Rossum’s Universal Robots

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In last week’s episode of Dollhouse , “Getting Closer” we saw flashbacks to Caroline breaking into a Rossum building to blow-up it up, and finding out it housed a Dollhouse. In attempting to flee she is caught by Adele and sent upstairs to meet with the mysterious head of Rossum, Clyde (the dude she met in the Attic).

Caroline: So you’re Rossum?
Clyde: Rossum is just a name, actually from a play.

And indeed it is! A play I was in, in college: Rossum’s Universal Robots. The play actually introduced the word “robot,” although its robots are more like clones or even… dolls!

An overview, since I think there are some useful parallels to Dollhouse. The play was written in 1920, but, like Dollhouse, it’s set slightly in the future. In 1932, marine biologist Rossum goes to a remote island and discovers a chemical that allows him to create more durable than usual life. Rossum intends to create animals to disprove the need for (and existence of) God, but his nephew uses it to make robots, which become extreme popular and spread all over world. Robots make everything cheap and easy for humans, and humans come to depend utterly on them. This is all revealed as backstory to Helena, the daughter of an industrialist who is an advocate for robot rights. The present head of the company, Domin, convinces Helena the robots don’t have wishes or desires and the two fall in love.

After ten years the human birth population has declined. Domin shows Helena his two new robots: Radius and (Robot) Helena (this was my part!!). They are both more fully equipped and upgraded. Disturbed, human Helena burns the formula for making robots. Meanwhile, the robots have begun a revolt around the world and it has reached the island. The robots kill all the humans except for Alquist, a clerk, whom they leave alive.

They discover the formula has been burned and Alquist is ordered by the robots to rediscover it, but he’s not a scientist. They bid him to do it even if he has to dissect living robots, which is does, but is disturbed by. Meanwhile, Alquist observes that Robot Helena and robot named Primus seem to be in love, which he tests by asking them which he should dissect, and both volunteer to spare the other. Alquist now suspects that since robots can fall in love, they will be able to reproduce, and that Helena and Primus are the robot Adam and Eve.

The viewer ends up being like human Helena: initially concerned about the welfare of individual human dolls, just as Helena is concerned about robot rights. These are real concerns: As Madeline’s reintroduction to civilian life shows us, it’s disturbing to learn you’ve been raped while unconscious for years. (Imagine.) But if, for whatever reason, you are not concerned about the rights of robots/dolls (like, for example, Topher Brink is not) there are still concerns about the apocalypse and ending the human race. It’s clear both from Epitaph One and from the events of this season that while Topher is disgusting from a feminist angle, he is disturbed by his part in creating the technology that will end the human race.

Robot Helena and Primus are clearly Victor and Sierra, two dolls who were thought to be incapable of love who improvised the way to do it without a map.

The following is just speculation, but I think role of Alquist will be played by Ivy, who is sort of the not particularly implicated, not particularly brilliant clerk of the Dollhouse, and I suspect that because of the end of RUR, Sierra and Victor will save the world.

Also, Boyd is the head of Rossum? I was shocked!! At first I thought he was a doll, but then I remembered that he reacted to that season one virus that affected only humans and not dolls. I’m intrigued going into the last two episodes.

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One Response to “Rossum’s Universal Robots”

  1. Finally Letting You In « Booze. TV. Food. How Do *You* Spend Friday Nights? Says:

    […] and Tony ended up together, reconciled, with the most adorable child in the history of children. I feel very Adam and Eve about them, and their child is the product of a technophile and a technophobe, which seems fitting for the […]

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