7 ways Dollhouse could have been great

The small audience that's continued watching Fox's Dollhouse since it got canceled this fall undoubtedly has noticed something: Now that it's canceled, it's gotten good!

Not perfect, mind you, but good. All the potential that was there in the beginning is being realized, and we have three episodes left with characters we're starting to care about headed to war with Rossum. AND a final episode that's called "Epitaph Two: Return."

Some familiar faces will be popping up before series' end, including Amy Acker as Dr. Saunders/Whiskey, Alan Tudyk as Alpha, Summer Glau as Bennett Halverson and "Epitaph One's" Felicia Day—and even Dushku's real-life boyfriend, Rick Fox, will play an Active on the Jan. 8 episode.

Taking the show in fascinating directions NOW is what makes Dollhouse so eminently disappointing, and it MAKES US CRAZY! If it was just a terrible show about a mindless Doll named Echo (Eliza Dushku) and her brainless imprints for various missions, we could have come to terms with that. And if it was just about a bunch of morally bankrupt characters working for a morally bankrupt corporation, OK. We'd tell creator Joss Whedon, "Let's put it behind us and move on. Go do something that's worthy of your genius."

But that's not what's happening, and we're kind of pissed. Others have noted this as well, and we've compiled their reactions with ours to come up with seven things that could have made Dollhouse great, along with one extra bonus thing. (And, Joss, we're disappointed you didn't figure these out before we did):

1. After the pilot, Dollhouse should have skipped to "Belle Chose," the third episode of the second season, when Echo really gets her ability to access her personalities. Yes, there were some great bits along the way, but the first season was slow, and Whedon did nothing but toy with what he promised us he was going to do ... which was make Echo aware.

Dan from Dan's Media Digest added, "It's interesting to me that Dollhouse has started becoming the show I imagined we'd be getting from the very start. When I first heard about Joss Whedon's idea, I imagined a scenario that would splice Joe 90 with The Pretender, but they instead went down the path of keeping Echo (Eliza Dushku) stuck in the Dollhouse being mind-wiped after every adventure. Thankfully, they've managed to spread their wings."

2. Whedon is a brilliant writer and creator of TV shows, and he needs to stop compromising his vision.

"Shooting a new pilot was my idea," Whedon told Brian Ford Sullivan of The Futon Critic. "Because the network, they were looking for something specific. I thought I delivered it because they were very excited about the script. They weren't as excited about the show so we talked about why and why and why, and I figured out what they wanted. We talked about those things, and it was obvious they wanted more of an action feel than a noir feel. What I had done was very sort of dark and moody. And they wanted a show, a first episode, that absolutely laid out the structure of the show, which is—Echo is at the Dollhouse, she is imprinted for an engagement, she goes on the engagement, she comes back from the engagement into the Dollhouse. This is how it works."

3. Trust the premise.

Blast Magazine's Kellen Rice commented: "The premise of Dollhouse is saturated with potential. This show has the scaffolding in place to explore issues just as deeply (and perhaps even more thoroughly) as Battlestar Galactica. The concepts of self, self vs. body, informed consent, identity, death, perception, ... all of these are fascinating topics that Dollhouse season one touched on and upon which season two will hopefully expand."

4. Echo, with her ability to access different personalities, is a character that should have evolved early in the series and not at the end of it. Let's face it, Eliza Dushku doesn't do dumb Doll well. Most any actress would have had trouble with this role, considering that her character was too often either childlike boring or schizophrenic, especially in season one.

IGN's Eric Goldman reviewed a recent episode where "Echo was in the mode that she (and Eliza Dushku) are served best by on this series—tough and ready to fight. We continue to get more insight into her fun ability to access all of her former imprints and their skill sets and how she can simply absorb a new one, Matrix style, and still be 'Echo.' This default Echo is not particularly nuanced. She can access the different personas, but she doesn't seem to act differently—just be able to do different cool things. But considering Echo has always been a crucial weak part of Dollhouse, I'm happy to accept Dushku back in her plausible tough-girl persona, with so little time left."

5. We love Alan Tudyk. We're even still bitter that Whedon killed off Wash in Serenity. But Alpha should have been someone who scared us.

TheTVCritic.org had problems with Alpha, as well. "I think the biggest letdown was Alpha. Like so many television shows, we were given hints of something unique and gripping but what we got was generic. The idea of 40 personalities being awake inside a man's head leads to so many possibilities. The combination of knowledge, skills and awareness looked like it would create a superhuman in every sense. Someone who couldn't be beaten in a fight or an argument because they had too much knowledge to call upon. And of course what conclusion would such a creature draw about the human race, morality and their sense of self. In the end though Alpha was much more like all TV bad guys. He liked the sound of his own voice, he was obsessed with achieving unattainable goals and was undone by his own plan. In the end he put a gun to 'someone's' head, just like every desperate bad guy, it felt like a real let down."


6. While we understand storywise why Paul Ballard ended up in the Dollhouse in season two, Paul should have been inside the Dollhouse to start with. Having him join the Dollhouse later did not serve Tahmoh Penikett's character or the show.

Fandomania's Paige MacGregor commented, "I'm a little miffed with Mr. Paul Ballard. He is so passionate about shutting down the Dollhouse and saving the men and women 'trapped' there; however, he continues to allow Echo to experience a number of very disturbing side effects involving her memory wipes and engagements. Of all people, Ballard has a first-hand view of what the Dollhouse is capable of and the new advancements that Topher is making with 'programming' the brain (and now the body as well), yet he hides the fact that Echo remembers parts of her engagements from the only people who might be able to determine if these 'glitches' are the result of or are causing any long-term damage to Echo's brain."

P.S. Not to mention letting Echo be prostituted out on a continual basis.

7. Fox should have aired Epitaph One at the end of last season. It would have been a game-changer, but we know Whedon would have made it work.

And 7 1/2 Go back to The CW, Joss, or move on to cable. We mean it. At least they'd appreciate you. Don't ever make another series for Fox again.

Paste Magazine's Tim Regan-Porter wrote, "The DVDs were a revelation. The unaired 13th episode, 'Epitaph One' with Felicia Day and set 10 years in the future, was sci-fi magic. And the unaired pilot showed what could have been. Even without the behind-the-scenes featurettes and commentary that explicitly call out Fox's interference, it's obvious just from watching those episodes and the show's evolution that ham-fisted executives screwed the pooch. They wanted sexed-up action-adventure confined to single-episode stories, killing what was most intriguing about this and all of Whedon's shows: the through-line, the meta. Whedon says he was six episodes in by the time he got one that he was happy with."

8. And then there's "Acceptance." We admit we've been going through the five stages of grief since our journey with Dollhouse began. Denial: that the series wasn't better to begin with and now it's ending when it's just starting to find its way. Anger at Fox ... who else? Bargaining: that maybe somebody will pay attention to our letters and maybe someone else will pick up Dollhouse and give it a chance! Depression: well, let's face it. Rooting for a Joss Whedon show is like rooting for the Chicago Cubs. It's the agony and the ecstasy of the journey, and in the end, you're just not going to win.

And finally Acceptance. Beyond all things Fox and missed story opportunities and poor ratings and angst, we can now sit back and enjoy the last three hours of Dollhouse. How cool is that?

Are you ready for the end of Dollhouse?

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