If It Was Up To Me, You’d Be Going To The Attic

…But it isn’t up to me, so you get another chance. But you better watch your step from now on, because I’m gonna have my eye on you.

Life imitates art, eh?

So here we are, the fabled sixth episode of Dollhouse has come and gone, and what have we learned? Well, for one thing we’ve learned how horrifically destructive the first five episodes were to the conceit of this show — because although plot has finally begun (holy shit, hooray!), there’s just not a lot of wiggle room left, at this point, for stuff that’s just glossy and poorly-framed and off. Much as I kind of like Patton Oswalt, when he started talking I had one eye on the second hand…much as I understand the point, that none of this show’s characters will ever get to be as real as the people in the street in the (pointless) TV report, it was still a lot to ask me to sit through, to get to that one crucial interview in which it is revealed that, yeah, the makers of the show are well aware that if this technology existed it would be PLENTY SCARY BUSINESS. I mean…

This show needed that statement. Badly.

But there was sure a lot of sitting around involved, to get it!

Also, much as I’m ordinarily fairly willing to go along, in the name of shit happening, with shocking sights like totally empty kitchens of Chinese restaurants, in this case I found myself thinking about the procedural details that would be required to properly empty it. Because for five episodes, all we’ve seen are procedural details that don’t make a lick of sense, and they’ve congealed into a small set of logically-necessary implications that just plain need plugging in, to make sense of every fuck-up that’s come before. And either they can be so plugged-in, or they can’t. Like: how does the restaurant get so empty, so quickly, so fortunately?

There are only a couple of ways to explain this, that I can think of. But, those explanations aren’t get-out-of-jail-free cards, because they themselves carry implications. See where I’m going with this?

What I’m saying is: the flower stuff was refreshingly menacing, but not unexpected.

And that’s a good sign. Because that’s one puzzle piece that finally got connected to another puzzle piece — five episodes later! — so at least it proves that somebody out there really does have some sort of good-faith intention in re: the putting-together of puzzle pieces. At this point, “unexpected” isn’t so important anymore — but “menacing” and “refreshing” are oxygen itself. The Dollhouse up to no good? The FBI agent finally following up on an actual lead? This is essential, indispensible plot-progress, the kind this show could not possibly have lasted one more episode without: dealing with what’s been introduced. Also, Patton’s admonition to accept the change that’s already happened? A vital pronouncement, if this show is ever to aspire to be anything like, anything even in the ballpark of, slightly creepy science fiction…which is the only way it can ever hold my interest, or indeed (as far as I can see) be of interest. The Sixth Episode hasn’t saved this show — hasn’t “gone into it more deeply” either, as much as that was promised — but it has successfully expanded the show’s horizon to the point where it can now include a thought, maybe even two thoughts, that I myself am capable of finding somewhat interesting. The show hasn’t been saved; but, it has been convincingly demonstrated that before this episode the show was in full-on lockdown, with no change, no growth, no unseemly interest or activation allowed. Flashback to the Seventies and Eighties, but in a bad way — pure Knight Rider. Not Star Trek, but Supertrain. Anaesthetizing junk.

It’s not that now, and that’s the good thing we can say. But the bad thing is, there’s no more wiggle room here. That was a whole lot of credit the last three episodes used up, and there’s no more left, hell I almost didn’t make it through Patton’s speech…there’s just no time anymore to wonder if the Dollhouse is really a front for something bigger, or what the hell is wrong with these people, or why anybody does what they do. It turns out that I’m a little bit sympathetic to the kind of guy who’s got such good habits that he’s only comfortable developing character through developing plot, that’s Screenwriting 101 and there’s nothing wrong with Screenwriting 101…and although I might not have done it that way if put in such a pinch, at least it now becomes apparent why the FBI-guy’s been such an incredible cipher, just so goddamn uninteresting up to this point: because it’s his story, and until it actually starts getting told there’s nothing we need to know about him. With the corollary that everything we do manage to find out about him will just seem like so much phenomenally useless, irritating crap, until his story begins. Well, okay, that actually worked out to be true: the very first thing we found out about him, after all, has just lain there like a big smelly fish for a month now.

That is, he’s a ridiculously skilled hand-to-hand combatant, and he just keeps going and going and pushing and pushing, absorbing absurd amounts of punishment along the way pretty much like it was nothing. In other words, there’s something really wrong with him. But at least I don’t think he’s Alpha anymore — though it’s still possible he might be, there are now other ways to explain his existence. And you know…

I needed that!

…But if what was hampering the show was Whedon’s adherence to the good solid principles of Screenwriting 101, any forgiveness for past anaesthetics must come coupled with the responsibility to push Screenwriting 101 very hard now, because I’ve grown to hate most of these characters, these lollygaggers, these random action-takers…and that’s a big obstacle for a show to have to overcome. To be able to say “wow, it really was all Fox’s fault” is not enough to save the show, but it’s enough to get it a second chance at grabbing me…enough to let me discount all the crap that’s gone before.

With one proviso: if I see any plodding garbage I’ve already suffered through warmed up and served to me again…well, then it’ll be over, I think. Screenwriting 101 must rule, now, and with an iron fist. Things must go somewhere, and they must get there fast. It won’t be enough to push the theme; the theme’s been pushed. I mean, God help me if I’ve somehow managed to not figure out what the fucking theme is by now, you know? So…

That’s going to be a difficult row to hoe. But at least now I know what the show itself wants to be about, and that’s something. If Whedon can produce, say, three excellent episodes in a row, well then…all will be not just forgiven, but forgotten too.

But anything short of that, and he may lose me as a regular viewer!

Sad but true.

In other news, another episode of Kings has come and gone, and I am still managing to read it as satire…Ian McShane continues to be as phenomenally watchable as he always has been, the kid continues to radiate the charisma of uncooked muffin-dough at near-Starship-Troopers levels of ironic signification…and the dialogue must have Stan Lee cackling, and my God those Royal Guards are stupid, and I love the world where credit cards are backed by big piles of gold sitting in a vault somewhere, and OH MY GOD COULD IT BE TRUE D’YOU THINK? Is it possible somebody made a satire out of the King David story, and pointed it at America? Because that’s the sort of thing that just may have been a long time coming, you know…

Or…

No, you’re probably right. It’s probably just me.

Still, Dollhouse wishes it could be this creepy!

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3 responses to “If It Was Up To Me, You’d Be Going To The Attic

  1. It’s a shame about those palace guards not actually being funny. The show could use some decent “clown” figures to keep it from being quite so heavy-handed. If Stan Lee *were* writing this, I’m sure he’d have found a way to let a little air out of the tires, Benjamin J. Grimm style.

    “Hey, don’t tell the king, but the butterflies around here do that crown thing *all the time*. Happened to me twice last week.”

  2. You are so very correct! Screenwriting 101 has been either forgotten or never taken by too many screen writers/producers. There’s nothing worse than watching a mini-series and having that “what the heck was that all about?” when it comes to its conclusion. Thanks for writing this article for all of the viewers that think what you’ve written. Thanks!

  3. perhaps my recent near-fatal immersion in HEROES has skewed my perspective, but I liked the last episode so much that all is definitely forgiven…

    I suppose it helps that I don’t have much of a track record with Whedon, am pretty much obsessed with memory/identity questions, and have been watching the series with a very entertaining Whedon fan, whose no-holds barred dissatisfaction with the “Fox episodes” actually made those first few viewings quite entertaining, despite the fact that nothing was happening, and it was happening mostly to forgettable characters…

    each of the first five “missions” was lame at best, there was a lot of goofy sex-baiting seemingly aimed at the teen/fratboy element, and it was unclear whether the show’s writers had any idea how the Dollhouse works (which is different thing from whether WE know how it works–that’s presumably one of the main mysteries, after all)

    still, I did sort of like Ballard, Boyd, Sierra (I really liked her goofball biggest fan scenes) and Mellie (who, even in the early episodes, was generating some really off-kilter charm with her wacko line readings and uncomfortable staring)

    plus, I’ve liked Olivia Williams since Rushmore

    anyway–even though those first few episodes didn’t go anywhere, they did sort of slip these characters into my mental universe–and part of the sixth episode’s greatness is due to the fact that I was REALLY eager to see those people start to do things! And they did!

    plus, who knows, perhaps those first 5 shows did bring in a bunch of slavering misogynists who can now be sucker-punched (a la Showgirls/Starship Troopers) by what comes next?

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