Saturday, January 30, 2010

Did I Fall Asleep? I'm afraid's really over.

Warning: This is fairly spoilery if you haven't seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly/Serenity or the series finale of Dollhouse. 
Dichen Lachman, Tahmoh Penikett, Fran Kranz, Olivia Williams, Harry Lennix, Enver Gjokaj
Eliza Dushku

It can definitely be argued that Joss Whedon tells pretty much the same stories with each of his projects, or at the very least, revisits the same themes while messing with the way he tells the story. This is not a complaint. I love how he does it.

For this blog I'm just going to focus on the main one;  Female empowerment out of victimization. Buffy is strong but only because the first slayer was violated by a group of male high priests with demon energy, Cordelia is also imbued with demon energy, and yes she does so willingly, but later we learn that she was tricked, in the same series Winifred Burkle becomes the embodiment of an ancient and long forgotten god only through being made a sacrifice to that very god, and River Tam is tampered with to the point that all that is done to her by the Alliance Government brings out her genius and super powers and perhaps ultimately the end.

And then of course there is Caroline who through the manipulations of the Rossum Corporation and the Dollhouse becomes Echo, a high powered Matrix like hero but embodying the opposite of Neo's cluelessness.

All of these women rise from the ashes of thinly veiled metaphors for rape.

In the early part of the first season of Dollhouse many women, including fans of Joss Whedon's work complained that the show seemed to glorify the exploitation of women. This was nonsense. If you know anything about Joss Whedon you know that he is more of a feminist than my mother, who was a vice president of a local chapter of NOW for several years.

When it comes to Joss, you have to stick around for the long view. I learned this in Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Joss had Buffy meet the infamous Dracula in the season premier. That episode ended with the sudden and seemingly shark jumping introduction of Buffy's younger sister. When I saw this I was furious, not only was the actor who played Dracula abysmally bad, but the introduction of a sister out of nowhere?!!!

What.The.Fuck. (a)

BUT, I learned quickly, there's always a longer story, and a few episodes later we learn that the sister's existence has a purpose and that while badly acted, the character of Dracula introduces aspects of Buffy's being that we do not fully understand until the Seventh Season and that echo the warnings that came to us in the finale of Season Four. Further, a few years later as I introduced my daughter through the series on DVD, I saw how the coming of Dawn was foretold in the end of the Third Season, by none other than Faith (played by the ever hot, Eliza Dushku) in a shared dream with Buffy.

I am being wordy here because it brings up how the Fox Network has now twice failed the fans by their nearly militant refusal to appreciate good storytelling. Even if it happens to be a similar story to the last time.

They did it with Firefly, and they did it again with Dollhouse. And in the same way that Warner Brothers screwed Angel at the last minute, Fox left the Dollhouse crew precious little time to wrap up their story in a completely emotionally satisfying way.

And yet, like the ending of Angel, the Whedon crew managed to pretty much pull a small rabbit out of their hat. A small one, but a rabbit nonetheless. A lesser crew would have had Sierra waking up, walking to the bathroom seemingly disoriented only to find her loving husband Victor in the was all just a bad dream....except Victor is a Replicant....and isn't that Bob Newhart's wife in the bed? (ok, that last one was an awesome finale actually).

I just finished watching the Dollhouse finale, "Epitaph Two" and I am indeed sad and a bit teary eyed. To be sure, the impact of E2 is best appreciated if you've seen "Epitaph One", and if Fox were worth half a dog turd they might have screened that episode last week before showing this one. But that's asking the impossible.

Earlier today I was chatting with @2MuchPerfection who had seen the Dollhouse finale already. She is also a fan of Buffy though never liked Angel (I still think she's cool though) Her words "Joss is so predictable. Someone sacrifices, someone you don't want to die is killed and the world is alright again....not that I didn't like it. I can just see it coming"

She was right, but because Fox gave Dollhouse 5 episodes to wrap things up, I find it easy to forgive that certain parts of Whedon's formula are repeated so blatantly. And the unwanted death happens so fast and so without closure, that it still has impact.

As I watched tonight's episode I mourned for the stories we will never see. Alpha's struggle and eventual redemption (not unlike Spike's at the end of Buffy. Topher's sacrifice as well had echoes of Spike and even a touch of Wesley), the continual attempts that Paul makes to reach Echo/Caroline. The adventures that Meg, the girl Caroline and Zone as they make their way from Los Angeles to "Neuropolis" (Tucson, where I was born, by the way, just for the fun of knowing it), what does Dominic do and what is his journey after he is set free from The Attic, how long does Echo suffer through headaches before she makes peace. So many journeys so many variations on the story that could have been explored if the Powers That Be just let Joss be Joss and just.let.him.tell.the.fucking.story.

Parts of this finale were disappointing, but only because so much had to be covered in so little time. For me it was emotional and sad and the very last moment broke my heart. How even more heartbreaking if we had had time to learn more about Caroline/Echo's loneliness and isolation (again, themes embodied by Buffy, Angel and Malcolm Reynolds before her).

I loved this show from the start. I didn't need time to warm up. There were dips here and there, but I knew Joss was leading us somewhere somewhat new. (I will blog in detail soon, episode by episode.)

But his messages are the same. We can be stronger for our suffering, we should stop tampering with ourselves unnaturally to make ourselves better, and saving the world always, ALWAYS requires sacrifice.

Also...we like love adore lust after hot chicks with super powers.

(a) just a side not in the form of a footnote, Garry Marshall, producer of the show Happy Days, from whence the phrase "jumped the shark" was created, likes to boast about how high the ratings were for the episode where Fonzie, in a bathing suit and leather jacket, does the water ski jump over the shark, earned that show the highest ratings ever. But what he fails to understand, and I admire Mr. Marshall, is that even though it got high ratings, it was still the beginning of that show's spiral into utter stupidity


laura said...

You've made a fairly compelling argument that the many failings of E2 stem from Joss and Co. only having 5 episodes to "wrap it up," and I agree in part...Dollhouse was a rich albeit terribly uneven universe...but you need to think about how much time 5 episodes is. I'm not just talking about "writers room" time, I'm talking about screentime. That's more than 200 minutes of story. That's an absurd amount of time to tell an entire story let alone complete a journey started and expanded over 21 episodes of television. There were moments I loved in E2 but overall so much was left unsaid and undone, and not in the poetic 'tis better left unsaid (and undone) the "this show never worked and now it's over, I can't even be bothered to care" way. Joss Whedon, the man you credit with telling these stories of women overcoming rape-metaphors, didn't write a single episode after Dollhouse was officially canceled, nor did he direct...and for that matter, he wrote ONLY ONE EPISODE of the ENTIRE SECOND SEASON. He let the staff writers (all of whom were employed on the show via nepotism) write the finale. How? What? Why? Yes, he fingerprints were on the E2 script, but that's because he did a Joss pass. Looked at words for a few hours and made them better. But if you ask me, which you didn't, that's not how you end a show let alone run a show. Firefly died because stupid executives didn't appreciate fine storytelling and screwed with everything from the publicity to the episode order; Dollhouse died because it never hit a stride, and that's because from the first round of pilot notes Joss was already fed up. He cheer-led and blogged positivity and credited the network with being right, but he did so with an FBC gun to his back. There was already a series order and heavy penalty, so Joss had to play nice and smile for the cameras, but he was miserable from minute 61. But back to E2, which your post is semi-about: a lot of the threads which needed to be tied up weren't, and other threads that never needed to be introduced were tied into a clunkily-plotted bow. It was a trainwreck of terrible moments sprinkled with brilliance (see above re: Joss pass), and so many details were mismanaged. i.e. Maurissa Tancharoen is a lovely writer but a terrible actor who dropped what should've been a fun one-episode part on the floor. That's the slightest of many sins committed in E2, and for that matter Dollhouse as a many mistakes, so many bad ideas, all because Joss checked out of the writers room for days if not workweeks at a time. His lack-of-presence is just as palpable as his presence. That's not how you shepherd a show. That's how you get lambs killed. I've gone on too much and far but for me Dollhouse will always be an ugly mixed bag of (+) great potential, talent, creative bones, and (-) frustration, illogic, and big time dumbness. The penultimate episode was one of the best examples of How Not To Tell A Story I've ever seen, and E2 aimed high and missed low. Sad the show never realized its potential. So not sad it's over.

Anonymous said...

One of my saddest moments was when I borrowed the Firefly series and Serenity from a friend. When I got to the end of Serenity there was this pressing sadness as the realization that it was over sank in. I've not seen much of Whedon's other work but I LOVED Firefly. Now I might have to see about watching Dollhouse.