Was Dollhouse generally too bleak (in colours)?

UPDATED: Saturday, June 18, 2011 00:59
VIEWED: 3886
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Thursday, June 16, 2011 1:37 PM


Hi all,

This is something I really noticed when I re-watched some episodes today.

Somehow it really struck me how bleak it looked. It seems like there was a chronic lack of red in many scenes which made it uncomfortable to watch in the long run, even for as long as one episode.

The strange thing is that I only really started noticing it today, and never when I saw it for the first time.

Has anyone experienced this as well?


Friday, June 17, 2011 3:11 AM


It wasn't something I noticed first time around. I do recall the Dollhouse being quite a warm place though. Lots of yellows and oranges, and I think Olivia Williams was dressed in red quite often, but I'd need to check that...

Sometimes these things are deliberate. BRIMSTONE used to knock out the reds for the first few episodes and it was awesome. However they started to use it less, as the show went on, I think because, as you have pointed out with Dollhouse, it feels bleak. I think if the subject matter lends itself to such technical tricks then it's a useful tool.

LOST used to do this because they wanted to effectively use red for greater impact whenever blood was on screen. For much of the time, the show stuck to blues and greens. SUPERNATURAL uses a similar ploy too and I think has perhaps better than any of them managed to keep the bleakness 'rich' (if that's not too much of a contradiction) by having very dark blacks. LOST didn't do this so much and often colours looked muddy and the blacks were often dark brown.

But you've given me a good reason to go back and re-watch a few Dollhouse episodes. Cheers

Cartoons -


Friday, June 17, 2011 4:27 AM


Joss and the Design Team made a specific effort to use color psychology in Firefly. I've seen articles and commentary about that. SO they're aware of the technique. Haven't seen/ didn't watch DollHouse so I can't say whether it was deliberate there or not.


Friday, June 17, 2011 11:38 AM


It might be "contrast syndrome" (yes, I made that up).

It occurs when you have been watching a TV series, and then when you watch a different TV series, the difference in contrast/tones is so drastic, that watching it becomes difficult

In my case, I was watching Firefly the last few days, and there really is a remarkable difference in shading/contrast between it and Dollhouse.

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

-Douglas Adams


Friday, June 17, 2011 8:28 PM


The show was derivative of LFN, I figure Joss + co knew what they were doing. They wanted a bleak effect, but it's nowhere near as bleak as Nikita.

Someone more familiar with 'em can help me out here, Adele (Madeline) is caught in the same power higherarchy problem, which spills in a "spoiling the illusion way" in both shows, which doesn't help the shows, it's sort of like when the same thing happens in X-files, but Dollhouse does it very early on.

The Attic just doesn't hold a candle to the White Room for some reason, even though it could. I needs that level of detached disinfected reality.

Characters in Dollhouse win too much when they fight the power and Echo is a little too accessible. It's not that Eliza isn't Peta, but that Echo isn't Nikita. The tension just isn't there. Ballard isn't Michael, the chemistry is nowhere near as volatile, the entire show is just not dark *enough*

Sierra and Victor look like happy meals on legs and Alpha is not creepy enough because the whole show doesn't quite reach the level of cold that it's aiming for.

This is a very difficult thing to try to do, and hasn't been Joss' strong suit before. Hands of Blue get closer to it than Dollhouse actually, but I think that's where he got the idea to try to recreate Section in Dollhouse. The internal tension is just too low between character. The sense that there are still good guys, that there is still a concept of good, weakens it considerably, and the use of some old well known stories that generally work for TV eps don't here because they're just too well known. (I'm sure there are some in Nikita too, but this isn't what works in the show) The situation needs to be unpredictable and mysterious on a level that truly creeps the view out.

Ultimately, what's behind the conspiracy has to be deeper and darker than the conspiracy itself, and that's where all of the shows ultimately fail, and what brings them down, Nikita and X-files do this much later than Dollhouse, which brings it down on itself very early. This is a man behind the curtain Oz problem. Another fringe show which blows this one early is Total Recall 2070.

So, yeah, they're going for creepy, they just didn't get all the way there. If Joss *had*, viewers would be cluthing the edge of their seats digging fingernails in an clenching teeth. I think Nikita has its audience here at points. When Dollhouse approaches these points, it feels like it wants to run away from them, it searches for a quick fix to overcome the attic or Rossum (Is this a reference to the Rosen corp in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" Always struck me this way.) Anyway, it's afraid to go there, Joss is uncomfortable being here. He's comfortable with the concept, but not the actual loss of control or the real uncertainty or inescapability.

The story is tragedy, and Dollhouse fails to grasp that. It clings to too much hope. The imagery is all headed for bleak, not just the colors, everything wants to be there, but as my brother says "filming at night in the rain does not by itself make for film noir"

That's what a ship is, you know - it's not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that's what a ship needs.


Saturday, June 18, 2011 12:59 AM


True, the series did grasp for hope for as long as it could, but then again, who wouldn't? I think it's just survival instinct.

Also, Joss is (for as far as I can tell) a humanist, always looking for the best in people, which might be why there aren't many truly evil (apart from dolls) people.

And I also think Fox wouldn't have left it on if it had gone to the dark place completely (although I must admit to not knowing all TV series ever broadcast by Fox, so I don't know how much darkness they would allow).

Oh well, I guess we'll just have to wait for a remake...


"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

-Douglas Adams






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