Joss Whedon’s Avengers

In light of the recent complete debacle over Edward Norton’s firing from the part of the Hulk, in order to wash the taste from my mouth, I’ve now decided to imagine a world where everyone awesome and not awesome alike is fired from Avengers because Marvel Entertainment, despite now being owned by Disney, continually gets cheaper and cheaper. In this new dimension, Joss is forced to hire mid-level, slightly recognizable actors, but not stars — no, stars have egos to satiate and the power to get paid what they’re worth. No, these actors should have followings but no power, and so will be ridiculously cheap. In other words, Joss’s regular cast of actors.

1. Captain America/Steve Rogers: Nathan Fillion.
2. Iron Man/Tony Stark: David Boreanaz
3. The Incredible Hulk/Bruce Banner: Alexis Denisof
4. Henry Pym/Ant-man, Giant Man, Yellowjacket: Alan Tudyk
5. Donald Blake/Thor: Neil Patrick Harris/Bailey Chase
6. Wasp/Janet Van Dyne: Morena Baccarin
7. Vision: Tahmoh Penikett
8. The Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff: Amy Acker
9. Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff: James Marsters
10. Hawkeye/Clint Barton: Fran Kranz
11. Black Widow/Natalia Romanov: Christina Hendricks

Huh.

So, any of you out there that watch Buffy and read my ramblings may find me extremely thick for this, or you may be in my boat…

I only just realized, when someone else pointed it out on a message board, that at the end of “Chosen”, the series finale, when the sign falls into the crater…that was Spike knocking down the “Welcome to Sunnydale” sign for the last time. I got a chill that almost made me tear up when I realized it, and I should have caught that on the first watch.

That is all.

JOSS WHEDON IS STILL MY MASTER

Because he didn’t create some weird prequel to Buffy the Vampire Slayer that’s about her going to school in LA only Buffy is played by Mylie Cyrus or some shit and instead of just having Merrick as her Watcher, for some strange reason Merrick is already on the Watcher’s Council and some dude named Tae Bo Francois is her Watcher for like ten seconds and then gets killed only Merrick still doesn’t become her Watcher, and Pike is ten years older than Buffy and they run into an all-CG character named Uncle Tom Tom and he helps them get through the haunted forest and none of it makes any fucking sense and Angel’s there stalking Buffy when she’s like 14 which always was a little creepy and Twilighty and there’s a young Willow already there which is just FUCKING INSANE and it seems like Joss HASN’T EVER SEEN HIS OWN SHOW. None of that happened. Mr. Lucas fucked up ROYALLY and everyone’s still buying the toys.

All Joss did was work with Fox again, which is really Eliza’s fault, anyway. How can he say no to her? And he still created one of the most challenging and scary pieces of cyberpunk since Philip K. Dick passed away, once the show was dead and he got to do whatever he wanted. Definitely the best on network television since The Prisoner or something. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a Saints fan, and 13-2 is a fucking awesome record. Joss has misstepped along the way, but always manages to blow me away at least a whole bunch before all was said and done. J.J. has entertained me a lot, but never really made me think. Lost is Damon Lindelof’s baby.

Review of Dollhouse: The Original Series

Joss Whedon’s most recent foray into network television, Dollhouse, has been as plagued as any of his prior efforts with reshoots, network interference, rumors of cancellation, and endless debates about the message being sent by its premise since before day one. I won’t rehash the premise of the series nor any of the old news that have been its numerous issues here, seeing as if you don’t know them already, you definitely aren’t interested in reading the rest of this. One thing I will say is: everything you’ve heard is most likely true.

After watching the original pilot of Dollhouse, I can’t help but be reminded of not only Firefly, and how interference from Fox led to its ultimate demise, but also of Angel, with which this show has much more in common.
Firefly‘s episodes were run out of order, some of its best episodes were never aired, and its pilot wasn’t run until it had already been cancelled. Instead we were left with a first impression that, while it was a decent, fun show, was essentially procedural — that each week, the crew of the Serenity would go on a different old Westy heist in space, and somehow elude the attentions of the authorities, the Alliance. All semblance of real human issues had been stripped from the premise for our introduction and we were left with nothing but Joss and friends’ wit and clever delivery for us to like it. In that way, Firefly is Joss’s best show, in that the show overall still holds up under such circumstances, and when taken in its original form can be viewed as originally intended. Dollhouse and Angel were not so lucky.
The original pilot for Angel was an extremely bleak, Noir look into the underbelly of L.A., its demonic mythology a mature, disturbingly realistic metaphor for Hollywood and the town on which it feeds. Its network, the WB (now CW), did not understand it, and the pilot and thus the entire show was altered before it was shot — still dark and somewhat edgy, still more mature than the teen vampire show from which it had been spawned, it was not nearly as ballsy and more importantly, this divergence from Joss and David Greenwalt’s original vision can be pointed at for Angel‘s first season seeming to flounder in places. Rewrites done at a certain speed, with some bit of the heart missing from an original concept as writers subconsciously know they are being told to write less challenging material, leads to less original, more formulaic and even stolen plots.

Dollhouse’s story is almost identical, except that where it diverges, it converges with Firefly‘s tale. The pilot was shot, but never aired, while bits from it were sprinkled through the rest of the episodes. The new first episode gave a faulty, procedural first impression, and lacked most of the emotional depth required to sell the show’s complicated premise to us, and its last episode, one of its most emotionally reverberative and politically charged, was not aired in the US.
“Echo”
I won’t spoil much of the pilot for you (and it is possible to be spoiled, this episode surprised me in several ways, particularly with the information I had about the rewritten continuity from watching the other episodes). I will, however, divulge some vague information about what is different about this original introduction.
Adelle sells the Dollhouse directly to us, by way of selling a customer whose POV is the camera’s. We learn more about what an active is and how engagements work in this sequence, and more clearly, than in the first 5 episodes of the aired version. This is intercut with Echo on three separate engagements that show the criminal (a realistic drug deal, not an art vault heist), romantic (a true love engagement as our first impression, as opposed to bondage and motorcycles), and most importantly, humanitarian (Echo saves a young girl from prostitution, ironically allowing us to femininely root for a doll early on) shades to what the Dollhouse does. And boy does she sell it. I wanted a doll after listening to her, though I don’t think I would actually purchase one. It comes off like the epitome of capitalism at work, and you find your own mind dancing in the grays.
Topher sells himself. He is still jaded and a tad despicable, but the jaded becomes the more important aspect of his personality. Basically, he argues his point, something we don’t realize he has in the on-air episodes, and does so well: We are all programmed, and the actives are getting the better shake at the end of the day. He seems to actually be the most realistic of the characters, no matter how much you hate the point of view — to deny the truth in his words is to, in a way, accept your own programming rather than become self-aware.
Dr. Saunders and Victor get introduced in much more subtle, creepy ways that are just plain handled better.
Paul meets Echo right the fuck off, and isn’t a moron nor a lovesick puppy about it. He’s as paranoid as he should be, and maybe a little more angry about all the shit he’s putting up with than you’d expect. This is probably because his fruitless search has already been going on for some time before the pilot, which wasn’t made as real in the regular continuity.
There is no trigger phrase (“treatment”) in the pilot. Whether they were going to add that later after what happens in this episode, I don’t know, but given the circumstances, I think it’s a good idea if only as a comfort zone for the handlers.
The show is already as it became when it got stronger — less about the engagement and more about the house itself. If we already had this information going into a couple of engagment episodes, we could have relaxed and enjoyed the ride — we know the show is deep, but let us see some silliness for a few eps while we get to know everybody’s softer side. Without a proper introduction to the story’s themes, we are left wondering “Is this it? Is this going to be all?”
The Dollhouse itself seems smarter, and though you know it’s at least a little sinister, it’s in more of a regular Corporate America sort of way — the actives are getting paid, the house is getting paid, the customer gets what they want. Boyd questions the morality, Saunders worries about their health and development, Topher tells them why both are bad or at the very least fruitless ideas. The actives are volunteers, you’re an employee, and the actives aren’t supposed to “get better”, they’re supposed to stay right where they are. Stop making waves.
All in all, the metaphors for our society are more present, the point of view of each of them stated clearly — we are all dolls, and each of the employees of the house represent a way of viewing our predicament. This episode definitely does a great job of placing us firmly in the place of the dolls, Echo in particular, so that it wouldn’t have mattered how little personality each possesed. They are us.
“Epitaph One”
As far as the unaired final episode goes, well… I’m not sure I even wanted to see this. Talk about spoilers! The entire episode is one massive Dollhouse spoiler for what is to come. Certainly it can stand in as the last episode of the entire series, and is reminiscent of Babylon 5‘s “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars” an episode also made to serve as either a season finale or series finale, which skips forward through time in segments, finally showing us the impact of the station and its inhabitants on people living 1,000,000 years later. Dollhouse’s equivalent, as the name might suggest, is far less optimistic, yet is possessed of similar issues.
The episode is positively brilliant, but is it blowing the proverbial wad of the series? (I’m still looking for the proverb about the blown wad; I know it’s in there, somewhere.) “Deconstruction”‘s forecast, though not concerning most of the main cast, took some of the suspense from the final season, and certainly from the series finale, which did a similar futuretelling only with nothing but the main cast. It did introduce new suspense, however, and the theorizing of how point A gets to point Z, something “Epitaph One” does with its mere name. Will we be getting an “Epitaph” at the end of each season, possibly continuing the exploits of our little band of revolutionaries, should the show continue? I certainly hope so.
That being said, I trust Joss to a certain extent to deliver the goods despite his showing what appear to be all his cards — he did it consistently with the last half of the Dollhouse season. Every time I thought something had happened too quickly and that it would be hard to top, Joss soon topped it with something I felt similarly about, until I finally relaxed and realized it was less that Joss was rushing his story and more like he was getting all the obvious plots and twists out of the way, so we could stop wondering who’s the last Cylon and just enjoy the show, something Ron Moore perhaps should have done (Of course, I chalk most of my problems with BSG’s ending from it being 4 seasons instead of the perfection of a 5 season arc, which Lost was going for but has been forced to over-extend, and Joss has mentioned he has plans for with Dollhouse).
Overall, these two episodes were everything I wanted out of them, and that is as depressing as it is hopeful. I can’t shake the feeling that there may be more to their not airing than meets the eye — these two episodes are the most clearly anti-corporate, paranoid, and downright meaningful of the show thus far. These are the two episodes that ask the truly difficult questions and do not try to answer them for us, doing what true science fiction is meant to do, above all else: make us think. Is that exactly what Fox doesn’t like its audience doing?

Did Whedon Know Everyone Would Be Watching Online?

Watch an episode of Dollhouse. Each one begins and ends with a series of tiny video squares rushing towards and away from the screen, respectively. Watch any video on Hulu. It begins with a slightly less intense, slightly slower and more comforting version of the exact same effect. Now, in a less obvious place, mouse over the Hulu video and take a look at your clickable options. Notice the shape of the “share” link — the five small circles connected to a center point by lines, arranged in a sort of upside down star pattern. Now look at where the Actives sleep in Dollhouse. Familiar?

Never mind that they both are vaguely reminiscent of inverted pentagrams, universally recognized as a symbol of the devil (although regular pentagrams are protection sygils). Did Joss Whedon subconsciously design his show with Hulu symbolism? Eliza was in the second major ad for the site, in their delightful ad campaign made up primarily of stars from shows that are going to do well online (30 Rock and Dollhouse do not have good ratings, but do excellently in “time-adjusted viewing”, and Family Guy was brought back on the air due to DVD sales, something they should have waited for when it came to Firefly). Or, did he plant subconscious connectors between his show and Hulu? Does he want us to watch it online this time? He’s mentioned that the networks are watching those numbers now, and Eliza says that may save the show.

Truly, if you’re going to put anything on Fridays, the Nielson ratings, which only actually correlate to 112,000 or so people in the entirety of the US (and its the type of people who get Nielson boxes), are essentially useless. Online, DVR, and DVD sales are much better tabulators, and they count every customer, as opposed to Nielson guesswork.

I suppose it comes down to, is Joss simply in the online mindset now, as he’s hinted whenever asked about new projects, or is it all a plot to take over the world, as Hulu suggests?

Dollhouse

There have been many reviews of Dollhouse floating around the net lately, most of them negative, so I thought I’d chime in with my usual fair and balanced defense. Some issues that have been raised are how this show contradicts Joss’s feminism, the weakness of the engagement parts of the storyline, the lack of the regular Whedon family feeling, whether we’re rooting for anyone on the show, Eliza’s weakness in the lead, and the sustainability of the premise.

First of all, I’ll say this: for me, each show has been exponentially better than the last. The first episode, while enjoyable to me as a fan of Whedon, Dushku, and Penikett, respectively, was a little Fox-y for my taste, particularly in the opening couple of minutes. After that, though, I began to warm to the concept and let the story unfold. Each progressive episode has been remarkably better than the last in my opinion.
With regards to the show’s science ficitonizing of a super prostitution ring and how that contradicts his feminism: First of all, once again, Americans only care about sex. They’re not just prostitutes, they’re everything anyone can ever hire out a freelancer for, including assassin. But killing people just isn’t offensive. Secondly, it’s called a “show”, not a “tell.” Just because a program shows us something, doesn’t mean its creator agrees with it (with the exception of Michael Bay, who is pretty WYSIWYG). Joss is intent on exploring these uncomfortable ideas of free will and subjugation and human trafficking and slavery and brainwashing, not condoning them. The point of good science fiction (particularly sci-fi not bogged down by details of fake science) is to explore the human condition through the use of tropes and devices that deceive us into thinking we’re being lied to, when in actuality we’re being shown the truth better than any non-fiction can. 
With regards to whether or not anyone would use the Dollhouse: firstly, it should be obvious that given the tech, this would happen. Perhaps not in this particular fashion, but it would happen. Secondly, the allure of true emotion, of being loved, protected, or having a loved one saved due to honest emotion as opposed to alterior motive is not just alluring, but it would be particularly alluring to the rich and/or famous, who may have many things, but have usually lost touch with just that. Who knows who your friends are when the mere act of knowing you is seen as a commodity? One night of someone truly caring about you is worth all the money in the world.
The engagements have not been interesting plots in the least, and if the show merely delivered the setup of these, the show would be a failure as a Whedon show. It would be Supernatural or Stargate, shows that never deviate from their setups and never surprise. Those shows are security blankets. Joss is supposed to be ripping those from us, and that’s what his shows do by giving us setups we know and then turning them on their ear. Buffy and Angel used horror tropes to lull us into thinking we knew where it was going, so that not following that diagram surprises us more than a surprise in a more realistic world would. Dollhouse is a little closer to reality, but still offers rather dull engagements that we’ve seen on shows like Quantum Leap and The Incredible Hulk for years. It is Echo’s going “off-script,” almost literally, that makes the show interesting. The show’s premise allows for very meta readings, in that Dolls are also metaphors for actors themselves, and engagements are metaphors for episodes. Using standard episode plots is part of how you trick the audience into knowing how things will play out, so that the show surprises us when Echo surprises her handlers.
Right now, after three episodes, the show does not contain the usual familial feeling of Whedon’s previous casts. I feel about this the way I feel about experimental albums: if you want to listen to the old album, go listen to it. New territory must be explored. The Dollhouse itself is a morally gray place, filled with people doing things we don’t like, where Whedon has made the most relatable character, Topher, also the most remorseless and possibly sociopathic. Everyone is detached from one another: Topher watching brainwaves, talking to Boyd on a bluetooth, Boyd in a van, watching Echo from afar, their boss in her office with the client, and Echo connecting, but only until the end of the night. The only morally accessible characters are the actives themselves, because as nice as Boyd and Dr. Saunders are, they work at the Dollhouse. Why? Some people have argued the actives are not relatable either, but I argue that while they aren’t exactly the normal character, the access point is a protective instinct that kicks in when one starts to see the actives as what they are: infants, innocent and helpless until we imprint upon them the tools they need to protect themselves. We know nothing of babies or who they’ll be, but that is why we can love them unconditionally and protect them with our lives. As I said on another forum, Echo’s burdgeoning personality and rebellious acts of friendship with Sierra make me think of orphans hiding alliances from the adults, and of Shawshank Redemption‘s escape plan. There’s something triumphant and heroic in their retention of soul, and I think it actually would have worked better with no glimpse of Echo’s prior life. Making her a normal person with motivations for getting into the program takes the baby face off of Echo and tells me stuff I’m not even interested in yet.
As far as Dushku’s acting, yes I think her doll-state is a bit cringey, but at the same time I don’t think it’s because it’s bad, but just that it’s full retard. It’s hard to watch adults act like children, and the Dollhouse premise calls attention to acting — it seems to call for the best character actors ever. Yet that would actually be the death of the show. While being interesting to watch, someone completely disappearing into their roles would be the opposite of character growth. We need to recognize Echo in every part she plays, so that we know who we’re caring about. It’s why character actors are never stars. Really good acting means no one knows what movies you’ve been in. Adequate acting thinly masking a charismatic personality makes you a star.
That being said, I think the premise, as it stands, isn’t sustainable. Something must go wrong on every mission in order for the show to be exciting if the procedural nature stands. The thing is, I don’t think we’ll be seeing it much longer. The implications of the speed with which Echo is becoming self-aware imply that engagements are going to start taking a back seat to Dollhouse-related hijinx, which are definitely the strong part of the show so far. The first 5 episodes were requested by Fox to be stand-alone, so the pilot has basically be stretched out over 5 eps. After those, Ballard meets Echo for the first time and the game is changed. Not to mention that Alpha is basically a Deus ex Machina coming to make the show better. If Fox is the Dollhouse, who want regular, procedural engagements that don’t deviate from the established pattern, then Alpha is Joss’s creative impulses come to play stabby stabby with the plot, while forshadowing Echo’s inevitable “composite event”, at which point I feel the show will stop being Quantum Leap and CSI and turn into Incredible Hulk or Kung Fu, with Echo running from the Dollhouse and possibly Ballard, or being helped by Ballard, and using her various talents to help people along the way.
Either way, I could watch Tahmoh Penikett and Amy Acker eat spaghetti for an hour, so I’m there till episode 6, which not only features Patton Oswalt but is apparently where things get back to where Joss intended them.