedon's distinctive dialogue and rhythms is interesting, to say the least.

Also, Topher's suspicions about whether Bennett is a doll only intrigues me more about his relationship with Claire.

Hopefully this will be clarified in the future, but I'm still a bit confused about out how Bennett's issues relating to the paralysis of her left hand tie in with the struggles of the LA Dollhouse as the "left hand" of Rossum.

David Blumgart said...


Why is writing about the concluding episodes of 'Dollhouse' more disheartening than from writing about 'Band of Brothers' or 'The Wire,' both of which you knew beforehand they were coming to an end. I'd suggst the glass is more than half full. Yes, it's a pity Whedon didn't get an even larger canvas to explore his vision, but he did get those astonishing (given the ratings) extra 13 episodes flesh it out. Would that the dramatically superior 'Firefly' had received that gift.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Mojohand, there are a couple of key differences:

1)Dollhouse, while improved of late, isn't in a creative class with either of those shows you mentioned.

2)Those two shows didn't air on Friday nights without me getting to see the episodes in advance, leaving me the weekend to deal with them.

Alex Mullane said...

I knew this would happen.

I had no problem with the show being cancelled. It had entertained me, but was massively flawed.

So they cancel it. And then the quality shifts up several gears and all of a sudden the cancellation feels devastating!

My only hope is that the rest of the episodes are as exciting, funny and intelligent as these two, and that we get some semblance of closure at the end. If Joss can pull it off, it'll be a brilliant "mega-mini-series".

Gjokaj was unbelievable, and downright scary. His Topher was so spot on, in every respect. His versatility is astonishing. I hope we see much more of him in other shows down the line.

I too found the "chip-sex" a bit weird. Didn't get it, or the Glau relation to Caroline and how that works. And Denisof's accent always sounds forced to me (I know he's American, but he sounded more natural as English 'Wes' than he does here, which distracts.) But those are minor complaints. Mostly it was brilliant.

And it added yet another Glau character that I want to marry. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Summer Glau has been horribly typecast as Summer Glau.

Craig Ranapia said...

From the recent interviews given by Joss Whedon, it sounds as if he wanted the show to spend more time exploring people's fantasies, but didn't realize that we in the audience (and, apparently, the Fox network) would be too concerned about the moral implications of what it takes to make those fantasies happen to be comfortable with that kind of a show.

But Fox wasn't too concerned to put out a slew of promo pictures of Eliza Dushku that were about a eyelash away from being softcore porn?

Yeah, the premise of 'Dollhouse' was obviously going to be an uncomfortable premise to sell.

But I've got to say that I don't exactly find 'Breaking Bad', 'Sons of Anarchy', 'Dexter', 'Big Love', 'The Wire' or 'The Sopranos' comfort viewing either. One of my favourite shows of all time, 'Battlestar Galactica', started with genocide and then got really grim and morally twilit.

In the end, if you're going to "push the envelope" either have the confidence and self-respect to do it properly, or stick to whatever Seth Mcfarlane is scraping out of the bottom of his barrel this week.

Justin said...

Though I don't understand how someone goes from being one of Caroline's eco-terrorist pals to being Topher's even-more-brilliant counterpart at the DC Dollhouse.

I think she was wearing a labcoat, wasn't she?

I think, and this is rampant speculation, that she worked at the lab and Caroline befriended her in order to get access. I wouldn't be too surprised to find out she was working at a Rossum lab.

Anonymous said...

I cannot BELIEVE it took me this long to connect the "Don't make me go to sleep again" River personality/mind alterations with the Dollhouse theme. I must hand in my cool pop culture badge now.

I also asked for more Enver at the start and got it, so I'm happy!


Unknown said...

Rick, I think you are right on the nose, I came to the same conclusion. Echo's PETA version was a Doll already and she ended up in the LA Dollhouse after that guy was killed, but she was already a Doll!

GFW said...

@Finn. It wasn't DeWitt grabbing the DC guy's testicles that made him do what she wanted, per se. It was the convincing nature "Have I learned to bluff yet?" in which she inflicted pain. That made her threat to send an assassin to kill the DC guy credible. That threat is why he did what she wanted.

@Three people who saw chip removal as sex. Huh? I guess I'm more literal than you. I thought their reactions were to the cessation of the pain of the procedure. Doesn't it feel good when you finish pulling out a splinter?

Oh, and let me second the comment that on audio only, Enver's Topher was indistinguishable from Fran's. And that was only half the brilliance of the performance!

Enver Gjokaj - for the win!

Alan Sepinwall said...

Three people who saw chip removal as sex. Huh?

The position the two actors were in, and the way the removal scene was shot, was clearly designed to evoke a certain sexual position.

Bryan Murray said...

Not sure if anyone is still reading this post 4 days later but the quality of the show lately definitely delayed my viewing. The main big picture problem I have is with each characters' motivation (small problems Dushku's and Denisof's acting will never change). It just doesn't make sense why Adelle cares at all about what the DC dollhouse does given her history or why Ballard/Boyd continue to support the dollhouse.

After watching creative surges in Sons of Anarchy and Lost, it is really hard to watch a show hit creative peaks like Dollhouse did in last year's season finale and Epitaph One and then just flat-line in the second season. Disappointing but like all the other posters, I'm going down with the ship until it stops showing up on my DVR. Gjokaj's Topher impersonation made the two hours worth it.

Red said...

quick comments:
1. watched both eps back to back on Hulu, so it did seem like one big ep. Love watching TV this way.
2. Enver = win; 2 Tophers = double win
3. chip removal = sex because positions and their shirts were off. Don't need to see Denisof's bare chest again; liked him better as Wesley.
4. Great to see Madeline back
5. Summer Glau was worth waiting for.
6. Maureen Tancharoen as Kilo!

Sorry to see it ending but as long as it stays this strong to the end, I'll be happy and look forward to Whedon's next project. and Maureen Tanchareon's next project too.

Anonymous said...