You’d Turn It Off Halfway: A Review of Batman: The Killing Joke Animated

Another mixed bag from DC/WB. I feel as I imagine I would if Zack Snyder had directed this. The parts that are right are exactly right. The parts that are wrong are dumbfounding.

People need to stop adding to and changing Alan Moore stories as if they’re smarter than he is. They aren’t. His stories are not unadaptable, as is sometimes said — they are impossible to alter. Every element depends on every other element. If you add things, the story becomes unbalanced. The additions shift the focus of the story so that this was not Batman: The Killing Joke, any longer. This was “Batgirl: The Difference Between Batman & Joker’s Fucking Techniques.”

I am a fan of Brian Azzarello. His Wonder Woman run was the only “New 52” book I truly loved.  That being said, almost no one, barring perhaps Grant Morrison, is either smart enough or qualified to add to or change a Moore narrative. This would appear to include Azzarello.

I have to assume the changes were studio-mandated because they make so little sense from a writing standpoint. The shape of the DC logo and amount of time it takes to animate indicates these additions are from the Batman v Superman decision-making era. In the wake of a controversy over a recent variant cover, DC/WB policy seems to have swung toward  the “Joker literally raped Barbara” misinterpretation. Let me not mince words: it is not in the text, plain and simple.

Joker metaphorically rapes Barbara with a bullet. The end. If Alan Moore writes a rape, he lets you know. If Joker raped Barbara to get to Gordon, guess what the photos in the carnival would’ve depicted? Otherwise, the Joker would not rape someone he’d already made sure couldn’t feel it.

If you have to alter the text to support your thesis by removing ambiguity, ambiguity was purposeful. There is no support in any continuity or any version of the Joker that he has either literal sexual intercourse or interest in such. The continual joke of he and Harley’s relationship is a marked lack of interest in her affections in favor of his relationship with Batman. It’s both a gay joke and a reference to both hero and villain’s Sherlock & Moriarty-style asexuality. Joker doesn’t fuck. You can add all the prostitute scenes implying he’s a regular poon hound you want. You can literally have him scream, “I swear, I love the pussy!” But the idea that TKJ‘s Joker is a regular with prostitutes that he doesn’t kill shortly thereafter is laughable. Even Caesar Romero’s Joker would’ve killed those girls. Joker kills. Joker maims. That is how he “gets off.”

The Joker and Batman have a sadomasochistic, homoerotic relationship, one of several in Batman. Warner and DC’s newfound conservatism seems intent on overcompensating for this interpretation. Their prevailing technique is to have him screw each female cast member on a rooftop. It won’t work, though. Also, Batgirl is more of his niece, and it was gross. Leave the Elektra complexes to Daredevil, please. (As an addendum to this, see this article. I believe Harley’s over-sexualization is part and parcel of a campaign to “de-gayify” the entire Batman mythos in the New 52 era of DC/WB.)

“Well, Doug, what did you want them to do? They had to flesh out Batgirl and make a feminist message and add to the runtime.”

Twenty minutes of thought gave me: Batgirl fights Harley in the opening. Flashing back to Harley’s origins, we parallel the “one bad day” theme. Since Harley’s bad day is when Joker drives her mad, it reinforces all the primary themes. Batgirl vs. Harley also mirrors the Batman vs. Joker plot. This gives Barbara a glimpse into her own future. In the end, she quits rather than letting it consume her. “It’ll never end,” she says to Bruce, “until one of us dies.” Her resignation sets up Batman rethinking his own approach with Joker. Cue rain. If you insist, let them have sex. But even for faithfulness, this should be older Barbara, in her late thirties. It’s two adult equals who’ve worked together a long time. She’s arriving at the moment where she needs to decide whether this is gonna be the rest of her life. Writing Batman into a mansplaining, misogynist role that Barbara overcomes only forces the actual Killing Joke to undermine and reverse that message later in the film.

Each addition took away from the whole. The positives, however, are that unlike The Hobbit films, when all the additions are cut out, it leaves a near perfect Killing Joke adaptation with tour de force swan song performances by Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy.

Advertisements

Batman v. Superman: SVU New Orleans

I knew they were fucking this up when I heard the title. No title that reminds me of Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever or Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is going to work out. NEVER ASSUME FRANCHISE. Always make your first steps self-contained. I didn’t even like the title Captain America: The First Avenger, but by the time Marvel did that, it was the last movie before The Avengers and that movie was definitely happening. Whenever Warner Brothers gets too excited about franchising, they force directors to shove in all sorts of set-up for shit that doesn’t matter. Green Lantern was supposed to be self-contained and practical. WB turned it into a CGI shit-show that was telling you about the rainbow lantern corps before introducing you to the lead character. Everything about this film felt like it should be happening after new Batman and Wonder Woman films to go with Man of Steel. Who knows? Maybe after watching the new WW (which Gadot, a bright spot in an otherwise joyless film, is actually making me look forward to), which takes place in 1916, and the new Batman which would hopefully be set before MoS, this movie’s beats might feel earned.

I also think, much like Watchmen, there’s going to be a cut of Batman v Superman on DVD that will actually make sense. I hear like 45 minutes got cut out, and Snyder is my #1 on a list of good-to-great directors who are garbage in the editing room. The Ultimate Watchmen Cut revealed he’d chopped out absolutely necessary scenes, left in scenes that only made sense with the scenes he’d cut, and left in countless redundant scenes and self-indulgent slo-mo. In the cut of BvS I saw, there’s no excuse for a rehash of Batman’s parents’ death and the falling into a bat cave at the start of the movie — not only have we seen it before, but it gets flashed back to later in the same film.  I’ll bet there’s a narrative thru-line in the first act that got hacked to absolute bits, leaving us with the mind-numbing jumps from one disconnected plot to another. Snyder has tons of action-directing problems, but is usually great at weaving a coherent story — his problems show up when he has to cut for time. He’s overly attached to clever bullshit and has no eye for what’s necessary. None of the political stuff should’ve made it into the theatrical.

I also smell Green Lantern-levels of Warner Brothers meddling. The opening sequence, the best part of the movie, is clearly designed to reveal who Affleck is in the last shot as we pull back to reveal the Wayne Enterprises sign on the ground, yet we start instead with that redundant origin I mentioned? Sounds like that opening of Green Lantern that brought up the Lantern Corps and Parallax and the color yellow being fear, all 20 minutes before Hal hears the exact same speech in a much more logical place.

Most of the Batman / Superman fight is unnecessary if you think about what the actual climactic battle of the film is. SPOILER ALERT: In a Doomsday / Death of Superman film, why did we waste 45 minutes setting up a plot hurdle on the way to the point? Probably because WB Marketing had come up with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. There is a decent Batman vs. Superman movie and a decent Doomsday movie in here, but they don’t go together. Much like the mutant cure and The Dark Phoenix Saga being shoved together in X-3. Or the Black Suit / Venom Saga and the end of the Green Goblin arc in Spider-man 3. Or the campy Electro origin and The Death of Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-man 2. So basically all of the worst comic book movies of the past 20 years come down to studios making the same mistake: Mongolian clusterfucking two thematically contradictory storylines into one film. Somewhat because they don’t understand the Marvel model, but mostly because they’re just greedy and impatient.

The title, much like the shoe-horning of Justice League BS, totally screws the film. You call this movie World’s Finest and you can have them fight for a second and then get over it. You call it Batman v. Superman, and you have to spend an entire movie getting them to fight EVEN THOUGH THAT FIGHT ISN’T IMPORTANT, Lex is the real villain, and Doomsday is the final fight. (If Batman hadn’t KNOWN THE WHOLE MOVIE that Lex was the villain, his decision to focus on Superman wouldn’t seem so pants-shittingly stupid and bigoted.) It’s like calling the first Avengers film Thor vs. Hulk vs. Iron Man vs. Captain America. Even Civil War leaves room for them to stop fighting.

That’s not even to mention how the core of these characters seems intentionally absent in this version of the universe–that’s an actual Snyder problem. Superman acts like Batman and Batman acts like the Punisher in this movie, and I have a feeling I’d be dealing with that even in a perfectly coherent Snyder Doomsday/Justice League/whatever film.

Reset the “DC doing something stupid” counter.

A Really Long Article About Inception You Won’t Read

There’s a lot of ballyhoo surrounding Inception in the critical circles. Every week it seems there is a new article from a well-esteemed, extremely intelligent, professional film critic about why Christopher Nolan is not as good of a filmmaker as the public thinks he is, how his movies are cold and his action sequences are muddled and he sacrifices character for plot. Invariably, someone also mentions how Nolan’s defenders have turned this into a discussion about the director himself rather than the film in question. I have only one problem with this, though it is a bit of an umbrella problem: none of that is true. Nolan’s films delight moviegoers and film fans while simultaneously insulting a completely separate and alien audience: the well-esteemed, extremely intelligent, professional film critic, and they are the ones that have turned this into a discussion about Nolan rather than the film in question.

Inception I found neither cold nor sacrificing character. One could argue that Ellen Page’s architect or any of the supporting cast were not developed, but no one criticizes Ocean’s Eleven for not developing the Asian contortionist or Don Cheadle’s cockney expert — all we need know of these characters is what specialty they bring to the heist. Make no mistake, Inception is, at its heart, a heist movie in a science fiction casing, much like Blade Runner was a film noir in a sci-fi setting. For that matter, no one mentions how cold or lacking in character development Blade Runner is. Most of what genre fiction, film, and television is, is the manipulation of tropes, archetypes, and stereotypes. Characters are not so much ignored as much as shorthanded — like the characters of the dream in Wizard of Oz, you have met these people before, in another life. This gives the very short format of the motion picture space to breath so that a genre piece, delineated by a markedly high level of brand new ideas and complex plot, can successfully explain its ideas and so you can successfully navigate its plot. Alien and Aliens, Predator, Blade Runner, and yes, Inception, do not have time to hide the fact that everyone in a movie is one of twelve different character types, anyway. The characters that matter in heist movies are the leads — George Clooney, perhaps Andy Garcia. But even they are almost always pulling “one last job” — using this trope in a completely different setting like the theft of dreams is entertaining in and of itself.
I also did not find the movie cold — yes, we have seen these characters before, but critics tend to put too much importance on original character, not realizing there is no such thing. The adept science fiction auteur or author knows that in the end, we are all people. People with the same motivations and psychological issues in varying degrees or mixtures. We all want our fathers to love us, though they may not have made it obvious enough for us as children. We want our mothers to love us, but to let us grow. We want our friends to not betray us. Science fiction plays on the big fears and the big loves, the big decisions and their terrifying repercussions. Reality is suspect and thus plot becomes paramount. We need to relate to these characters and put ourselves into the situations, and it needs to happen fast enough that we’re not in the theater for 6 hours like Dune. A novel has time to let you meet everyone before they become tropes once the action starts (this will happen, there can be no mistaking) and make them appear new. But in a movie, everything is Joseph Campbell. You must meet, care about, and relate to people within 2 hours. You must be introduced to revolutionary ideas, understand them, and digest the metaphor of them for actual life circumstances within that time. You must follow said characters into the labyrinth created by the ideas, care that they are there, and be hit with the same revelation. The impact of the emotional symbol at the heart of Inception‘s main heist is simple and straightforward, as it needs to be both in the world of the film and in real life. And it does to the audience what it does to Cillian Murphy.
I have seen the film twice. Things I thought were plot holes were things I, as a viewer, had missed. The plotting of the film is perfect. The characters are stock, but that is necessary. The dreamworlds are extremely ordered and left-brained, but once again, the movie’s very idea makes this a necessity — everything must be in place, is, in fact, constructed not by a painter or a writer but by an architect, not only so these invaders to a person’s subconscious can successfully navigate it, but also so that the subconscious being stolen from does not realize he is dreaming. Cobb’s invading nightmares are the primary threat to their jobs, and his past and character are delved into quite deeply. This is his character study, and like Citizen Kane, There Will Be Blood, and The Godfather, no one but the lead really matters. For all we know, they are more constructs of Cobb’s subconscious as he continually deludes himself in Limbo. Or, as one fan suggested, the team is actually being led by Ariadne (Page), and their real goal is to get at Cobb’s secret.
Nolan has found a cinematic sweet spot. He has managed to achieve what every filmmaker or writer dreams of: he has figured out how to make a commercial movie that he does not have to dumb down. The ideas are strange, the plotting is complex, but he juggles it. He’s made a movie about subject matter that the average action director can’t understand, filled it with actors that are less A-list and more A-caliber, and made it so an audience enjoys it and comprehends its point. This seems to bother film critics. They do not seem to have nearly as much of a problem with intelligent action flicks or indie character pieces or standard science fiction fare, no problems with heist movies or sweeping psychological studies. Inception is all of these things, however, and it confuses and angers them. They pick at it for things that they would not criticize in a simpler movie. It has stimulated their intellectualism, and so they want it to fit into the mold of prior intellectual films. It is about dreams, but does not resemble Lynch or Gilliam! It is a heist, but it is extremely complicated! There is character, but not enough! It is cold, despite bringing the average audience to near tears during its climax.
Transformers is a completely commercial success that everyone knows is empty and worthless, and won’t stand up to a second viewing, but it works in the theater for $9. No Country for Old Men is an artistic achievement that is profound and disturbing, but essentially boring after one viewing unless you are a student of the craft. Both were unsatisfying to me for strangely similar reasons:
1) at the climax of a giant robot movie, when the two main giant robots fight, Bay chose to cut to a human character I did not care about and cut back at the END OF THE GIANT ROBOT FIGHT.
2) at the climax of a neo western film, when everything converges on an OK Corral style shootout, the Cohens chose to skip over it to a character I barely cared about finding the remnants of that fight and give an emotional speech to end the film.
Both sacrificed audience satisfaction for self-indulgent story. In Bay’s case, not actually understanding the appeal of his subject matter, he overemphasizes the importance of his human characters. In the Cohens’ case, having seen gunfights before, they choose to make sure the audience knows the importance is on the emotional revelation of Tommy Lee Jones’s character. Nolan would have done both, and juggled them successfully, and that can be confusing for someone like a critic who is used to seeing one or the other, over and over again.
Not used to being confused, critics have attacked Inception and its creator for things that are not wrong with the film, criticizing it for not being things it was clearly not attempting to be. They seem to be under the impression that Nolan wanted to make The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, but is such a bad filmmaker that all he could drool out was Inception. In actuality, filmmakers like David Lynch try to make Dune and all they can muster is another David Lynch movie combined with a Dune audio book, because they cannot plot and cannot tell us who a character is without telling us every detail. They actually have no eye for what is important about one character or another, and dreams being portrayed dreamlike can be argued less imaginative than coming up with a story structure that makes solid, left-brained dreams that are being torn apart by invasions of right-brained chaos. (Many talk of Nolan’s rigid structuring and obsession with identity, but I think all of his movies can be thought of as the left hemisphere’s terror that the right brain will run rampant — these are, after all, what Batman and the Joker represent as archetypes.)
Confused critics then point the finger at the filmmaker, doing multiple long articles with entire film studies, bringing up every Nolan film and picking them apart and talking of how he has degraded as a filmmaker or of how Insomnia is his best film. These critics have forgotten what it was like to enjoy movies, to love them, and to need a break from life to go see a movie. For them, film is work, and not the way food is work to a chef, but the way food is work to a restaurant critic. You must try everything, bad or good, even if you know it will be bad. Critics also did not participate in another of Nolan’s successes: getting an audience to ignore a marketing campaign. No one wanted to be spoiled or overdosed, and so ignored everything but the two uninformative trailers. In this way, much like the original Matrix, audiences had no expectations and no preconceived notions of what the movie would be walking in and got to figure out the movie as it went, as intended. Film critics, on the other hand, were listening to each other, watching every advance trailer and clip, and building an opinion based on their lack of enthusiasm about the Batman movies (which they also do not get) and the over-marketing of this new film. They walked in thinking they knew what Inception was about, and found out they were wrong.
I have stated before my resentment of film criticism. In my opinion, there are either too many of them or too few. Each one of them sees nearly every film that comes out, whether they want to or not. I did not see White Chicks because I knew that I would not enjoy myself in the slightest, but these poor bastards have to sit through it anyway because it’s their job and someone needs an article about it the next day. If the average audience had to sit through every movie that came out, they would all be film critics — tired of things that are in most movies, and a little resentful of everyone in the business. But the facts are this, normal people see whatever seems interesting to them, and they want to sit in a dark room with people they know and people they don’t and enjoy themselves. If you are not entertaining first, you are masturbating. I am not a fan of art for art’s sake. I think it is self-aggrandizing bullshit. I understand making art, but art should be made to reach people. Nolan reached millions with his film, and planted an idea in their heads, which means he has successfully done what movies were set out to do in both an artistic and commercial standpoint.

(500) Days of Summer

Over the course of my life, there have been movies and songs that seemed to be made just for my generation, or just for people in similar situations as me — Fight Club was perfect for a 19 year-old male with mother issues, Rushmore seemed made for boys who spent their adolescence in a restrictive all-male high school who prized creativity over grades. The band Tool spoke to all my interests in science fiction, philosophy, the occult. You know, deep shit.

But there are some things that transcend mere love as it is defined for music or film or a book or play. Sometimes it’s not about liking the thing, or knowing what it is talking about. Sometimes something just speaks directly to you, and you get the distinct impression that very few of the people around you are going through the same experience. Though they are laughing at the right places and tearing up at the right places, they are still sitting in a theater or listening to the radio. You are in the movie, you are in the song. It’s like you and a friend both met a very attractive girl at the same time; both of you were turned on, but one of you is a different person for having met her.

All of this is to say, I’m the type of person who has tasted the love of a good book (Stranger in a Strange Land), I have heard songs from 20 years prior that let me know that I was not alone in being alone (How Soon Is Now?), and I have been forever altered by connections made with television characters (My So-called Life).

Three movies have taken me inside them and sweat a level of cold comfort from my body, leaving me altered but thankful for it. The first was The Breakfast Club. I’d seen parts of it a thousand times, but the first time I watched that movie from beginning to end, I was just the right age to do so, and in just enough of a teenage depression to be severely helped by it.

The second was American Beauty. I remember every last bit of that experience. I remember that when I saw it, it was more about the two teenagers than it has been since. I was in my first relationship, and I was a bit of a morbid lunatic — but I was more confident than I’ve ever been since. Irina did that to me, still does. Her belief in me is so pure it can bolster me from shut-in to prophet, and I’m glad for the occasional fix of it. The plastic bag sequence and the ending narration reacquainted me with a deep-seeded joy of life of which I never fully let go.

The third is (500) Days of Summer. Most people who either saw it with me or have heard me talk about it since think I’m being a tad bit melodramatic about it, or maybe that I just need to shut the fuck up. I’m sure they’re right. I walked out comparing it to Requiem for a Dream, in that I had been traumatized. This was a joke, but not entirely hyperbolic. I didn’t know if I’d ever want to watch it again. As the days go by and my appetite to see the film again increases, I’ve realized I was wrong. I will be watching this film quite a lot.

The film basically condenses the past 4 or so post-Katrina years of my life, and the pseudo relationship of which I’ve been a part, into a 2 hour indie tour de force. Sure, it took out the distance, obviously doesn’t mention a preceding hurricane, and the relationship doesn’t advance in a series of installments when the two main characters happen to be in the same city, but like I said. Condensed. Tack onto that my man crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt that started with Brick and was solidified by a squee when he was in two seconds of a shot in Brothers Bloom, and the fact that I think I fall in love with Zooey Deschanel differently for every part I’ve experienced her play, from Elf to Trillian to Weeds to Tin Man.

The movie continually tells you what the movie is, yet it still punches you in the gut when it is what you’ve been told it is. Much like Tom, we are holding out the hope that we are being lied to, and are crushed by the truth. For me, it was a strange, unwelcome but needed wake-up call.

I am also thankful for finally having my type portrayed on screen at all. Not all men are sex-crazed commitment-phobes, and not all women are needy, insecure relationship-aholics. In my experience, nothing but the exact inverse of that has been true, and it was nice to finally have that portrayed in a film. Certainly, Say Anything had it’s Cusack, but Ione Skye was anything but a fun-loving gentleman’s woman like Summer. This version is intensely more accurate. There’s always someone who’s more into it than the other. True love, perhaps, is when everything’s even.

Marc Webb, formerly a music video director, does a phenomenal job here. His background shows in spades, from the remarkable soundtrack (which kills me all over again because of how linked the music is to specific emotions in the film), to a musical set piece that is the highlight of the movie. He also uses color, or specifically avoids color, to force us into Tom’s position a bit — the palette for the entire movie is neutral, except when Summer is present, and the amazing blue of Zooey Deschanel’s eyes subtly surround us.

If you have the time or inclination, I highly recommend the film, and if you love the film, I highly recommend visiting the website, where if you look you can find a Marc Webb-directed video for Zooey’s band, She & Him, featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and a recasting of a scene from Sid & Nancy featuring Zooey as Sid and Joseph as Nancy (a reference to a line in 500 Days).

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?

WATCHMEN Review, sort of

I don’t think I need to do a review of this, you can go find one anywhere. They’ll mostly be a damning of the movie in the nicest way possible — the movie is carefully wrought, but misses the mark. In short, Watchmen was unfilmable, after all. I can’t say I disagree with them. I saw the film last night, and with such high hopes and a little too much knowledge of the source material, I was hesitant to form an opinion. 

All in all, I feel positively about the film. If a Watchmen movie is impossible to make, then one made trying as hard as it fucking can to be faithful means now no one else can come along and truly fuck it up, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen style. The opening credits sequence is brilliant. Rorschach and Dan (Nite Owl II) sounded exactly as I imagined their voices, to the point that watching Jackie Earl Haley and Patrick Wilson work felt like re-reading the book. Billy Crudup does his job well. Both Silk Spectres fell flat for me. Ozymandias ruined the movie.
Let me modify that. Matthew Goode is a perfectly fine actor, but he is all wrong for the part, and his take on the part makes me think both he and Snyder do not get the character, and not getting that character is tantamount to not getting the entire story. Although, really, that can be said about every character, and to go into what’s right and wrong about all of them, I’d be spoiling, and the movie should be seen. But I wouldn’t recommend it if you haven’t read the book, which should be your first impression if you ever plan on reading it. The ending is watered down and lacks punch, and without an ending that punches you in the gut and says, “Everything you believe in you made up so you wouldn’t kill yourself,” then the lead up seems like a waste of time.
You’d really have to have one thing that no one was going to have in order to do a good Watchmen movie: Alan Moore’s help. In some ways, I’d like to blame him for the film’s failure in the ways it failed. 
Snyder seems like a geeky jock who has his hands in too many clubs and activities to be truly good at any of them. Are you making a tribute to Watchmen, or are you doing an action movie? Because how funny and graphic you’re being in the beginning stuff… I mean, it seemed cartoonish and the point of Watchmen is the exact opposite. Rorschach should not be the amusingly psychotic comic relief. He should be scary. I should not say, “Ooooh,” when he breaks someone’s bones or tosses hot oil on them. I should be terrified. The Comedian’s actions should repulse me, but more repulsive should be my relating to him. The soundtrack, while well-chosen, was overbearing and comedic. The mystery is handled like a teenage girl handles a secret.
Really, I liked the movie a lot. But fuck. I wanted so much more. I wanted it to do for the superhero movie what Watchmen did for the superhero comic. Dark Knight certainly lived up to The Dark Knight Returns. So I’m disappointed. That is all.

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.