'Dollhouse' DVD released today: Is it worth your time and money?


The season-one DVD of Dollhouse goes on sale today, and you know the party line: this Joss Whedon show started out wobbly, got better, and now most of us are psyched for a second season. But is the DVD worth it for its unaired 13th episode, “Epitaph One”; for the original, unaired pilot; and for its commentaries?

As always with a Whedon project, if you’re Whedonesque, you’ll buy it no matter what I or anyone else says. For the rest of you…

First, “Epitaph One.” (SPOILER ALERT.) Set 10 years in the future, what could have been the series-ender is a mind-bender involving a group of post-apocalyptic rebels. Yes, there’s been an apocalypse, most likely brought on by none other than the bratty-but-brilliant Topher.  (He’s played with bratty brilliance by Fran Kranz — he’s one of the characters I’ve done a 180-degree turn on since the premiere: used to give me the creeps, now I get and enjoy his funny creepiness.)

This ragtag band, which includes Dr. Horrible‘s wonderful Felicia Day, comes upon a Dollhouse in ruins. Over the course of the episode, co-written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, we find out that Actives can now, to varying degrees, control or at least have conscious memories of their personality imprints. There’s a goodly amount of Whedon-style action-banter (“Let’s blow this bitch back to the Bush years!”). A little girl whose identity I won’t reveal uses a big gun to blast someone important to the episode. Dr. Saunders/Whiskey has scars no more. Olivia Williams’ Adelle is lovely. (Just throwing that in there.) Eliza Dushku’s Caroline puts in minimal appearances, but they’re crucial.

In short, a terrific Dollhouse episode that adds a lot to our knowledge going in to season two. It acts as a flash-forward that renders next season a flashback to things that occurred before “Epitaph One”‘s 2019 events. The episode’s commentary by Jed Whedon and Tancharoen is cozily laid-back; I really didn’t need to hear that they’re considering having sex after recording their comments. But maybe I’m just old-fashioned that way; don’t mind me.

As for the original pilot, you’ve seen bits of it chopped up and scattered throughout other Dollhouse episodes, so, again, if you’re a rabid fan or a completist, you’ll want to watch it, but it’s not essential. I didn’t listen to every one of the commentaries, but the ones with Joss are invariably his usual mix of intentionally-obfuscating silliness and interesting how/why-I-wanted-that revelation.

All in all, definitely at least worth renting, if not owning. What about you? Have you been looking forward to this Dollhouse DVD release?

Comments (35 total) Add your comment
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  • bill

    Saw EPITATH ONE at Comic-Con. It was brilliant, exquisite and thought provoking. I love shows that require your attention and reward it. And anyone who loves James Cameron should like this season ender. It had a very Cameron-esque quality to it.

  • Snarf

    hell to the yes!

  • Phil V.

    I have to say this show just hasn’t been able to win me over. I think the base idea is a one-trick-pony, and Dushku, as much as I like her, really doesn’t have the acting chops to pull it all off. A few of the episodes (the singer one comes to mind) have been atrocious, while others have been decent, but really, Whedon could do much better ( feel like Dushku came to him with an idea and he couldn’t turn it down and got pigeon-holed)
    Looking at something like Kings, I have no idea why this survives and that bought it. And this coming from someone who’s a big Whedon and Tahmoh fan. Oh well.

    • E

      watch epitaph one – it might just change your mind. I agree with your comments and the almost snail-like inability to move the plot in the first episodes, but now that those are out of the way and Whedon has layed the foundation of things to come in “Epitaph One” I think, and hope it can get better.

    • Ryan

      Phil, i don’t know if you paid attnetion to the stuff that was happening with Dollhouse at first. Whedon was pretty much told by the network how to do the first handful of episodes and it wasn’t until episode 6 he was really able to get the Dollhouse mythology into the show and still make the network happy. I agree the singer episode was weak as can be, but it was a Fox episode, not a Whedon episode. From episode 6 on the show continued to get better. Epitah One is a FANTASTIC episode.

      Also I watched about half the making of and it sounds like Joss met with Eliza and he sort of came up with the overall idea and moved it on. Eliza doesn’t even know what exactly is going to be happening.

      Simply put just check out Epitah for sure and hope season 2 works toward that future happening.

  • Katherine

    It’s always worth buying Whedon DVDs because you can pick up so much more of the storyline arcs and the cultural references that are the goldmines of a Whedon show. However, here’s hoping that season 2 is a little less rocky!

    • Martha

      Review by Kay D. Benjamin for Rating: So often good, intriguing snceice fiction teases the viewer with intrigue and possibilities, then falls flat when the resolution is revealed. I’m thinking of the TV show Life on Mars. Well, Dollhouse not only draws you along with artful mystery and suggestion, in the end it knocks your socks off with the storyline and the conclusion. I agree with another reviewer who says this show packs in more story in it’s two short seasons than many shows do over five seasons (think Lost which is incredibly uneven in terms of actual content). This may be due in part to the one-season reprieve Josh Whedon got to continue the story so he had to pack a lot of story in a short number of episodes. Why can’t all TV be this intense?I can’t recommend this show enough if you’re a fan of snceice fiction set in the contemporary world. For me, this is one of THE BEST sci fi shows I’ve ever seen.

  • Matthew

    I have been looking forward to this release because ive heard so many good things about this show and admit I did not watch it all when it was on tv. I think it was because my DVR messed up one of the episodes and knew there was no way to get caught up if i missed one.

  • sassy2009

    What’s with the comments about Joss and Maurissa having sex? With each other? Isn’t Joss still married? Now I have to google him! Also not happy that Felicia is part of it – she wasn’t very good on Dr. Horrible, I thought. bummer.

    • Anastasia

      it’s jed not joss. jed is married to maurissa and is joss’s little brother.

      Epitaph One Rocks!!! I bet Fox is kicking itself that it didn’t air it.

  • heidi

    The Dollhouse is a whorehouse that solves crimes. If this premise makes sense to you, perhaps you should be writing this show, because the writers can’t come close to making sense of it. The show has a tiny rabid following, normal people don’t like it. Which category are you in? That’s the question.

    • Sam

      Heidi, care to define normal? Last I checked “normal” is an abstract term that nobody clears up. i.e. Can you vague that up for me? Normal fits into the same category as average…people feel like they want to simultaneously disavow and belong to that descriptor. That is to say, nobody wants to think of themselves as average but above average. In the same way, normal is thought of as “I’m unique, just like everybody else”. Rather than trying to categorize the ppl that like or dislike the show into certain camps (much like ppl who discuss current events and make them into black/white issues) stay on topic and discuss the show. Don’t try using an ad hominem attack, let alone a very weak one to distract ppl.

      P.S. are you by any chance republican? ;-)

      • Katie

        I liked your post up to the Republican crack. Really, you had to go there? I think you need to reread your own post and you’ll see how lame it was.

    • Ryan

      The Dollhouse is much more than a whorehouse and the writers did a good job of making that known. Yes sex is part of what an active does, but it is not the only thing they offer. Plus it is hinted at very heavily there is a deeper agenda than what the houses currently do. It’s a matter of them not spelling everything out in intricate detail that I guess turns off the “normal people.” Of course by normal I mean the asshats who watch every crappy reality show that comes out and say it’s great TV, sorry for the reality crowd that they don’t get it but whatever.

      • heidi

        Oh my God I actually got a response.

        Yes indeed there is a deeper agenda to the Dollhouse, which Joss is going to share with us as soon as he figures out what the hell it is. For now he is going to string along people like you, who think he has any idea what he’s trying to say about the Dollhouse.

    • krushyou

      Have you been paying attention at all? The show is based around does the soul actually exist? Its been repeated over and over the idea. How one can transfer an entire person into a random person’s body and it feel exactly like they never left. The “whorehouse” is to make money while they continue to experiment. Last time I checked martial arts is not something required for “whoring”

      • heidi

        The only part of the show that makes any sense at all is the whorehouse element. Nobody would hire the Dollhouse for anything else. Every crime the Dollhouse solves could be solved by an FBI agent. You believe everything you watch, don’t you?

    • Shiny

      It is a stretch to call it a whorehouse; after all, ho’s at least get to put their feet up and watch Springer when their shift is done. The D’house is more of a plantation with indentured slaves working off their debt. I’m done with the show (and yes, I watched every episode and no, I don’t think it got better and no, I don’t think the network is to blame.) The whole “actress showcase” premise felt too much like Fantasy Island.

  • didyouhearthestory

    My big thought with the pilot was that although it was messy, dizzying even, in places, it gave a flavour of what season one could have been. It was much more weighted on dialogue and interactions than heavy action, the storyline of the first five episodes was whipped through, and there were some genuinely interesting debates on free will (mostly involving topher seeming much more interesting and much less smarmy than he was in the aired first episode). If only, if only, they could have trusted Whedon’s vision, the ratings might not have collapsed so quickly. I hope he has more creative control next season, and I hope that the ratings recover as a result.

  • LoveDollhouse

    LOVED IT! Epitaph one was insane, and I am so excited for next season. The show really hit it’s stride about 5 episodes in, and I hope that viewers will give it a second chance in the fall!

    Sassy2009 – the commentary is Jed (Joss’ brother) and Maurissa, they’re engaged (or married, I can’t remember which), and were the writers for epitaph one

  • DW

    Despite a handful of solid episodes, I just can’t imagine shelling out 30 or 40 bucks to own this deeply flawed show on DVD. If someone gives it to me as a gift I’ll take it, but there are so many better shows to spend money on.

  • Watts

    Sad they kept this garbage instead of sarah connor chronicles

    • Brian E

      Exactly. It’s part of the reason why I won’t be back for S2 and I won’t be getting the DVD.

      The part is even from the earliest days this show seemed off to me. I’m a huge Joss fan but I was never really sold on the concept and none of the episodes really won me over. I liked some more than others but it just felt… odd.

      I just don’t buy that this is happening now in the present day. Set it 5-10 years in the future sure but now? No. I buy Buffy and Angel & Firefly’s internal logic but for some reason not Dollhouse.

      I won’t buy the DVD and I won’t be back next season.

      • Robert J

        I was never a big Wheadon fan until I saw Serenity and then watched Firefly so I gave Dollhouse a chance. I barely made it through the first episode and realized it wasn’t a show for me. It reminded me of Dark Angel, another poorly executed sci-fi show that featured a beautiful heroine with dumb storylines and hard-to-watch acting. It’s not enough for me to watch a show just for pretty girls running around in skimpy outfits. I have to have compelling characters and good stories. After watching one episode of Dollhouse, I knew I wasn’t going to get either one with this series.

      • Penny

        10.11.11 at 1:56 pmhixeyWhedon wrote the forrwad to The Ultimates which is probably the only Avengers comic I really loved. This movie seems like it might follow that. Nick Fury was Sam Jackson in that comic and that is why they used him in the movies, so it would stand to reason that they might follow the comics.And good lord, am I really explaining this like it’s something anyone cares about. Oooo look Scarlett Johansson’s ass in leather.

  • Brittany

    Im a huge wheadon fan so i was able to get through the first couple epis, but this is definatly not his best work for that you should check out btvs (seasons 56and7 for sure). But it defiantly caught its stride midway through. And i of course will buy it to keep my wheadonverse complete, but i dont think anyone outside of the know is going to enjoy it or make it past the first five epis. If you want to give it a try id rent or borrow from one of your much nerdier friends.

  • bhm1304

    Is the Dollhouse in fact the same set as “Wolfram and Hart”? There was something about Amy Acker moving around the top ledge in Epitaph One that brought back memories of Ilyria.

  • John

    I actually LOVED in Epitaph One the little shout-out they give to the haters of the show’s premise: “A whorehouse?! The tech that destroyed mankind was designed to make more believable HOOKERS?!”

  • Yogurt

    I can’t stand when creepy old men like Tucker use words like “psyched”. Makes me cross my fingers that he is not allowed within 100 yards of any school or daycare.

    • Joaquin

      Meh. The pilot was the most offensive thing I’ve seen on TV in years, but I’ve read Whedon’s oagiinrl script and knew that it was much better the network insisted on the changes. The next several episodes were weak as well. Part of the problem is that I don’t think Eliza Dushku has the charisma or range to carry the show. It might work better as an ensemble piece. However, the ratings have been so abysmal that it’ll be lucky if Fox airs the oagiinrl 13 episodes they commissioned.

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