Playtime is Over

Apparently, the Big Three shows that all wrapped up at about the same time wasn't enough television, so I also followed up on my plan to finish off the little blip in entertainment history called Dollhouse. And hey, it's a good prelude to my summer movie season. Fans of the show told me the second season was much more intricate and engaging than the first. That's true, but that intricacy didn't really kick in until about the fifth episode. From what I can tell, featuring so many standalone episodes up front was a critical error by the creators. By the time they get around to the good episodes dealing with the underlying mythology, everyone had already tuned out, never to return.

It's kind of a shame, because once the stories became deeper, the show improved by leaps and bounds. It was far more interesting to see Echo be autonomous and able to access all the imprints ever uploaded to her (though it comes at a price) than to watch her go through the motions. It was far more interesting to see Adelle try to maintain control of her Dollhouse in the face of increasing power grabs by Rossum than to watch individual dolls go through a crisis-of-the-week. It was far more interesting to see Topher begin to have a crisis of conscience than having him be flip and caustic in every scene. It was far more interesting to witness the relationship between Sierra and Victor develop in both their "doll" forms and their "real" lives than having them be relegated to irrelevant supporting roles. And so on, and so forth. Everything got better. Everything, that is, except Paul Ballard - World's Worst FBI Agent, who morphs into Paul Ballard - World's Worst Dollhouse Infiltrator, Paul Ballard - World's Worst Handler, and Paul Ballard - World's Worst Echo Protector. I can't imagine this was done on purpose, and him being inept at everything became really annoying after a while.

In general, though, Dollhouse really came together. A few of the final twists may not have worked entirely, but they were at least exciting. As far as standout episodes, I'd recommend "The Left Hand" and the entire run from "The Attic" through the end, which includes "Getting Closer", "The Hollow Men", and naturally, "Epitaph Two", which puts a fairly satisfying cap on the story. There are some interesting lessons to be learned from this show, such as how to strike the delicate balance between standalone episodes and seasonal arcs. In a way, it's a bit sad that Dollhouse didn't get to develop itself beyond its 26 episodes, but I can't pretend the creators have anyone but themselves to blame on that one. At its end, this is a show that really went for broke. If only they could have put that intensity into the beginning.

Dollhouse - Season 2: B


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