Dollhouse – Pilot Episode Review (SPOILERS)

As many fans know, Joss Whedon remade the pilot episode to give the show a better launch. That’s why there are no scenes from the original pilot that had been seen by fans at Comic-Con and the internet. The new pilot, “Ghost”, establishes the Dollhouse and the main Active, Echo, played by Eliza Dushku. We see she had a past once, only because we hear her “real” name. After that, we see the girl in a motorcycle race with another guy, which turns out to be part of his birthday party. She’s a girl who likes to take risks and parties well into the night. Suddenly, she calmly walks out of the date and into a van. We see that her “engagement” is over and that it’s time to get a “treatment”. What it really means that it’s time for her to be no one.

The girl sits on a weird-looking chair, and waits to be treated. The tech, called Topher (Fran Kranz), says it will pinch. Then, we see this girl’s life literally dissolve. Now, she is Echo, a girl who is alive but has no memories of herself or what she did. She wakes up, and asks Topher, “Did I fall asleep?” “For a little while” he answers.

Topher discusses the engagement with Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix), her handler, and acts pretty proud of himself. Boyd is just worried that their little operation is ever found. Topher’s not worried. In fact, he envies Echo. “She’s living the dream”, he says. “Whose dream?” Boyd asks. “Who’s next?” Topher replies.

We find out who is next: a businessman whose 12-year-old daughter has been kidnapped from his house. He’s a past customer, and needs an Active to help him pay the ransom. So, Echo is programmed as a no-nonsense negotiator who will oversee the exchange. Of course, things go wrong, and the Dollhouse crew scramble to get Echo out, but just leave the kidnapped girl.

The top priority of the Dollhouse is to stay a secret, with the “engagement” being secondary. When Boyd is worried the kidnapped child may be sacrificed, he risks a lot to convince his boss, Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams), to finish the job. Boyd seems to be the conscience of the show, the man who tries to show the Dollhouse has a positive purpose, even if the means are almost unspeakable.

Meanwhile, we meet FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) who has sacrificed everything to find the Dollhouse. He insists it exists, even if he can’t prove it. Yet this is his assignment, because someone said it should be. However, his work is threatening to ruin an important investigation on human-trafficking involving Russians. Ballard tracks down a sleazy Russian guy named Lubov (Enver Gjokaj) and tells him to find out who’s connected to the Dollhouse. You can tell Ballard has been given an impossible task, but he’s very determined to complete it.

The pilot, written and directed by Whedon, is good, but Dushku isn’t very convincing as a hostage negotiator. While she can spout off theories as quickly as a bullet train, she looks too young. Glasses, a hairdo, and a schoolmarm attitude aren’t enough. I give the show credit by admitting this, and giving an explanation on how her role still works. Whedon also gets major points for symbolizing Ballard’s dilemma and determination by juxtaposing his meeting with FBI supervisors with clips of him kick-boxing.

The pilot also introduces Sierra (Dichen Lachman), a new Active, but in an unsettling way. In fact, Echo meets her in a surprising way that will later affect her in the engagement. We also meet Dr. Claire Saunders (Amy Acker), who takes care of Echo. She seems suspicious of Topher for some reason, while he sometimes sneaks a peek at Claire, too. Did they have a history that didn’t end well? Also, how come there’s a scar on her face? It’s faint, but the pain is still there.

If you look closely, there is an influence of Firefly/Serenity in the pilot. When Echo was “neutral”, she’s almost like River Tam in her more calm moments. When Echo sees Sierra get her “treatment”, it’s a little too similar to the “treatments” the Alliance gave River. Also, people who saw pieces of the pilot may think Lubov looks familiar. I think Gjokaj was supposed to play Victor, another Active. Then again, maybe he is…and Lubov. Hmmmmm……

Although the show may start seemingly as a procedural, we’ll soon find out that it isn’t. Echo will play many roles… and she’ll start to remember some of them. We get a hint of that in “Ghost”, as I said before, when something she wasn’t supposed to see will affect her. I am hoping that the other Actives have the same experience. Hopefully, we’ll get back stories of the keepers of the Dollhouse, too. How did Topher learn how to rewire people like computers, and why does he think it’s so cool? Could it be a dark Revenge of the Nerds? Who got Adelle to run the Dollhouse, and who’s paying for all this? Why was Ballard assigned to find the Dollhouse? Did he jump at the chance or was he pushed?

Dollhouse will be on Fridays at 9 PM on FOX after Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles starting February 13th. It’s a tough spot, since it’s been years since Fox has had a hit on that night. The executives say they will give both shows time to build an audience.Dollhouse has a very interesting premise that takes time to understand. Once a viewer does, it’s worth it. Joss may be a bit rusty about making TV after making a movie, some comic books, and an internet musical. Still, this dollhouse is a good way to spend a Friday night.

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Post Author: David Mello

Worked nearly eleven years at a radio station as a board operator, news reader, and assistant producer for baseball broadcasts. Have been a staff writer for Whedonopolis since July 2008

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