Dollhouse Premiere = Creepy Concept (& Characters)

Published 6 years ago by , Updated February 14th, 2009 at 10:20 am,

dollhouse echo sc56pt 0049 Dollhouse Premiere = Creepy Concept (& Characters)

Based on past experience I’ve learned not to judge a new TV series by its premiere episode, but I didn’t really like the opening episode of Joss Whedon’s new Fox TV series Dollhouse.

The concept always sounded creepy: An organization has a number of operatives whose minds are “wiped” in between assignments. They can be programmed with completely different personalities for each new assignment and left with no memory of who they were or what they did.

The premiere episode opens with Echo (Eliza Dushku) in the shortest dress I’ve ever seen on a woman. She’s racing a motorcycle through the streets of LA with another rider – at one point she wipes out but is apparently not seriously injured. Turns out she was on a whirlwind three day weekend with some rich guy.

So right there the show bothered me – is the Dollhouse some fancy, uber-tech call girl ring? Program a hottie to hit it off with a multi-millionare for the weekend so they can tie each other up and the wipe her memory of having done it. Pretty vile if you ask me.

She seems to geniunely like the guy, but bails on the party to go back to the facility for her “treatment.” The dispenser of these treatments (mind wipes, but apparently the patients aren’t aware that’s what’s being done) is a young guy named Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) who frankly, I couldn’t stand. There wasn’t a thing I liked about the character – frankly, the word sociopath comes to mind. He’s in his mid-twenties and apparently either without conscience, or more likely a master of rationalization who doesn’t look at the “agents” as people.

I rolled my eyes at his response to Echo’s handler’s (played by Harry Lennix) concerns about Echo: There is no right or wrong, else our thinking makes it so. Ah, the old moral relativism schtick: I guess the child molester in the episode wasn’t wrong as long as in his head he thought it was OK, huh? Sorry, but what utter crap – but I guess it fit the character. My hope is that this schmuck will come to see that what he’s doing is wrong over the course of the series.

Echo’s next assignment isn’t sleazy like the previous one: A 12 year old girl is kidnapped from her (billionare?) father and he happens to be a client of the firm that runs the Dollhouse. He wants things handled quietly so they program Echo to be a kidnap negotiator. Dushku isn’t very convincing and the whole thing seems a bit ridiculous – in the world of this TV show I’m sure they could have found an actual negotiator with years of experience instead of programming her overnight.

And then there’s the silly concept of having to program weaknesses into the agents to make up for the strengths because “overachievers are compensating for something.” Really, Topher? Maybe they’re just not content to sit around and bitch and whine in dead end jobs and instead DO something about it. (Did I mention I can’t stand that character?)

There’s also Tahmoh Penikett as Agent Paul Ballard (aka “Helo” from Battlestar Galactica) – he knows about this Dollhouse operation but is having a hard time tracking it down or getting solid evidence about it. Rightfully so he equates what they’re doing essentially to murder since the person’s originality has to be wiped out for this to work and they cease to exist as a person.

There were other things that bugged me – a babe who busts in on a house like a bad-ass SWAT team member (Dichen Lachman, playing another programmed Agent) whose arms looked so thin I don’t know how she was even able to hold an assault rifle, much less shoot it. Then they closed the episode with the evening ritual of a large open shower area, where both the buff guys and the hot gals showered together (maybe ol’ Topher wipes their libido as well?).

I’ll give this a chance as the opening episode of a new series is more about laying a foundation and it takes a while to get into the groove and figure out where it’s going. I’ll be curious to see the reaction of Olivia Williams’ character (she runs the operation) and Topher’s as Echo starts to fight the programming and begins to regain her sense of self. If there isn’t some change of heart and self-examination there, I’ll be bagging Dollhouse.

TAGS: Dollhouse
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  1. Ouch! And I’ll have to agree with Vic that the statement that one character said about there is no right or wrong is complete crap and is basically how criminals and other a-holes convince themselves that they are not as bad as they are.

  2. So at no point in the show did anyone get locked in a room with only a barstool and a big one way mirror only to be asked a bunch of personal questions in a loud creepy distorted voice??

  3. LOL, no, they didn’t have that cliche scene in this episode. :-P


  4. Oh well, looks like another potentially ok show has failed. I still got Bones and House though lol. So just to clear it up though, she’s human right? I think that promo they had with her and Cameron from Terminator got me all mixed up and in my head I keep thinking that she’s a robot…

  5. whoa!

    The Dollhouse premise itself is a trippy, creepy idea along the lines of My Own Worst Enemy and we all saw how that did.

    is the Dollhouse some fancy, uber-tech call girl ring?” – Yes. Actives are hired by uber rich people to do with as they please!!

    That phrase, “There is no right or wrong… “, is a very old Buddhist reference to how we choose to perceive and react to situations and things. Oddly out of place and used as an excuse here.

    Yea, we were warned that the first epi was going to be a tough sell. I don’t like the Dollhouse premise, but I didn’t mind Dushku’s part once the story line got some momentum, but why give them weaknesses? Eesh.

    On the way-too-skinny commando girl: It’s all about the timing and balance!

    The only redeeming feature (hopefully) is that Joss Whedon has a history of rich character development and we can only hope that starts happening in such a fashion that the audience is caught up in the developments, but right now, I am worried for the show. I don’t see how Whedon can develop his usual strong female role with Dushku is she’s always swapping personalities.

    The dang advertising seems gimmicky and annoying to me. I’m with Ken J where I was getting my bots and babes confused.

    Later gang!

  6. Agreed that the Topher Brink character was creepy, but when he quoted Shakespeare (“there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”), I took it as his being ironic, not actually thinking there’s nothing wrong with it. I suspect he’s looking at it as a necessary evil for the purpose of their organization (whatever that means to him) rather than thinking about them as people.

    As you say, hopefully there’ll be some character / plot development that’ll help things make more sense rather than just a more creative brand of brothel.

    For what it’s worth, Tahmoh Penikett’s nickname on Battlestar Galactica is “Helo” not “Echo” :)

  7. Hmm. I’m in it for the long haul despite my misgivings about the pilot. I have faith in Joss Whedon and his creative team, and I think we’ll see progress.

    Or at least, I hope we will.

  8. Have to agree with pretty much everything. It has potential, I guess, but feel its been way, way, over hyped.

  9. @Bruce
    Thanks for chiming in – I was wondering what you thought of the premiere.


    Thanks for catching that error! I’ve fixed it. :-)


  10. Aaaand another cowardly troll has been banished.


  11. I’ll wait until I hear some stuff about the next episode before I check this show out. After Sabrina’s article saying about the whole prostitution gig, and this one confirming it… I dunno, just seems like a shallow way to appear deep?

    Hopefully it’ll perk up. If it doesn’t, I’ll just have to settle for Nathan Fillion in Castle.


  12. Harvey,

    I’m trying to figure out whether your assumption that Vic was out to get the show was quicker drawn, or the fact that you think we should all know about a shotgun with one-handed shooting capability.

    Vic not only originally brought Dollhouse news to SR, but has been in support and had high hopes for quite some time.


    I’m not sure I share the dislike for the techy, I thought his character’s archetype was needed for a certain balance?

    Also, with the personalities, it seems they’re constructed from real people– so the natural faults are present in them and just go with the memories.


    One thing I did like, and liked a lot, was the fact the memory they used recognized the kidnapper– that was a nice touch.

    End Spoiler*


  13. I pick on a show or movie if THEY get something wrong about the firearms they are using because they should know something about it before putting it in their show or movie, but I don’t pick on reviewers if they don’t know because I don’t expect everyone to know everything about firearms.

  14. I’m not sure this show will keep me interested. I did like Elizs’s skimpy dress at the start of the show though. :) The story was pretty blah though. None of it made much sense to me.

  15. I agree with you, the show, despite little hottie Dushku, is creepy and not very appealing. I’ll give the next episode a shot just in case, but I would think that after the first one, there would be immediate ramifications and realizations of their basic unethical behavior. I also agree about the skinny girl arms. Not that I think they should like she-males, I just think they should just look like they can hold and fire a gun. Oh well. Tis Hollyweird.

  16. Sorry to keep using this example, but Linda Hamilton from T2 wasn’t scary big or anything, she was still very slim, but she had some muscle on her and she looked prepared to fight so it was believable. She isn’t like today’s typical female action star that’s supermodel skinny like she hasn’t eaten a real meal in about 15 years… Or Ripley from Aliens, she was still pretty, pretty enough for Cpl Hicks to hit on her, lol. Yet she also was believable as a kick ass female character.

  17. I was never too fond of Alias or Nikita, but at least they had some identity under the shell. If Echo doesn’t get some sense of identity VERY fast then I don’t see the point in this. It might have been better if it was clear that Echo was being punished or forced against her will. Instead it appeared that she was merely cajoled. Kind of a murky genesis here.

    I must admit though that I did like the way the “Negotiator” profile showed up and smartly took charge.

    Ultimately…too uber existential for me. I might watch a couple more eps online, but I wouldn’t ever tell anyone I know (at this point). I would have preferred more Firefly than Buffy.

  18. Psst… Gunsmith… It’s to the left of the “a” key.


  19. Helo is in this show?!? I haven’t seen it yet but a friend recommended I check it out. But Helo is in it?!? That guy says every line the same monotone way – from “don’t take my daughter you bastard” to “pass the potatos”

  20. The show felt slow to me. I liked how they put the faults into the people, even if it was only put in to give Echo a reason to know what the hell the guy was going to do to his associates. It felt slow, but it got good at the end. Good enough to make me want to see the next episode.

    The whole concept of having your memory wiped and being able to be reprogrammed is freaky beyond belief. It’s essentially like they are robots. It’s freaky. . . and I hope it gets better.

  21. I just have this to say about “Drole-house”.
    The minds of the writers, proucers, AND EVEN Mr. Whedon should be wiped after actually putting this farce out there!
    Sorry if I’m coming off a tad heavy here…but I for one am sick an tired of being presented with intentionally strange or ill conceived “May I have you’re wierd assed order, please” television!
    Is there actually such a dearth of imagination in hollywood that this kind of ill conceived crap is actually acceptable?
    Kill me, Kill me now…

    Thanx for letting me vent…

  22. This show reminds me of the anime ‘Gun Slinger girl’. The basic idea seems to be the same. Female assasins who’s minds are wiped after each mission. Lets hope this show is at least half as good.

  23. Well, I agree with you about the first episode in general; I wasn’t thrilled. But I’m a bit baffled at the reasons for which you didn’t like the one character. If anything, I got the sense that he does feel a little bit bad about what he’s doing and he seems to have legit concern for Echo.

    I’ll watch a couple more episodes before I give up, but I would bet that this character is going to be a major player in long term plot development. Specifically the ethics of what he is doing and having to struggle with those feelings and having to come to terms with them.

  24. Well, they already got the women in skimpy clothes and the women treated like objects down, so they’re already 80% of the way to being a Japanese production…

  25. I gotta agree that the premise is inherently flawed. If the main character is a blank slant then there’s nobody to root for. In my mind, the way to redeem the show/character is to have Echo rebel against the Dollhouse. She could save all the other dolls and teach them about free will, etc. meanwhile helping random individuals on a weekly basis.

    Oh wait, Fox already made a show like that didn’t they? Anybody remember Dark Angel?

    That being said, I have always really enjoyed Whedon’s projects before. I am willing to give some leeway as he pulls the show together. My main qualm is that I never understood the point of the prostitute character in Firefly and this just seems like he’s retreading on that same ground.

  26. The main problem with this show for me is that there no big cool story that’ll bring me back.

    For Lost, it’s the fact that they’re on this crazy supernatural island and need to get off and/or survive.

    For BSG, humanity is wiped out and the very few survivors left need to find a new home and life.

    For Fringe, the mysteries of the Mad Scientist and his past are coming to fruition as he tries as he remembers his past experiments and how/where/why he hid/hindered/cancelled experiements and they try to solve what’s going on with the Pattern which seems correlated with his research.

    For this shows it’s… Tahmoh Pinikett needs to find this Dollhouse and shut it down? That’s really the only overall continuing arc presented… the rest is just dolls on random missions or “engagements” as the leader of the Dollhouse would correct me with. There was that document labelled “Alpha” at the end so I don’t know what that means.

    This premiere was very ordinary and there was no standout favourable character like Whedon is usually famous for providing.

    I have an idea. Use that timeslot to bring back Firefly – people would be all over that. Summer Glau’s Terminator aint doing so hot so she can star in both shows until they’re cancelled