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July 18 2009

(SPOILER) "Echo" - A review. The reviewer calls the original Dollhouse pilot "heart-stoppingly beautiful and noir-tastic". Another review also questions the decision to scrap "Echo".

(Afterthought: I was wondering when we should stop marking "Echo" and "Epitaph One" posts as spoilers. July 28th?)
Have you watched it at TV or is it included at the DVD?
It's on the DVD.
Will we have seperate review threads for the Echo and 1x13 when the DVD is out? I'm dying to watch this and discover if my instinct after reading the script - that 'Echo' is vastly superior to 'Ghost', and also: not confusing at all - proves true on the screen and discuss the why or why not with my fellow whedonesquers :).
(Afterthought: I was wondering when we should stop marking "Echo" and "Epitaph One" posts as spoilers. July 28th?)

Yeah, it's a marginal case. Technically it's not a spoiler if it's aired (used to be in the USA but I notice the 'About' page seems to have changed and that's been removed leaving it a bit more ambiguous) and since neither of these will have aired by the 28th ...

I guess the most democratic way would be to geo-IP the logs, work out whether most people on here are from the US or not and then decide which DVD "region" should be granted favoured status when it comes to spoilers.

That said, one or two people aside, most are pretty considerate on here and have the intelligence to remain circumspect for the sake of others. As to those one or two, just mentally substitute "twat-face" whenever you read their screen-name. Works for me ;).
We're ending Dollhouse discussion next month so it's a moot point anyway.
Had a late-ish night last night so my radar's all to cock - is that more of the occasionally hard to discern Fraser irony or are you actually stopping 'Dollhouse' discussion next month ? Did somebody do a bad-bad while I was elsewhere ?
Yeah, that comment seemed to come from nowhere.

Unless its some kind of inside joke.
Nah just me indulging in a touch of whimsy. As for the two new episodes, we'll keep the spoiler tags up a couple of weeks when the DVD comes out on the 28th. After that, we'll have normal discussion but not put stuff on the front page like "A Review of Epitaph One - this writer argues that the killing of soandso was a mistake".*

*No idea if anyone does get killed, that was just an example.
Ya wee tinker ;). Whole vistas of intrigue and dark goings on were opening up in front of me, feuds were born, bannings left right and centre ... It got quite exciting for a while there.

Two weeks seems pretty reasonable, particularly if people are still a bit circumspect within other threads (especially other non-spoiler threads). Span class="invisible" is everyone's friend.

(and if anyone does get killed I hope it's not soandso - i'd miss them both)
When it comes to "Echo", I don't think it's really possible to be spoiled anyway. Although spoiler mileage may vary.
Well I think some people will want to go into it "blind" so to speak. It's been that long since I've read the script I'll probably be doing the same.
I'm surprised nobody has asked about the blonde girl Echo is helping yet.
I'm surprised nobody has asked about the blonde girl Echo is helping yet.

Wendy! I remembered that old Joss-quote when her name came up in "Omega":

To get a sense of how completely turned around I was during this process, you should know there was a scene with Eliza and the astonishing Ashley Johnson that I wrote and shot completely differently three different times, with different characters in different places (actually I wrote it closer to eight times), and none of it will ever see air. Which is as it should be (though I'm determined to get Ms. Johnson back in the future).


And he did.
Echo and Epitaph One are both online (and now on my HDD).
I know I shouldn't make the impression of attacking FOX, with them not cancelling Dollhouse and all, but ... In my mind they blew it with not taking the pilot as it was. The retooled Dollhouse with skimpy dress and motorcycle chase sucks compared to this. Some will argue that "Echo" would be too sophisticated for FOX, but honestly: Could the ratings have been worse as they were? Maybe this is one reason Dollhouse got a second chance: The FOX suits realizing they blew it. They could have had some of Joss' finest work and instead got "A-Team meets Quincy". And having watched "Echo" it is now very obvious how Joss came back to what story he wanted to tell with "Man on the Street".

OK, needed to vent and will don my flame protection now.

[ edited by Udo Schmitz on 2009-07-18 19:11 ]
Now having seen Echo and Epitaph One all I can say is WOW!!! and HOLY SHIT!!!
Shit, Epitaph One actually is online. The first minute seems legit anyway. Thanks Zoic_Fan.

And Ive already pre-ordered my Dollhouse season one and am rewatching it on sci-fi uk anyway so I don't have any qualms about watching it.
where do I find these. I am all pre-ordered, double actually BlueRay and DvD...
I think I'll be in trouble if I post links to unaired episodes without getting a moderators permission first or something.
I'd rather we didn't post links to where the episodes can be found. They will get deleted.
Thats fine and makes sense. Not a problem. if someone were to take my name and add the gmail domain to it they could inform me otherwise... anyways, excited.
I figured as much. On the subject of Echo though, it seems like the series first half would have been in a completely different (and probably better paced) direction had the original pilot been kept.
I've added the link to another review. Goes pretty much along the same lines.
We're ending Dollhouse discussion next month so it's a moot point anyway.

Hee hee. Love some crazy-mod-humor. If only it had gone on longer, we might have had a picnic!

(and if anyone does get killed I hope it's not soandso - i'd miss them both)

Totally! I would be devastated. If Joss kills soandso I intend to boycott his shows and write lots of angry letters and posts for years to come.

Very exciting review anyway. Off I go to amazon, to order the DVDs.
Watched the unaired pilot... the show could ahve been so much better if "Echo" was the starting point. Shame.
'Ghost' as an episode was good but felt rather lacking as a pilot, while 'Echo' was just an amazing episode and pilot, period. I understand why they didn't use it, but god do I wish they had.
I haven't seen the ep yet, so all my speculations are about as ill-informed as they could possibly be, but I won't let that stop me: I'm curious about the time-line, like if when they all agreed to scrap the original pilot and re-do it as Ghost, the thinking was, let's not go noir and complicated, let's try to write a Big Hit Pilot, and go noir and complicated later. Which makes sense, but once the Friday time-slot was settled on, it was obvious they were no longer thinking Big Hit Pilot anyway. I mean, the thinking behind it all kind of makes sense, it's just too bad that they didn't go for "niche" right away... but I can see why they wouldn't. I was hoping this would be the Big Joss Whedon Breakout Hit of the Millenium as well, for a while.

I really liked Ghost, actually. It felt like a really tight and exciting episode, so I was pretty surprised when it wasn't critically well-received at all.
A lot of the the Ashley Johnson scenes that Joss says "will never see air" are included in the deleted scenes on the DVD. There are a ridiculous amount of deleted scenes.
FYI
When Fox shut down production and insisted on a new pilot, did anyone really doubt that Joss's original would turn out to be far superior?
I'm just glad it got preserved. Although I'm too broke to buy the DVD, at least I know it's out there and I'll be able to see it eventually.
Fox didn't shut down production. Or insist on a new pilot. That was Joss's idea.
gossi, don't let the facts get in the way of another fandom myth.
Joss's post on scrapping the original pilot.

It's the new Serenity greenlighting podcast! Only this time around Joss graciously interviews himself in text on this, not his blog.
Whatever the reasons, and whoever made the decision, having just finished watching Echo I am in no doubt that it was a much better episode and pilot than Ghost was. I wasn't blown away by Echo in the same way that Epitaph One blew me away this afternoon, or Man on the Street blew me away at the time, but I did think it was an excellent episode, and the noir-ish tone, and the darkness of the stuff between Caroline/Shauna and Agent Ballard, hooked me much more than anything in Ghost.
I'm not a fan of Echo as a first episode. (And having watched this, what has happened with the score? Somebody took an electro pill). It's just a bit too kitchen sink for me.
I thought the score for "Echo" was much stronger and fitting with the tone of the show than the other episodes. Very Badalamentiesque.
It's surprising that "Echo" actually sets up the concept much clearer than "Ghost". Despite it's lack of flashiness I think the show would have resonated with a wider audience if it had been allowed to be this dark creepy mystery show instead of being subjected to the "Prison break my ride" makeover Fox gave the show.
Well, you can call it a fandom myth, or you can read between the lines of every interview Joss has given since the situation unfolded.

You can even read between the lines of Joss's post, linked above ....
"I understood their [the network's] consternation and saw the gap between my style and their expectations".

So maybe it was technically his decision, but judging from many comments (from Joss) after the show was safely aired, all eps in sequence, I don't see much doubt that the pressure was on to re-do it, if he wanted any kind of continued support.
Shey, in network TV the pressure is always on to meet the network's expectations. Any and every show has that pressure, and quite often it benefits the show. Of course, sometimes it also completely fucks a show up, but hey. FOX didn't make Joss write and direct Ghost the way he did. He did. I'm all for blaming FOX when they mess something up - hello DVD launch! - but in terms of this one, I don't think people should be so quick to assign blame to Random Corporation. I just think it was a difficult show to piece together.
I love the musical score in "Echo," and I liked that they explain why the dolls go back to the house after their engagements. That really bothered me in "Ghost." Everything just seems more well-paced here. And the directing is much...artier? Is that a word? It's definitely more Joss-like IMO.
Yeah, direction is much better. It feels like a Joss-show, which sadly the first few aired episodes did not. (Excluding The Target, in my mind). The score is weird - I loved bits of it, but at the same time I was noticing it, particularly when it started to vary into techno-happy, and noticing isn't always a good thing.
I did notice the techno at parts. The only part where it bothered me was . Excluding that, I loved the haunting music at the beginning and for most of the episode.
Joss has actually said this

"We were encouraged . . . if you can call shutting us down encouragement. The mission statement is 'do stand-alone, do stand-alone, do stand-alone' and 'as much as possible, make it easy on the audience; don't get involved.' But doing a straight procedural -- that's not something that occurs to my brain."

The myth became a reality when he said this.
He's not refering to shutting down because of "Echo", as far as I can see. They got shut down a few times in the early episodes, but not for "Echo".
Give up , gossi. The facts get in the way of the (completely wrong) good story. Oh did you hear that the fans got Serenity made?
Tamara, telling one poster to dismiss another interpretation is a bit out of bounds. The topic's a pretty loaded one, but that doesn't mean it can't be discussed respectfully.
Just like to add that this would, IMHO, have made a much better pilot. It also got things moving much more quickly than the aired pilot.
My recollection of the Fringe pilot is that it was similar in tone to this, got straight into the mythology from the word go, and that seemed to work out okay for them...
I remember Joss saying that. Of course I also remember him saying something like it for every project he's ever had that didn't turn out quite right. Replace "network" with "producer" or "director" and its sort of a pattern. I'm not saying he's lying, I just find it interesting that 100% of the time when something goes wrong there's an evil omnipotent enemy involved.

Honestly, I wouldn't mind it if just ONCE I heard "we weren't communicating correctly" or on some level there was ever a two way street. But honestly, he doesn't have to say that. For a guy who makes amazing three dimensional characters, he sure does seem to do business with Snidley Whiplash a lot.

Edit: Adding, that may not be his doing. It may just be that fan sites always report his quotes in "the other guy's fault" form, rather than the nuanced explanation he's actually giving. I don't know the man personally, and press can kind of distort things at times.

[ edited by azzers on 2009-07-19 04:46 ]
Regarding who ordered what, I too tend to believe the "myth" given JWs statement sounds like its politically correct (apart from the part where it sounds like he's on drugs). Ie, it rates low on my credibility meter. Especially when the 'real' pilot clearly was better than what was shown.
It may be a bannable offense to not believe Joss alas, but so be it. I also beg to differ with him on his self assessment of his soldier status.

Anyway, I wonder what season 1 would have been like if this had been the pilot, clearly several things would have been different.

Oh well, I'm mentally fast forwarding to 2019, and keeping an eye on a band of fugitives. Regardless of the recent internet hysterics over Torchwood, this is clearly a lot better (and no gay snogging was even required ;)
It's interesting to see how differently we can all interpret the same few quotations; grounds for a great psychological study no doubt ;). I always tended to take what JW said about it pretty much at face value... that he liked what he was doing, but saw the value of trying to make the Big Hit Pilot the network was initially hoping for, and tried another direction. But ultimately we'll never know if S1 would have been better or more successful or less successful without any second guessing from the network or Joss himself (and we'll never know exactly exactly how any of the decisions got made).

I just find it interesting that 100% of the time when something goes wrong there's an evil omnipotent enemy involved.

That seems a little unfair, but maybe we're reading different interviews / listening to different commentaries. I feel like I've heard Joss say plenty of times that something didn't work as well as he'd hoped when he shot it, and I've never had the impression he was passing the buck for "failures." I mean, he made no bones about feeling the Buffy movie was messed with so that it wasn't his vision anymore, but he "owns" (in the sense of, takes full responsibility for, as best I can tell) the TV shows he's put out there, no?
Technically, if there exists an omnipotent (and omniprescient, which is a common following assumption) entity, 100% of the time when something goes, wrong or otherwise, it is involved.
I dunno if I want to elevate studios to "god" status just yet. Although they're trying to put a box in my house. It's like a Gideon technophile sect.
Sunfire, I was totally being sarcastic. I see that didn't come across.
Oh the frustration! This will join "Corrupt" in the flaming What if...? pile in the back of my head to ponder every time I'm feeling antsy.
I'm not a fan of Echo as a first episode. (And having watched this, what has happened with the score? Somebody took an electro pill). It's just a bit too kitchen sink for me.

Yup, I agree. Also, it is a little bit too boring in my book. While it lingers softly over every theme and topic this show could touch upon, it doesn't really connect me with any of them as emotionally as "Ghost" did. You can see that difference in tone by comparing Danika/Ashley Johnson's story to Eleanor Penn's. The former is a B- oder C-story. The latter the main point.
Sunfire, I was totally being sarcastic. I see that didn't come across.
TamaraC | July 19, 05:19 CET


"don't let the facts get in the way", which you've said more than once on this thread, about my post and those who agreed with my interpretation of interviews with Joss, goes a little farther than sarcasm, IMO.
Please note the IMO.
Yup, I agree. Also, it is a little bit too boring in my book. While it lingers softly over every theme and topic this show could touch upon, it doesn't really connect me with any of them as emotionally as "Ghost" did. You can see that difference in tone by comparing Danika/Ashley Johnson's story to Eleanor Penn's. The former is a B- oder C-story. The latter the main point.


Exactly, wiesengrund. Still haven't watched 'Echo', by the way (probably will later today), so I'm going on just the script. But, you hit the nail on its head: that's the point. I just draw a completely different conclusion.

'Ghost' asked us to connect with a character-of-the-week with people in peril we don't know and will probably never see again. That's much less interesting than 'Echo', which introduced the long term characters and their world much better. The cases of the week were smalltime and only used as a way to sketch that these characters we're meeting for the first time, do this as a "job". But these people they meet are less important than the main characters and they get little airtime and are shoved to the back. And rightly so :).

Because of this different emphasis, 'Echo' made me feel, when reading the script, while 'Ghost' left me mostly cold. Not only that: but the writing was much, much better. Pretty much all the dialogue sparked and snapped, whereas the dialogue in 'Ghost' was - imho - very generic, apart from one or two lines. As was the action and the main plot. We've seen kidnappings a thousand times before, and we've seen procedurals-with-a-twist just about as often. I was mildly entertained by 'Ghost', but it never grabbed me, because there wasn't a whole lot there to seperate it from the pack, plot-wise. There was no reason yet to care about these people, or - for that matter - the show, apart from meta-concerns like "this is a Joss Whedon show".

I feel that the episode deserved much of the criticism it got, because it wasn't stellar tv (the subsequent 'dooming' of the show in many articles was, however, quite overblown :)). To me, it felt like serviceable television. Not complete crap by a long shot, but nothing special either. It's one of my all-time least favorite Joss scripts and my least favorite pilot for any of his shows.

On the other hand: 'Echo' - to me - had that snap, that little something extra that one expects from a Joss show and a Joss script. I feel that 'Echo' is one of his better scripts (and I expect: one of his better episodes, but I'll find out if that's true a bit later today :)): it's not at all confusing (I still don't understand why people would feel that way :)) and certainly not boring. Or at least: it wasn't to me.

But I don't think we'll ever see eye to eye on that one, wiesengrund :). It's all a matter of taste in the end and a question of wether you prefer a character and world driven pilot (like 'Serenity', for instance) to an on-the-run case-of-the-week pilot (like 'The Train Job', which to this day is my least favorite Firefly episode and turned me off the original run the first time 'round, with the series only 'clicking' when watching in correct order on DVD). In other words: I vastly prefer the former method pretty much all of the time, which means I'm nearly predestined to vastly prefer 'Echo' to 'Ghost' :).

So speaking for just me: starting with Echo - apart from what would've worked politcally, in ratings or with regard to critical acclaim - would've had me on board from day one. While I was on the fence 'till Man on the Street the way it aired now, and would've dropped the show before that point without a second thought, if it hadn't been done by one Joss Whedon (mind you: I'm glad I stuck it out, but still).

[ edited by GVH on 2009-07-19 13:59 ]
I can only speak for me but for me Echo stands head and shoulders above Ghost as a pilot.

Firstly, a lot more happens in Echo, both in terms of actions and in terms of characters introducing themselves and establishing their characters. I had to concentrate on it all the time to pick up a lot of the nuances and that eventually enthralled me. It also meant that at the end I cared about a lot of the characters. I didn't really do that at the end of Echo, and from what I read at the time I wasn't alone in that.

Secondly it starts dealing with the moral ambiguity of the Dollhouse head on. I know some Whedon fans who gave up on this show because they were unhappy about its moral premise and stopped watching because of that. I think if they had seen this pilot they would have stayed around to listen to the ongoing debate voiced within the show itself.

(Oh to hell with being polite! We are bring asked to accept that Joss chose to replace some excellent dialogue and superb characterization with a motorcycle chase and a short skirt. I mean, that's just so like him.)

Does the fact it was a better pilot for me mean it would have worked for a big enough demographic for it to be a hit show? Obviously I don't know.

Personally I would have given a show this complex a double episode pilot to establish itself. If I was worried about reaching a larger demographic I might have challenged Joss to put a 90 second action sequence at the beginning that would have hooked the fans who might not have liked the 'talky' intro. I know that's almost impossible but Joss is a genius. If you are managing a genius you should keep pushing them outside their comfort zone, you should keep pushing them to do new things, but you shouldn't try to change the core style of their work. That means you shouldn't have tried to change the core of this pilot.

[ edited by technovamp on 2009-07-19 14:39 ]
Good point Technovamp, you wouldn't hire Picasso and then say "Hmm, can you make it a bit more lifelike?". You know what Picasso paints like, either you want that or you don't.

Why be so eager to hire Joss and then try to change him to be more run of the mill? If that's what you want then just hire a run of the mill guy to start off with.
But I don't think we'll ever see eye to eye on that one, wiesengrund :). It's all a matter of taste in the end and a question of wether you prefer a character and world driven pilot (like 'Serenity', for instance) to an on-the-run case-of-the-week pilot (like 'The Train Job', which to this day is my least favorite Firefly episode and turned me off the original run the first time 'round, with the series only 'clicking' when watching in correct order on DVD). In other words: I vastly prefer the former method pretty much all of the time, which means I'm nearly predestined to vastly prefer 'Echo' to 'Ghost' :).

It's probably right that we'll ever see eye to eye on that one. :) But I do want to add that that distinction doesn't quite hold up for my view of "Ghost", since for me it is nowhere near a "on-the-run case-of-the-week pilot". For me it's character and world driven while being emotionally and thematically engaging (and disturbing) as no other Whedon-pilot (including "Echo") before. That may be because I come from the POV that every plot-of-the-week does something to our main characters (and us) and is there for a reason, a point that Dollhouse as a show about TV shows and about how people composite their personalities identities from a lot of (sometimes conflicting and contradicting) small, relativistic parts exemplifies like no other Joss show.

(I am btw very grateful that it's possible to have "matter of taste"-debates right now. I was afraid "Echo" might trigger only production-related myth-making.)
Why be so eager to hire Joss and then try to change him to be more run of the mill? If that's what you want then just hire a run of the mill guy to start off with.

Well, I think the network wanted something more Buffy, which IMO was a hell of a lot more accessible than Dollhouse to begin with. It was good versus evil, it had fights and often lovely doses of melodrama. It became more than that, but I can see the network having those sort of expectations - quirky, popular culturally fun bonanza with some credibility. Dollhouse was different to anything Joss had done before and so I imagine there was definitely some incongruence between what they believed they'd bought and what was delivered.

[ edited by brynmars on 2009-07-19 15:35 ]

[ edited by brynmars on 2009-07-19 15:35 ]
But I do want to add that that distinction doesn't quite hold up for my view of "Ghost", since for me it is nowhere near a "on-the-run case-of-the-week pilot". For me it's character and world driven while being emotionally and thematically engaging [...]. That may be because I come from the POV that every plot-of-the-week does something to our main characters (and us) and is there for a reason [...].


Wiesengrund, I do agree with this by the way. The idea of every case-of-the-week episode in a show where the characters change and develop, is that the things that happen there influence our main characters. This is also true for 'The Train Job'. The fact remains, though, that there's a difference of emphasis in these two pilots which make them radically different as far as style goes. 'The Train Job' isn't a bad episode or a bad pilot (in fact, I think it's superior to 'Ghost' ;)), it's just - to my mind - inferior to Serenity, not just as an episode, but most of all as a pilot. The same thing I feel is true of 'Echo' with respect to 'Ghost'.

(Oh to hell with being polite! We are bring asked to accept that Joss chose to replace some excellent dialogue and superb characterization with a motorcycle chase and a short skirt. I mean, that's just so like him.)


You've hit the nail on the head there, technovamp. This, of course, is one of the main fundaments for the "myth" that FOX scrapped the pilot (which, to be clear, is simply untrue). But although we've had that discussion here before (and there's two clear 'camps' on this), there's ample evidence to suggest that FOX didn't want the show that Joss was initially selling and as time went by and the cancellation seemed more and more real, Joss - in interviews and talks - made more and more comments that seemed to imply that they didn't see eye to eye and that was at the root of some of the problems with the early episodes.

So, yes, we have on record that Joss made the decission to scrap the episode himself and there's no reason to say that he's lying (which would be silly and slightly paranoid ;)). And we know that he wrote 'Ghost' himself. Which means that 'Ghost' is his episode and not something that fell out of some FOX script machine. So if we don't like it, we have to look at Joss for writing an episode that doesn't meet our expectations.

But, having done that, we can take a closer look at the circumstances to get the entire picture. And it seems he did write 'Ghost' based on comments of what Fox didn't like about the style and feel. Network notes always happen (they made Malcolm Reynolds the character we love today, for instance) and are a part of the way television works, but that doesn't mean that they're always constructive or that what the network wants is reasonable or a good idea. Like zz9 and technovamp, I feel that you don't hire picasso and ask him to paint more realistic pictures.

So here's where the speculation comes in. And we have to be clear, all it is, is speculation. I'm guessing the comments and notes FOX gave Joss on the episode were so significant and overwhelming that he basically had no other choice than to backtrack, scrap 'Echo' and start over with 'Ghost', come at it from a different angle, and try to make a show that better fit the expectations of his employer because he couldn't do that with what he had shot so far.

I have, in the past, written articles which I feel to be great, but which don't confirm to the style of the magazine for which I'm writing (because they feature too much science and not enough "sexy" wrapping to sell the science to the reader). Which means that I'll rewrite - sometimes even without a note from my editor and even if I think my first draft was superior, because that's how I get to write for that magazine in the future again (and, who knows, they may even be right that their way is better for their readers. In fact, in my field of work, they probably are :)).

It's no wonder that the show got "better" (and had better reviews) when they let Joss go with it a bit more, because he got to play to his strengths, which always gives a better product. You don't hire Joss for the sexy procedural that FOX seemed to want, even if he can make a passable attempt at one.

But while I think the start was shaky, I also think that the current understanding is much better. FOX seem to understand the kind of show Joss is making (didn't they change around the person responsible on FOX' side for the start-up before the season aired?), they like it and are giving him a second season based for a large part on the fact that they like it. Which is a good place to be in, I'd say.

ETA:
(I am btw very grateful that it's possible to have "matter of taste"-debates right now. I was afraid "Echo" might trigger only production-related myth-making.)


Heh, there's some of that as well, in this very message even, wiesengrund. But at the end of the day I agree that the artistic appraisal of these two episodes is the much more interesting discussion. Can't wait to see what our fellow whedonesquers feel about 'Echo' once the actual review thread starts up :).

[ edited by GVH on 2009-07-19 16:59 ]
I believe that reshooting the pilot was Joss' idea, but tweaking it to be sexier was something he had to force himself to do. His snarky commentary during the motorcycle race and shirt-dress scenes of "Ghost" suggest it, anyway.
What GVH said!
A valid point brynmars, but they didn't make him make the pilot "More Buffy", they made him change the very structure.
If they'd asked him to put in more quippy one-liners, a wacky sidekick and so then they they'd clearly be wanting "Another Buffy".
What they asked him to change was to make those early episodes more stand alone mission of the week, to focus more on the details of the guest star than on the Dollhouse and its people. The "tone" is in many ways very similar.
I just watched the episode, and it's WAY better than the first ten episodes of the season. THIS is the Dollhouse that all Whedon fans were hoping for. I can only hope that season 2 is more in the vein of this.
OK, I am evil and built from impatience so I may have ... preempted my pre-ordered DVD. Which is like a kinder, fluffier piracy, more Jack Sparrow than Long John Silver. No, really. Fluffy. Like a piracy kitten (it's called Patch, obviously. Or maybe Roger).

Anyhoo, I liked 'Ghost' a fair bit, I thought it set the characters and the world up nicely and gave a pretty good feel for the shape of the episodes (I even thought some of the dialogue was pretty cool ;).

That said, I think 'Echo' is a better episode. The dialogue's more even and of a higher general quality, the direction's more interesting (e.g. Saunders in the shadows etc.), the characters feel cleverer (and therefore more believable, given their situation) and it wears its philosophical heart much more on its sleeve (maybe even too much so - I dug it personally but I can understand the network watching this and thinking "Err, that's a bit less actiony and a bit more university-common-room-debatey than we were after"). Also, Topher is presented much more as having a legitimate viewpoint, of having a well thought through (albeit maybe unpalatable) perspective on the world (FWIW, I actually didn't mind this Topher). Also, a lantern is hung on a question i've had from the start i.e. why didn't Saunders have her scars fixed (we know now but leaving such an obvious question hanging for 11 episodes took some faith, even for Big Purp) ?

Is it a better pilot (/first episode/whatever) ? Maybe, maybe not. It may move Echo on a bit too quickly if anything (the careful pace of her revelation in the first 4 was a pleasant surprise to me) and in general, it might lay out the battle lines a bit too early too - we know pretty much where everyone stands in the dollhouse by the end of it, which is clean, economical writing but, I dunno, maybe doesn't leave us enough to find out about them ? Course, we don't know how it would've played out afterwards (quite possibly with all those clearly delineated positions being subverted and undercut) so that's probably a fairly thin criticism.

All in all, I preferred it to 'Ghost' but i'm not convinced it would've had more people watching episode 2 (I can't know either way of course).
zz9, that's very true. I just think they perhaps viewed Joss's back catalogue as more fun and quirky and so when they didn't get that, they shifted their expectations slightly and just settled on accessibility. All unjustified fun speculation of course.

All in all, I preferred it to 'Ghost' but i'm not convinced it would've had more people watching episode 2 (I can't know either way of course).

But it could have certainly delivered a bigger audience for episode 1 as the critical reaction may (would likely?) have been a lot stronger -- instead of the ringing of doom bells.
Yep, you may well be right (though again, i'm not really sure how many of the potential mainstream audience will have read the websites that reviewed 'Ghost' badly - it's easy for we in here, who see nothing but links to the reviews, to think the bad news is everywhere when in fact, to the world at large, not so much).
Yeah, the majority of Buffy fans I know never heard of Dollhouse and those that did had no idea about the critical reception. Of course, I'm talking about a grand total of five people, so take that for what it's worth...

I hope you'll all be back to talk about this episode once I've seen it too!
What, after it's stopped being cool you mean ? ;)

Yeah, 'spect so - how else can I contradict everything i've said so far ? Anyway, i'll not watch it again until the DVD arrives (and, if the spirit doesn't weaken, i'm not watching "Epitaph One" until then either) so i'll see other stuff on second viewing or be reminded of things I saw first time around (and there'll be more folk discussing it so the insights will hopefully snowball).

Now i'm just wondering whether to stick with Amazon or to cancel and gamble on Play.com doing their "5 days early" trick with R1 releases (it's more expensive or it'd be an easier decision).
What, after it's stopped being cool you mean ? ;)

Argh! Story of my life.... Well, I AM looking forward to snowballing insights. And the episodes, of course.
Sunfire, I was totally being sarcastic. I see that didn't come across.

I understood the sarcasm when I made my earlier comment. It still stands.

What, after it's stopped being cool you mean ? ;)

I won't see either episode until August so I hope there's still some coolness lingering by then.
I more than a little weep for the series we didn't get. I think Joss had it backwards -- it isn't his original pilot that came at things sideways, but the revamped approach. "Echo" firmly and clearly tells you the premise, the players, and a bit of the (philosophical if nothing else) stakes. I don't know WTF Fox thought they wanted that wasn't in here, except for near-upskirt shots.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-07-19 23:55 ]
I do appreciate them near-upskirt shots, though...
Have to add that I think Eliza does a fantastic job in this episode. The scene in the bar at the start and in the basement with Ballard were both excellent.

But one thing did puzzle me. Topher wonders why Saunders didn't get her scars fixed. Maybe originally Toper came to the Dollhouse after Alpha and didn't know Saunders was Whiskey?
The whole way he was talking about her suggests he didn't know she was an active, especially not one that he programmed.
While I do think that Ghost as an episode was fairly so-so and while quite alot of aspects of this episode were things that I miss from the show... In a way I'm kinda happy they dropped it. The Dollhouse was made too much into an evil regime. There's no gray scale. That's part of the fun with the Dollhouse, the fact that you can't quite determine whether they're evil or good or neither or just a business. Just the entire moral balance act they're doing, that interesting. That was gone from this episode. So as an episode then yes, this is quite a bit better than Ghost. But as a foundation for a show, then I feel that Ghost is infact stronger.
I enjoyed Ghost enough but after seeing Echo I can't believe we didn't go with this episode. It works so much better as a pilot. It explains everything clearly whereas Ghost kind of dumped you in the middle. It also concentrates a lot on the Dollhouse and used the imprints as a B-plot to serve the story, which is what worked best for them in the latter half of season one. I got a better handle on all the characters in the pilot than I ever did in Ghost.
zz9 - I disagree. I thought Topher calling her the Phantom was a beautiful nod to her being "Dr Saunders" post-mortem.
I loved this pilot although I can see it as being too fast in terms of storyline. If things in the series moved at the pace of the pilot, Dollhouse would seem very "Lost" to me. And because it went so fast in episode 1, it probably would have caused problems if they'd try to slow it down in later episodes.

The one thing I really like that we didn't get to see MUCH of in season 1 was the Boyd/Topher relationship.
The Dollhouse was made too much into an evil regime. There's no gray scale. That's part of the fun with the Dollhouse...

True BUT it's Joss' SOP to set someone/thing up as one thing and then pull the ol' switcheroo so I suspect the dollhouse (or at least Adelle) may have been painted as explicitly bad in order to show us later that it's greyer than that.

I thought Topher calling her the Phantom was a beautiful nod to her being "Dr Saunders" post-mortem.

It seemed nice foreshadowing for us as viewers but Topher wondering about her scars seems pretty conclusive - if he knew she'd been Whiskey (as he does in the actual episodes) then he wouldn't wonder about it, he'd know. Watching that bit I actually wondered if Saunders originally was Whiskey i.e. that might have been a reveal that was added later.

Maybe he was throwing Boyd off but it didn't seem like that to me, it seemed genuine (and in general, the whole "she's creepy" thing would be a reflection on him since he programmed her, so why would he say that either ?).
I'm going to go against the grain and say I think Joss made the right decision by remaking the pilot. This episode was far too complicated and subtle, not something I'm averse to necessarily, but considering most people only remember 20% of something they've seen, you need a hook, something to latch on to. I think the A-plots of the first five episodes did that much better, and you got more gradually introduced to the mystery and Paul's mission.

I think if "Echo" had been shown there would have been a lot of criticism that it was too confusing and too boring. I also think the criticism that you can't invest in any of the characters still holds, perhaps more so. At least in "Ghost" you got the story of Eleanor Penn which simply told the emotional story of a young woman able to come back and face her demons, which also neatly explained the premise. There are faults with the first five episodes, mostly how uneven they are due to the last minute decision to change things, but I think they were an improved way to introduce people to the world of the Dollhouse.

I think that most people are saying they like "Echo" better only because they've seen it in retrospect and thus know the stories so won't find it confusing, but also they want to believe it is better because it fulfills their belief that Fox is evil in screwing with Joss.

Saying all of this, I do like the style of "Echo". It's almost like David Lynch, and it's definitely Joss doing his consciously arty thing. If "Ghost" could have been more like this and less motorbikes and short skirts I think it would have been the best of both worlds.
you need a hook, something to latch on to. I think the A-plots of the first five episodes did that much better

Which is why the ratings kept going down?
Well, at least we finally have a reason for it ...

(I don't really get the confusing criticism - it's confusing for about the first 5 minutes and then we get Adelle's exposition/sales pitch and a little montage to make clear that the different women we saw Echo as were different engagements. Gotta say if you resolve to sit down and watch the pilot of a TV show and then switch off because you don't understand everything after 5 minutes ... well, I don't have too much sympathy for that perspective. That's the big "you" BTW, not particularly anyone on here)
Agreed, Saje. I didn't even get the criticism when reading the first draft of the script, which was slightly different and perhaps even slightly more "difficult" to follow. As shot, I can't imagine anyone thinking 'Echo' was confusing. It's all spelled out quite nicely and quite clearly on screen.

I also don't get the 'boring' criticism. There's witty dialogue, intruiging philosophical concepts, action, an interesting central concept and some characters that get introduced nicely. I honestly don't know what more one could want from a pilot episode for any television show.

In the end it is all a matter of taste, of course, but given the negative critical reception for 'Ghost' outside of the fandom (and, heck, even inside the fandom), given how those reviews picked up from episode six onwards (proving these were honest opinions, and not simply people bent on slapping down a new series by a well-known creator, as was implied by some), given the television fans I know who gave up during the first five episodes because the show simply wasn't that good, given the steady drop in the ratings that seemed to echo that sentiment (although we can only guess at the reasons for people tuning out), given the good initial buzz surrounding the 'Echo' script and the fact that we seem to have a majority (of course, I have no actual numbers to support that statement) preferring 'Echo' to 'Ghost', with reviewers chiming in as well, I highly suspect that this would've been a better start for the show. But in the end, it's all still guesswork. 'Echo' wasn't aired, the show went in a slightly different direction and there's no reconstructing what would've happened otherwise.

The only thing I can be certain of, is that I vastly prefer 'Echo' to 'Ghost' and think it's a massively better episode and a much more interesting pilot and therefore I'm sorry we never got to see how things would've gone from there (despite the fact that I'm quite happy where the show ended up going during the season).
Also one has to accept that the vast majority of people sitting down to watch the show, and not just uber-fans like us, will have seen trailers, interviews, articles etc talking about the premise of the show.
They will know before the show starts that Eliza Dushku is playing someone who is reprogrammed to do various tasks. I doubt there would have been many people sitting at home saying "What? Is she the same person?"

As Jimmy McGovern once said "I'd rather be confused for ten minutes than bored for five seconds"

Look at The Island. It opened with the operation from the word go, the lives of the people outside, the "Originals" was hardly featured until the second half when they escaped and interacted with them. No one was confused.
Opening with the Dollhouse and its people and then gradually focusing on the missions when they became important to the story would have worked quite well IMHO.
What flugufrelsarinn said.
Argh, you're all going to be done talking about it by the 28th, I know it!! I want to have an opinion too. Maybe I should make one up? I thought Olivia de Havilland's guest spot in Echo was pure gold. Hmm.

Well, it's fascinating to wonder about an "alternate" S1, but I will say I'm glad that in the Season-We-Got, Topher programmed Dr. Saunders, because I love that he programmed her to hate him. Man, he broke my heart in that last episode.
Agreed, catherine (also, note that there's only a couple of people in here discussing and not very indepth either. There'll be plenty left to discuss, come the 28th :)).

And let me restate: I have no trouble with where we ended up. I think we would've ended up in equally beatiful and heartbreaking places if we'd started differently, though, so that's not the issue :).

Also, to reply to something else flugufrelsarinn said: I don't think the people here are saying 'Echo' is better, because they've got backstory and as such aren't confused by the episode. I feel that 'Echo' isn't confusing at all, don't hold to that and don't for a moment think I would've been confused for one bit when watching it. Everything is spelled out almost literally and presented in an easy to understand manner. Have we really lost faith in the intelligence of the viewer to such an extent that we feel that Echo would've been too confusing? I find that confusing :).

I've seen many episodes of television and many, many movies much more complex and/or confusing than Echo. Heck, Lost is much more confusing than anything in 'Echo' on a regular basis, and that gets very nice ratings indeed. So I truly don't get what the basis for this criticism is. But apart from that: I think most people here are wise enough to see if they would or wouldn't have found something confusing, even in hindsight. Seems a little bit unfair to state: 'you only think you like this better, but actually you would've been confused on first airing', because, well, untrue. Not saying you think you know what everybody else is actually thinking better than they do themselves, but that's what that reads like :).

As for wanting to blame FOX: I "blame" Joss for writing a new pilot I didn't like. And I'd much rather think that 'Echo' was crap and the right decission got made to scratch it and replace it with 'Ghost'. I don't believe for a moment that people are liking this episode just to stick it to FOX (if that even made sense). They're liking it because it's a very well-written piece of television and because they feel it's better than 'Ghost'. Or at least: that's why I like it, but I suspect that goes for everyone. No need to go hunting for extra hidden motives, be they conscious or unconscious :).
I don't believe for a moment that people are liking this episode just to stick it to FOX

I'm still more or less in the "Fox shouldn't take all the blame" camp anyway (though less so than I was before Joss became more explicit towards the end of the season's run) so I don't feel that applies to me (mainly because, with some reservations, I enjoyed the season pretty much from the start anyway).

Re: confusing, in fairness it is hard for any of us to totally blank our knowledge of the show but then, as zz9 points out, most mainstream viewers won't have come to it totally cold either.

That said, I also maintain that even if they did start watching totally blind, 'Echo' does a fine job of explaining the premise so long as you give it 5-10 minutes to do so. I mean, Adelle tells us how it works (and at points she almost literally tells us i.e. she's looking very nearly into the camera - surely deliberately putting us in the client's position ?) - if it wasn't well written and beautifully played it'd almost be too explicit, too "Captain Exposition" as I think of it, too on the nose.
Re: confusing, in fairness it is hard for any of us to totally blank our knowledge of the show but then, as zz9 points out, most mainstream viewers won't have come to it totally cold either.


True. But we're still pretty much able to assess wether we'd be able to understand something or would find it confusing. Plus, the same is true for the reverse: people seeing this after the fact and assuming they'd think it was confusing is just as much an assessment based on hindsight. I can see the point of hindsight influencing our views in principle, but given the explicit nature of Adelle's explanation, I just don't buy people not understanding what's going on, as soon as they get to that point. As you say, if the writing wasn't good, it'd be almost too explicit.

Before that, a first time viewer mightt be going "huh?", but even then the script has ample hints that there's something going on and it'd be reasonable to assume a reason'd be forthcoming. Point in case: Echo is an ex-alcoholic in one scene, mentioning she'd never be able to have another drink, which cuts immediately to her having a drink. My response to that wouldn't be "wait, what, that makes no sense!", but rather "huh, intriguing" and if I'd read nothing about the show so far, the explicit cut there would have me immediately assuming something was going on that's going to be explained in a few moments, because that's how tv works. And even if that's too subtle for some viewers (which, fair enough), I can't see someone turning it off there, because there's no immediate gratification. No one's attention span is that small, and if it is, they wouldn't be able to grasp much of Dollhouse anyway :).

And as for the "Fox shouldn't take all the blame" camp: are there people in the "Fox should take all the blame" camp, to begin with? Because if not, we're all in your camp, Saje (which, let's be honest: fun ;)).

I've seen a lot of people arguing that we shouldn't discount Fox' influence in the decission to change up the pilot and do stand alone episodes to begin with, and I've seen people arguing that that was Joss' decision, as per his post on here. I think most people are actually agreeing on what's happened as far as the facts are concerned, only when people see someone blame FOX they assume that that person is doing that to place all the blame there (they're scared of another fan myth being birthed) and the same thing is true with people saying FOX shouldn't be blamed, which leads to others assuming that those people are saying FOX didn't have influence at all.

Comments on this issue are getting misread and tempers flare all the time these days :). But: both these opinions would be silly and both camps are - it would seem to me - attacking straw men, because it's quite obvious the truth is somewhere between those two (and I don't think anybody believes one of those two extremes to begin with), with Joss making the ultimate decission, replacing the pilot and writing the script for the new one, but doing that based on comments he'd gotten from FOX.

So in the end all of us are guessing one way or the other, anyway, unless you're Joss :).

Anyway: looking forward to the 'Echo' discussion thread (if only so that catherine can have her fun ;)) and hoping we'll get to discuss the episode and the relative quality of it when compared to 'Ghost' based on its artistic merit when the eventual review thread happens, because all of this is less fun :).
It's a great camp, even the showers are clean ;).

Plus, the same is true for the reverse: people seeing this after the fact and assuming they'd think it was confusing is just as much an assessment based on hindsight.

Yep, very true (assuming no-one who's seen the series so far has watched it and still actually is confused - which would seem to stretch credulity to breaking point - because they could sincerely say that 'Echo' hasn't helped them understand either).

Re: the Fox stuff, we've (the two of us ;) pretty much done that I think (and I agree that it's less fun than the actual content discussion, by far). I also agree that both "sides" have extreme proponents and that most people on both sides don't agree with the extreme view. I'm maybe not quite as sanguine that it necessarily then follows that the extreme "fan-myth" viewpoint isn't the one that'll end up becoming accepted as true - as i've said before, on the net most people doesn't matter as much as most vocal.
It would be a cruel experiment, but I'd almost like to get a friend who's a Dollhouse newbie to watch "Echo" and then see if they want more. But if they did, then some things for the actual series are spoiled and stuff from "Echo" won't line up with what comes later (the latter is easily rectified by "oh just disregard what you saw, now watch the real first episode", but the spoiling someone part is not nice).

My friend who watched and loved Buffy, Angel (moreso Buffy for the most part), Firefly, and Serenity (and who's read and really liked Astonishing X-Men, while I haven't yet), watched the first ep of Dollhouse last year, "Ghost", and really wasn't grabbed by it. I don't know if she's open to giving the show another chance, but she did mention letting me be the guinea pig and I'd tell her if it got better. Telling people "just hang in until Episode 6" is kind of a tough sell, it's asking for several hours of commitment (to be fair, I enjoyed "The Target", wiped-Echo in "Grey Hour", the Tim Minear cult one, and bits and pieces from the others quite a bit, but there's no guarantee she will).

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