Monday, August 10, 2009

Box Set!

So I recently obtained the Dollhouse box set and sat down to watch the much-heralded "Epitaph One" as well as the unaired pilot "Echo." Spoilers, of course, follow - but I think I can manage to keep major plot details to myself.

Beginning with the end, "Epitaph One" had been regarded as the Holy Grail of Dollhouse and fans were hurt and angry at Fox's decision to not air the episode. That worked out this way - Fox saw it as an "extra" episode beyond the 13 they had paid for - 12 episodes aired; the unaired (but already shot) pilot "Echo" was counted as the 13th. I hate to side with Fox (really) but in my opinion, they were right to keep this one in the box set only.

That's not because "Epitaph One" is a sticky mess; it's not. In fact, it has some extremely intriguing developments and what may be my favorite scene involving Topher in the entire run. But setting an episode ten years in the future and counting it as canon leaves you only a little wiggle room - I know, I know; it's counterintuitive. Overall, the episode has the feel of "I'm not letting them pull another Firefly on me; I'm tying up loose ends in case we're not back in September."

But they are back in September (and yay! I'd like to say), so let's not assume that 2019 is how things will be, nor that the future is anything but mutable. Nothing in the show has indicated that time is less than linear, so don't tell me that what I saw is where things inevitably wind up. (As Fred once said on Angel, "Nothing is inevitable as long as you can look at it and say, 'You're evitable.'" I always enjoyed that line.)

On the other hand, "Echo" was a much stronger narrative opener than "Ghost" was. It had issues - it felt rushed and probably gave away too much in one episode, for example - but it had fast-paced humor (a Whedon trademark that was woefully missing from much of the first five or so episodes) and I cared far more about what was going on. I can understand why Fox wanted parts of it re-shot and you'll find "Echo" scattered throughout the first season, but of the two "missing episodes" on the box set - this is the one that should have hit the air.

Of course, I'm not a Fox executive, so it's easy to armchair quarterback. And we do get another season (beginning Sept. 25; mark your calendars!), so there's that. But Dollhouse has to deliver this year, which means pulling in viewers that aren't already Whedon fans. It's a delicate balance figuring out how to continue with a complicated story arc and not lose newbies. It can be done (24 springs to mind, although I must confess that I don't watch it), but the time slot of Dollhouse might be working against it.

Then again, things are never what they seem, are they? That's why we keep watching.