So far, at least one blogger doesn’t think so. Rich Greenhalgh, a student and guest blogger for David Biancuilli’s TV Worth Watching is apparently disappointed that Eliza hasn’t shown much range as Echo. He says she can’t can’t carry the show as Jennifer Garner carried Alias or Kristen Bell led Veronica Mars. This paragraph sums it up…
Dushku has three speeds: “vengeful *censormode*,” “scared victim,” and “*censormode*y brat.” She never really closes the deal — it always looks like Dushku to me. She’s easy to look at, and fun in an ensemble, but she’s not the reason I would watch Dollhouse.
Rich has a point. Not counting the finale, let’s look at the many faces of Echo.
“Ghost”: Caroline Farrel, a girl over her head given one way out; a girlfriend for some guy; and Eleanor Penn, a hostage negotiator. I said I didn’t really believer her in this role because she’s too young. If it turns out Dr. Saunders may be an Active, she should have done this.
“The Target”: girlfriend, and outdoors woman. Still, she’s just a girl trying to avoid getting killed by her date.
“Stage Fright”: Midwife for a few seconds, and backup singer for a diva who needed a bit of improvised therapy
“Grey Hour”: Wise-cracking safe cracker who had a touch of Faith, then Echo herself
“True Believer”: blind woman looking for inspiration. Eliza was believable here as a girl who was also a camera.
“Man on the Street”: an internet mogul’s dead wife, and an assassin who does something that surprises the guy she attacks, Paul Ballard. Her second identity is a variation of the safe cracker.
“Echoes”: girlfriend again, and Caroline through flashbacks
“Needs”: a dominatrix who’s similar to the safe cracker and assassin, and then Caroline
“Spy in the House of Love”: an FBI interrogator that is again a variation on the safe cracker
“Haunted”: Mrs. Bashford. Here, Eliza was very believable as an old woman excited to be in a younger body
“Briar Rose”: social worker that could be similar to Caroline, Penn without the glasses, or the backup singer.
Through all of this, the only two very different roles Eliza has had was the blind woman and Mrs. Bashford. The others seem a bit too similar. This was probably how the producers and Joss wanted to start what they hoped would be a long run. It’s not like The Loretta Young Show fifty years ago, where she did very different roles from the start. Also, the original pilot had Eliza take a lot of different roles, from drug addict to assassin. If they took that approach, rather than Fox wanting it to start as a procedural, things would have been different.
The criticism over whether Eliza’s range is too limited may be due to the fact that her co-stars have shown wider range. Enver Gjokaj is a perfect example. Although some fans knew he was supposed to be an Active, we meet him as Lubov, a Russian who was supposed to give Paul Ballard information about the Dollhouse and its purpose. Afterwards, he’s taken many roles from an NSA agent and a horse breeder to Roger, Adelle’s romantic ideal, and Laurence Dominic, the former head of security. Dichen Lachman, who plays Sierra, has also had a better chance to show her range. Her first mission was a SWAT-type agent who rescued Echo and a child from kidnappers. After that’s she’s been a safe cracker, dorky music fan, dorkier temporary pal to Topher, a rape victim, and forensic expert. These two actors have made better use of their playground.
Maybe Eliza should have asked for a wider range or roles from the start, and put her stamp on this show. Maybe TPTB saw the first season as an introduction of things to come. In any case, it looks like Eliza Dushku will still run into roadblocks into her efforts to widen her range as an actress. Dollhouse has been a good try, but maybe more roles in small independent movies may also help.
The final episode, Omega, may yet show that she is capable of different roles, but she should have had more time and more chances.