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All Dolled Up, No Place To Go

March 5th, 2009

Let’s catch up with some recent televised sci-fi!

Lost: I called it. And I was so intent on skipping through what I thought was still the “previously on” portion of last night’s show that I didn’t realize I had called it until I read this morning’s reviews. I had been saying to Vic that one of the time-hops Our Heroes have been taking through the Island’s past just had to take them to the era in which the freaky, four-toed foot was a freaky, four-toed statue. And that’s exactly what happened in the first minute of Wednesday’s episode. We didn’t get to see its face, which makes me think it must be someone we know, probably the long-lived Richard Alpert given all the Egyptian symbolism and Sawyer’s crack about Alpert’s “eyeliner.”

Battlestar Galactica: Another bit that I called some time ago was that it was significant that the known Cylon model numbers skipped over seven. As we’ve recently learned, there was indeed a Number Seven named Daniel, supposedly dead but probably not. Which brings us to last Friday’s episode, which at least added credence to the theory that Daniel may ultimately be the series’ puppet-master. Furthermore, it suggested that Starbuck, while not a true Cylon, may instead be Daniel’s offspring. But did we have to learn that through a half-hour of piano-playing? Come on, folks, four episodes left!

Terminator – The Sarah Conner Chronicles: I keep meaning to blog about this show, which I’ve been following since it premiered last year. I’m swimming upstream compared to the majority of geekdom in that I hated Terminator 2 and quite enjoyed the third film in the series, which remembered that Sarah Conner’s mission wasn’t to prevent the creation of Skynet, but rather to protect and train her son John to win the coming war with the machines. So, why have I enjoyed this show, which seems hell-bent on erasing the latter film from continuity?

One reason is that Lena Headley’s Sarah Conner is a much more relatable person that the angry, crazy hellion that Linda Hamilton portrayed in T2. While she bears the emotional scars of her life on the run, she’s not bat-shit nuts. 

I also like the way that the idea of a temporal war is being played out, with both sides sending troops into the past to secure objectives in their future present. There’s even an instance in which two time-tripping characters learn that they–despite having shared an intimate relationship during the machine war–are from different future realities. It’s a much better handling of the idea than Star Trek: Enterprise managed during its own temporal conflict storyline.

That’s all cool, but I’ll admit that the story arc has been meandering too much as of late. Shirley Manson, formerly of the rock band Garbage, is playing a liquid-metal Terminator. She’s not much of an actress, but she’s an intriguing presence. And there’s some question as to what her character’s agenda might be. While she seems to be trying to bring about Skynet, it almost seems that she’s trying to birth a kinder, gentler computer. Which would be interesting, except that we’re six episodes from what may well be the series finale, and we haven’t come any closer to finding out what she’s up to. She hasn’t even met our heroes. 

Allegedly, that’s about to change, according to this trailer for the rest of the season.

Dollhouse: I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Whedonite. I even bought 17 issues of a crappy Angel comic because it had the imprimatur of a Joss Whedon-approved plotline. So, why did it take me about three weeks to even begin watching the episodes I’d recorded?

Now that I’ve seen the first couple of shows, I think that I know. I agree with Time’s TV critic James Poniewozik that the core concept is deeply flawed. The central character, Echo, is literally a blank slate onto which amalgams of other people’s experiences are overwritten. The idea is that it’s supposed to be a showcase for the dubious acting chops of Eliza Dushku, but it also means that there’s nothing there for the viewer to latch onto.

Why should we care what happens to Echo? Aside from a couple of brief scenes of her previous existence as a woman named Caroline, she has no personality other than the one she’s been given for the current assignment. And how should we feel about a person who would give herself over to a company which will literally take five years of her life and whore her out to anyone with a million bucks in their wallet? (The “whore” thing is not even remotely a metaphor; in the two episodes I’ve seen, she’s been on three assignments that involved her being programmed to be the perfect lover for her client.)

Doubly disappointing is the lack of Whedon’s trademark banter. Perhaps that’s because there are only two likable characters on the series–Echo’s handler and the cop who’s out to expose the Dollhouse–and they’re unlikely to spend much time together. 

It’s not a total train-wreck–there are hints that the concept will open up as Echo begins to remember her past life–but I think that it would play much better as a mini-series than an open-ended weekly. And, given the crappy ratings the thing has been getting, it may get just that chance!

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