Well that was quite the ride… And I would do it again. I highly recommend this show to those who enjoy an overall story or plot to their fiction, as opposed to episodic television. This review is brief out of necessity. Honestly, there is so much one could discuss about this show, both positive and negative, that it would probably take its own two seasons!
Season One of Dollhouse began as a slightly confusing look at the meaning of “self.” After beginning with the main focus on Echo (Eliza Dushku), the view broadened to explore several other characters in the sandbox, both inside and outside the Dollhouse.
Having now finished watching the second season as well as all the extras, I will admit to being left positively breathless. This review will let me offer you my thoughts and feelings about this show, season two specifically, and the series overall. If you wish to read my opinion of season one, hop on over HERE. There will be spoilers in my review, so please be warned.
I was hesitant to start watching, as many TV series often fall off the wagon as they move along, but not this show. Granted, I normally let myself just go along with any show when watching, keeping criticism and guessing to a minimum until it’s over. I like the ride, and don’t enjoy “spoiling” myself by figuring out the end beforehand, so I’m fairly easy to surprise. (Meaning, if I figure something out, it was terribly evident.)
I didn’t see most of the end coming, and that made me mostly happy.
This season continued exploring the idea of “self,” and how to get rid of it, to change it, copy it, keep it on a shelf. The question of technology and if it’s really worth it comes up, and Sierra/ Priya embodies the answer “no” by the end, as does Topher. I’ll get back to my dear Topher in a moment.
Echo is one of the two through-lines in the entire series, and is an interesting story. She begins as an empty person, programmed to be — basically — a prostitute, though every once in a while she gets to be a one-person combat machine, or spy, or girl-genius. But usually she a play-thing. Season two shows Echo as basically a brand new person, separate from Caroline, the woman she was when she came to the Dollhouse. She creates herself, and learns to fight back, uses everything that was given to her to save herself and those she cares for. Though I could never really connect with the character, I ended up appreciating her much more by the end — she changed so much over the season and was strong and capable. I almost liked her. The fact that she could beat the crap out of any guy was just icing on the cake. (Sorry, my superficiality is showing…) Watch Epitaph 2 to see how Echo/ Caroline end; I don’t want to spoil that. For my taste it was bitter-sweet, rather more bitter than sweet.
Now I get to talk about Topher. I could go on about SO many of the characters but it would take the rest of the year, so I’ll stick with the Echo and Topher. Oh, before I forget, Enver Gjokaj is just an amazing actor, and is such a treat to watch during the second season. He is given lots more to do, is worth every second on-screen, and is only limited by his character. Victor changes but not nearly as much as Echo or Topher. But I must say, the scene in “The Left Hand,” where Victor is being imprinted as Topher, all while Topher is in the scene (yes, it’s confusing), is just SO much fun to watch. Enver also does a shockingly amusing scene in episode 3, “Belle Chose,” when he is accidentally imprinted as a nubile college girl who enjoys dancing. I shall say no more. Just watch.
Dollhouse is a character-driven show, first by Echo but more and more in the second season Topher becomes the point around which everything else turns. He is basically the embodiment of present-day humans as children learning to play with toys a teeny bit too advanced for them. Topher is, developmentally, a child. But he’s also a genius, and creates a technology around which the Dollhouses are run — expensive prostitution and hit-man rentals. Topher has no guilt or moral issues about it, in his mind he’s a genius and that’s all that counts.
Through the two seasons, we watch Topher change from a spoiled, annoying brat to someone who willingly gives up his life because, in his words: “I don’t want to cause any more pain.” Fran does this scene so well.
The human race grows up a tad, and puts away a toy until it’s old enough to play with it.
For me, Dollhouse was two things. There’s Echo exploring the idea of self, how to grow from helplessness to enabled and strong enough to become someone new. It was also exploring the ideas of too much power too soon. The show has its faults, but I highly recommend it for those who enjoy the clever, the silly, and the thoughtful as presented by compelling characters.
The DVD also has commentary from Joss Whedon, making it much easier to understand some of the bumpiness of the series and explains — indirectly — why the show became so good… They basically told themselves “well, we’re canceled anyway, we may as well do it the way we want to.”
They did well. Thanks, Joss, for a great story. Please tell some more.
Topher grows from obnoxious dumb-genius to being the one person who puts the toys away for just a little while longer.