Dollhouse Dirge: Reflections on “The Whedon Effect,” Eliza Dushku’s Hot Last Stand

(via pennyarcade)


Hey weirdos! Dollhouse ended this past Friday and I am all torn up about it for a few reasons, mostly because the finale introduced some pretty amazing elements that really really SHOULD have been thrown into the mix at the beginning of the season. This mistake provides yet more evidence for what I like to call The Whedon Effect.

The Whedon Effect: n. When Joss Whedon creates a television series loaded with potential then spends so much time building up to a big spectacular climax (see: Buffy The Vampire Slayer series finale) that the show gets canceled due to the appearance that the show is not going anywhere before viewers get to see the aforementioned big spectacular climax (see: Firefly, Dollhouse).

I have a lot of feelings about The Whedon Effect. I fully believe that if Buffy had been written in the last couple of years, it would not have lasted seven seasons like it did in the mid-late nineties. Why? Back then, Whedon had the time to spend several seasons creating a whole world and fleshing out a large cast of characters because there was no other show like it on television, no competition. Much like Firefly, Dollhouse had the misfortune of competing with a whole score of quickly paced sci-fi/fantasy shows (ie: Smallville, which actually out-rated Dollhouse on Friday) against which his amazing but extremely slow moving story arcs couldn’t match up to as far as ratings go.

*Spoiler Alert, from here on out!* The finale picked up where Epitaph One (end of Season 1) left off: Zone (Zach Ward) and Mag (Felicia Day!!!) have imprinted a child (Adair Tishler) with Caroline’s personality (as per Whiskey’s directions) so she can lead them to Safe Haven aka where all the cool people are at (Dewett, Priya, Priya and Victor’s adorbs son).

Things That Win re: Epitaph Two; a.k.a. Reasons I Love Joss Whedon:

+ Welcome to Thunderdome: Can I just say I am a total sucker for this post-apocalyptic Mad Max type shit? Who’s with me?

+ Buffet Line of Bods: This whole lets-line-up-the-shirtless-boys-and-I’ll-pick-one-to-live-in thing that Mr. Harding has going on calls to mind human trafficking and is extremely disturbing but is also a great plot device: naturally, it would have been great if the possibility of the emergence of such an industry had been examined more while the show was actually on, but it was great to get a glimpse of just how out of control the tech has gotten amongst the rich and powerful.

+ Flash Drive Skillz: I love Victor/Tony’s (Enver Gjokaj) little posse of Tech Heads! They look straight out of Road Warrior and they carry their skills around on USB Drives which they wear ’round their necks, you guys! I love lanyards. See how the Little Asian One (Maurissa Tancharoen) implies that she saves “Mercy” onto one drive in order to make room in her head to load up “Weapons Expert” from another drive without losing her mind? How great is that?

+ Speaking of the Little Asian One…: Felicia Day Mag thinks she is cute. ’nuff said.

+ Family Matters: I loved the Priya (Dichen Lachman)-Tony-Little Tony dynamic (again, I wish it had been explored more when it actually mattered). Did anyone else cry when Tony gave up the tech and Priya was all, “hey, this badass-looking dude is your dad”?

+ The Girl Can Act: I am a fan of Eliza Dushku. HOWEVS, over the course of Season 2 I began to think she just plain does not have what it takes to be the leading lady of a television series. Imagine my surprise when the scene where she grieves/has a huge meltdown over Paul’s death turns out to be one of the best scenes of the whole series.

+ Fran Can: Topher (Fran Kranz) was spot on as the guy who’s gone off the deep end, and it was interesting and cute to see DeWitt (Olivia Williams) in a maternal/nurturing sort of role while she looked after him and shut down anyone who made fun of his crazy-person talk.

+ And then Alpha Came Back for a Second: Isn’t Allan Tudyk just the sweetest thing?

Things That Fail re: Epitaph Two; aka Really, Joss, Really?

+ Failure to include any of the above mentioned GOOD things until the last episode of the whole series.

+ “Do I have to upload that to your brain myself?”: The tech lingo got a little bit much, and also the naming of Rossum’s former HQ to “Neuropolis” is more than a little bit cheese.

+ Seeing Felicia Day get shot in the legs is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Okay, maybe not, but it was definitely a little bit traumatizing.

+Parting Gift: Before Alpha leaves out of his concern that Topher’s pulse bomb thing (which will restore everyone to their original selves) might just make him crazy again, he leaves Echo a hard copy of Paul’s personality. Paul, who is her dead not-boyfriend, was just relieved of duty via a bullet to the brain. Naturally, the thing to do is dump him into her brain with the dozens of others she’s got hanging out up there. Does anyone else thing this is kind of uhm disturbing? Would anyone want their dead partner living their head? I don’t think so.

All in all, Dollhouse ended in typical Whedon fashion: a couple people you like die, some loose ends are tied up, but overall it’s a pretty open-ended wrap-up which will cause comic-book and movie rumors to start flying.

As a loyal Whedon fan, I will keep my eyes peeled for any and all of his upcoming projects and continue to hope against hope that he dismantles my Whedon Effect theory next time around.

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Taylor has written 136 articles for us.


  1. I started to read this only to realize that I should probably wait til I finish the season. So I stopped.

    But having read the first half of this article, I will note that the other difference between Buffy/Angel and everything Joss Whedon has done since then is that Buffy started on the WB, a network with few resources and limited expectations.

    Since people with money have come to realize that Joss is a genius, they’ve given him bigger budgets. Unfortunately, these budgets come with an expectation of instantaneous results. Those providing the funding don’t seem to recognize that he needs the time to build the world and develop the characters to get the loyal fans that turned Buffy into such a profitable enterprise. Grr. Argh.

    • Very very true! I hope that he gets some more support time-wise on his next project, or speeds things up a bit.

    • “Grr. Argh.” !!! (I see what you did there and I thoroughly approve!) So you must be right about that fan base.

  2. Very accurate comment, I agree with every point you’ve made. The last 6 episodes of Dollhouse were great TV, but it took them too damn long to get there.
    I vote for the DVD release of both Epitaphs as a movie.

  3. Thank you, Laura! The tail end of the season was pretty spectacular, it’s a shame it was too little to late at that point.
    I second Epitaph movie motion!

  4. Part of Dollhouse’s problem was that it was an exercise in Whedon-trust. I watched it for ages waiting for it to get good because I am a Whedon fan of old, but I can completely understand why newer audiences would have given it one or two episodes and then given up.

  5. i couldn’t make it through the early parts, but what you’ve talked about with the end makes it sound like things really took off! maybe i’ll check it out tonight…in spite of loathing eliza dushku’s acting (requisite eliza doucheku joke goes here)

  6. it peaked too late. 2nd half of season 2 was good tv. Also I think the show would have done much better if the original pilot had aired instead of the rewritten one that Fox demanded.

  7. Firefly’s problem, I think, was all the interruptions and showing out of order Fox threw at it. Even non-Whedonites I’ve shown it to liked it.

    Dollhouse never captured me. For one, I never bought into the “it’s not exploitation because it’s Joss Whedon”. For two, I don’t know, it just didn’t do anything for me. Maybe I can’t get behind Eliza Dushku, I dunno. But it’s the only series of his not in my DVD collection.

  8. My girlfriend and I think Sci-Fi Channel (are they really calling themselves SyFy now? whyyyy) should try to pick him up. Only they probably couldn’t afford it. Sigh.

    • SyFy makes me think of like, a woman named Susan who now calls herself Wynterbyrd Starchyld and lives in the woods making tambourines with her dolphin tattoos. That’s what Sci-Fi has done. I’ll change my name to Djehknee in protest.

  9. i have been screaming “the whedon effect!!!” at anyone that would listen to me for the past 2 months. i didn’t have a nice concise name for it, i was actually screaming whole paragraphs, but in short i agree with pretty much everything you wrote here. i remember hearing about fox making him redo the first couple of episodes in the beginnning, that he didn’t really get a whole lot of freedom until like episode 6 of the first season, but that doesn’t really give a lot of excuses for the last half of that season and the first half of the next one. it drives me absolutely batshit crazy that he pretty much waited until he knew they were cancelled to make episodes that were actually entertaining, not just having of potential. how do you talk someone into watching dollhouse? “dude, you HAVE to watch this show.. the first 17 episodes are ok at best, but the last 4 are crazy amazing!” i cant sell that.

    • I know just what you mean! Whedon did not make it very accessible to people who aren’t already fans and know that it’s going to get good.

  10. My two cents:

    IMHO, “Dollhouse” was excellent from the start, even with Fox’s meddling and rejecting the original pilot (like it did with “Firefly”). I love the “Whedon Effect”. Hopefully next round, audiences will be more patient/receptive.

    I’m grateful we got 26 episode of one of the very best Sci-fi series ever. Too many of the shows I have truly liked have been cancelled much faster.


    p.s. Felicia Day was pretty amazing when her character was shot. It *seemed* like she had really been shot — what a great actress (as was everyone on this brilliant series).

    • I too am a fan of The Whedon Effect! Howevs, I find it less okay when it is to the detriment of the series/ results in the show getting cancelled. Maybe we can hope that Joss finds a happy medium! Still taking the time to build a world/new characters while moving the plot forward at a decent pace?

  11. the finale confused me, because i never saw epitaph one. howevs, dollhouse got really good you guys! at the start i was like “oh hey! pretty people! i love watching pretty people!” but at some point i really got into it.

    i’m going to go find epitaph one on the internets now.

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