Yeah, we’re nothing if not timely here.
For me, Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse was one of those disappointments that take a few episodes to fully sink in, as my Firefly buzz faded and it became all too clear that this broken show wasn’t going to get any better. But in the DVD release (which I borrowed rather than bought) there’s an extra feature in the form of Whedon’s original uncut pilot, which sets up a very different show.
For me the big problem with the broadcast version was the idea of a heroine wiped clean for every new adventure – it sounds smart (Hey, she can be someone different every week) but in practice there’s no character to engage with. There’s a poetic angle to it (I’m reminded of Robert Stallman’s Orphan trilogy, where the werewolf’s alter-egos are decent people with hopes and dreams, unaware that their lives end the moment the beast’s cover is blown), but you can’t build a symphony on a grace note.
The original pilot addresses the true potential of the concept by setting up a show in which the heroine’s personality has been imperfectly erased, and begins a secret struggle to survive and regain control in week-by-week increments. That was the show’s real premise, overruled and ignored in the reshooting and recutting, only to emerge in the second season when cancellation was inevitable and Whedon, it would seem, was left to get on with it as he wanted.
I’ve heard it suggested that the way to get the most reward out of Dollhouse is to watch the unaired pilot and then skip straight to the second season. I haven’t done it. But there ain’t going to be no more Firefly, so maybe I will.