Dollhouse Review – “Ghost”

The first episode of Joss Whedon’s new series hit tonight. Of his four series to date, I’d say this one has the weakest pilot episode. The question is, how does Joss Whedon’s “weak” stack up against the rest of network television?

Cast and Crew Information

Eliza Dushku as Echo
Tahmoh Penikett as Paul Ballard
Olivia Williams as Adelle DeWitt
Fran Kranz as Topher Brink
Harry J. Lennix as Boyd Langton
Enver Gjokaj as Lubov
Dichen Lachman as Sierra

Written and directed by Joss Whedon

Original Airdate

Ghost originally aired on Friday, February 13, 2009.

Premise

Echo is one of several “dolls,” people who can have their personalities wiped clean and replaced by others to do specific jobs for hire. This week, she was hired to negotiate a kidnapping.

High Point

“Wash your hands. And your shoes.”

Low Point

Some of the exposition was less subtle than I’m used to from Whedon’s work. I think I smell Fox exec tinkering.

The Review

This is an original concept, with a lot of potential for long term variety. I give it 5 out of 6.

The effects were minimal, but well done. The only extreme tech present here is in the personality wipes themselves, and the representation of such is well done. I give it 5 out of 6.

The story was well done. We’ve got the introduction, though some parts are exposition heavy. Most of the way it works could have been picked up along the way, but there’s a conversation or two early on that drive the points home pretty blatantly. I think it would have been a stronger product if they’d cut some of that dialogue and put back a commercial instead. I give it 4 out of 6.

The acting was nicely done. Dushku pulls off a few different personalities in the course of the episode, while Williams and Lennix bring their skills to bear. It’s a solid outing. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production was very well done, with distinct and moody environments each step of the way. The editing worked well, keeping the pace moving when the “actives” were in the field, and slowing it down when they were back in the Dollhouse. I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response was surprising. There’s a fair amount going on, and the technical details are in place, but I just didn’t get that engaged until near the end. I suspect it’s the nature of the characters. I didn’t really find myself involved until Boyd’s storyline started to take prominence. I didn’t know enough about Echo and what brought her in to really get engaged with her portions, but Lennix’s problems pulled me in. There’s a lot of potential here, but some of it seems unrealized at this point. There are enough hints at future storylines to make me tune in again next week, and I’ll keep up the reviews at least until “Smallville” gets back on the air. I give it 4 out of 6.

Overall, it’s a decent series opener. I’ll tune in again, but that likely has more to do with Whedon’s track record than the content of this individual episode. I give it 4 out of 6.

In total, Ghost receives 32 out of 42.

13 replies on “Dollhouse Review – “Ghost””

  1. Timeshredder says:

    I hope it was tinkering….

    The show really threw me with its heavy exposition and fragmented, front-loaded introduction. I think they should have started with the negotiator story, and brought us gradually into the world of the series, the way, say, Firefly did. The way most editors would recommend a writer should do.

    Speaking of exposition… Well, that will have to wait until I get my BSG review up later this weekend.

    On another note, Joss still loves his references. This ep featured an Edward James Olmos reference, a literal girl in a refrigerator, and the "put glasses on a hot woman and call her ugly" comment (Whedon has remarked on running up against this attitude when he developed Willow for Buffy. In that case, however, the result of his compromise with execs was the casting of Alyson Hannigan).

    • y42 says:

      No one ever went broke underestimating…

      heavy exposition and fragmented, front-loaded introduction.

      Explain, as you would a child.

    • babasyzygy says:

      Re: I hope it was tinkering….

      The show really threw me with its heavy exposition and fragmented, front-loaded introduction. I think they should have started with the negotiator story, and brought us gradually into the world of the series, the way, say, Firefly did.

      Yeah, we saw how well that worked out for Firefly. If TV audiences need it up front like that, it would be foolish to ignore that need.

      TV is not good writing – good writing happens despite the limitations of the medium, not because of them, and you ignore the real world limitations at your risk.

  2. Fez says:

    Felt like a Pilot
    It felt rather like a Pilot, so I was giving it some leeway.

    It has a lot of potential, potential to be good as well as potential to be bad.

    It being the work of Joss and his entourage, I am hoping for good, but as it is on FOX I’m not holding my breath.

    • zocalo says:

      Re: Felt like a Pilot

      It felt rather like a Pilot, so I was giving it some leeway.

      It has a lot of potential, potential to be good as well as potential to be bad.

      It being the work of Joss and his entourage, I am hoping for good, but as it is on FOX I’m not holding my breath.

      That pretty much mirrors my view. I agree with Fiziko; it would have been better to introduce us to the Dollhouse more gradually over the first few episodes than use that heavy handed intro. Still, it seems that there is going to be an underlying story (or stories) to do with Alpha and Echo’s real identity which should help avoid it just being a "personality of the week" show.

      On the other hand, it’s airing on Fox. Why, Joss? WHY?

  3. Alexius says:

    From a conversation with my wife:
    "Why would Joss go back to FOX? He knows they’re going to do this…"

    "They said they’d change, they didn’t mean it, he just makes them so angry sometimes, and they have to hit him…"

  4. Cerberus7 says:

    Fox/Whedon Redeux
    I seem to remember one of the criticisms of Firefly, and why it didn’t gather a larger audience, was that it didn’t start with exposition. Personally, I agree with you guys that the exposition felt heavy-handed, but maybe they’re trying to apply a few lessons they learned last time.

    • y42 says:

      Re: Fox/Whedon Redeux

      I seem to remember one of the criticisms of Firefly, and why it didn’t gather a larger audience, was that it didn’t start with exposition. Personally, I agree with you guys that the exposition felt heavy-handed, but maybe they’re trying to apply a few lessons they learned last time.

      Maybe preempting a new show for weeks, not airing when advertised, playing episodes out of order, stuff like that hurt firefly more than a complete lack of subtlety?
      But yeah, I’m sure Joss as learned the "do as the people holding the plug say" lesson.

      Lowest common denominator: 1
      Smart people: 0

      • Cerberus7 says:

        Re: Fox/Whedon Redeux

        Maybe preempting a new show for weeks, not airing when advertised, playing episodes out of order, stuff like that hurt firefly more than a complete lack of subtlety?

        I’m hoping they apply those lessons, too.

    • babasyzygy says:

      Re: Fox/Whedon Redeux

      I seem to remember one of the criticisms of Firefly, and why it didn’t gather a larger audience, was that it didn’t start with exposition. Personally, I agree with you guys that the exposition felt heavy-handed, but maybe they’re trying to apply a few lessons they learned last time.

      I think you’re exactly right. It’s important to remember that in order to keep making stuff for people like us, it still has to appeal to a lot of the people who make up the broad bulk of the potential TV audience.

  5. rickyjames says:

    I Remember
    I was totally unimpressed with this outing and won’t be going along with Joss for the ride. He calls this Alias meets Quantum Leap but the fact is it is a not-very-subtle retread of La Femme Nikita from a decade ago. As I’m watching I saying yep here’s Nikita, here’s Madaline, here’s Birkoff, oh look, we even have a set design based on the Eagle’s Nest. And oh how very shallow compared to the depth of character and examination of human darkness thet Nikita managed for her first two seasons and part of a third. Nikita was a flawed but brilliant show and it shone VERY brightly before it jumped the shark. I often wish it could have been produced NOW in the post 9/11, George W. Bush world of political paranoia it so deftly predicted. That wish is not fulfilled by the shallow blank slate of Dollhouse. Sorry, Joss, I’m a Browncoat til the day I die but I’m not sticking around for this mind numbing eye candy.

    Everybody, do yourself a favor, go to Amazon or Netflix and get Season One of La Femme Nikita to see how this premise is SUPPOSED to be, er, executed. 231 out of 247 reviewers rated it five stars for a very good reason.

  6. TwistyHat says:

    Wot
    My message deleted? Hm…

    • fiziko says:

      Re: Wot

      My message deleted? Hm…

      Not deleted. You posted it on the "Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles" review instead of this one, so that’s where you’ll find the replies.

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