4/11/2012

My brother wrote this post in 2009. Since then the TV show Dollhouse has been cancelled, but there's a lot to learn for new shows like Terra Nova and Awake.

Sci-Fi's Blastr wrote an interesting article on "7 Ways Dollhouse Could Have Been Great." Personally, I don't agree with most of them, because they don't address the fundamental flaws in the show. So here's my version: 5 Ways Dollhouse Could Have Been Great.

5. Don't make the hero an Active.
This is probably the most radical change to the series, but I think an important one. If you're going to make the Actives child-like automatons with no personality or control over their lives, don't make them the main characters. Focus on someone else at the Dollhouse. Make one of the handlers the main character or even a client. But by the same token...

4. Give the Actives real personalities.
I think the number one flaw in Dollhouse was the idea to make the Actives default to childish zombies. According to the show, all the Actives were mind-wiped after agreeing to become dolls. When Echo was on a mission, she had a new personality that was vibrant, interesting, and compelling. But the moment she was reset to her default personality, she was dull as dishwater. She had only a vague understanding of what her life was about and followed commands blindly. We have no one to root for, because it wasn't really possible to care about Echo. I think the show would've been more interesting if the Actives hadn't had their minds wiped before entering the Dollhouse. I would have had them keep their original personalities between missions. They would remember their lives before the Dollhouse, and be fully aware of what was happening to them, have opinions and feelings about their missions, and would evolve as characters. That would give us a reason to watch each week. But that leads to another change...

3. Make the Actives prisoners, not volunteers.
One of the other problems with Dollhouse was the dubious morality of the facility. I mean, the Actives are volunteers, but are also mind-wiped so they can't give consent anymore. The Actives are monitored and protected while they're on their missions, but are sometimes assigned things that are dangerous or immoral. You were never sure if you were supposed to be rooting for the Actives or hoping they escaped. I know one could argue that the show was richer by dealing in shades of gray, not black and white. I disagree. I think the show would have been better if the Dollhouse had been clearly defined as evil. One big step in that direction would have been to have the Actives be unwilling participants. Make them prisoners, kidnapped and forced to carry out this life by the Rossum Corporation. The Dollhouse would be more than just a place to stay between missions - it would be a literal prison. Then there's a dramatic tension as we tune in to see if they manage to escape each week. Which would lead to...

2. Have Echo remember her missions.
I think another major problem with the show was that there was no real dramatic tension. No matter what happened to Echo, no matter how much trouble she got into, no matter what kind of emotional impact she suffered, it was always solved the same way. At the end of every episode, they put Echo in the chair, hit the reset button, and she was fine again. I would have her remember her missions, so the emotional impact could make her evolve. For example, there was an episode where they programmed her to be a protective mother, then took away her baby. The episode had real impact and drama as she fought to keep the baby, torn apart by her maternal instincts...until they reset her personality, and she forgot everything. No more drama, move on to the next episode. By having her remember, Echo would have carried that pain on through the series. That's a dramatic arc. They kind of started doing that in the second season. Too little, too late. But knowing what kind of Hell the Dollhouse was putting her through could have led to a big change, and that would have been...

1. Have Echo escape the Dollhouse.
Besides the way the Dollhouse protected her from emotional harm, they also protected her from physical harm. The Dollhouse monitored her, protected her, rescued her, and repaired her. That meant another major reason to watch the show was missing - she rarely was in real danger. The writers knew this. That's why, every episode, her handler would lose track of her or wouldn't be able to get to her right when she needed them most. It became a cliche. Echo needed to get away from the Dollhouse and its protection, face the world on her own and in danger. The show would become about her trying to survive and escape the Dollhouse's attempts to return her to her prison, while using her new-found abilities to change personalities at will.

By the way, what's the deal with Dr. Saunders, a.k.a. Whiskey? Last we saw, she escaped the Dollhouse and was driving off into the sunset. Everybody seemed to shrug their shoulders and move on. You're telling me they wouldn't have put everything and everyone on hold to get her back? They sent two Actives on long-term missions to manipulate the detective Paul Ballard to keep him from finding the Dollhouse. Why wouldn't they send every Active out to track down Whiskey? More sloppy writing.

Anyway, what do you think of these changes to Dollhouse? Let us know in the comments.
[Image Source: starpulse.com]

If you're looking for the A-Z post, check back later today!

Related Posts:
Please Cancel FOX's "Dollhouse"
Dollhouse is Cancelled
Who's to Blame For the Failure of "Dollhouse?"

12 comments:

S. L. Hennessy said...

This was sadly the one Joss Whedon show that never made it into my top 5 favorites. 

Michael Offutt said...

I didn't like Dollhouse. I had high hopes but it was kind of meh and I stopped watching. Perhaps with your suggestions it could have amounted to something. But I'd still hold my judgement until after I saw a few episodes.

PhantomZodak said...

This article should not have been re-posted. Because after watching the final season you would have seen that the show improved dramatically and all 7 of these points are irrelevant. More importantly, watching the dvd with the penultimate episode that was shot before the 2nd season shows how there was a master plan from the beginning.

M Pax said...

So many shows could use help. It's like they try to make them as boring as possible. LIke they want them to fail. Personality can save or doom a show.

Rena said...

I like your changes. After a while it seemed as if we were viewing the hook, inciting incident, and wandering chunks of Echo's life, but nothing else. It got stale.

Still, I heart Joss Whedon.

A to Zer!

prose-spective.blogspot.com

Huntress said...

I didn't see Dollhouse and now I'm sorry that I didn't give it a chance.

So many new shows turn me off when they appear to follow a formula. The studios seem afraid to try something different.

I'll watch for Dollhouse on Flix. Thanks for the tip.

Nigel Mitchell said...

I disagree. The show made marginal steps towards improvement, but the core problem of the hollow shell they made the main character remained. There may have been a master plan, but it was too little, too late.

Nigel Mitchell said...

Agreed. I was stupefied by how poorly thought out the show was.

Nigel Mitchell said...

There were some good episodes

Nigel Mitchell said...

Yeah, very repetitive. Thanks for visiting!

Nigel Mitchell said...

Yeah, his other shows were great.

Nigel Mitchell said...

I had high hopes as well. It just didn't hold my interest

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