Friday, March 24, 2017

My Top Ten "Dollhouse" Episodes

Joss Whedon's 2009 science-fiction series doesn't get enough credit. The first season made some major missteps, but the ship righted itself eventually, and went on to tell the stories of so many characters that I absolutely adore. As always, episodes are unranked, and listed below by airdate. Major spoilers ahead, because it's impossible to talk about some of the later episodes without them. And here we go.

"Ghost" - This was a notorious reworked pilot, meant to allow for an easier audience entry into the world of "Dollhouse" after the network rejected the original, darker premiere While there's probably too much emphasis on Echo's imprint of the week, a hostage negotiator, this episode does start making some important introductions to the primary characters and get the ball rolling on various storylines. I immediately latched on to Boyd, and was always a little disappointed that he never got more to do.

"Man on the Street" - Many fans maintain that "Dollhouse" didn't really get going until its sixth episode, when the major storylines finaly started to move forward and we got some important character development. Most importantly, we finally learn the truth about Mellie, Sierra and Victor's relationship runs into trouble, and Paul gets thrown for a loop. This is also the episode that guest-starred Patton Oswalt as a man who uses an Active to spend time with his deceased wife, which is awfully poignant in retrospect.

"Omega" - The first season closes with some revelations about Dr. Saunders and Echo's past, and a big change in status for Paul. I really love Alan Tudyk's performance as the fractured Alpha, who fulfills his rolle as Frankenstein's monster analog and the first season's Big Bad wonderfully. The other standout here is Amy Acker as Dr. Saunders and Whiskey, who finally got to show what she was capable of after sitting on the sidelines for far too long. Really, this show had too many actors with too little screen time.

"Epitaph One" - The episode that never aired on American television, and wouldn't have existed at all except for contractual obligations. And yet, this dystopian vision of the "Dollhouse" universe ten years into the future it is my favorite by far, the episode that finally got me totally invested in the series and many of the characters. Most of the regular cast members are barely in this, but get some of their best moments, especially Adelle, Whiskey, and Topher - finally a male version of the Whedon mad prophet character.

"Belle Chose" - Okay, i admit this episode is on the list almost totally because of Enver Gjokaj's performance as Kiki. The serial killer story is suitably creepy, especially the business with the poor mannequin women, and I like Ballard's continued adjustment to life in the Dollhouse. Gjokaj is great as an evil bastard, but it's his unfettered silliness playing Kiki in the middle of a pretty intense thriller story that gets me every time. The show didn't have as much humor as I'd have liked, but it certainly had its moments.

"Belonging" - A fantastic hour that looks into the events that lead to Sierra becoming an Active, with Topher forced to confront his worst suspicions about his role in the operation. This is also one of the better Boyd episodes, as he helps Topher to take responsibility and contain the fallout. The performances are great, the direction's great, and overall the episode does a fantastic job of pushing the whole series toward darker, more psychologically fraught territory. You can see the moment Topher starts to crack.

"The Left Hand" - There is so much good stuff to enjoy here. There's Summer Glau's Bennett sparking an adorable geek romance with Topher, there's the conclusion of the Senator Perrin storyline, and then there's the birth of Victopher, the show's best comic relief. It was clear from this run of episodes that there were seasons worth of stories being stuffed into smaller stretches, as Whedon and company tried to cover as much material as possible before the show was cancelled. Sometimes it didn't work, but here it did.

"Meet Jane Doe" - Olivia Williams' Adelle became one of my favorite characters in the second season, and especially her motherly relationship with Topher. This is one of her best episodes, trying to claw her way back on top after being demoted, and willing to take enormous risks to do it. Meanwhile, Echo and Paul become much more interesting characters after the timeskip, training up to cause more trouble. And this is great, because the two of them were frequently my least favorite part of the show.

"Getting Closer" - As the endgame comes into focus, we have our last big set of reveals and surprises. There's a lot going on here, including reunions, goodbyes, and flashbacks galore. I love all the little character moments that are packed in here, from Victor and Sierra getting their chance to be together, to Topher and Ivy's emotional split. Even Dominic gets his due. Also, while the next episode severely let me down in regards to a particular character, I loved the episode's final twist the first time I saw it.

"Epitaph Two: Return" - It's not a perfect goodbye, but to date it's still my favorite ending to a Joss Whedon show. There's such a wonderful finality to the fates of Echo, Paul, Topher, and all the rest. While I wish that "Dollhouse" had gone on longer than two seasons, this was the right place for it to end.


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