The Fake Tragedy of Joss Whedon

Kevin Carey is saddened by the imminent demise of Dollhouse:

Relatedly, Dollhouse has been cancelled right on schedule, i.e. just when Joss Whedon was getting to the point

. It is (soon: was) not a show about sex or human trafficking or prostitution. It’s about identity. For the first 20 episodes, we’re meant to believe that Echo is merely a cipher masking Caroline, fighting to regain the identity she sold away. But now, as she struggles to integrate the various identities that the dollhouse has “imprinted” on her brain, we see that it was about Echo all along. And this, of course, is everyone’s struggle: integrating the various identities the world thrusts upon us: consumer, spouse, parent, worker, thinker, artist, daughter, son. And, particularly in the modern world, the tearing pain of choosing among them when we’re told that the freedom of self-definition is the thing we should value most. Whedon is fast becoming one of the great tragic figures in popular culture, a man of huge talent, vision and integrity whose work keeps getting killed before its time.

Color me unmoved by the alleged tragedy of Joss Whedon. What happened to Firefly was arguably tragic. But by the time Dollhouse came out, it was clear that the place for idiosyncratic, ambitious television was cable where a show could be viable with a smaller, but more devoted audience. We’ve had Battlestar: Galactica we’ve had The Wire we’ve had Mad Men it doesn’t take a genius to see how this goes.


But you get paid more money to develop a show for a network, and Whedon wanted more money so he gave us Dollhouse, a show with a ton of promise but also dozens of artistic compromises. Getting “killed before its time” was inevitable. Whedon’s fans want to see him make the kind of show he can only make on cable. And I’m sure one cable network or another would be happy to develop a show with a creator who comes with a fervent built-in fanbase. But he doesn’t seem to want to do it. I think it’s a shame, but it’s his own fault.