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'Dollhouse' premiere: Lies within lies and hot geek-chic sex

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dollhouse-wedding_lThat sound you hear outside is a geek nation’s head exploding. Why? Because Apollo and Faith just totally had the sex! Well, okay, not really. But the Dollhouse season premiere did have Battlestar Galactica alum Jamie Bamber playing a super-smooth arms merchant who gets married to Eliza Dushku’s Echo, so there was some inter-nerdverse smooching going on. As for the premiere itself, I’m kinda of two minds about it.

There were moments full of Joss Whedon awesomeness — those beats of quirky hilarity, emotional devastation, happy fightness that we’ve come to know and love over the years. But it also struck me that ”Vows” probably wasn’t the right episode to start a season with. It relied so much on a previous knowledge of Dollhouse continuity — that Echo was kidnapped by Alpha (Alan Tudyk) and imprinted with dozens of personalities at once; that Dr. Saunders (Amy Acker) used to be an Active until she was scarred beyond repair, and her current personality was created by tech-brat Topher (Fran Kranz); that Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) was booted from the FBI and now shares an uneasy alliance with the Dollhouse proprietor, Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams) — that a new viewer might find themselves adrift. It’s almost as if Whedon didn’t care about fresh audiences, that he was content to “play to the base.”

But back to that wedding. Echo is on a very literal Engagement: to be the wife of Martin Klar (Bamber), an arms dealer that the FBI has been after for years but couldn’t put away. The twist is, she hasn’t been hired by Klar, nor was she hired to be a blushing bride: Ballard arranged the long-term “encounter” and got Echo implanted to be an undercover operative. Lies within lies, personalities within personalities. It feels like Eliza’s settling into the role — or I’m settling into Eliza in the role — or the show is figuring out how best to utilize her. Her blankness as an off-duty Active was never wholly convincing, and it didn’t draw the appropriate contrast with her personas during Engagements. But now that she’s playing an Active who’s piecing herself together, evolving, it seems like a more organic performance.

An aside: Was it me, or was it weird to hear Bamber use his natural British accent, after years of his Apollo Americanness, and then to hear Alexis Denisof — whom I’d only ever seen as the veddy British Wesley Wyndam-Price on Angel — speak with an American one? (I wonder if Denisof’s Sen. Daniel Perrin will be a good guy or a bad one — or if that sort of thing even matters with a show like this.)

Another aside: Jamie Bamber’s hair might actually be too good for TV. It’s bounciness and sheen were distracting.

All in all, “Vows” was a good episode, one with some very nice touches — Acker and Kranz’s tete a tete, creation versus creator, was particularly well done — and definitely better than the whole middle chunk of the first season. But it didn’t open the second season with the kind of redefining bang I was hoping it would.

What’d you think? Is Dollhouse a keeper, or is it in danger of losing its DVR season-pass status?

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