How much darker can Dollhouse get, now that we've glimpsed the end of everything? Just how far will Joss Whedon go to explore the themes of searching for identity against impossible odds? We asked Whedon. His answers may shock you.
I'm not going to transcribe the entire interview, but I'll summarize it in case the video is hard to listen to. (We were at the crowded SyFy/Entertainment Weekly party, and Tyrese Gibson and other celebs were running around.) Oh, and there are spoilers for the first season of Dollhouse, including the unaired episode "Epitaph One," which is on the DVD box set.
So Lost waited four years to start giving us "flash forwards," and even then, they were just jumping a bit ahead, to where some of the castaways got off the island. Dollhouse, meanwhile, gave us an unaired season finale in its very first year, where we jump forward to the bleak, desolate year 2019 and learn what happens to all of our main cast members in the future. And Whedon and friends said on the Dollhouse panel that those post-apocalyptic "flash forwards" will crop up in the new season as well, and that dark future will shape the course of the show this season.
What was Joss thinking, giving us so much, so soon?
Whedon says he was thinking the show was about to be canceled, so why not? Also, the network really wanted one more episode (until they didn't), and Whedon couldn't show the unaired pilot because it had been superseded by events:
It literally came from the studio's need to show another episode... We didn't have the money to shoot another one. I won't do a clip show. We can't show the original pilot because it just doesn't make sense now. So I said, "Look, what I can do for you is I can probably shoot a horror movie in the Dollhouse with a completely different cast, on video instead of film, in six days, put some flashbacks with our regular cast. The whole thing was basically out of necessity. We had to do it fast and cheap. And the best things I do usually come out of that.
But it's not as if the post-apocalyptic episode was something Whedon and company pulled out of thin air. Whedon says the logic behind the episode's bleak storyline was to "see this to its logical conclusion."
One thing I learned — I learned this on Firefly, too: Don't save anything for the way back. You just throw everything out there, because you might not be coming back. Now we are, but it's really helped inform where we're going this season. Without turning it too dark or anything, it's really had a lot to do with what we're doing.
So a lot of people seemed to have a hard time rooting for the Dollhouse, and its amoral entrepreneurs like Adelle DeWitt and computer whiz Topher Brink. And now we know that Adelle and Topher will be responsible for destroying the entire human race, through their experiments into erasing people's personalities. How do we possibly sympathize with them, or even stand to look at such monsters? Joss says it's not quite as simple as it appears.
All of them are a lot more textured, and the problem may be a lot bigger than this one place. There's a storm coming, and the question is where are they going to be, how are they going to react to that, and what are they going to do when that comes? And so I think you're going to see a lot of virtue in people you didn't expect it from, and a lot of terrible stuff from the people we love. And that's why I make TV.
And in the unaired episode "Epitaph One," we get to see a few moments of people making defining choices — including Adelle DeWitt, being confronted with a suit from the Rossum Corp., telling her the Dollhouse has a new business model. Whedon says it's pretty clear from the context that DeWitt isn't on board with Rossum's radical extension of the Dollhouse's concept. But that's just one of the decisions she'll face.
She's going to have a lot of quandaries, a lot of moral gray area to wade through. In a way, I think she has it harder than anybody, because she really is on the edge between the truly villainous and our heroes, and she's sympathetic, she's a human, but she's the one responsible for most of the terrible decisions. So what happens this year with her is going to be really fun.
(And by "fun," I suspect Whedon means "gut-wrenching, hilarious, tragic and capable of converting a whole new legion of Olivia Williams fans.")
But just because we now have a new sense of the future the Dollhouse is moving towards, and the epic arc of history that these characters are taking part in, doesn't mean we'll be done with the "assignment of the week" episodes. The Dollhouse still needs clients, and the viewers still need to see something resolved every week, says Whedon. And you can use the "A" stories, about this week's client or this week's job, to comment on the characters and contrast them with the long-running "B" stories. Dollhouse will never be totally serialized and feature a new "cool plot twist" every week, with no actual resolution.
So in a sense, every show Joss Whedon has done has been about people searching (or fighting) for an identity in the face of forces that want to take that away. (Like, say, Buffy Summers trying to define herself as an individual instead of what Giles, or the Watchers Council, or the Master's prophecies, etc., want her to be. Or both River Tam searching for her lost identity, or Mal Reynolds trying to hold onto who he is in the wake of the battle of Serenity.) And now Dollhouse is the darkest, clearest expression of this theme. We sprung this theory on Whedon, and luckily he didn't laugh at us or fling a drink at us.
But is Dollhouse is the culminating statement of that theme? Or is there another darker, even more shattering story about someone whose identity has been taken away, that Whedon has yet to tell? He says:
I don't think I have ever done a show that was so directly about the search for the self as this one, which is about somebody searching for herself entirely literally. And you know, you'd think eventually I'd find myself and get over it — write about something else — but it fascinates me to no end, and building these characters up, breaking them down... All of the writers, we just spend all our time talking about what this means to us [and] what it means to be a human, and it's something that I love deconstructing. Since I don't have robots, this is the next best thing.
All of which made us wish Joss Whedon would get some robots. But maybe that's his next show?
And finally, we had to ask Whedon about Cabin In The Woods, the movie he's done with Cloverfield's Drew Goddard. Is it science fictional, or fantastic in some way? So far, all the descriptions we've come across have made it sound like a deconstruction of slasher movies. But Whedon confirms there's something fantastical in the film — he just won't say what, yet.
As you might have guessed from the posters that came out the other day, Cabin In The Woods is a horror movie commenting on horror movies. And Whedon says Cabin is "very meta. It's meta-tastic." And while it's very different from Scream, it has a similar agenda in the sense that "I love horror movies, and I want to talk about them. Kevin Williamson did that brilliantly. We have a very, very different story to tell. But we are as fascinated by the teenagers who make bad decisions as he is."