At the outset of Friday’s “Dollhouse” panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Joss Whedon entered to the room to a standing ovation, before introducing the never-aired 13th episode of the show’s first season, “Epitaph 1.” Fans can also see the episodes on the “Dollhouse” DVD set, a special edition of which was available at the Fox booth at Comic-Con. “Epitaph 1” features “Buffy” and “Dr. Horrible” alum Felicia Day, is set 10 years in the show’s future, and shows exactly how dangerous the technology behind the Dollhouse can be in the wrong hands.
Whedon admitted to being in the midst of a busy year, between the TV series (“Dollhouse”), a movie (“Cabin in the Woods,” co-scripted by Drew Goddard), his comics work, and a triumphant return to “Dollhouse” that no one thought was going to happen. “I’m not really sure how that happened,” Whedon told the crowd. “Actually, I’m looking at the reason right now. Thanks for ruining my summer vacation.” The series didn’t necessarily get the numbers Fox was looking for in broadcast, but TiVo and online numbers, and a loyal fanbase, conspired to keep the fledgling series from going the route of “Firefly.”
Whedon said that Dark Horse’s “Buffy: Season 8” is heading into the home stretch. After Jane Espenson wraps up her current arc, Brad Meltzer is up to bat, after which Whedon will bring season 8 home. Whedon also said he was finally working on the long-promised Shepherd Book comic, which promises to explain the mysterious past of “Firefly’s” mysterious preacher. Speaking of “Firefly” secrets, Morena Baccarin had recently spilled the beans at a convention that her character Inara was suffering from a terminal illness, which Whedon went on to reluctantly confirm. That said, the mysterious syringe that Inara was prepared to use during the “Serenity” pilot had nothing to do with her affliction, and is a secret the writer is not yet prepared to reveal.
Joss’ brother Zach continues to write 8-page “Dr. Horrible” comics, and Dark Horse will even be doing a “Cabin in the Woods” comic. “Dark Horse owns most of me,” Whedon said. “But I’m grateful, I’m in good hands.”
Whedon then welcomed to the stage Echo herself, Eliza Duskhu, who thanked the fans profusely for giving them an opportunity to return for a second season. In addition to shouldering “Dollhouse’s” lead role, Dushku will be a producer for the show’s second season. Dushku also recently provided the voice for a character in a game called “Wet,” which she’s trying to develop into a feature to be shot when season 2 of “Dollhouse” wraps. And with that, Whedon opened up the panel to questions from the audience.
At the end of season 1, the Active called Victor became horribly scarred when the infamous Alpha cut him deep across the face. One fan asked if season 2 would see Victor, or Dr. Saunders (who was similarly branded by the rogue Active) return to their picture-perfect selves. “Yes, we will be dealing with that,” Whedon said. “Victor might get better quickly.”
Alan Tudyk is perhaps best known as a comedic actor, and one fan asked what led Whedon to cast Tudyk and the monster called Alpha. “I’ve met him,” Whedon quipped. “He’s an extraordinarily versatile actor.” Whedon credits a Shakespeare reading by Amy Acker as the reason he converted Fred into Illyria for the final season of “Angel,” and it was a Shakespeare reading by Tudyk (as Julius Caeser in “Antony and Cleopatra”) that inspired the showrunner to give the “Firefly” alum a chance to shine in a dramatic role.
What were Dushku’s favorite roles to play in season 1 of “Dollhouse”? All of the characters in the episodes “Man on the Street” and “Haunted,” and Crystal “the white trash girl” from episode 12.
One fan asked if “Dollhouse’s” writing staff ever made suggestions that made Whedon think. “I haven’t had a thought in years,” the writer said dryly. “This is the best first year staff I’ve ever had. It’s a roomful of brains, floating brains in jars. So much of this didn’t come from me, it was truly a group effort.”
Whedon promised we’d see a few familiar faces in “Dollhouse’s” second season. “This is how my creative life exists,” he said. “It exists because of a community.” Whedon cited “Angel” alum Alexis Denisof as appearing in an upcoming episode, as well as Summer Glau, “if the stars align.” Superstar comics artist John Cassaday, who illustrated Whedon’s run on “Astonishing X-Men,” is also slated to direct an episode of “Dollhouse.”
One fan asked Dushku what kind of character the actress would like to have played in “Firefly,” and Whedon chimed in, “a missionary.” As Dushku had recently done some some volunteer work building a school in Africa, she definitely approved.
Why does Joss always kill fan-favorite characters. “I hate people,” Whedon admitted. “I want them to suffer and die.”
“Don’t kill Eliza,” one fan shouted.
“I couldn’t take her,” Whedon said. “She uses hamster technique.”
Last season, Laurence Dominic was revealed as a mole inside the Dollhouse, and one fan asked if there were any other spies in the house. “No one can be trusted in the Dollhouse,” Whedon said. “There’s one person who can be trusted, but I’m going to kill them.”
Since “Epitaph 1” takes place in future, making viewers privy to the fate of certain characters, one fan asked if that was an immutable future, or if it was one that could be changed. It was a question that didn’t matter so much when all involved expected “Epitaph 1” to be the show’s swan song, but after they “accidentally forgot to get cancelled,” the writers decided to honor the events depicted in the first season finale. But because a lot the images of things to come were memories, Whedon said it was safe to doubt the veracity of some of what audiences have seen. Part of the first episode of season to will be set in the future world of “Epitaph 1,” and see Felicia Day and several other of that episode’s cast members reprise their roles. “Our world is heading towards this future,” Whedon said, “but what you’ve seen is not the whole truth.”
When will be see another Whedon musical? Whedon said that that very thing was a frequent topic of conversation between himself and his fellow “Dr. Horrible” writers. “It’s on our minds,” he said. “We love it too much to let it go.”
At this point, Dushku admitted that she’d twittered a few of her friends, whom Whedon promptly invited on stage: “Dollhouse” co-stars Dichen Lachman and Fran Kranz.
What can Whedon say about his creative process? “Apart from stealing, I don’t know,” Whedon said. “For a guy who notices very little, I see everything. I can’t stop thinking of things that I want to say. I don’t think of it as a process, for me it’s like blinking.”
“Don’t you have a dart board?” Lachman asked.
“Actually, I’m lying, we have a dart board,” Whedon confirmed. “It has ‘is wiped,’ ‘has sex,’ ‘is a doll.’ It’s really helpful.”
“Epitaph 1” was a decidedly different tone from the rest of the first season, one fan asked if Whedon thought the fans would be willing to go with flow. “Are you?” the writer polled the audience, to resounding applause. “As long as we don’t send anyone to feudal Japan, we’re pretty much okay.”
One fan asked if the similarities between the Rossum corporation in “Dollhouse” and Blue Sun in “Firefly” was intentional. “I told you, I have no new thoughts!” Whedon said. “Evil corporations are my cup of tea in the morning.”
“Have you been in America?” Whedon continued. “The entire structure is designed to mess with your minds, make you think you need the things they want you to need. Sometimes it’s like running the daycare on the Death Star.”
Whedon rounded out the panel by asking the “Dollhouse” writers in the audience to stand up and make their presence known, including new additions Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, creators of “Reaper.”