Friday, December 25, 2009

Theater of the Mind

Dollhouse – “Stop-Loss” and “The Attic”

The final few episodes of the season are hurtling along to the series finale. With “Stop-Loss” Victor’s contract with the Dollhouse has reached its end; he is given back his true personality, ex-soldier Anthony, and released to civilian life. But as he is slowly adjusting to his new/old life he is kidnapped by a shadowy military unit. Echo imprints Sierra with her original personality of Priya and together they race to save Victor/Anthony, while Ms. DeWitt drowns her continuing and compounding sorrows with alcohol.

In “The Attic,” Echo, Priya/Sierra and Anthony/Victor are sent to that most feared of places in the Dollhouse; the place from which no one ever returns: the Attic. Echo finds Mr. Dominic who had been sent to the Attic in season one. Echo with the help of Mr. Dominic locates Priya and Anthony and discovers the ultimate end to the Rossum technology from a surprising source.

Another satisfying pair of episodes with solid performances from all the regulars, including Eliza Dushku who seems to have tapped a reserve of some kind. Compare her performances throughout season one with these last few episodes and you will notice a significant change for the better. She’s definitely “brought it.”

Victor’s story with the Borg-like solider hive-mind was the weaker of the two episodes. They introduce this idea of linked soldiers, each one seeing all that the others see and they rush through it. I’d like to have seen more of Sierra’s reactions to living in the Dollhouse without Victor. Dichen Lachman’s work in prior episodes has been very compelling and subtle, and I wished they’d been able to spend more time with this area of the story. But they’re plotting toward a definite end and have to fill in the gaps and reveal secrets, so some things have to fall by the way side.

“The Attic,” smartly written by Maurissa Tanchareon and Jed Whedon, threw a spin on the “humans hooked into a computer story” by positing that the human brain is capable of greater computing power than the biggest supercomputer, so by linking hundreds of Attic denizens in all the Dollhouses worldwide, Rossum has a supercomputer beyond compare. (Unless Rossum has a corporate rival that is up to similar illegal/immoral hijinks - there is always a “number two” who is trying harder.)

I liked how Dollhouse was able to blend elements of sci-fi ideas from familiar sources - the Borg’s hive mind, The Matrix’s humans linked into a VR world, The Cell’s nightmare dreamscapes – and make them their own.

It’s astonishing to think that this is the same series that in season one had what I call the Charlie’s Angels episode, where Echo went undercover as a backup singer to protect a pop diva who received a death threat. The plotting, ideas and acting on display now are light-years ahead of that clunker.

Speaking of “astonishing” I’d like to give special mention to first time director John Cassady who helmed “The Attic.” For those of you who aren’t comic book fans, Cassaday is one of the “next generation” of comic book artists, famed for his realism, sense of detail and scope, who teamed with none other than Dollhouse creator Joss Whedon on a celebrated run of X-Men stories. Cassaday’s comics often flowed like movies and it’s nice to see his talents can translate to the small screen as well.

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