- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Smart Pop (October 12, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1935251988
- ISBN-13: 978-1935251989
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,544,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Inside Joss' Dollhouse: From Alpha to Rossum Paperback – October 12, 2010
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The essays in this collection, edited by longtime Whedon writer/geek goddess Jane Espenson, discuss the show's characters, themes, and structure in often enlightening fashion. Thematically, the show primarily dealt with matters of identity, or the "soul," and that the book would deal with the shifting identities of composite characters like Echo and Alpha is to be expected. But in examining the twisty-turny arcs of Adelle and Topher, and the hidden nature of Boyd, the essays make one realize that everyone's identities are fluid.
Before it earned its praise, Dollhouse had to deal with a heavy level of scrutiny and criticism, and remains the most underrated Whedon endeavor. With time and distance, though, I think that Dollhouse will be regarded as the fascinating, compelling science fiction story it is. This book is a necessary first step in its re-evaluation.
"Inside," less so. It's not a bad book, and some of the essays are appropriately provocative, but the overall sense I was left with is that the work was hurried, unpolished, even unfinished. That there were good ideas here that lacked the maturity of ripe development. But on further thought, that state of affairs seems to describe the series (Dollhouse: Season One and Dollhouse: The Complete Second Season) the essays are about as well. Dollhouse didn't catch fire until well into the first season, faltered a little at the beginning of the second season, and then became something truly compelling. It accomplished this by becoming more like some of Whedon's previous works in which a tightly allied group of misfits form a sort of family to take on the Big Bad, the Powers That Be, or the Reavers. It's a formula that works very well for Whedon, mostly because it never feels like a formula. The greatest freshness he achieves, the greatest character-driven plot momentum, comes out of those relationships among the heroic band, and it never gets tired.
But in the case of "Dollhouse," it did get hurried. Knowing that he only had one more season (at most) to finish his arc and complete some sense of story on "Dollhouse," all elements were rushed, double-crosses came at blinding speed, revelations happened at a breathtaking space, and the apocalypse itself was distilled to a barely credible essence. Firefly, with only a handful of TV episodes (and the film Serenity to bring a little closure to the arc) never felt hurried as Dollhouse did, because its cancellation came before a quick ending could be produced.
Because so much in terms of theme development, Whedon's trademark philosophical depth, character development, and storyline complexity were sacrificed on an altar of closure, the essays in this book will naturally lack the depth of the books on more fully-realized series. And this lack of depth is also reflected in the sort of people who have written the essays. This is not the group of pundits, scholars, philosophers and psychologists who have weighed in on other Whedon works, but a more rag-tag group of intelligent but less experienced writers. With a less solid foundation from which to work, some essays pick up a speculative wobble and come near toppling into nonsense.
Yet I'm glad to have read the book. Whedon is one of few pop culture producers who actually rewards deeper contemplation. He seeks first to engage and entertain, and usually succeeds spectacularly. But beyond entertainment, he has a vision of humanity that many of us find compelling. In the face of tragedy and absurdity, we can be heroes if we are loyal, choose good allies, and maintain a sense of purpose. This comes through even in the truncated Dollhouse series, and receives some appropriate celebration in "Inside Joss' Dollhouse."
The depth of the characterization and writing on Dollhouse renders this book of essays uniquely rewarding. Almost none of this feels like a high school English paper, grasping at straws to prove some paper-thin thesis. The show is deep enough that each essayist is able to sink their teeth into the material without overreaching or making weak conclusions. The character studies (one essay focuses on Topher's moral development, and another analyzes the way Boyd is viewed by those around him) are especially good, shedding new light on these complex characters.
This book kept me interested, and made me want to re-watch the series from the start so I could see it with fresh eyes.