"Yes. I enjoy my treatments." And that almost-innocent sounding exchange is a clue to the deep, dark weirdness within Joss Whedon's Dollhouse (2009 - 10).
I started watching it at the time and stopped after four or five episodes. After Firefly, it didn't seem to have a whole lot of "there" there, a puzzle-of-the-week show in the mold of Quantum Leap or The Pretender or even Have Gun Will Travel in which Skilled Outsider shows up and puts a bad situation right, week after week -- only in the case of Dollhouse, "Skilled Outsider" was one of a group of very attractive young people who had volunteered to have the original personalities removed and stored, while they were loaded with a whole new synthetic "imprint" for each "engagement," and spent the in-between time in a kind of innocent, compliant, childlike state. (In some ways, that's a show about making TV shows, with the kind of actor's personalities directors can only dream of.)
But if the premise of the show sounds as if it might be a bit problematic and rife with opportunity for callous exploitation, that would be because it is; with puzzle-of-the-week as a backdrop, things very gradually become more subtly disturbing and then the sixth episode rips it wide open--
It is probably the darkest of Whedon's television oeuvre. The clever, bantering dialog is muted; many of the characters are icy, calculating. And it is not helped by having been planned for five-year story arc, then getting cancelled while the second season was being written. The pace of the second season approaches panic, which does fit well with the notion of a technology teetering on the brink of devastating societal impact.
Typical of Whedon SF, the cast does a good job of "selling" the technology, despite a number of inconsistencies (I'm 90% of the way through the series and these could still be talked around). It is very dark and fundamentally disturbing, but as far as TV SF goes, I think it's among the best.
The show sank almost without a trace. Buffy... and Firefly have plenty of fans even now. Dollhouse? Not that I've noticed. And that's too bad. It's worth a second look.
T. R. MCELROY'S STREAMLINED TELEGRAPH KEYS
11 months ago