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Thursday, August 6, 2009

DVD Review: Dollhouse

Posted by Courtney Ferguson on Thu, Aug 6, 2009 at 10:36 AM

Dollhouse
Season One
Available Now

d373/1249577932-doll.jpg

In Blogtown, instead of doing yoga in a soothing spa-like atmosphere, we're forced to do our downward-facing dogs on discarded wooden pallets out by the dumpsters. So while twinged with jealousy of the actives' work environment, we are beyond relieved about Dollhouse’s renewal for 13 more episodes. Phew! That was a close one. There are a few tedious months to sit around twiddling our thumbs and wondering what the nefarious multi-personalitied Alpha is up to (“I want to get some ice cream.” “NO! I want Thai.” “Fuck you two, I’m a leaf on the wind.”), we’ve got the recent release of season one of Dollhouse to keep our Whedon-deprived brains warm and gooey. And the DVD set has got two episodes you’ve never seen before (well, kinda… more like 1.5).

Spoiler-ish stuff after the jump.

The much-ballyhooed “Epitaph One,” starring the ridiculously cute Felicia Day, is nearly worth the price tag. Written by all-in-the-family Jed Whedon and wife Maurissa Tancharoen, this episode was never aired and through confusing wheelings and dealings and witchery the episode was required to be made for international DVD releases (or something or other). The most important part is that it’s good.

The episode is set in a grim 2019 where Los Angeles is a burning pile of rubble, and technology is highly suspect, as it's turned nearly everyone into wiped dolls. The “actuals,” a group of four renegades who still have their original personalities, fight their way through the sewers looking for a safe place. Together with a little girl and her wiped father, they stumble across the dusty, abandoned Dollhouse deep beneath LA. They find the imprinting chair, and put the wiped man in it to figure out what, exactly, the Dollhouse is. Through a series of flashbacks we learn the fates of Echo, Sierra, Victor, Ballard, and the Dollhouse staff. Some reveals: Echo becomes immune to imprinting; Topher goes crazy, cuckoo, bananas; DeWitt gets maternal; and that’s just the half of it.

It’s definitely a down-and-dirty episode, shot with digital video, for half the cost of a normal Dollhouse episode. But it’s got the magic of all great Whedon-series episodes—filled with hints and WTFs and interesting relationship shifts. It would have made a nice punctuation point to the series if Fox had not renewed the show, but as it stands now “Epitaph One” makes for a tantalizing bookend for the second season. How did LA turn into such a shithole? (Not a trick question.) How did Echo become immune to imprinting? Where are all the dolls? So many questions to answer in the next 13 episodes.

There’s also commentary from writers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, which is kind of irritating. Their disembodied cuteness verges on gag-worthy, but as they seemed to be recording the commentary shortly after their wedding, I suppose it’s understandable. The more interesting and informative commentary comes from Joss on the “Man on the Street” episode. (Yep, that’s the one where Dollhouse finally showed some promise after looking like a big, stinking turd for the first four episodes. Ya know, the one with Patton Oswalt.) Joss’ obvious joyfulness about this episode comes through as he talks about his thought processes and the success of certain scenes. Chatty, funny, and dishy, Joss makes it seem okay to go a little ga-ga over a show about prostitut… err, fantasy-fulfilling companions.

The other included unaired episode is the original pilot that Fox put the kibosh on. But the term “unaired” is not exactly accurate—you’ve seen bits and pieces of this spliced into countless other episodes throughout the season. It’s easy to see why it was pulled. “Echo” is uneven and slightly contradictory to the direction that the series eventually went. Echo is seen doing pro-bono philanthropic work (not the normal pro-boner philanthropic work). There are overlong explanations of the workings of the Dollhouse and how actives go about their fieldwork. It's obvious why the episode “Echo” was canned and the pilot “Ghost”—a much sexier, let’s-get-right-down-to-it approach—was aired instead.

The other special features are pretty unremarkable. There’s the normal deleted scenes, featurettes about set design, interviews with Eliza Dushku, and hilarity with Joss Whedon, as he discusses man crushes, the gorgeousness of Miracle Laurie, and the awesomeness of co-ed showers.

In summation: “Epitaph One” good. Unaired pilot “Echo” meh. Joss Whedon yay!

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