Dollhouse Ep 1: Ghost

February 13, 2009

As an ardent fan of Joss Whedon, naturally I watched tonight’s premiere episode of Dollhouse, his new show on Fox.

First, let me say that I’m terrible at reviews. This is more synopsis than review, I suppose. Let that serve as a SPOILER WARNING. If you don’t want to be seriously spoiled on the first episode of Dollhouse, read no further!

I thought the episode was good. It started out strong and kept my interest. I think it should have plenty of appeal for audiences, if it got any tonight.

And just to be safe, once again:

    SPOILER WARNING!

Now, where were we? Oh yes, Ghost. The setup is quick but hits several key points. We meet Caroline. She is in a bad situation, but we don’t know what it is. She needs out. She just wanted to make a difference in the world, but actions have consequences. The Doll recruiter (Miss DeWitt) can make it go away, but Caroline’s contract would be for 5 years.

We’re getting into the issue of consent right away. How real was Caroline’s consent? Did she really have a choice?

From here, we jump into some action. Caroline, or whoever Caroline has been turned into, is racing a motor cycle. The guy she’s racing turns out to be a weekend fling. He has contracted her services for a perfect weekend with a girl who likes to race and enjoys a bit of bondage. Here we learn that the doll’s programming seems to include a timer. When the contract is up Caroline turns, walks out of the club and gets into a waiting van. She chats with her handler on the way back to the dollhouse and we get the impression that she was really enjoying herself. She wants to go back, after her “treatment.”

Instead, her mind is wiped and she turns back into Echo.

More action comes as we’re setup for the next part of the story. A little girl is kidnapped while on the phone with her dad.

Back in the dollhouse, Echo’s handler and doctor seem to be having their doubts. They’re not entirely comfortable with the situation. It seems clear that we’ll be getting back to this in future episodes.

We also see Echo exploring the dollhouse. Her personality is childlike. She is curious and sensitive. Echo is distressed to find another active in pain during some sort of extra tough imprinting process, but is easily distracted and guided away to her massage.

The father of the kidnapped girl contracts with the dollhouse for a negotiator, who turns out to be Echo, with a personality imprint called Ellie Penn. Ellie is nearsighted. We learn that the imprints are based on real people and come with flaws. In addition to her nearsightedness, Ellie has asthma.

Upon meeting Miss Penn, the father has his doubts. She’s a beautiful woman and he doesn’t take her seriously. Doesn’t think she can do the job. He pushes, and despite being warned not to discuss anything related to the dollhouse, he says a few things that seem to cause Ellie some distress. She has flashes of the pained active Echo saw. He also gets Ellie to admit that she was kidnapped, held and abused when she was a little girl.

Ellie negotiates the ransom and she goes with the father to the drop. There, she recognizes one of the kidnappers, freaks out a bit and has a bad asthma attack. She tells the father not to let them go and that they’re not going to give the little girl back. He gets shot and her handler shoots the lead kidnapper.

The handler goes to Ellie & suggests that she might want a treatment. Back at the dollhouse, this seems to have been the wrong thing to do. Handlers aren’t suppose to interfere. Ellie goes to get her treatment while her handler argues with Miss DeWitt that she should be allowed to finish working on the case and find the little girl. She has the knowledge. She recognized one of the kidnappers from one of the personalities in her imprint. Miss DeWitt doesn’t seem to be willing to let Ellie finish the case, but in the end, Ellie’s treatment doesn’t seem to have been a mind wipe. She’s still Ellie and they go after the girl.

We get a bit more negotiation and more violence, but the girl is saved in the end.

Throughout all of this is the side story of Paul Ballard, an agent investigating the Dollhouse. He appears to be a bit Mulderesque. He believes in the existence of the dollhouse, despite a lack of evidence and he’s crossing lines and messing up other investigations in order to get to the truth.

Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable episode. There was a lot to introduce in a short amount of time, but I think it was done effectively. I think it did a great job in revealing the central concepts of the dollhouse and how the actives work. Some of it felt a touch heavy handed, but I think it may have been done to avoid confusing the audience.

The episode included was action, mystery, ethical dilemma and really attractive actors. Something there to appeal to a lot of different viewers.

The jumps back and forth between the various story threads were well timed and added to the experience rather than making it confusing or hard to follow.

I can’t judge much of the acting yet, except for that of Eliza Dushku. She did a great job making the 4 personalities distinct from each other. And as always, she was great fun to watch.

I’ll be looking forward to more character development. The handler and doctor both seem to have back stories worth getting into. And Miss DeWitt may also prove interesting. So far she seems very cold and calculating which almost certainly means there’s a giant chink in her armour that we’ll be exploring at some point.

The overall setup was strong and will hopefully bring the audience back next week. Joss Whedon posted to Whedonesque that he’s most proud of episode 6, so I hope we get that far. The time slot isn’t the best, but hopefully people will have DVR’d the episode, or watch it on Hulu. I think Dollhouse has a lot of promise and I’d like to see it continue.

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