Why controversial? Well, the show was highly anticipated (as expected for a new Joss show), however stories quickly emerged of problems behind the scenes with the studio demanding changes and rewrites. When the show finally aired, it was widely regarded as utter rubbish, only for Joss to ask fans to stick with the show till episode 6, which was the game-changer where the show fell away from the studio interference and back into line with his original plan. Then Fox pulled the last episode from broadcast, something everyone pretty much took as a sign it was all over, only for Fox to then go on to shock pretty much everyone by renewing the show for a second season.
But with the show now guaranteed a 13-episode second season and season one airing in the UK, what do I actually think of it?
Well, when the first episode aired, I have to be honest and say I saw straight away what everyone had meant. The pilot was awful. An intriguing concept with people signing away their lives to the Dollhouse who then go on to wipe their memories and hire them out to wealthy clients as bodyguards, negotiators or just good old-fashioned sex toys (depending on the personality they get imprinted with that week), yet somehow just incredibly dull on screen. Nothing happened to make me actually care about the lead character of Echo (and why should I? She’s a different person every week). It really was no surprise that the show got an almighty kicking online.
However, with the knowledge of episode 6 in mind, I knew I had to stick with it (and the buzz from those that stuck with the show is that everything does indeed kick into high gear in episode 6). And I was glad I did as episode 2 turned my opinion around.
While still following the same basic imprint-of-the-week premise (Echo this time being imprinted as the perfect girlfriend for a client. However, sadly he turns out to be a nutter, and she ends up being hunted through the woods while her handler tries to rescue her), this episode injected far more mystery into proceedings. We were given tantalising glimpses of Alpha, an operative who somehow retained and amalgamated parts of his imprints only to escape the Dollhouse, leaving a hefty trail of bodies in his wake. We know Alpha has seen something in Echo that led him to not only leave her alive, but take an active interest in her.
And then we discover Echo isn’t quite as wiped as they’d like to think when, at the end of the episode, she mimics a gesture from the hunter who chased her. Is she a timebomb waiting to go off like Alpha, or something different?
Meanwhile Paul Ballard is a cop trying to expose the Dollhouse. He’s widely regarded as a bit of a loon within his department, while we all know he’s actually onto something. His plot is a bit slower moving at the moment, but sure to build as he gets closer to the truth, especially since we’ve seen Alpha send him a picture of Echo.
We’ve also got the mystery of Echo herself. Who was she before she signed up to the Dollhouse? We see her put herself forward seemingly willingly for the role, but what could drive her to do so? And as for the Dollhouse, what’s the story with it? What are its motivations? Is there something beyond the huge financial gain they make hiring out their operatives? It’s certainly sinister enough, but there’s obviously a lot more about the Dollhouse to be revealed.
Overall, despite an incredibly weak first episode, I’m suitably intrigued by the show. From what I’d heard online, I thought that making it to the mythical 6th episode was going to be a bit of a struggle, but I’ve actually quite enjoyed episodes 2 and 3. Episode 2 was obviously the best so far, laying a lot of groundwork for the central mysteries, but I’m expecting good things from the rest of the series.
As an aside, I’m quite glad to hear that the renewal is only for 13 episodes. While this might seem a bit strange, I tend to feel that a lot of US arc-based shows have suffered from longer seasons recently. Sarah Connor season 2 suffered from a lot of throwaway padding episodes unlike its much tighter first season, and even the almighty Battlestar Galactica could really drag when it wanted to. So with a show like Dollhouse, which currently seems to be based very much on the mysteries its establishing, I’m actually glad to hear its got a shorter run, as the danger otherwise would be that the mysteries would start to feel very dragged out.