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These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
Angst Aversion: In the months leading up to the show's premiere, a number of Joss Whedon fans seemed to wonder whether it would be worth getting into a show that, considering its creator's track record, would likely put all its likable characters through hell; or, as it's on Fox, would have time to put its characters through Purgatory and then be cancelled.
Ass Pull: Joss has admitted that Boyd being the Big Bad was one, as after being given just a few more episodes to wrap the show up, he needed a villain who could be defeated quickly.
Better on DVD: Leaving aside the fact that it's got fairly fast-paced plot and character arc development from one episode to the next even in the early "stand-alone" episodes, anyone who's used Hulu or iTunes to watch an episode a second or even third time will probably tell you that with additional viewings you tend to catch things you missedthefirsttime.
From the first episode, "Ghost", there's the unnamed, pedophilic kidnapper who is a serial rapist and killer of little girls. When twelve-year-old Davina Crestejo is abducted by him and his cohorts, the doll, Echo, is implanted with the artificially constructed personality of a hostage negotiator named Eleanor Penn, and sent by the Dollhouse to negotiate Davina's release. The personality of Ms. Penn was constructed partially from the memories of a little girl who was kidnapped as a child herself. When the time comes for the kidnappers to collect the ransom, however, Ms. Penn has a nervous breakdown upon seeing the face of one of the kidnappers and recognizing him as the same man who kidnapped her as a child. She then reveals this kidnapper's modus operandi. Kidnapping little girls, he ransoms them to their parents, then, after the money arrives, murders his partners and keeps the girls as his Sex Slaves, killing them when they grow too old for his tastes. When Echo informs his fellow kidnappers about what their partner's planning for Davina, they are so disgusted that they immediately try to kill him before allowing Echo to leave with Davina.
Joe Hearn is The Handler for the doll Sierra, and at first seems nothing more than a callous Jerkass who doesn't care when the dolls under his care die. He proves himself to be far more evil, however, when it's revealed that he's been taking advantage of the blind trust dolls are implanted with towards their handlers and, while Sierra is in her neutral child-like state, has repeatedly forced her to have sex with him. His crimes close to being discovered, he tries to convince his superiors that the doll, Victor, is the true perpetrator and argues to have him sent to the Attic. When Hearn himself is revealed to be the culprit, his boss Adelle DeWitt issues him an ultimatum, either be sent to the Attic himself, or rape and murder Paul Ballard's girlfriend Mellie to deter him from investigating the Dollhouse. Hearn chooses the latter, and sets to the task with apparent glee. However, it turns out to be a set-up planned by DeWitt who was so repulsed by Hearn's actions that she had arranged it so Hearn would be killed by Mellie, who is a doll herself and has a code phrase only Adelle can trigger that turns her into a stone-cold killer.
Nolan Kinnard was one of the Corrupt Corporate Executives behind the Dollhouse program, and a psychotic Yandere who formed a disturbing obsession with a young artist named Priya Tsetsang. When his increasingly expensive attempts to seduce her fail, he tries, and fails, to flat-out rape her instead. In retribution for Priya's rejection, he arranges for her to be abducted, imprisoned in his hospital and regularly pumped her full of drugs which stopped her brain from producing adequate amounts of serotonin and dopamine. This caused Priya to suffer from visual and aural hallucinations, making her seem to the outside world like a paranoid schizophrenic. He then convinces the Dollhouse to take Priya on as an "altruistic" charity case, turning her into the doll Sierra, and, once they do, Kinnard frequently hires her out, having her imprinted with a personality that was hopelessly in love with him. He then uses this imprint to rape her over and over again, taking a picture of her after each engagement as a trophy of what he's done to her. When DeWitt and Topher Brink discover the truth behind Priya's transformation into the doll, Sierra, they are horrified and try to keep her away from Kinnard, only for him to use his pull with the Dollhouse to order her permanently imprinted with the love-struck personality to keep as his Sex Slave for the rest of her life. When Sierra is "delivered" to him, however, she reveals that she is imprinted with her original personality, slaps him across the face and tells him how much she hates him. In retribution, Kinnard beats her and comes after her with a knife, only stopping when Priya kills him in self-defense.
Creator's Pet: Time and again various characters talk about how "special" Echo is; most viewers, on the other hand, ended up liking other characters more.
It's hard to tell if the poor ratings were caused by this, the Friday Night Death Slot, the retooled pilot and initial episodes, a bad premise and an actress with the acting range of a robot, or some combination of the above.
On the other hand, it was still picked up for a second season despite abysmal ratings and a decidedly uneven critical reaction. This was an acknowledgment of the Firefly effect; Fox's president of entertainment was quoted as saying that "if we'd canceled Joss' show I'd probably have 110 million e-mails this morning from the fans." Could it be that Firefly actually taught them something? Apparently not, since they aren't showing any shows during November sweeps even after putting a Press Release out that they will.
An odd example: Mellie/November and Ballard. And Ballard and Echo, though that's unidirectional.
Also unidirectional: Alpha—>Echo
Another weird one: Whiskey/Saunders and Topher.
Adelle and Howard Lippman, the head of the D.C. Dollhouse. At least, until she grabs him by the goolies.
Topher and Bennett have tons of this in 2x06, which blossoms into a full-fledged relationship when she has her Heel-Face Turn in 2x11. And then she gets shot in the head.
At least on the fanfic side of things, Dewitt/Dominic seems to be quite a popular pairing
"Funny Aneurysm" Moment: In one of the flashbacks in "The Target" (1x02), we see Topher carrying out the handler-active imprint between Boyd and Echo, giving Boyd a script and saying "Alright, Brando, let's see what you got." Then it turns out Boyd has been a magnificent actor throught the entire damn series...
"A Spy In The House of Love" (1x09). The conversation between Topher and Boyd about the possibility that there is a spy in the dollhouse becomes much harsher in hindsight after Boyd is outed as The Chessmaster and Big Bad of the series. Particularly because of the incredulous way he asks "And you think I'm the spy?".
In "Epitaph One" we see that Whiskey is still waiting for Boyd, who (thanks to The End of the World as We Know It) is probably not coming back. Her devotion to him is all the more poignant in light of 2x12, now that we know where he went (and, for that matter, what-all has happened to her since then).
Growing the Beard: Happens at "Man on the Street" (1x06). This is the point Joss got more freedom to tell the story as he wanted to, and it shows. Specifically, the whole "Porn" exchange and everything that happens around it. Patton Oswalt was basically the Beard Carrier for the show.
Hollywood Homely: At the beginning of "Getting Closer", we see flashbacks of a nerdy Bennett being victimized by a pair of Alpha Bitches until Caroline intervenes. Of course, even with the thick Nerd Glasses, Bennett was still the most beautiful thing on the screen, because she's played by Summer freakin' Glau.
Ballard may just have a thing for Imprinted!Victor at this point.
Topher has his moments with almost every male he comes in contact with. Including Victor-as-himself. He fully admits to having had a crush on Bennettbefore he met her and found out that she was a girl. For some reason when he first goes to see her, he does ask "Bennett, where is she?", even though he supposedly had no idea about her gender. He seemed more inclined to assume that she'd be much older and less attractive.
Bennett and Caroline have plenty of this in the flashbacks:
Holy— Echo just took a bullet to the gut! And now Victor? What did you just do to Sierra? That bloody knife... is the escape from The Attic going to work?
Dr. Saunders has a heartfelt conversation about Topher with Bennett, wherein Bennett finally starts looking like something other than a psycho thanks to Topher's obvious admiration and infatuation with her. And then Saunders shoots Bennett in the head when lovestruck Topher walks in.
And then Boyd is revealed as the mysterious mastermind behind Rossum.
Ballard getting shot in the head halfway through the series finale. And he was just starting to be a sympathetic character!
Internet Backdraft: apparently you can only either hate it or worship it. Both camps aren't exactly keen on the other. There is also quite a bit of hatred from fans of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, who blame Dollhouse for their show's cancelation and took every opportunity to blow raspberries every time the subject of cancellation came up, this being a prime example
In "Vows" (2x01), Whiskey examining Echo only for Echo to flashback to a previous engagement where the two did engage in Les Yay. In the same episode, Sierra-as-imprint suggests to Ivy that a little doctor-on-patient action wouldn't be unwelcome.
In "Meet Jane Doe", Echo casually mentions to Ballard that she's been "at least seven times gay," so the offscreen Les Yay in this series is off the charts (confirmed in the earlier "A Spy In The House Of Love"). This is reinforced in the next episode, "A Love Supreme." Alpha methodically hunts and kills all those who hired Echo on romantic engagements - including a woman who actually married Echo in San Francisco (before the series' beginning, since Proposition 8 banned same-sex marriage in California in November 2008, three months before the show's debut).
Adelle sure seems to enjoy getting up close and whispering in Echo's ear.
And apparently, Caroline and Bennett were pretty close back in college, although they may have been verging more toward being Heterosexual Life-Partners.
In the series finale "Epitaph Two: Return," Mag, one of the freedom fighters, freely mentions her attraction to Kilo, one of the fighters allied with Anthony/Victor. But since the heroes are leaving Safe Haven to return to the battle in Los Angeles, it's unlikely Mag had time to act on that connection, although she did keep a bedside vigil by the wounded Kilo at the Dollhouse.
Subverted in "A Love Supreme" (2x08). They actually blew an innocent man to bits on network TV.Holy. Shit. Whedon is the King of subverting this trope. Ask Tara. (Oddly enough, in the same broadcast week, Bones blew a innocent guy to bits onscreen, on network TV. Maybe there was a bet going on for Christmas...)
And in "Getting Closer" (2x11) they killed Bennett! How could they do that?
Adelle DeWitt, especially as of her Badass Boast in "The Left Hand" that is made, slowly and sweetly, while delivering one continuous Groin Attack coupled with a death threat. Later, she knowingly puts Echo, Victor, and Sierra into the Attic in order to find out Rossum's secrets. When nobody was ever supposed to return from there. The lady is almost a Magnificent Bastard and a Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant at the same time.
Alpha seems to have been established as one during the course of a single episode!
It's said that the difference between a Chessmaster and a Magnificent Bastard is that the latter is his own greatest piece. Boyd was his own greatest piece.
Adelle giving away Topher's technology to mass-imprint anybody. Possibly subverted in that Adelle is working a long game in order to bring Rossum down, though she doesn't turn against Rossum until many, many scotches later.
Please. Given the aforementioned long game, Adelle is basically in the clear. You want a real Moral Event Horizon? In 2x11, "Getting Closer," Whiskey/Doctor Saunders murders the show's newly minted Woobie, Bennett Halverson, in front of Topher Brink, probably the only man to ever love her, mere minutes after their first kiss. Why? Because Boyd implanted Clyde, his second in command and personal assasin into Whisky's head. There is no fate cruel enough for Boyd. He got off easy. Sick bastard.
The Dollhouse is everywhere, and anyone can be an Active. Including your next-door neighbor. Even better, you could be an Active. That family you just saw yesterday? Artificial constructs of memory. The lifelong friend you're having lunch with? Someone who hired you to be his buddy, and you just met. Your partner, who you love more than anything and want to spend the rest of your life with? You only met this morning, and you won't remember them in a few hours.
"Epitaph One" takes this to a horrifying extreme: Remote imprinting is now possible and those who control the technology can send out a signal to Mind Wipe an entire area. In other words, you could be walking down the street minding your own business, only to suddenly lose your memory, your identities, and everything that makes you you...and there is no way to predict or prevent it.
Dominic. Observe, for example, Television Without Pity's response to his presence in "The Target" (1x02), compared to the response in "Epitaph One" (1x13). Not to mention his transformation from Echo's would-be killer to her protector in the Attic's nightmare world (2x10) - and his willingness to stay there (for the moment) and hold down the fort rather than escape with Echo. In light of this, his post-Attic confrontation with DeWitt in "Epitaph One" has much more justification than viewers knew at the time.
Topher as well, using the same evidence.
Caroline is far more interesting as a manipulative self-aware terroist than a whiney Granola Girl.
She Really Can Act: Not that there was much question about Eliza Dushku's acting ability, but this show really puts her full range of talents on display, considering that she essentially plays at least one new role per episode (and sometimes two or three within the same episode). See "Belle Chose" for proof: Echo in the serial killer imprint was scary as hell.
Shocking Swerve: The reveal that Boyd Langton was the head of the Rossum Corporation, which turns the character into a lunatic with a stupidly impractical master plan and, in retrospect, makes a lot of their earlier actions in the series unnecessary at best and nonsensical at worst.
The Big Bad's entire Evil Plan is about exploiting Echo's natural resistance to mind-wiping until he can develop an immunization. The "point" he is working from is the belief that imprinting tech, now that it exists, will inevitably be abused. And, aside from the slight oversight of offering that immunization only to folks he personally likes, it should be pointed out that his working premise is basically the Aesop of the entire series. Especially since, even after they kill him and "save the world," the Bad Future he predicted still occurs.
To counter that, note that, Rossum is at the forefront of imprinting technology. No one else likely has it. Rossum pushed its development and used it in ways that broke the Moral Event Horizon ten ways to Sunday. 'He' is abusing the imprinting tech, under a philosophy of Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto You. He is right in that once the tech has been invented, it won't be un-invented, but there were less insanely evil ways of going about to try to make the best of this situation. This is an equivalent of a scientist figuring out how to build a nuclear bomb and then forcing development until the world blows itself to hell, with a select contingent of 'worthies' protected from the fallout, because the nuclear apocalypse is inevitable.
Tainted by the Preview: A borderline case, but a significant group of the potential viewing audience, even Joss Whedon fans, were unimpressed by the relatively lackluster couple of opening episodes and didn't stick with it beyond.
Some viewers are contemptuous of Caroline's activism, especially her outrage at inhumane treatment of test animals. Probably not quite the intended response.
For some, it's less the reason why so much as the way she acts, reacts, and approaches her outrage. After all, it was her rash thinking that resulted in her boyfriend's death and seemingly one of the consequences she was escaping when she volunteered for the Dollhouse.
For others it's the fact that experimenting on fetuses is illegal, and all Caroline has to say about it is "I told you Rossum was evil" then she goes back to coo over the puppies, when she now has more than enough evidence to take Rossum down.
Thankfully unlike some other examples of this trope Caroline is often called out on this and hardly held up as perfect.
What an Idiot: A client requires a competent negotiator to facilitate an exchange between himself and the men who have kidnapped his daughter... so he makes Echo question whether she's a negotiator at all? Fantastic idea, sir. It's especially bad because DeWitt herself explicitly told him to not challenge the Actives' identities or their perception of self, as that would confuse and potentially render them useless.
Sierra pretty much outdoes everyone else in "Belonging" (2x04). Yeah, poor girl. Let's not forget that before we learned everything about her backstory we still had her being raped in a vaguely child-abuse sort of way by her handler, who's supposed to be a person she can trust implicitly. She definitely gets more than her fair share.
Mellie, first when Paul breaks up with her in "Briar Rose" (1x11) and again when she commits suicide in front of him during "The Hollow Men" (2x12).
Lastly, Echo herself, when her suppressed grief over Paul's death comes out spectacularly in "Epitaph Two: Return" (2x13).