Fox via DVR
The second episode of Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse," aired Friday, was an improvement on the crummy pilot. It wasn't fantastic, and it still lacked any hint of the utterly original dialogue that usually defines Whedon's shows, but it was at least entertaining. A lot of backstory was forced into the episode through the use of flashbacks that didn't match at all with the present-day story, which had Eliza Dushku's Echo being hunted by a hardbodied maniac with a bow and arrow. The flashbacks focused on how Harry Lennix's character came to work for the Dollhouse and was assigned as Echo's handler. They also revealed the origin of the makeup scars Amy Acker wore in the pilot, a mystery that lasted all of two episodes. I understand that Joss was bummed by not getting to use any of the mythology he had cooked up for "Firefly," but this is ridiculous.
The main story of the episode, the Most Dangerous Game riff, was fun in a trashy sort of way. My dad always used to enjoy the "La Femme Nikita" cable series and he would like this particular version of "Dollhouse" -- hot, sweaty chick kicks ass. Check, check, and check. It's also interesting that "Dollhouse" has unusual rules for a network action series. Echo just flat-out kills the hunter guy in cold blood. Most shows wouldn't let their heroine go that far, although the fact that Echo has no memory of anything she does has a wet fuse effect on this intriguing wrinkle.
Although it was clunky, my hopes are raised a little. A lot of the problems with the show can be attributed to the fact that Fox tampered with the original pilot a great deal, not having learned their lesson on "Firefly." It stands to reason that much of the backstory that was crammed awkwardly into this slight but otherwise enjoyable episode is that after the pilot was cut back to an hour it had to go somewhere. Writer Steven DeKnight ("Buffy," "Angel," "Smallville") was more natural at the spy stuff than Joss was for the pilot, but the one thing that could have passed for a joke was brutal. Honestly, what is the deal with the lack of humor? Just because the subjects of "Dollhouse" are empty vessels with no souls doesn't mean its viewers all are. A bigger problem going forward could be how the flat the cast is. I don't like any of the regulars except for Dushku and Lennix, Acker is miscast, and the guest stars have been knee-jerk typecast and unmemorable.
I mean, come on, they made an episode about a psycho stalking a babe through the outback with a bow and arrow, and they passed up the opportunity to cast Ted Nugent? That's just foolish.