SAN DIEGO — Before the screening of the fabled lost episode of Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse,” “Epitaph One,” the man behind the hit show took a few minutes to talk to the media about the upcoming (and unexpected) season two.
“Epitaph One” has long been rumored to be a game-changing episode for the series, a rumor that was proved true both when the episode screened and when Whedon was asked if the episode could be considered a “second pilot” for the series.
“I wouldn’t call it a second pilot but it is definitely a different vision and it will contain a lot of things about the characters and who they are and where they’re heading that people might not have seen or expected,” Whedon said.
There are a lot of developments expected more specifically for the character of Echo, portrayed by Eliza Dushku. When asked if it was somehow the case that the other dolls and the other characters in the show were somehow “projecting” onto Echo, Joss replied, “Yes, you’re very right to say that they’re projecting on her. A lot of her life, not just because she’s a doll, but also just in general, has to do with the fact that people become obsessive about her. But we are going to learn and starting in this season that they’re not wrong, that there is something truly special about her and that she is going to be a major in factor in what happens to Dollhouse over the next few years.”
Tahmoh Penikett’s Paul Ballard, an FBI agent who was focused on finding the Dollhouse and eventually did, (In fact, at the end of the first season he appeared to be joining the Dollhouse in some capacity) is another character facing some changes for the new season.
“We had always intended for Paul to find the Dollhouse and for his interaction to change because we didn’t want him to be like the reporter in ‘The Hulk,’ showing up too late every episode,” Whedon said of the Ballard character. “And now they’ve been working on him from the outside with November and his alliance with Echo is going to be really tested, because he’s going to be in there with her partially to protect her but also to find out what’s really going on. You know you can gaze into the abyss or you can actually live in it, it’s going to affect you. so we are going to see that while (Echo) is starting to grow, we’re going to see that everybody else really starting to come apart a little bit.”
“Dollhouse” is certainly a kind of abyss — without a doubt, it is the only show on television to so brazenly portray such ethically questionable and morally deep actions and situations. This is not lost on Whedon.
“I think with this show, I want to say to the people who have, you know, felt a connection with me, that maybe you want to back away and avoid eye contact,” he said. “That maybe there’s something horribly wrong with me, and this is my very poetical way of expressing that. I think of it as a work that actually frightens me at times in a way that my shows seldom got to. At the same time I have that sort of jolly love of everything that’s going on and have to be reminded that what I’m doing is reprehensible. So it’s a mature work in the sense that I grew up and went insane.”
On a more serious note, the ethical dilemmas and the role of human nature embedded in the premise of “Dollhouse” are what interest Whedon and are what he will elaborate on more in the upcoming season.
“Well I think ultimately the thing that fascinates me is morality and personal politics; the politics of the personal, of the person in the moment as opposed to the statement,” Whedon said. “Yet I would say in terms of the second season, the abuse of power and the different kinds of forms it can take is going to become broader and more, in fact, political, and we’re going to see the Dollhouse in the world a bit more.”
Perhaps it is that same uncomfortable material that the show deals with that is partly to blame for why “Dollhouse” had a hard time getting renewed.
“I’d say it came extraordinarily close to being canceled,” Joss said. “I’d say it was probably pronounced on the table and we went, “Nooo!” (feigns CPR) and the camera pulled back and it went (gasps) and the music came up and we all cried,” Whedon dramatized. “It came down to some very simple numbers that people worked in a very complicated fashion to fudge laughs and ultimately the fact that my shows have never gone that big, you know they’re marathon runners, they’re not sprinters. This is the studio where I did those shows, even when they weren’t on that network. And they know that, so they fought hard to make it as easy for the network as possible. So it was really the hardcore fan base, the people who are here, to tip the scale. And that scale was tippy.”
Certainly Whedon is no stranger to one of his shows getting axed. The cancellation of “Firefly” infuriates embittered fans (and Whedon, himself) more than half a decade later. With “Dollhouse” so close to the brink, almost from day one, people did wonder if Whedon treated the new show differently than he did “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Firefly.”
“I have been hurt before, it’s true. So I made the decision early on just to phone it in. I really feel that that’s better for me,” he joked. “No, you know what — I’m a little bit wiser and a little bit more removed in terms of how I deal emotionally with the whole business of it, but when I get into the story that’s the only world I live in. And I love the characters and I love the cast so much, so that when I get into the writer’s room, and we’re talking about them, that’s our life. And in the same way that’s our only life and all we do is get excited and come up with things that we’re a little embarrassed we thought of.”
Whedon on a “Dollhouse” comic book: “I don’t see it happening. I don’t care how good an artist is, they’re not gonna make an Eliza. Ultimately you know she doesn’t fly, she doesn’t shoot firebolts, except in that one episode — it’s gonna be awesome. So I think this belongs exactly where it is: on television… and in fanfic.”