Saying Goodbye to Dollhouse: A Fangirl’s Lament
Photo: Frank Ockenfels/FOX
It may be over, but Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse went out with a bang (and a whimper; as usual, our favorite characters were fair game when it came to the dying), and although the last few episodes felt a bit rushed, there is a satisfying sense of closure in the finale.
As any Whedon fan knows, the show suffered more than its fair share of growing pains throughout its two-season run. The dark premise of the show proved too sensitive for some, and it struggled to find its feet until halfway through the first season, when Whedon upped the stakes (pun possibly intended) with the game-changing episode, “Man on the Street.” It seemed for the first time that the show was addressing the important questions underlying the existence of a place like the Dollhouse and the darker implications of non-consensual sex and human trafficking therein.
Dollhouse was never supposed to be the new Buffy. Echo was introduced to us as a character whose power had been completely stripped away. The empowerment came from the fact that, despite this, she was able to gain awareness throughout the series and eventually become a free agent (and kick some major butt along the way). And while the vampires and demons of Buffy were easily recognizable as evil by their fangs and spiny heads, the “bad guys” in the Dollhouse were often the most relatable characters. This is closer to real life, where things are not always black and white.
As a whole, the series may not be perfect, but one cannot dispute the fact that Whedon took risks as a storyteller, and as a result we got quite a few episodes that stand among the best of his work—episodes that delve into the darker aspects of human nature, like “Belle Chose” and “Belonging,” arguably two of the best episodes in season two. Furthermore, the unaired thirteenth episode of season one, “Epitaph One”—which introduced the apocalyptic future setting that Whedon returned to in the finale—was probably one of the best hours of television in the last few years.
In our November 2009 cover story, assistant editor (and fellow fangirl) Rachel Shatto asked Whedon if we would be seeing any lesbian action in the second season. This was, of course, before the show had been cancelled. Whedon was coy about giving any specifics, but he did hint that there would be some sapphic content in the second season.
Then, in December, the show was cancelled.
From there on out it seemed that the storylines were very rushed—understandably—so that the writers could include everything they felt was needed to solidly wrap up the series. It makes sense, and I am glad that we have that closure; I just wish that we could have seen the stories play out in a more nuanced fashion. The worst part of the early cancellation is that there were so many unexplored opportunities for girl-on-girl action.
For instance, remember that teaser shot in “Vows”? The one where Echo flashes back to a past engagement with Whiskey and we almost get to see them kiss? (Damn your black heart, Joss Whedon!) Likewise, in episode seven, “Meet Jane Doe,” Echo herself states that she has been imprinted as gay at least 7 times—but we never got to see any of these engagements play out on screen. It is a bit of a disappointment, but Whedon did manage to deliver a bit of cute, lesbian attraction in “Epitaph Two: The Return,” through the characters Mag, played by geek celebrity Felicia Day, and Kilo, a “tech head” assassin played by Maurissa Tancharoen.
Mag is a fierce femme from the year 2019, fighting to keep “Actuals” from being imprinted and/or destroyed by the “Butchers.” She was introduced initially in Epitaph One, and makes a return in the finale, which picks up where the first Epitaph left off. The giveaway regarding her sexuality is brief, but fun nonetheless. To the shock of her fellow rebel friend Zone (who more than often seems to be channeling Jayne, from Firefly) she mentions in passing that she thinks Kilo is cute, to which he responds, “But, she’s a tech head, Mag. [pause] She's a girl, Mag,” and then proceeds to look stunned. At the end, after the final battle, a wheelchair bound Mag is seen comforting a wounded Kilo. Aww.
So yes, Whedon did deliver—but it’s hard not to sigh when thinking about what we could have seen if this fledgling show hadn’t been cancelled. Think back to the first season of Angel, for instance. Not the greatest. But it became awesome. Same with Buffy. Firefly—well, ok, Firefly was just awesome all around. But my point still stands. I am going to miss this show! Especially Adelle.
Now we’ll just have to guess what Whedon's next project will be.