to the list of excellent TV shows cancelled far too soon. Of course, it's miraculous that Dollhouse
made it to a second season at all. Television isn't generally receptive to complicated stories or moral ambiguity--and how else can you describe a series about people called "actives," whose minds are wiped clean so they can be imprinted with other personalities and rented out to the wealthy? As season 2 begins, former FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett, Battlestar Galactica
) has joined the Dollhouse and become the handler for Echo (Eliza Dushku, Bring It On
), the most popular active. But Ballard still hopes to bring the Dollhouse down, and when he discovers that Echo's mind is starting to accumulate a new, coherent personality, he keeps her secret and promises to help her.
Echo's developing self began as the season's dominant story, but halfway through the season creator Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog) learned the show had been cancelled--so he decided to cram the events he'd planned for multiple seasons into the remaining episodes. The result is more like a zippy science-fiction novel than typical serial television. Some plot developments feel rushed, but overall the headlong pace revs up the excitement as the Dollhouse fights against its parent corporation and instigates what may be the end of civilization. The regular characters all develop in juicy ways and some actors from other Whedon series (like Firefly's Summer Glau and Angel's Alexis Denisof) get plum guest roles. The series has its weaknesses--some ideas seem clumsily grafted on from other science-fiction franchises--but the second season vastly improved upon the first, and Whedon's vivid characters and superb storytelling make Dollhouse a pleasure to watch. The DVD extras are substantive, particularly some deleted scenes that give additional heft to the season's developments. --Bret Fetzer