***Warning Contains Major Spoilers for Season 1***
Lets get one thing straight right here and now. FOX cancelling Dollhouse right after the best freaking episode in the series is the second biggest mistake they ever made! Not only is Dollhouse awesome in its own right, but it may just be the best damn thing in Joss Whedon’s canon!
What is that I hear you cry? Firefly? Yeah, I used to think so too, now I’m not so sure. Epitaph One changed everything about this show, it has so much unrealised potential and on a different network it may have even flourished. If I could have Firefly back in one piece or Dollhouse the decision would be more painful than ripping off my own arm but I think it would come down simply to timing. Right now the Dollhouse crew are fresh, they are ready to pick up where they left off, while Firefly’s crew is scattered across a dozen networks. Dollhouse too has a lot of story to tell, while, with Firefly, you have already concluded much with the film Serenity. If you had asked me last year, right after Dollhouse finished, I would have bitten your hand off if it meant I could have Firefly back, now is a different story…
But that is not what this post is about. This is 10 reasons why FOX might have been right to scrap “Echo” for “Ghost”. For those of you who don’t know, “Echo” was the title of the unaired pilot for Dollhouse. FOX declined the pilot and requested Joss write something they wanted to air and for once, they may have been right…
- Narrative – When I watched Echo, I thought to myself, where did FOX get off scrapping this, it’s infinitely better than that drivel they forced Joss to write, however, after watching Ghost again I realised, actually, it’s not. The story told in Echo covers too much ground from a narrative view point. Ghost covers just enough. We learn a small amount about the Dollhouse, a small amount about the actives and a small amount about Paul Ballard’s investigation, all while we are told an interesting and involving story.
- Paul Ballard – In “Echo”, Ballard is possibly the most developed character. While in “Ghost” he remains an enigmatic shadow. We don’t really know who he is, how far he is willing to go to find the Dollhouse and most importantly of all he doesn’t meet Echo!
- Baby Steps – Rewriting the Pilot allowed Joss to spread out information over several episodes, all the information we are given in “Echo” comes throughout the opening couple of episodes of the series instead. This gave a greater significance to the reveal that Victor was a Doll. It allowed us to wonder when, if ever, would Ballard find Caroline and if he did would he, could he help her.
- The Cold Open - “Echo” opens with an introduction to what Dolls are. This is useful I guess for non-Whedon fans, or those without an internet connection or those without eyes maybe, but for most of us, we knew what the show was about long before it aired… I mean, like, waaaaaaaaay before. The opening for “Ghost” however was much more effective (even if I didn’t realise it first time around.) It was much more “Joss”, giving us questions without answers and yet managing to fill in just enough blanks to help us get by.
- More than just a pilot – The aim of a pilot is little more than to introduce the world, the characters, the core concept of the show. What Joss managed to do with “Ghost” was to do all that and yet tell a one shot story too. Ghost didn’t ask the viewer to return, it was a story, plain and simple, a story in a greater, more interesting story, but you could just walk away at the end of it. Which I guess could be why so many people did. However “Echo” was just an introduction. Looking back at it now, it never broke out from the internal world of the Dollhouse. It dealt purely with Ballard’s investigation into the Dollhouse, it was, about the Dollhouse, it was not a story in the world of the Dollhouse, it was a mythology episode, it tried to engage us, to invite you into the world of the Dollhouse and while that was a worthy endeavour, I doubt it was an invite the public at large would have accepted.
- Sierra and Victor – The entrances for both these characters improved dramatically. While Victor’s dual identity was revealed almost instantly in “Echo” it took weeks to be revealed because of the way Ghost unfolded. In fact, I remember thinking that Victor was only a recurring guest star, not even realising he was one of the main cast. While Sierra’s entrance was changed significantly. In “Echo” she was already a Doll, already with attachments to Victor and Echo. In Ghost we first she her crying out in pain as she is “broken in” by Topher and his team. Then the next time we see her she guns down two kidnappers with River-like accuracy, seriously cool!
- The Little Things – Ok so I’ve kinda said they spread stuff out, but they also changed a few important details. For example in “Echo” Boyd requests Topher perform a remote wipe on Echo. Topher tells Boyd that a remote wipe if iffy, but he doesn’t say he can’t do it. However, in Dollhouse as we know it, he can’t do it by season 2. Why is this minor detail important? Because I believe remote wipes hold the key to the future we see in Epitaph One. Removing this element from the pilot, to me, seems to have altered the show at its foundations, perhaps without intending to.
- Alpha – The closing moments of “Ghost” give the audience potentially more food for thought than those of “Echo”. While the latter merely hints at Echo becoming self-aware (a scene that is later planted straight into a another episode) the former reveals an “eyes only” document on Alpha and a rather disturbing, intriguing scene with a naked man and a video of Caroline. A man we later learn is non-other than Mr Lawrence Dominic. Of the two, the former is certainly more of an attention grabber than the latter. After all, in “Echo” we already know who Caroline is, Ballard has already met her and we also know that Alpha cut up Whiskey, but in Ghost we know none of this. We don’t even know the name Caroline, while all we know of Alpha is the name!
- High Octane – Ultimately FOX was looking for a pilot that opened with a bang. It the reason they scrapped “Serenity”, the character driven pilot for Firefly and replaced it with “The Train Job” a story about a high speed train robbery involving space faring cowboys. The same is true of “Ghost”. There are gunfights, kidnapping and bike racing. It’s adrenaline pumping stuff, with enough character development thrown in to keep Joss from picking up his ball and going home. While Echo is all about the characters, even with Echo shooting Ballard, a truly shocking endgame for a brilliant episode, it just doesn’t have the same exhilarating feel that “Ghost” has.
- You need one last reason? Well how about this, we lucky DVD owners get 14 episodes of Dollhousy goodness instead of 13!
All that said, “Echo” is an excellent episode, one that probably deserves its own post on here one day. Some brilliant lines have been lost to the extras section of a DVD release but at least we can have them now and treasure them. I hope that with the back to back airings of Dollhouse in December we can make our presence known and convince FOX to change their minds. But if not, then I hope Joss can at least get the rights to produce a couple of TV movies to really finish this awesome show, the way it was meant to be finished!
By the way you can find my original thoughts on Dollhouse here.
This has been My Very Sad and F***ed Off Two Cents… Long Live the House!