Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Mikies, Dollhouse Ed

(This post contains enormous spoilers for Dollhouse.)

Having recently seen the series finale of Joss Whedon's programmable-humans-for-rent series, Dollhouse, I believe another edition of The Mikies is due. That's right, it's time for the Michael Awards for Excellence in Whatever He Darn Well Feels Like, Dollhouse Edition.

  • Best actor, regular: Enver Gjokaj. Gjokaj showed himself to be the most versatile actor on the show, and thus made Victor the most believable doll on the series. In particular, his portrayal of Victor-imprinted-with-Topher was uncannily accurate.
  • Best actor, guest or recurring: Alan Tudyk. Tudyk has an amazing ability to follow creepiness or pathos almost instantly with hilarity. This skill is especially useful in Whedon's projects, which frequently juxtapose drama and comedy. Honorable mention goes to Amy Acker, whose Whiskey would have made a much more multi-faceted and convincing central character than Eliza Dusku's Echo.
  • Creepiest villain: Alpha.
  • Dollhouse discovery most likely to appear in 50% of Whedon's following projects: Enver Gjokaj.
  • Most unexpected death: Bennett Halverson.
  • Most surprising escape from seemingly certain death: Mellie.
  • Most unexpected revelation of dollhood: November.
  • Cheapest and least justified death: November/Mellie/Madeline.
  • Funniest character: Topher Brink. Even when imprinted on Victor, Dr Brink had all the best lines.
  • Recurring character whose story I would most like to see elaborated upon: Whiskey.
  • Most sympathetic client: Joel Mynor.
  • Battlestar Galactica cast member whose acting improved the most since Galactica: Tamoh Penikett. Maybe it was just that Karl Agathon was only called on to express one or two emotions, but I never found Helo that interesting. Paul Ballard, however, seemed to be at least a couple-fold more nuanced. Oh, and this category wasn't as much of a cake walk as you might think; 3 other Battlestar alumni also appeared in the show: Jamie Bamber, Michael Hogan, and Mark Sheppard.
  • Total number of Whedon alumni in the cast: 8. (I'm counting Amy Acker, Felicia Day, Alexis Denisof, Eliza Dushku, Summer Glau, Mark Sheppard, Maurissa Tancheroen, and Alan Tudyk. Let me know if I missed any.) OK, this isn't an really award, but I thought I should point out that, once you work for Joss Whedon, you likely have a gig for life. (I'm only counting cast here, by the way, there was certainly a lot of re-use of crew as well.)
  • Brilliant-but-insane character most like the brilliant-but-insane character played by the same actor in another Whedon series: Bennett Halverson. Between these two roles and Cameron in the Terminator series, I'm really starting to worry that Summer Glau must have a rather severe psychological disorder.
  • Actor who has been beaten up by another actor in the cast in the largest number of Whedon series: Alexis Denisof (by Eliza Dushku).
  • Best couple: Topher Brink and Bennet Halverson. Nope, I'm not going for the overly sappy choice of Victor and Sierra/Tony and Priya.
  • Law offices most closely resembling the Dollhouse, architecturally: Wolfram & Hart.
  • Skinniest character who was supposed to be fat: Mellie/November/Madeline. Seriously, she was described as "heavy" in the casting sheets.
  • Best episode, aired: "Man on the Street." This was the episode that showed where Whedon and company were going to go with this concept. It was the first episode that really surprised me, and the episode that hooked me on the series.
  • Best episode, unaired: "Epitaph One." This ep, tagged on at the end of Season One for contractual reasons, was designed to give the fans some closer in the very likely event that the series would not be renewed. It achieved its goal, and more, by showing how imprinting technology could bring about the thoughtpocalypse. Plus, it introduced Felicia Day to the series. (OK, there were only two unaired eps, this one and the pilot, wo there's no real justification for this category. However, I couldn't decide where I like this episode or MotS better, so I created categories that each of them could win.)
  • Most interesting character: Topher Brink. Over the show's two seasons, Topher evolved from childish and amoral, to nascently ethical, to insane and remorseful. Plus, he somehow managed to be funny the whole time.
  • Most attractive character: Mellie.
As always, I'm happy to hear your opinions on this extremely important topic. So set aside whatever productive, useful thing you were about to do, and opine in the comments.


  1. I just finished the series last night. I have to say that Ballard's death caught me totally by surprise, almost as much as Bennett's. I don't know if "like" is the right word, but I appreciate how Whedon chooses to kill off sympathetic characters. While he takes the slower route sometimes (Topher, Wesley) many of his major-character deaths have been sudden, and they've been more effective because of it. The deaths of Bennett and Ballard literally made me gasp, as did the death of Anya in BtVS, and I think I may have actually cried out when Wash died in "Serenity." (I'm not sure if I did or not, since I couldn't hear myself over everyone else in the theatre crying out.) And Buffy finding her mother dead is still one of the most horrifying things I've ever seen in a TV show or move. When a writer or director spends a long time working up to a death, with heavy foreshadowing or anticipation (say, by making a secondary character the focus of the episode in which they die), the audience (or at least the part of the audience that includes me) has time to come to terms with the death beforehand and builds up some emotional distance. By making the deaths sudden and sharp, Whedon forces the audience to feel the charcter's death for an instant before their limiters kick in. He also may be making the point that death in the real world is rarely as neatly dramatic as it is in TV.

    Wow, that was long. Sorry.

  2. I, of course agree with you about the quality of Enver Gjokraj's work on the show. He can do the "big" acting, like pretending to be a dippy party girl or imitating Topher, better than anyone else in the cast, but he can do the little stuff really well, too. The scene where Priya introduces little Tony to his dad just about killed me, and a lot of the reason it worked was because of how precisely Gjokraj underplayed the scene. (N.B. My impending fatherhood may be making me a teensy bit prone to being emotionally manipulated by portrayals of father-son interaction; YMMV.)

    Topher represents the biggest missed opportunity of the show. I really wish I could live in an alternate universwe where Whedon had been given the five seasons he deserved to slowly develop Topher's story.

  3. As for the last episode itself, I loved it. I thought it was the strongest episode of the second season (by far), and was a far better sendoff for the series than the last "regular" episode.

    You could tell that the cast and crew were relaxed and simply enjoying working on the show one last time. The extras at the table when everyone laughed at Ballard for his corny, "The world still needs heroes," line included at least one of the writers (Jed Whedon), and might have included several more, so they were essentially having a little fun at their own expense. The genuine and unforced nature of the laughter actually made me think of a blooper reel rather than a real scene.

    The banter between Mag (Felicia Day) and Zone about Kilo (Maurissa Tancharoen) was pretty amusing, given that Felicia and Maurissa are friends in real life, and even more so given that Maurissa's husband probably wrote the whole thing. No element of wish fulfillment/wishful thinking there on Jed's part, nosiree bob. I wonder if there was an extended love scene between them in the orignal draft of the script?

  4. Nick,

    I didn't notice Jed at the table, but I certainly took note of Maurissa as Kilo. ("I love it when a doll's name is so on-the-nose.") I had thought that the "She's a girl, Mag" plot element was a bit of an in-joke, but I hadn't considered the possibility of an extended love scene. Now I'm annoyed that they didn't film it. I can only hope it will show up as a deleted scene on the DVD.

    I agree that Whedon and company handle death scenes better than most. The very fact that they are willing to kill off major characters makes you, the viewer, worry that the hero might die when trouble arises. On most shows, you'd think, "of course they'll all come out fine."

    Unfortunately, the meaningfulness of a character's death was watered down a bit in Buffy and Angel by the resurrections of---spoilers!---Buffy and Spike.

    Yeah, Wash's death in Serenity was certainly the most affecting of the sudden ones. I'm fairly sure I gasped out loud, but, like you said, it was hard to tell, what with all the crying out. I agree that Wesley's death was one of the more touching of the more drawn-out ones, but, for my money, Fred's death evoked the most pathos. "Please, Wesley, why can't I stay?" Chokes me up every time. In all three cases, I think the acting---Gina Torres, Amy Acker, and Alexis Denishof---really raised those moments to heights that the scripts wouldn't have reached on their own. (Come to think of it Fred died in Wesley's arms, and Wesley died in "Fred's." Quite the roll-reversal for Acker and Denisof.

    I also agree Epitach Two was a much better episode than the previous one. The penultimate ep felt very rushed, as if half a season's plot were shoe-horned into 42 minutes. Plus, some of the dialog and plot twists seemed quite hackneyed. That ep wasn't as good as it should have been, given its importance in the overall arch of the show.

    Thopher's evolution could have been much more satisfying with 5 years. Still, I really enjoyed what we saw in just 2 short seasons.

    Thanks for your comments.

  5. "I had thought that the "She's a girl, Mag" plot element was a bit of an in-joke, but I hadn't considered the possibility of an extended love scene. Now I'm annoyed that they didn't film it. I can only hope it will show up as a deleted scene on the DVD."

    Now there's a way to put the S2 DVDs to the top of the bestseller lists...

  6. I forgot to mention yesterday that I shared your concern for Summer Glau's real-world mental well-being. At this point, I think that casting her as a normal, well-adjusted person might be just about the most disturbing thing you could do. She's been so typecast that the audience would just be waiting for her to start violently murdering people, or have an alien hatch from her or something. Perhaps they might have a use for her over on "V"?

  7. She could be the ultimate fake-out on V. The audience would think, "It's Summer Glau. She's got to be a Visitor, and I'll be she'll be an insane one, too. You just wait." Then she could spend a lot of time shopping with her girlfriends, having nice meals with her boyfriend, and playing with her puppy. Then WHAM, nothing. She keeps on doing all those things,and never turns out to be anything other than she seemed.