Saturday, January 30, 2010

Blogging the Dollhouse: Episode 26: "Epitaph Two: Return"

“The world still needs heroes, kid.”

The incredulous, mocking laughter with which everybody greeted this pronouncement of Paul’s was one of the best – most Whedonesque – moments in the series. That was Buffy and Willow laughing at Xander, Angel and Cordy laughing at Wesley, Mal laughing at everybody (and everybody laughing at Mal)…

Joss spent two truncated seasons largely avoiding or subverting the most obvious Whedonesqueries. It was only right that he allow them now, Here At The End Of All Things. We’re glad he’s with us.

Yes, the end was a little too facile. Topher saved the world awfully easily. And two minutes after the final credits rolled you realized there’s no way the world’s going to stay saved. But I think the facileness of it is beside the point. This episode wasn’t here to really end the saga of the tech. It was here to give us emotional closure on some of the characters. And it was here to show us how awesome the series could have gotten if it had lived out its natural life.

On point one:

Topher. Inventing a salvation device may be an easy way out, but it gave us an excuse to watch Topher for this last hour, observe him in his utterly broken state. He’s emotionally devastated – and more than that, he’s enslaved by Rossum. He’s been forced to understand a little of what he did to the dolls. Epitaph Two was Topher’s passion. And he died with a smile on his face, remembering love and companionship, in a burst of light. A beautiful moment.

Carolinecho. When Paul got shot in the head it hit me like a punch to the gut – a classic Mutant Enemy moment, handled in classic Joss fashion. Unexpected, barely seen, rushed past before we have time to process it, only to increase the emotional whammy when it does hit. Carolinecho’s breakdown was Eliza Dushku’s finest moment in the series. And it all set up that beautiful – there’s no other word for it – that beautiful ending, with Paul and Caroline being reunited in Echo’s head. A resolution that satisfies both as freaky sci-fi (a department in which this show has consistently delivered) and as eerily resonant romantic metaphor. It’s a kind of togetherness that only Carolinecho can experience – it’s strangely, poetically, right. I can’t imagine a better image to close the show on than she and Paul lying down together alone, as one – made one flesh.

Alpha. I liked that they didn’t even bother trying to explain how he became a good guy. He just worked through his issues, I guess. Evolved. Who cares? Like we have time for that now. The point is that Joss knows we all love Alan Tudyk and would all get a warm glow out of seeing him get to be a good guy for once in Dollhouse. But it didn’t seem wrong – you can imagine that if they’d had another few seasons to work it out, this is the right place for Alpha to end up. And it’s right that Carolinecho’s final happiness is a gift from Alpha – from the very start of the show he’d been trying to bring Paul and Caroline together, and from the very start of the story he’d been trying to give Echo a gift.

On point two:

Back to Alpha. Seeing where they made him end up, we realized just how much they could have done with this character if they’d had another few seasons to work it out. And that goes for so much of what we saw in this episode.

I started this second season apprehensive that nothing would really be able to make up for the lack of suspense introduced by “Epitaph One.” I stand by that, sort of: they made this season work, in the end, but I still think that in an ideal world where Dollhouse is a well-deserved hit and Mutant Enemy know from early on that they’ll get a second season, maybe they don’t show “Epitaph One,” and they keep us in suspense for a good four or five more seasons.

That being said, what “Epitaph Two” tells us is that if the show had really taken off in this second season, slipping into that unreal world of popularity that reflects quality, Mutant Enemy had more than enough ideas to fuel three or four more seasons of incredible stories.

Alpha’s evolution is one. But there are so many more. The transformation of Tucson into Neuropolis. Adelle’s little colony there on its outskirts. Priya’s gradual estrangement from Tony (how nicely they planted the seeds for that in “The Hollow Men,” when he accepted the upgrade and she didn’t). Tony’s transformation into a mental Mad Max. The whole post-apocalyptic society his gang evokes – not just the chaos we glimpsed in “Epitaph One,” but a tentative new order arising, too, of people who are finding a way to survive and to thrive. Not to mention the wars themselves.

This show could have been epic.

It was epic.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Avatar, yet again

A friend sent me a link to an article that makes the point I was trying to make here, only it makes it more eloquently and persuasively than I did. Well worth reading. (If you're the type of person who might be put off by the title of the website where the article appears - well, don't be.)