Sunday, September 27, 2009

Season 2 Premiere of Dollhouse

Adelle DeWitt in Ten Years?
Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love

Well, I survived my first episode of the season of Dollhouse. Since this is only the third episode I've seen of the entire series, I can't comment on the existing plotlines too much since I'm guessing that I'm misinterpreting roughly 50% of what I'm seeing. So, just a few random observations.

Alexis Denisof as Senator Daniel Perrin. The Dollhouse was put on notice that they have a new challenge to face when Senator Perrin stood on the U.S. Capitol steps and announced his crusade against Rossum Corporation. Boyd Langton duly noted that Perrin comes from a wealthy and powerful family, has a lot of important connections, and, more importantly, has ambition. I had to laugh at myself for how Perrin's pedigree automatically makes him someone to fear. The grass-roots, woefully underfunded Band of Merry Populists I belong to probably operates more as comic relief for our opponents rather than a ferocious organization that threatens to blow the lid off of their nefarious activities.

First off, doesn't Alexis look great as he travels through his 40's? I also liked his voice, which sounded like Eastern Seaboard Establishment to me. I'm grateful that Alexis didn't come across as someone like Senator Jack S. Phogbound out of Dogpatch, Kentucky.

Perrin appears to be your stereotypical well-dressed, hairsprayed politician whose every move is designed to fit into 10-second prepackaged media soundbytes. I'm hoping his hair gets mussed up later in the season, with Eliza Dushku doing the mussing.

"Sincere senator" appears to be a contradiction in terms. Right away we were clued in that he might have some sort of hypocritical agenda in mind when he cited the tragedy of his mother's Alzheimer's disease as his reason for interest in medical research. We suspect he takes on these lofty causes just to help advance his career. Boyd speculated that someone put Perrin onto his new cause. That immediately brings to mind, if someone introduces me to a cause, are my aims somehow less noble just because I didn't stumble onto the cause on my own? Also, if I perform good deeds to advance my career, (e.g., I volunteer to work for a charitable cause because I think it will help me get a promotion), are my actions less valuable than the deeds performed by someone who does charitable work for its own reward?

Do people born into wealth and privilege operate at somewhat of a handicap because they have to work twice as hard to convince people of their sincerity? Just think of how the Lady of the Manor is treated with disdain in English novels when she drops in to offer aid once a month to the less fortunate parishioners in her district. However, if she doesn't visit the poor, she's castigated for not fulfilling her obligations. A lot of times the rich are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

The older I get, the more I get the feeling that the conflicts between opposing parties are somewhat orchestrated to get people to focus their energies on less threatening agendas. I thought of this the other day when I saw a panel on CNBC reduce our entire economic meltdown into a "debate" about people making $30,000 per year buying $300,000 homes. Is Perrin taking on Rossum Corporation in some sort of smoke-and-mirrors ruse cooked up with their executives for some unseen future purpose? Or is Perrin just trying to get himself into a better position to make some financial deals with the corporation? Tellingly, DeWitt and Boyd immediately thought of Ballard when wondering about who tipped off the senator about Rossum's activities. Shrewdly, Ballard asked Boyd if he was the one who might have had a chat with Perrin recently.

Needless to say, I'll be interested in seeing how Perrin's character and motivations evolve during the season.

Olivia Williams as Adelle DeWitt. DeWitt challenges Echo as being my favorite character on Dollhouse. She actually reminds me a bit of Lotte Lenya in From Russia With Love, which doesn't sound all that flattering. However, DeWitt is sinister, highly intelligent, cool and elegant, with just a hint of muted sexuality. Although she works for an evil organization, she seems surprisingly caring about both her employees and her dolls, in a "let's protect the corporate interest" sort of way. I can't help but admire her dedication in her devotion to the cause. Olivia Williams is a good actress. She's one of these people who always make me perk up when her character of DeWitt appears on the screen, simply because I know something interesting will happen.

Tahmoh Penikett as Paul Ballard. Penikett is another strong actor on the show. One overall criticism I have of the series is that I'm acutely aware that most of the actors are saying their lines. When Penikett takes the screen, I get lost in the story. I like Ballard's single-minded determination, though I question the pureness of his motivations at times. I enjoy his scenes with DeWitt where they circle around each other, trying to ferret out the other person's next move.

Amy Acker as Whiskey/Dr. Claire Saunders. Joss Whedon announced that he wanted to give Amy Acker as much screen time as possible in the few episodes she'll be appearing in this season. I know Whiskey/Claire is suffering an existential crisis as she works her way through the implication that everything she knows and feels has been programmed into her by Topher. Acker's acting was sturdy enough, and her dialogue was thought-provoking. Unfortunately, I'm just not moved by her character.

Fran Kranz as Topher Brink. Topher is someone I like more than I should. Kranz doesn't really have a commanding presence, but somehow, the more I seem him in an episode, the more I like him and his character. Was his angstiness with Whiskey/Claire a new thing for him? Or has this been building up for a while?

Eliza Dushku as Echo. I've always described Dushku as someone who naturally dominates every scene that she's in. I think she's remarkably versatile, but I was more than happy when she turned into "Faith" at the end of "Vows". You go girl! The only complaint was her dialogue at the end of the show, when she talked about not knowing who she was. Again, the written dialogue itself was sharp, but I felt she was just delivering her lines at that point. I have a sense that the filming was rushed, where perhaps the director should have called for a 2-hour break and let Dushku drink a couple of glasses of wine to help her relax. As much as I like Penikett and Dushku as Ballard and Echo, I don't think they really bring out the best in each other.

Overall Impressions. I got more into "Vows" as the episode went on, but I simply could not get into the subplot surrounding Jamie Bamber as Martin Klar the arms dealer. I thought Bamber did a nice job, but the story seemed rushed to me, as though the producers should have focused a bit more on the overall structure and turned it into a 3-episode story arc.

I enjoyed Dollhouse more than I thought I would and I look forward to seeing it again next week, even though the whole series could use a bit more spit and polish. I actually enjoy a little bit of unevenness in an inaugural season, but by Season 2, a series should already be in its groove. A one hour show should be like a symphony, with a few distinct movements, with the final movement tying everything together. Although the movements have different tempos and melodies, there needs to be an overall cohesiveness to the piece. With Dollhouse, I feel that one more determined rewrite per week, and perhaps a little more solid direction and editing, is needed to take each episode to the next level.

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