You guys remember Dollhouse, right? A Joss Whedon/Eliza Dushku production? Only lasted two (short) seasons? Joss Whedon’s weakest creative endeavor ever?
Well, before I get into why it was Whedon’s weakest creative endeavor, I want to make sure that you are familiar with a certain plot device that Joss pulled in that show. The premise of Dollhouse wasn’t simple, but I’ll try to make it as clear as possible: in the present day (or not too distant future, it isn’t clear) there’s a place called the Dollhouse, which features real human beings whose lives have been blanked out. These blank “dolls” live in an idyllic facility doing yoga stretches until they are bought by wealthy creeps to serve a purpose. Whatever the buyer wants the doll to be, the doll will become. Previously stored memories/lives are phased into the dolls mind, they do their mission (be it action packed or sexy packed), and then return to the Dollhouse to be blanked out until their next job. Dollhouse focused on one doll in particular, Echo (Eliza Dushku), how she ended up in the facility, and how her doll form started to develop a personality.
For the Season One finale, Whedon decided to go for broke and do something edgy. He fast forwarded to the future, where the doll tech had destroyed the world, and decided to focus on Echo and her band of rebels. Fox (the station airing the show) didn’t go for this concept however, and the show never aired on TV (you can find the episode on DVD). Midway through Season 2, when it was clear that Dollhouse wasn’t going to survive, Joss decided to end the show in the same way: with a post-apocalyptic flash forward. That episode did air on TV.
Spoiler Alert for the Dollhouse series finale: I hated it. While it was creative, and risky, we knew so little about those characters that all of the stuff that happened to them didn’t resonate with me at all. So-and-so died and Echo is devastated? Good (or rather bad) for her, but why the bleep should I care? In the regular timeline of the show, I never even got to see them together! The “edginess” of that finale didn’t erase the fact that we didn’t know who those characters were—and will never know who they were. Dollhouse was just a collection of Joss’s shock moments without any of the emotional resonance that those moments evoked in his other shows, where, you know, we actually knew the characters.
I thought a lot about that Dollhouse finale while watching this episode of Fringe, because this episode did something similar: it jumped forward to a drastically different time, where a lot of bs happened that we didn’t see, putting our characters in a completely different headspace. But with this Fringe episode, it worked. It worked really well.
It worked because we’ve had 4 seasons to get to know these characters, and we know them well. It worked because Fringe always pulls out big guns and shifts universes on us, so we’re accustomed to big changes and can adapt easier. And best of all, this episode isn’t a finale: it’s setup for the future direction of the show (at the very least, they’ll have at least one more episode with this plotline).
This episode flawlessly introduced new characters that I’m already heavily invested in (Henry Ian Cusick, why were you so frigging hot in this episode?! I never was really that attracted to Desmond on Lost so drooling over his face now is blowing my mind) as well as introducing a plot (I was very entertained by the Terminator-esque opening text) that I’m also really invested in.
I was (obviously) very disappointed with the direction that Dollhouse took. Thank you Fringe, for reminding me that I’m not against dramatic shifts in plot and tone per se, but only when they’re done poorly.
So let’s talk about some of the stuff that actually happened in this mind-blowing episode! First off, I’m worried that the brain cell Simon and Etta injected into Walter is making him a little too evil. I didn’t like the way he shut Simon down when Simon was waxing poetic about the revolution, since that is totally not how Walter rolls. Also thought it was really creepy how he just up and left Bell encased in the amber. I’m not looking forward to see this evil streak develop in our dear Walter.
Even though I immediately knew that Etta was Peter and Olivia’s child, I still cried when Peter realized she was his daughter and hugged her. Reunions make me sappy, apparently. But the big question is: where the bleep is Olivia Dunham? Did September’s prediction come true; is Olivia dead? Adding to the dead!Olivia worry was the used bullet Etta was wearing as a necklace. What happened? And related: where’s Lincoln? And Altlivia? Did they get together? Are they still alive? I can’t wait to see more of this weird, dystopian future.