Joss Whedon's Dollhouse: Season One is now out on DVD and Blu-ray, and we all know that the biggest draw are the two unaired episodes. So when I got the Blu-ray set to review, I went straight to those two episodes.
The original pilot, "Echo," was notoriously shot and subsequently shelved by Fox, leaving Whedon to shoot an entirely new pilot, what we know as "Ghost." "Echo" is vastly different. First, no action. At all. It's very talky, and basically explains every aspect of the Dollhouse. It's kind of like a Dollhouse Cliffs Notes. About halfway through, a plot emerges: Echo is imprinted as Caroline's sister, who "runs into" Ballard as they are both looking for her. They initially work together, but Ballard marks her as an Active, at which point Echo shoots him. DeWitt had her imprinted as an assassin, whose mission is to kill Ballard. She sends him to the hospital, but doesn't kill him. Two point-blank slugs to Ballard's chest are about as exciting as this episode gets. A number of scenes from the original pilot were used in a variety of later episodes.
"Epitaph One," the unaired thirteenth episode, is Dollhouse meets Terminator. It's 2019, and Los Angeles is an apocalyptic wasteland. A group of rebels – led by Whedon favorite Felicia Day - is desperate to get underground, away from any sort of technology. Tunneling through the sewers, they stumble upon the abandoned Dollhouse. Through flashbacks, we find out that the technology developed for the Dollhouse had evolved so much that the tech itself was taking over the world wirelessly – brainwashing some into killing those who weren't brainwashed. While an interesting concept, and decently executed, this episode felt pointless. It's a stand-alone episode, not fitting in anywhere in the series, and lacking in both a climax and a dénouement.
So the two new episodes are underwhelming. How about the other goodies?
As for the deleted scenes… There are a lot, including reshoots from the pilot that, when pieced together, create an entirely new sub-plot. The deleted scenes here are far more interesting than most deleted scenes. Rather than just trimmed dialogue scenes, these scenes add more background and depth to the characters and stories. These scenes were obviously trimmed for time, not for obsolescence. Bonus: each scene is slated with episode number and a quick rundown of the scene.
"Making Dollhouse": a pretty straightforward behind-the-scenes featurette, with all the stars and producers talking about the genesis of the show. Luckily, you have Whedon doing both the formal "sit down and discuss" interviews, as well as casually "hosting" the featurette. They don't try to candy-coat the fact that a second pilot was shot. This honesty mixed with on-set goofing and seeing the actual behind-the-scenes work (as opposed to just playing clips from the show over talking-head interviews) make this more compelling than most featurettes.
"Coming Home": this doc talks to all the cast and crew members from other Whedon shows – everyone from writers and producers to the script supervisor and camera guys. Most have been with Whedon on a minimum of two other projects. It's very sweet and makes you want to be part of the crew, but it's also like watching someone else's home movies.
"Finding Echo": pretty much what the title says – how Eliza and Joss developed the role. Pretty unspectacular. Apparently, it's a dream role because you get to be someone new every week. Yawn.
"Designing the Perfect Dollhouse": Whedon takes us on a humorous tour through the Dollhouse, pointing out details that he likes, what inspired different areas, and important set pieces. Footage of the Dollhouse being built is also interspersed.
"A Private Engagement": cast and crew members tell what kind of Active they would want – and what kind of skills they would want imprinted on themselves. No revelations here: Franz (a.k.a. Topher) wants to play for the Lakers; Miracle (a.k.a. November) wants to be a rock star. Yawn.
Let's check in on the tech side. The picture is pristine. It's crisp, it's clean, an idiot might mistake your television for a window. The 5.1 sound is well mixed, without too many highs and lows. "Epitaph One" and "Echo" do not look nearly as clean. Since they never went to air, they weren't prepped for broadcast and no one bothered to clean them up for the Blu-ray. The sound mix on both is quite low, and the picture is surprisingly fuzzy.
Some annoyances about the set: the Blu-ray is very slow loading. Every time you try to click an episode, a special feature, or return to the menu, you have to wait nearly a full minute to load. Also, there is no included booklet to tell you which episodes are on which discs.