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5 Ways FOX's "Dollhouse" Could Have Been Great

Dollhouse promo photoScifiwire 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.


  1. This is a good list. What's ironic is that all of these eventually happened in the run of the series. This just goes to show that Whedon assumed everyone would stick around for two or three years but he underestimated the patience of the audience.

    5. While this was a pretty vexing part of the show, it would have been impossible to do the story arc Whedon planned without having the main character a doll.

    4. In S2E1, "Vows", two of the dolls start to fall in love with each other. This helps prompt the revelation that dolls sometimes do develop independent personalities.

    3. In S2E4, "Belonging", it's revealed that not all the actives are willing participants. Sierra was actually the victim of a vindictive obsession. It's also revealed during the run of the show that the corporation that runs the Dollhouse has evil intentions with the technology.

    2. Starting in S1E7, "Echoes", the actives start remembering their past lives and Echo starts showing her unique ability to access skills of all of her past imprints. It's pretty amazing, because she becomes a truly lethal force. Even some of the innocuous imprints like her being blind become essential.

    1. In S2E6, "The Left Hand", Echo escapes from the Dollhouse and this leads to a story arc about the stress and pain of not being imprinted and dealing with her growing instability and eventual return to take down the Dollhouse.

    Still, too little too late.

  2. Agreed, the show did eventually get to these ideas. But they should've been there from the beginning, and been taken farther than it was. Yes, Echo did come to an awareness and understanding of who she was, and where she was. Yes, Sierra did fall in love with Victor. But both of those are far short of fully developed personalities that we could identify with.


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