Dollhouse: The Target (season one, episode two)


Rating 1¾

Created by Joss Whedon

Written and directed by Steven DeKnight

Starring Eliza Dushku (Echo), Olivia Williams (Adelle DeWitt), Fran Kranz (Topher Brink), Harry J Lennix (Boyd Langton), Reed Diamond (Laurence Dominic), Tahmoh Penikett (Paul Ballard), Amy Acker (Claire Saunders) and Matt Keesler (Richard Connell)

Echo is imprinted to become the companion of a new Dollhouse client Richard Connell, joining him in a number of adrenalin-pumping activities out in the wilderness, but Connell plans to take things in an altogether more dangerous and terrifying direction. Paul Ballard continues to investigate the mysterious Dollhouse, despite the open antagonism of his FBI colleagues, and he receives an anonymous package containing a photograph of Echo, with her real first name “Caroline” written on the back. In a series of flashbacks we observe the aftermath of multiple violent deaths in the Dollhouse and the subsequent arrival of Boyd Langton as the personal “handler” for Echo, who survived the carnage without injury.


The first episode of ‘Dollhouse’, the latest television series by Joss Whedon, the creator of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, did not engage me and when I tried watching it for a second time I gave up half way through. My partner, who also watched it on this occasion, described it as “turgid”, which is a not entirely unreasonable one-word summing up of the episode. Having said all this, I don’t want to dislike the show and I was sufficiently intrigued to take an early look at ‘The Target’, the second episode of this first season.

The writer and director here, Steven DeKnight, has worked with Joss Whedon previously, on both ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’. As such, I had some familiarity with his work, particularly via ‘Buffy’, including one of the most discussed and debated episodes of that show, ‘Dead Things’, from its sixth season.

‘The Target’ is constructed in a series of interconnecting scenes cutting back and forth between the past and the present; so that we constantly learn a little bit more as the episode progresses about how certain characters have arrived at this point in time. It’s a very familiar tried and tested formula and one that is executed adequately enough here.

I found that large chunks of it didn’t hold my attention and I became quite bored a lot of the time. This was particularly true of the action scenes out in the wilderness, which I have no doubt were intended to keep us on the edge of our seats, but almost had me reaching for the off button on the remote control. The various twists and turns were so easy to guess in advance that I began to wonder if I should be shouting at the television, “He’s behind you! ... No, don’t drink the water!”, etc, in traditional Christmas pantomime fashion. I should mention at this point that, when watching ‘Buffy’, a series I adore, I generally found the fight scenes least interesting, so it is not necessarily the episode that is at fault here, although it did all seem a little hackneyed.

Of greater interest was the unfolding of some more titbits about the ethical and moral issues surrounding the existence and activities of the Dollhouse. If more time is given over to this in future episodes and less time is spent on flashy, shallow, stereotypically genre-specific two-dimensional running around it would certainly make the series more interesting and enticing for me – more time spent inside the Dollhouse and less time spent out of it. At least Eliza Dushku’s last series ‘Tru Calling’ was quite fun to watch, something that I would not be able to say of ‘Dollhouse’ at this early stage.

I do wonder about the character Boyd Langton, who seems to openly express his qualms about the ethics of what the Dollhouse is doing. Given the nature of the organisation, why would they employ someone who is clearly not entirely on board with what they do? The possible argument that he is ‘the best at what he does’ does not wash, although that is all I can bring to mind at the moment. Also, for an organisation that appears to have enormous power and is able to remain invisible to anyone other than those it wishes to be known to, it seems to be all too easily fooled into accepting clients who are not what they say they are, suggesting abject incompetence or possibly just complacency. Undoubtedly more will be revealed in time.

I am not very convinced at the moment about Paul Ballard, the ‘Dollhouse’ equivalent of Fox Mulder, “the FBI’s most unwanted”, only with fewer quirks. It isn’t the character per se, just the ‘X-Files’-lite cliché of it all. Put simply, the “genius” of Joss Whedon is built up so much that it is constantly tempting to judge him, perhaps, more harshly, something I am sure I am guilty of, simply by comparing all of his subsequent work against the remarkably high standards of ‘Buffy’.

All in all, even though I was bored more often than not, I thought ‘The Target’ was a marked improvement on ‘Ghost’.

Review posted 25 May 2009


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