Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dollhouse finale closes doors, opens others

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Friday's Dollhouse finale, "Omega."

The final episode of Dollhouse Season 1 (possibly the last episode that will ever be shown on television) aired on Friday night, bringing the first installment of Joss Whedon's latest project to an end. It's no secret that I've been pretty supportive of Dollhouse, starting out as someone who felt pretty ambivalent about the premise, until I decided I was in love with the show by its sixth episode.

So how did the finale add up?
Okay, I'll be honest — as much as I've grown to love Dollhouse over the past few weeks, the finale was a bit of a mixed bag. I think this is partially due to pacing. Whedon clearly wanted to answer some questions and open up some new ones in this finale, which wasn't a bad idea on his part in the sense that the show does have a bit of a conclusion in case it goes off the air... but can also go on if it gets renewed. This is all completely understandable when you consider what happened to Firefly back in the day.

So let's just break things down into the following categories.

The Good:
  •  Alan Tudyk, playing Alpha, continued to show off his brilliant acting chops playing an active with 48 different personalities coexisting inside his mind. This was probably pretty difficult to play, and very unlike Tudyk's usual type, so it was still a treat to watch after last week's episode.
  • The Whiskey storyline was an interesting one. As hinted at last week, it turns out that Dr. Saunders (Amy Acker) was previously a doll named Whiskey. After her face was slashed, the original Dr. Saunders' personality (a kindly old lollipop-dispensing gentleman) was downloaded into her, making her the character we see on the screen today. It was interesting to see some of her self-loathing come through after realizing she was previously a doll, and it was also interesting to see her ask Topher why he programmed her to hate him. I couldn't help wondering what Topher's relationship with Whiskey was back in the day. Did he know her before she was a doll? Will we ever find out what Whiskey's past really was?
  • Echo showed some more self awareness, even after Alpha downloaded 30+ different personalities into her to turn her into "Omega," another potentially psychopathic active who could serve as his counterpart. This didn't work out as Alpha planned, and Echo actually seemed determined to get her original personality (Caroline) back into her body.
  • Ballard signs up to work for the Dollhouse (supposedly — more on this later in the post) and does this in exchange for Mellie's freedom. A nice moment, since I have a sneaking suspicion that most dolls don't really get to leave the Dollhouse after five years.
The Bad:
  • Alpha basically did end up being a bit of a stereotypical psycho, despite Tudyk's brilliant portrayal. Instead of turning into a monster because of the Dollhouse, he was "evil" from the very beginning as a convicted felon named Karl William Kraft. It's fine and all, but I just wish it had been more complicated that. (On the other hand, this episode did not end with the death of Alpha. So who knows what else could happen if the show does manage to live on?)
  • Despite Echo's moment of self-awareness, something still feels off about the Echo/Caroline characters. I'm not even sure if Eliza Dushku is to blame for this because Caroline was played by another actress in this episode. But I still find Whiskey/Saunders, Sierra, Victor, and other characters so much more compelling.
The... okay, what's that supposed to mean?
  • What on earth happened to November/Mellie and Sierra's bounty hunter plot? A few blogs were circulating pictures of the two out on the prowl, but television audiences were left hanging. Was this because Whedon wanted to squeeze a few other things in?
  • The final moments of the show were definitely rushed, and this is where that pacing issue seems to come into play. So as I mentioned, Ballard seems to have pulled a Boyd, and will be working for the Dollhouse. Now it's likely that he wants to work on destroying the Dollhouse from the inside. But then why would the Dollhouse staff fall for this schtick when they know Ballard wanted to bring down the Dollhouse a mere episode ago? And if Ballard does believe in the Dollhouse now, why has he had this change of heart?
  • Another puzzling thought, and maybe I'm wrong about this — but could Ballard be signing himself over as a doll? (I can't fully understand why he would do it if that's the case, though I could maybe think of a reason here or there). I only ask because after he asks Mellie for her real name before she leaves the Dollhouse, he just tells her that he's "nobody." Is that the end of Paul Ballard?
  • Why does Echo go back to being a doll, even though she was all gung-ho about getting Caroline back into her body? I imagine she'd be strong enough to fight back and ask for her original personality back.
The moments mentioned in this final category aren't all bad, but they certainly do raise a lot of questions about what comes next for the Dollhouse. And it's sadly likely that we will never find out. But if that does turn out to be the case, I do hope we'll get more answers on the DVD — and it will be interesting to see if "Epitaph One" (the thirteenth episode that FOX decided not to air) will answer any of these questions as well even though it seems that it works as more of a standalone. 

For now, I guess we'll just have to wait and find out what lies in Dollhouse's future.

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