Critics' Picks: The Holy Grail of "Dollhouse"

The first season DVD of Joss Whedon's drama offers an extra episode -- the show's darkest and most promising yet

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published August 7, 2009 10:16AM (EDT)

"Dollhouse" Season 1 DVD

Much as we worship Joss Whedon, we're still not fully on board for "Dollhouse," the "Buffy" creator's drama about a covert organization that traffics in mind-wiped hotties programmed to be whomever its clients want them to be. As wary "doll" Echo, Eliza Dushku can fill out a tank top like nobody's business, but she's less capable as an actress who has to morph into a new persona every episode. Still, we're encouraged by the show's ambitious exploration of exploitation and consent, and the explosive, late-in-the-season appearance of Whedon vet Alan Tudyk.

The Season 1 DVD offers all 12 episodes, as well as selected commentaries by Whedon and Dushku, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and deleted scenes. But the Holy Grail here is "Epitaph One," the never-aired episode featuring America's biggest geek crush, Felicia Day.

Alternating between flashbacks, present day and 10 years from now, the episode reveals a world where the Dollhouse's personality imprinting technology has gone viral and only a handful of "actuals" -- authentic, original humans -- remain. Day, as a renegade searching for the "cure," is reliably compelling, but the surprise performances come from series regulars Olivia Williams, Amy Acker and Fran Kranz, who alternate between their past and future selves with heartbreaking results.

Fox may have chosen not to air the episode out of concern about its grim vision of the future, but with its multiple twists, dark prognostication and knockout performances, "Epitaph" is the most promising thing the Dollhouse has yet to produce.

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By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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