Timing: First in the Dollhouse universe. Modern time.
GENERAL REVIEW: Prior to seeing Dollhouse for the first time, I kept hearing two things that had me a bit worried for the show. I know, I know, Joss Whedon is one of the best of all time and I should trust him, but when you hear something said so much, even the biggest Joss fans (consider myself up there) might start to worry. First, I started hearing that Eliza Dusku wasn't a strong enough actress to play the roll of Echo. That Dollhouse was a showcase for an actress that couldn't support a showcase. Then, less alarmingly but still not good, I heard that the first episode isn't that good. In fact, Joss even said that the show doesn't take off until episode six. So, warning myself and my family and friends who were gathered to watch the episode that it might not be as instantly good as we expected, I turned on the television.
And thankfully, both of those statements were one-hundred percent wrong. Eliza Dushku is wonderful in the various roles she plays, and can very much support this show. Also, the episode is instantly good, and probably the strongest Joss Whedon pilot behind "City Of." It's faster paced than the two part premiere of Firefly, "Serenity," and feels more developed and sure of itself than the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Welcome to the Hellmouth."
The plot features a rich man renting an active, Echo, to help facilitate an exchange of money with some gangsters who have kidnapped his daughter. It is very standalone, but the seeds are planted for the longer arcs of the series to grow. It looks wonderful, the sets are great, the cast has palpable chemistry, and so far I've found it to be as funny, emotional, dark, and intelligent as any of Joss's previous works.
This is just television on a different level.
+ What a powerful opening scene. We get a glimpse at Echo before she became an active, back when she was a young, and apparently troubled, woman named Caroline.
+ Shortest. Dress. Ever.
+ Amy Acker is a scene stealer. She has an amazing screen presence, and her small scenes here all prove that she's by far one of the best actresses working today.
+ The guest stars here totally rock.
+ In contrast to the hit or miss Paul Ballard scenes, Joss develops Sierra, a new active, skillfully, making the most of her screen time.
- The babbling after Echo encounters (spoilers:) a man who kidnapped and molested the woman her memories for this specific job were taken from, she starts babbling a lot... only the babbling isn't very good. It didn't feel like she was coming apart, like it should have, it sort of just felt off. Similarly, the "You can't fight a ghost" bit was pretty cheesy.
- Biggest complaint about the episode is the first scene with Paul Ballard (played by Tahmoh Penikett) just didn't do anything for me. I guess it serves its purpose in introducing the character and what he's about, but the scene was weak compared to everything else going on in the episode. However, his next scene in the club was informative and hilarious, so it kind of made up for the first one.