Even though this is a subject that could potentially get me crucified among Dollhouse fans and potentially subvert my part of the Save Dollhouse campaign, “Belonging” solidified a belief I’ve held for a while:
Eliza Dushku is the weakest aspect of Dollhouse.
I’m not going to say she is a bad actress. I am just going to say that for her acting range and style, Dollhouse is not a good role for her. Dushku’s acting is so stilted, I have yet to honestly believe that she is any character she portrays. To me, her acting range is not conducive to a lead actress; it is more appropriate for supporting roles—like Faith on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
If I had to put my finger on a single aspect of Dollhouse that drives away potential viewers, it would be that skeptics are turned away by her consistently subpar and awkward performances.
And yet, I really like Eliza Dushku in Buffy. Even though Faith is far from my favorite character, I never dislike seeing her on screen. She never gets old or tired like she does in Dollhouse because I only have to watch her when a plot necessitates it rather than having the narrative center on her. And luckily, Dushku’s stilted acting works well for Faith because she is herself stilted.
But Echo in Dollhouse is also stilted. When she is in her inactive state around the Dollhouse itself, I don’t mind Dushku’s performance. She perfectly portrays the vapid husk of a person Echo is supposed to be.
It is only when Echo is imprinted with a new personality and Dushku tries to widen her acting range that things become painful. I cannot think of a single imprint in either season that Dichen Lachman or Amy Acker would not have portrayed better than Eliza Dushku did.
Dollhouse has a fantastic supporting cast, however, and that’s where the quality acting shines. It is, though, typical Joss Whedon fare. In all of his shows, the main character is important but only marginally moreso than the ensemble. In Buffy, Xander and Willow are far more interesting characters to me than Buffy herself. In Firefly, I’m partial to Book and Wash instead of Mal Reynolds. And in Dollhouse, whenever Topher, Adelle, or Victor are on screen, I have a hard time remembering why I should care about Eliza Dushku.
But important she is, but not in any way relative to the narrative. Here’s the short version of the story as I understand it:
Eliza Dushku had a contract with Fox for a new, unspecified series. She and Joss Whedon are friends. They go out to lunch, and she mentions the contract to him and asks if he has any ideas. He does not. Later during the meal, he excuses himself to the restroom and comes back to the table having thought of the premise for Dollhouse while he was gone.
Put simply: Dollhouse would have never existed had Eliza Dushku not been in need of a new show. So even though her performances are at times painful, there is a sort of catch-22 when it comes to wishing someone else were in her position. Because there is really no other way for anyone else to have her role. The series would not even exist if Dushku were not involved.
And for that, I suppose I can deal with a bit of stilted, awkward dialogue and unbelievable personalities. Even if Dollhouse is cancelled after this season (which seems unfortunately likely) there was still much good in it. So, in the end, I’m glad that Eliza Dushku is involved for no other reason than to get a new Whedon show on the air for a couple of seasons. I guess that’s worth putting up with Eliza Dushku trying to sound like a college kid.