Why we love Dollhouse—and why we hate it!

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Dollhouse finishes up its first season tonight with "Omega," an episode that might turn out to be the series finale as well.

Audiences have had a love/hate relationship with Joss Whedon's controversial series from the start, so as Dollhouse prepares to say farewell—perhaps forever—some will be riveted to their televisions, while others who've given up on the show will happily find something else to do Friday night.

SCI FI Wire has found two viewers—one who can't wait to see what tonight's Dollhouse finale will bring, and another who started watching the series in hope but has since turned away in disgust—and asked them to tell us why.

Alyx Dellamonica can't wait to see what Joss Whedon has up his sleeve in the Dollhouse finale:

I'll be the first to admit that the pilot episode of Joss Whedon's new series, Dollhouse, was far from strong. Though the opener did an adequate job of setting up the characters and the "programmable people" premise of the show, it lacked snap ... and in that first week I had to doubt whether I'd still be around three or four weeks later. Subsequent episodes were uneven, and more than once the show teetered on the edge of my "life's too short" list.

Now we're roaring towards the finale, "Omega," and I'm not just hanging in—I'm genuinely excited.

What kept me coming back every week, until I finally admitted I was hooked? First, there's the concept itself. Dollhouse is yet another attempt to recapture the quirky magic of Quantum Leap. This variation on the theme is much darker, but Echo's handlers are essentially custom-building amnesiacs who can solve their clients' problems and realize their dreams, however dangerous or deluded, and then disappear.

At its best, the show raises questions about power, slavery and prostitution. It considers whether giving people exactly what they need—if only for a few days—might be more damaging than leaving them to struggle. Dollhouse has yet to really dig into this material, yet, but there's more than a glimmer of potential here, and I hope it gets the chance.

That said, the real draw of this show has always been its cast. Joss Whedon is such a good writer that it's easy to forget that he also has an extraordinary eye for acting talent. This series is no exception. Eliza Dushku, always incandescent, has been successful both in making her childlike Echo persona into something more than a cipher—no small feat—and in playing a convincingly different character from week to week in Echo's various "engagements." Harry Lennix as handler Boyd Langton has grown from an apparently faceless suit into an intriguing puzzle: Why is such an obviously good man involved with this morally specious operation? The Dollhouse staff—Amy Acker, Fran Kranz, Olivia Williams and the incomparably smarmy Reed Diamond are consistently creepy. And Tahmoh Penikett, always one of the best things about Battlestar Galactica, has been riveting as the show's heart: Agent Paul Ballard, the obsessive FBI agent whose own desperate need is truth about the Dollhouse. His doomed relationship with Miracle Laurie's November—and why does poor Tahmoh always end up with the artificial girl?—has been an antidote for one glaring series drawback. When most of the main characters have no continuous memory, how deeply can you care?

And now Alan Tudyk has turned up, with a bravura performance in "Briar Rose." I'd been spoiled for his guest appearance, but knowing what was to come didn't matter once Tudyk was actually onscreen. As he babbled his way through that first panicked, hyperkinetic, delicious monologue, viewers could finally hear the engine of the Dollhouse season-one story arc revving into overdrive.

Because that's the thing about Whedon shows—they have immense narrative energy. In mid-season, viewers may not have known where any given storyline of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel was going, but there was never any question that it was going somewhere cool ... and usually fast. That's been true of Dollhouse. Whedon's finales pay off: They make sense, and they answer whatever questions the previous episodes have raised. I'm not the only fan who found season seven of Buffy to be a bit of a grind, I know, but few would argue that "Chosen," the series finale, was anything less than unforgettable. This isn't The X-Files, or Lost: When it's over, viewers should have more to take away with them than a big "Huh?" or a sense of having been scammed.

That's what I'm hoping to see as this first season of Dollhouse winds up: something that will blow back my hair, something that will stick with me over the summer. Despite a slow start, I'm in Agent Ballard's corner: I cannot wait to see the truth unfold.

Janna Silverstein has better things to do than watch the Dollhouse finale:

Let me be perfectly clear. I've been a member in good standing of the Church of Joss Whedon for quite a while now. I always came to it late. I didn't discover Buffy the Vampire Slayer until the series was well under way, and then I became a dedicated fan ... until that last, dreadful season. I didn't come to Firefly until it was off the air and the Browncoats were on the march. I admit it: I became and still am a fan. During the run-up to the premiere of Dollhouse—the rumors of network tinkering, the delays, the speculation about whether the show was actually going to appear—I intended to start from the beginning and be in on the ground floor of Joss Whedon's newest brainchild. I wanted to believe.

When it finally did air, Dollhouse presented us with a repertoire of Whedon tropes we've seen time and again: the powerful woman-child with no control over her fate, the clever, lovable genius, the Sekrit Cabal with Sekrit Powers, and a message about society's habitual exploitation of women: It's bad-bad-bad. Yep, I've been there before.

Then there was Eliza Dushku. She's awfully pretty with her big, dark eyes and a pout that suggests some private sadness. She's also awfully skinny and childlike. I want her to eat a sandwich and stop looking like an undernourished teenager. In fact, I've felt that way about every woman cast in a Whedon vehicle except for Jewel Staite and Morena Baccarin. I also want someone to give Dushku a skirt long enough to sufficiently cover her cutie patootie. I'm not a prude; Dushku's got great legs, and she's paid to show them off (I sense a meta-theme here). But she's also paid to act, and, as much as I want a fellow brunette to succeed (because the blondes get all the press), I just don't find her convincing. I was never able to get emotionally invested in her blank-slate, slide-show-changeable character. It's not just about Dushku's performance; I never found a way to care about the protagonist. That's a problem. I also see a lot of Faith coming through in her performance, and I can't shake the feeling—once again—that I've seen this before.

It was Star Trek: The Next Generation that birthed a new science fiction television tradition: A series needs a season or so to really blossom. Twenty-two years after that show's debut, it seems as though most genre shows need a rev-up period to set their stories in motion. Genre TV fans almost expect it. With Dollhouse, we were asked to wait until magical episode 6 to finally understand where the series was going. What I decided at about episode 4 was that I was tired of waiting. I didn't have to wait for Chuck to get its ass in gear, and in two seasons it neither disappointed nor slowed down to be sure that I Got the Point. This was also true of Battlestar Galactica, at least in the beginning. My time is valuable. Good storytelling may take time, but I'm not interested in listening to an orchestra tune up. I want the symphony when the curtain rises. It can be done, and it has been done many times before.

So here we are at the end of the season. I have friends lining up to view the finale, lips smacking with anticipation. Me? I'm done. There's other great SF on television. Maybe I'll come back to the show when it's on DVD and I can watch it in one marathon viewing.

On second thought: Nah. My time's worth too much.

What do you think? When the Dollhouse finale airs, will you be there?