Why I’m Not Writing About Dollhouse

Gee willickers, four whole Dollhouse episodes have aired and I haven’t reviewed them! Why could this possibly be? Maybe I’m busy and I haven’t watched them yet. Perhaps I’m working on another mammoth post. Maybe I’m still processing them.


I’m not writing about Dollhouse because it’s boring me. I wasn’t really enamoured with the show from the start, and these last episodes that Fox is burning off feel like, well, the creative team is trying to wrap the show up, superquick (perhaps bringing us up to “Epitaph One”). To be fair, that is exactly what they are doing, but it makes for boring viewing.

Dollhouse is jumpy and choppy. It’s all over the place. What’s this “three months later” business? Must we have a villainess with a withered arm? Will Ballard “get the girl”? I’m watching to say I’ve watched, but I am not really invested in the show at this point. The plot jumps around far too much, I can’t get attached to any of the characters, and I’m tired of the “big reveal! Another big reveal! Oh look, another one!” method of storytelling.

Too much is being crammed in. Suddenly Topher is growing some morals? (Hello, Joss’ superego.) Suddenly he realizes how all of the Dollhouse tech can be applied? He’s deciding, now, that it might be time to try and put the tech in check, before it’s too late? Oh look, Ballard is “brain dead.” Oh look, Echo is developing a personality all of a sudden and realizing into her own person and gaining control over her imprints. Oh look, Victor and Sierra are “grouping,” still. Oh look, the threads of countless stories are being dropped on the floor to collect dust. Oh look, here’s Alpha again.

This week, I felt like I was rewatching old Joss shows. “A Love Supreme” brought me right back to season five Angel, in which, if you will recall, (spoilers for those who have not seen Angel) Angel goes fake evil because he knows it’s the only way to bring down Wolfram and Hart. For it to work, he has to trick all of his buddies into thinking he’s evil too. Anyone think that’s what is happening with Adele? Because I do.

Spoilers over. And the “violence turning to sexytime,” doesn’t that feel kind of familiar and old too? Does anyone else feel like Joss is rehashing old territory? Can Joss tell some new stories now, please?

I know it’s hard to wrap up a show reasonably neatly. The premise of Dollhouse was weak and it’s been poorly executed and now they’re trying to bake this sloppy mess into something resembling a finished product, and it’s just not working out. There’s potential here, but it’s buried, and getting deeper, and I don’t really see how it can be explored, at this point.

It’s interesting to see Whedon fans praising the recent episodes. I can’t help but wonder if there’s a bittersweet note to that; they’re angry that a show he’s working on has been canceled, again, and they’re telling themselves that the final episodes are “the best ever” so that they can remain righteously angry at Fox. Saying “gee, these episodes are kinda not very interesting” would, after all, suggest that Fox was justified in canceling the show.

What’s a pity is that if these final episodes hadn’t been rushed by consequence of cancellation, we might have got to see some good Dollhouse. I think that the show needed some room to grow, and it could have found its footing in the end, possibly. Fox didn’t give it the space to do that, and now we’ll never know what it could have been. It makes me wonder what would have happened to Buffy if it had started airing in this television climate.

ETA: Laura at Adventures of a Young Feminist has also written about her lack of interest in the latest Dollhouse.

12 Replies to “Why I’m Not Writing About Dollhouse”

  1. Re: “It’s interesting to see Whedon fans praising the recent episodes. I can’t help but wonder if there’s a bittersweet note to that; they’re angry that a show he’s working on has been canceled, again, and they’re telling themselves that the final episodes are “the best ever” so that they can remain righteously angry at Fox. Saying “gee, these episodes are kinda not very interesting” would, after all, suggest that Fox was justified in canceling the show.”

    While it’s perfectly understandable that you don’t feel invested in these latest episodes (and I do enjoy reading your thoughts because they are very well put and strike a few things I myself don’t like about the development of the story), I think you are now the 587th person that is denying the fans of the show the actual possibility of being fans of the show. The little fandom this show has is constantly being portrayed as looking for excuses to like the show as if it’s impossible to like it for what it is. No, there are fans out there that are not linking their investment with a show to some vague old vendetta against a network and some justifications for business decisions that have nothing whatsoever to do with the (perceived) quality of the show. There are people out there – me included – that genuinely love the show.

  2. Well now, I didn’t say “all Whedon fans,” and I didn’t say anything about denying fans the opportunity to be fans of the show. I was analyzing a dynamic I see in some fan communities, not suggesting that people shouldn’t like Dollhouse or that because I don’t like it no one can like it. And, frankly, in my opinion, some fans are trying a little bit too hard to convince themselves/others that the show is likeable.

  3. No, of course you didn’t suggest specific reading of the show (and I never said you did), you just observed a dynamic, and interestingly that dynamic is always observed by people that are not (anymore) invested with the show, and it’s a dynamic postulating psychological assumptions about the fans of the show correlating with the own judgment of the show. Wouldn’t it seem a little off to you, if I would say “Well, your disapproval of the latest storylines seems to me like you’re trying a little bit too hard to convince yourself to not like the show?” It’s just a weird thing to “observe”. I’m just thinking that fandom-dynamics are nothing we can ever guess at the psychological level, and when it starts correlating with our own evaluation of the show, it always strikes me as biased and a little bit unfair towards those people that may or may not be aware of the possible reasons you mentioned, but in either case actually enjoy the show for what is.

    Or, put another way, your assessment of “trying a bit too hard” implies that there would be “normal” level of investment that suits the (in your opinion… mediocre? bad? boring?) quality of the show. This normal, objective level of appreciation the show deserves is derived from your personal judgment of it, that’s why others are over the top. You’re right, you’re not saying “They shouldn’t like the show as much as they do, because the show is not as good.”, but you are saying something along the lines of “Their appreciation is a lie.” I’m trying to point at the idea, that when it comes to other peoples judgments, there are no grounds for truth for us to observe any lies. Only our own bias. Which, you know, says more about ourselves than about any dynamics out there.

  4. Well, I think there’s a profound difference between saying “every fan who claims to like the show obviously doesn’t know ou own feelings!” and saying “I note a dynamic in some aspects of fandom which is interesting to explore.” You see, I hope, the difference there; I’ve read some excellent pieces by people who are invested in the show and are liking it, and I’m not saying that they have no idea how they feel. Obviously, they do: They are watching the show and they like it. But that does not change the fact that, again, in some aspects of fandom, yes, I do think that people are trying a little too hard to convince themselves of something.

    Yeah, I am making a personal judgment of the show. Just like people who are liking where it is going are making a personal judgment. We are all allowed to do that. Can we, uhm, talk about the fucking show now, please, instead of picking on one aspect of a discussion? If you don’t want to talk about the dynamics of fandom, then fucking don’t. But don’t tell me that I can’t.

    I feel like you’re reading my discussion of this as some kind of personal attack on you and your feelings. It’s, uhm, not. And I’m really tired of having every single critique/discussion of Whedon’s work I bring up treated as a personal attack by people who only read this website intermittently, or when someone points them here. I, as a fellow fan, am entitled to feel the way I feel, to write about it, and to explore some of the reasons why other people feel differently. This does not infringe in any way, shape, or form, on anyone else’s right to feel the way they feel.

    Fans clearly do engage psychologically with the show and with Whedon’s work in general. Are you seriously saying that critics shouldn’t be allowed to discuss this?

  5. It is pretty choppy. The three months later thing confused the hell out of me because my dad and flipped to another channel during the commercial break, and we got back AFTER it said that, so we were just like “Huh? What happened here? Why is she working in a hospital now? wtf?”

    And yeah, it is a bit rushed, but yeah deadline they’re going to have to pack things in. There were a lot of things irritatingly missing explanation was my biggest problem. (Why is Topher suddenly using the chairs from the DC house? Why are Victor and Sierra helping him, and who are they?) There were then the obviously intentionally unanswered questions (Did Adelle really give him the full plans? Is she really for real evil or just playing games? [I’ve no idea of what it may be repeating from Angel because I haven’t seen that] What’s with the weird conflicting set of alliances between Ballard, Boyd, Echo, and Adelle?)

    And the big question: Why isn’t Enver the star of this show? He’s fantastic. Eliza pales in comparison. His Topher 2.0 was amazing.

    Other issues: Why the bloody hell did Echo fall maaaaaadly in love with Ballard that fast? He’s an ass. Why did I am ragh remorseless kickass girl just cry and not kill Alpha WHEN BALLARD TOLD HER TO? Did alpha not bargain for how much of Ballard he was getting? Why is he suddenly obsessed with suits? Why is the show to heteronormative that we see lots of het engagements but only hear passing reference to ones that are otherwise? Where’s Whiskey? Why does Ivy seem to completely vanish when she isn’t convenient for a joke? (The constant casual cruelty to her for laughs is pretty gross, much as I love Topher.)

  6. I’ve never said you shouldn’t make a personal judgment on the show, everyone who watches it does. I was just trying to question whether this particular judgment is affecting your psychological reading of the fanbase. And I’ve never said, fans have no reasons for the way they feel, they do, we all do. I’m just saying that from the outside, our guess is grounded in our perception of the show, and that there’s a difference between being biased towards the show (which… well, there’s no way around that) and letting that bias affect the judgment of the people liking the show.

    Again, would you *not* question an assessment like “Well, your disapproval of the latest storylines seems to me like you’re trying a little bit too hard to convince yourself to not like the show.”?

    And I think we needn’t talk about semantics here (I am, btw, a regular reader of your blog, and not a Whedonista on a vendetta against any critic out there), saying “I only said ‘some’, why are you taking this personally?” is merely changing the quantifier – and still completely missing my point.

    Which, to be fair, I seem to be utterly unable to express. So maybe I should go back to discussing the show instead of discussing possibilities and impossibilities of fandom-critique.

  7. Actually, I wouldn’t, because I think that’s an equally valid thing to bring up. I think that in some cases, people are put off by something at the start, and then they keep looking for things to put them off. Likewise, there are antiWhedon folks out there (I know, I think it’s weird too), who will decide to hate anything before they see it, and hence must muster ammunition to support that hate. Maybe I am trying hard to hate the show because it’s pissing me off and because people like you are pissing me off. I have been so abused by Whedon’s base of hardcore fans (of which you are one of the more mild) that perhaps it does make me want to hate his work by proxy.

    And, this is seriously the last time this gets discussed in comments on this thread EVER because I am sick of having to explain it: the statement above says “Whedon fans…” It’s OBVIOUSLY not meant to mean “all Whedon fans…” and is a generic observation. It has been totally misread. I should not have to add fucking qualifiers to every goddamn post on this fucking website. CLEARLY I did not mean “every single Whedon fan” because I do not know every single Whedon fan, have not looked at every single Whedon fansite, have not read ever single blog post on the Internet. Everywhere else in the world when people make a generic statement like that, it is read as a generalizer. Everywhere except here, of course, because I am a humourless feminist squee ruiner.

    If you want to talk about the show, feel free. Any additional nitpicky crap on this thread will be deleted.

    Likewise on future threads. I’m sick of having to justify myself on Whedon constantly. And every. Single. Thing. I post about ANYTHING that Whedon does. Has comments. That end up like this. Someone latches on to ONE THING in a long piece, refuses to address anything, and nitpicks at that until I scream and want to throw rotten fruit at something.

    Consider this a warning. This goes for all of you who posted unpublishable personal attacks, too. I am officially over the nitppicking from Whedon zealots and it will not be tolerated anymore. If this is how your fandom treats people, I am glad to be an outsider.

  8. Full Disclosure: I have not seen one minute of the show. Not one.

    From every description I have read anywhere I have read it, it sounds as if Whedon et. al (b/c, in fairness, he doesn’t write this stuff alone, but I haven’t bothered to see if he is writing w/ his old buddies or if he is ruining this ending w/ all new friends) is destroying this the same way he destroyed the end of Angel.

    Granted, Angel also had to be ended in a hurry. They were in the middle of one story arc when teh evil evil Fox told them “OK kids, let’s wrap it up (note: I made a typo there of “warp” which still kind of made sense), and they had to change mid-arch, and then rushed to make it all make fucking sense.

    The result?

    It didn’t.

    Most of it was rubbish. I loved Angel. LOVED it, it is by far my favorite Whedon show, EVAH. But the clusterfucktastrophe of the end of S5 — which was off to a beautiful start and some of the most emotionally manipulative work yet — was so hard to watch. It was like watching the train wreck of S4 all over again.

    If that is what happened to Dollhouse, then I don’t need it. I need better story lines and cleaner plot holes. Joss is better than that, so he should be able to deliver that. He did, after all, give us Firefly, which managed to NOT do that, and it was miserably short and tragically cut off. Dollhouse was TAG from the beginning of this season, from everything I have read. He had time to think this through.

  9. I dunno about any of the other writers but I know that Joss’s bother Jed and his wife Maurissa are writing/have written some of the episodes. (They did Dr Horrible! Along with Zach and Joss himself, ofc.)

  10. This applies to Whedon only in that it applies to everyone who does creative stuff: Why do fans assume that artists don’t make crap? There isn’t ever a time where everything a person writes or paints or codes or whatevers is just always going to be good. Some of it’s going to suck. We have a skewed vision of art from people who’ve been dead for a while because the good stuff survives and people tend to not preserve the crap. But people who are still producing? Will inevitably make stuff that is awful. So even if you subscribe to the view that Joss Whedon is a totally awesomelicious showrunner and does incredibly nuanced social-justice-oriented work (which for the record I don’t; I enjoyed Buffy and Firefly but they got issues) that still isn’t an invincible shield against his making something that sucks.

    Frog knows I make things that are crap.

  11. But people who are still producing? Will inevitably make stuff that is awful.

    This. Law of averages. If you are still breathing, you’re gonna fuck up.

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