Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Re-watching Dollhouse

I picked up the Dollhouse Season 1 DVD set pretty much right when it came out and now have just started re-watching it. (I still haven't seen the aired finale or either of the two unaired episodes yet, but I've seen every other episode.) One thing that strikes me is that the studio-mandated "six pilots" structure that marred the first half of the season is actually more effective in retrospect than I thought at the time.

The fact that we in the audience have to be repeatedly re-introduced to the show's basic conceit (which, while great speculative sci-fi, is not at base all that complicated) in a way mirrors the central metaphor of the show, namely that we are all actives and human society is the Dollhouse. Fox, one of the owners of our worldwide Dollhouse, is essentially programming us every week to know what we need to know to understand the show, and apparently assuming, as Echo's manipulators at the in-show Dollhouse do, that we will be "wiped" at the end of each one and need to be re-imprinted next time.

Additionally, the constant reiteration of the concept of the show in awkwardly-written exposition is a neat little metanarrative echo* of the scripted exchange that Topher greets the actives with after each wipe, to ease them back into the tabula rasa state:

"Hello, Echo. How are you feeling?"
"Did I fall asleep?"
"For a little while."
"Shall I go?"
"If you'd like."

Not all that different from "Why don't you ask Echo? OH RIGHT SHE CAN'T REMEMBER" over and over and over.

Now, I'm not trying to be one of those overzealous fans sticking up for every single flaw in his God-Whedon's work (I reserve that kind of fan behavior for David Bowie--Never Let Me Down has redeeming qualities, I swear--and anyway that kind of fan hates Fox for making Whedon do this to Dollhouse, which, OK, I kind of do too, end paretheses). It just struck me that, while it's irritating to deal with the slow pace of the first batch of episodes leading up to "Man on the Street", there are some useful and interesting aspects to the enforced structure that really only become visible when watching the show quickly, for a second time, on DVD. Yet another case of the same material becoming entirely different when experienced in a different format.


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