Idol is a day later this week, so in the meantime, some thoughts on the past few days’ geek TV highlights. Spoilers follow for Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica and Heroes.
Dollhouse: It has been pre-ordained that episode six was ‘the good one’. The Dollhouse press tour has been assuring us, “We know this is a programme only a blinkered Browncoat could love, but we promise we’ll give you legitimate cause to like it if we last until episode six”.
It’s a weaselly strategy to rely on the indiscrimate dedication of die-hards to excuse a show’s creative failure. It’s also a doomed strategy, especially when your ‘game changer’ episode goes up against the Battlestar Galactica finale.
Inevitably all the people who were saying that Dollhouse was awesome from the get-go are now shifting their positions slightly to say that Dollhouse is awesome as of now. But did episode six really push Dollhouse from ‘joyless vanity project’ to ‘entertaining genre show’?
Honestly? Not yet, no. But there were two elements that helped elevate episode six. First of all, it was an ‘arc’ episode, dedicated to giving some much-needed context to the show’s unpalatable sex-puppet premise. Second, it balanced out Eliza Dushku’s glossily varnished wood with a few more interesting textures. Most of the characters are still so loathsome that the show remains a tough taste to acquire, and it’s a bad sign when the comic relief character with all the Joss Whedon dialogue is the creepiest rapist at Rape-o-tech, but it was good for the show to spend a little more time filling in the colours of the supporting cast.
The trouble is, I suspect that next week we’ll be right back to another rapetastic woman-in-peril plot with Dushku at its centre. Not that we got away without a woman-in-peril story this week - in fact there were two women in peril; one raped, the other merely forced to perform sex acts as part of her programming, and then threatened with rape. Rape is drama, you know? Delicious, exploitative drama.
Battlestar Galactica: There has been plenty of eye-rolling about the BSG finale. I only came to the show in the last few months, and I have to admit that I thought the ending was… consistent. I’m surprised that people were expecting anything more from it, but then BSG has been a rather brilliantly executed shell game from the start, and the secret of a good shell game is that the audience always believes it’s not going to get ripped off. Now there are articles arguing that BSG is one of the greatest TV shows ever made - some people still don’t know their watch is missing.
For months I’ve seen people discussing who or what the Cylon god was going to be, as if they thought the show was going to offer them a sci-fi explanation, to which my response was, “why can’t it just be God”? Guess what? Turns out it’s just God. So I wasn’t disappointed with the BSG finale, but I also wasn’t invested in the idea that the episode would be a codex to unravel all the mysteries. BSG was a show that made everything up on the fly. Its philosophical trappings were never more than brightly coloured bunting, and there was never a consistent ideology informing the whole thing. It was a dumb show that convinced a lot of people that it was smart.
The great nerd hope ended with a whimper. No thrilling space battle, no satisfying answers, and no impressive death count. The villains found a few interesting ways to kill themselves, and the heroes went running through the long grass. As for Kara Thrace, the undead tomboy and much-vaunted harbinger of death; it turned out she was aaaaall a dreeeam.
Heroes: Like Dollhouse, this was a pre-ordained turning point for the series - producer Bryan Fuller’s first chance to re-impose himself on the series since he left at the end of season one. I may be falling into the same hopeless blinkered trap as the Whedonistas, but I have to admit, I enjoyed it. It’s the first episode of Heroes in a long, long time that I’ve watched without having to roll my eyes or feel insulted.
Here’s why it worked:
- For the first time in a story called ‘Fugitives’, there was solid pacing and a sense of tension arising from the characters being, ooh, fugitives.
- No Sylar; no Claire. Not that I dislike either character, but they both get far too much attention, especially Sylar, who ought to be kept in a glass case marked ‘in case of lull’. The show has a stupidly big cast. It needs to strike a better balance. This episode did that.
- Speaking of which; they culled the cast. Tracy Strauss made the big pointless sacrifice - two Ali Larters down, one to go - and Daphne got a touching send-off. Along the way, both characters remembered their personalities and their previously established relationships - as, in fact, did everyone in the story! Oh, context, how we have missed you!
- They also brought back some of the cast, but in a good way. We all knew Rebel would turn out to be Micah, but seeing him and Janice back in the show gives us a sense of a rounded universe. Consequences, there you are! Were you off larking about with context?
- The baby Parkman story could have been a disaster - the comedy misadventures of Hiro and Ando tend to wear a little thin - but this time around there was actual humour. I smiled! And Hiro got one of his powers back, which is good and proper. No powers is dull. Too much power is dull. A little power is just right.
- The biggest surprise of the episode, though, was that Peter got to be heroic. In a show called Heroes, someone got to be the hero - without doing anything dumb or inexplicable. Somehow this felt like a watershed moment.
Remember when you used to like watching Heroes? We may have just travelled in time. Look out for exploding cities.