The first season of Dollhouse was nothing short of fantastic. Smart, entertaining, and a damn fine cast to book created by cult television director Joss Whedon. With the show premiering last night, here's hoping that fans have told everyone to turn into the Friday night gem, unfortunately this episode might turn them off.
The season premiere starts six months after the finale with Echo on an assignment to take down an arms dealer who she has to marry. The case is one of Ballard's open FBI investigations but the former detective finds it hard to balance work and love with the Active. Dr. Saunders is finding it hard to cope with the knowledge of her past as an Active and takes it out by torturing Topher while Boyd tries to lend a helping hand to the troubled doctor. Adelle offers the job of Echo's handler to Ballard.
Echo's story was fun as always. The best part of the series is Echo's dubious assignments that on the surface seem sexually based, but end up revealing a far more complex mystery. Her scenes with Jamie Bamber are by far the strongest of the episode and the best. Bamber himself is one of the best guest stars since Alan Tudyk. The guy has incredible charm but can turn cold-hearted in a second, perfect casting! Dr. Saunders had an interesting look at the Active experience. She's one of the sole “dolls” of the dollhouse that knows she holds an imprint, and does that really mess with her mind. The concept of finding her true identity when the one she holds is a fake, is mind-boggling if one thinks about it, and holds a lot of interesting concepts for future stories.
As strong as the story one, I couldn't get the feeling that this episode was a tad lackluster. It really felt like the first few episodes that FOX hijacked and changed, it didn't have the Whedon feel or smarts. The main storyline seemed highly suspect since we never know how Echo was able to marry Bamber's character so quickly. We know it's an open investigation and all, but how did they get the relationship to work. It was really bad storytelling and something you don't usually see from Whedon. Boyd seemed non-existent this episode, and his attempts at asking Dr. Saunders out was cute, but just...strange. The biggest letdown was Ballard. He had finally come around to me after his first go-rounds on the series but here he's right back to annoyance territory. His nefarious plot to save Caroline is rearing it's ugly head and it calls for a lot of scowling and very little acting. The fact that DeWitt makes him Echo's handler could be really smart, or really stupid in the long run. I'm not sure what it is, but this episode was a very bizarre season premiere.
Dollhouse is a show that has massive potential, but this premiere didn't feel like any of the amazing episodes I saw last season. Maybe I expected too much but we lost focus on Echo and that's where everything needs to return to. Sure Dr. Saunders is interesting but the emphasis on Ballard doesn't flow right and I don't see it leading to anything fans will enjoy in the long run. I have faith Whedon can deliver as the season progresses, the question is will fans be willing to stick around that long? This week's episode gets a rather forgiving 3/5.