On Friday, July 24, the already-legendary unbroadcast Dollhouse episode “Epitaph One” was screened at Comic-Con to a crowd of over 4000 fans. Prior to the event, Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku met with press to field questions about the series, and its place in the pantheon of Whedonology.
For those who have yet to see it, “Epitaph One” will surely be a revelation: it has already been hailed as the most powerful episode of the series, offering a major shift in tone— taking Whedon’s favorite themes of personal politics and power in a bold and dark direction— while providing the cast some juicy dialogue and emotional scenes, stretching their acting muscles. When it was created, the series’ fate was still in limbo, and “Epitaph” provides a kind of closure to the first season, while effectively rebooting the concept of the show. Joss says, “I wouldn’t call it a second pilot; but it is definitely a different vision.”
Although it was produced for the DVD release and overseas distributors, it is a must-see for those who have been following the changes in the Dollhouse. According to Whedon, “It will contain a lot of things about the characters and who they are and where they are heading that people might not have seen or expected.”
In the press room, Whedon elaborated on the direction of the show and his approach to it.
Q: One of the things that really fascinates me about Dollhouse is that they’re projecting so much onto Echo, like she’s their savior; she’s going to destroy the Dollhouse; she’s going to redeem it. Are we going to see that developing in season 2 as she starts “glitching” more?
Joss Whedon: 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, 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 factor in what happens to the Dollhouse, over the next years.
Q: You talk a lot about your former shows in a way that some might speak of a lost love. I’m wondering if going into the Dollhouse if you had any concerns about becoming that intimately involved in a show again… and if so, how that evolved when you found out that Fox was going to let you and Dollhouse keep dating?
JW: Well, I have been hurt before, so I made the decision early on just to phone it in. I really feel that is better for me. [Laughter] No, I am 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 the cast so much. When I’m in that writers’ room and we’re talking about them, that’s our life, in the same way that it’s always been, that’s our only life. All we do is get excited and come up with things that we’re a little embarrassed we thought of.
Q: Could you talk us through the renewal process and how close the show did come to being canceled?
JW: I’d say it came extraordinarily close to being canceled. I’d say it was probably pronounced on the table. Then we went, “Noooo!” Kunk-kunk. Then the camera pulls back, and went “Uuuuuhhh!” Stirring moment, then the music came up, and we all cried. It came down to some very simple numbers that people worked to a very complicated fashion to fudge. Ultimately, [it was] the fact that we were DVRed; the fact that my shows have never gone that big… but they’re marathon runners, not sprinters; and the fact that this is the studio where I did those shows, even when they weren’t on the [FOX] network— they know that, so they fought hard to make it as easy for the network as possible. And it was really, basically the hardcore fan base that tipped the scale… and that scale was tippy.
Q: Where would say that Dollhouse stands [among] all your different shows— what is its role? What do you want to say with this show, compared to others?
JW: I think with this show, I want to say to the people who have felt a connection to me that maybe you want to back away and avoid eye-contact. Maybe there’s something horribly wrong with me. And this is my very poetical way of expressing that. 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 sometimes that what I’m doing is reprehensible. So I think it’s a mature work in the sense of that I grew up and went insane.
On the future of Paul and Echo’s relationship:
JW: We had always intended for Paul to find the Dollhouse and for his interaction to change, because we didn’t want to be like the reporter in The Hulk, showing up too late every episode. Now they’ve been working on him from the outside, with November and now his obsession—I mean 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. But you can gaze into the abyss, or you can actually live in it. It’s going to affect you. And so we’re going to see that she is starting to grow. We’re going to see everybody else really starting to come apart a little bit.
On the direction of themes during the upcoming season:
JW: I think that 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 a statement. Yet, I would say in terms of the second season, the abuse of power and the different kind of forms it can take is going to become broader and more, in fact, political than it has been. We’re going to see the Dollhouse in the world a little bit more.
Whether we’ll see a Dollhouse comic-book series:
JW: I don’t see it happening. I don’t care how good an artist is, they’re not going to make an Eliza. And, ultimately, she doesn’t fly; she doesn’t shoot firebolts— except for that one episode, it’s going to be awesome— so I think this belongs exactly where it is: on television, and fanfic.
Special thanks to Michael Lee of Radio Free Entertainment for pinching hitting on audio.
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