Archive for the ‘Dollhouse’ Category

Finally Letting You In

January 30, 2010

So the final episode of Dollhouse finally aired last night, Epitaph 2 (son of Epitaph). This show really grew on me after a very shaky beginning. There was only one episode in the second season that I found irredeemable– “Instinct,” you can slink off in shame any time now. As TWOP put it:

If we wanted to watch a Lifetime movie of the week, we’d look up what channel Lifetime is and watch one. (Just kidding — we know what channel Lifetime is. They have Runway now!) So when we realized that Echo had been glandularly altered to breast-feed a baby, grow jealous of the dead wife she had replaced and flee because she thought her baby was in danger, we sat back and waited for the dramatic standoff with a knife.

But mostly the season was intriguing and well-plotted and genuinely surprising. Personally, I was very pleased that after all the “Caroline is special!” business, which was a seriously egregious offense of telling and not showing, it was gratifying that the only special thing about her turned out to be her DNA. (Although in E2 one of the tech heads gets beaten up and is all “She’s soooooo cool.” Whatever, show, you can keep selling, it doesn’t mean I have to buy.)

I got most of what I wanted. Our crew saved the world after (some of them) ruined it, but the ones that lived were too damaged to enjoy it. That seemed right to me, kind of a counter-point to the forced cheer of the final episode of Buffy when the Scoobies ignored the deaths of Anya and Spike and chirped that it was time to go to the mall, as if seven seasons of growth had never happened.

How could any of these people make it in the new world, knowing what they’ve done? Being the only ones who remember? Topher blew himself up restoring everyone to their original personalities. Paul died in battle, which was fine with me, since I never liked his smug, arrogant ass anyway. But in a genuinely affecting turn that I didn’t see coming, Alpha gave Echo Paul’s imprint, and she incorporated him, finally letting him in, and assuring him they’d have time to get to know each other.

I’m not made of stone, people, I found that to be just ridiculously romantic. Still though, you get the impression that Echo is really not made for this post-Dollhouse world, so this is the only part of her future that isn’t bleak. (Also, what’s with the grey streak in Echo’s hair? In 2020 she should be maximum 35. I guess she’s had a hard life.)

Priya 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 future of the human race, as it moves beyond the age of dolls and imprints.

So who’s the biggest loser? Caroline, I guess. She never got her body back (god, that phrase is so tainted by tabloids that I feel like I’m talking about Kardashian after giving birth or Jennifer Aniston’s “revenge body,” because after all, if you’ve been with Brad Pitt, everything you do afterward is about him.) so she essentially died making room for Echo. Potentially Alpha, who had been rehabilitated, but who might, on the reset, turn back into a killer.

I’ll miss this show, and I hope Joss Whedon gets a new one soon. Although maybe he could leave Summer Glau, every nerd’s favorite manic pixie dream girl out of it this time, yeah?

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Rossum’s Universal Robots

January 15, 2010

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.

We Have to Rape this Village to Save It!

May 5, 2009

Just one more episode of Dollhouse left, and the show is on the brink of possible cancellation.  I fervently, fervently hope the show will continue, which is a surprise, since the premise of the show was problematic and the first five episodes were not good. I am a big fan of Joss Whedon (although not a mindless follower– like I said, the first five eps. were problematic, and I didn’t like Firefly at all) so I stuck it out, and I’m very glad I did, because the show has really blossomed into something intriguing and rare.

This excellent and highly recommended post from Tiger Beatdown explains what makes the show a fucking fantastic and feminist heir to Buffy:

The answer to whether Joss Whedon and his showrunners know how rape-culturey the entire Dollhouse concept is would seem to be, at this point, a big huge Yes. The Dollhouse is a giant metaphor, not only for rape culture, but for patriarchy and oppression at large: even the boy dolls are girls, stripped of agency or access to power and cast in pre-defined roles to fulfill the fantasies of the folks who are actually in charge. When they have sex, they aren’t consenting – they’ve been made to think that they are consenting, by being made to think that they are the people who would consent to such things. They exist either in a state of infantilization and non-personhood (in which they are “cared for” by people who have a vested interest in continuing to use them) or implanted with false consciousness in which they are not aware of what’s being done to them. I mean, false consciousness: Whedon’s metaphors, they are rarely subtle. Their reactions to learning this, when they “wake up” (which Whedon has shown them doing, albeit briefly) are horror, disgust, and rage at how deeply they’ve been violated.

You can’t just stake the enemy or cast a spell at him or throw him into Hell this time. The enemy surrounds you and controls you and is much, much bigger than any one person. The enemy is in your head: it controls what you’re allowed to think, what you’re allowed to know, who you’re allowed to be. Resistance, this time, isn’t about throwing punches. It’s about getting your mind back. It’s about reclaiming your right to define who you are – your right to be a person.

Whedon is rather famous for having said that he wrote Buffy to flip around the common horror trope (where the supernatural is a metaphor for the rapist) that the little blonde girl is in the alley and a big scary attacker comes up, but, surprise, it’s the attacker who should be scared. When Buffy was in its final season, henchman Caleb showed up, and at the time I didn’t really like his character who was basically the spiteful obvious misogynist spewing “Bitches” and statements about the dirtiness of girls.  I felt that that kind of misogyny wasn’t the sort I was very worried about, since as least when it’s like that you know what it is.  I also felt that I did a good job at keeping that sort out of my life.  (Ah simpler, pre-primary times. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that alleged progressives would call a female senator a cunt or that the man who was elected president would mock her for having a period.)

The Dollhouse deals with the misogyny that isn’t that. This is the misogyny of the man who presumes to be protecting you, the person whose job it is to keep you weak for your own good. (Women just prefer to not have high paying jobs! A woman who is having an abortion must be lectured, because what she doesn’t know is that down the road she will suffer Horrible Psychological Damage if she has one.) This misogyny, this patriarchy is also your own programming. If you don’t understand that this is wrong, if you think this is somehow “morally ambigulous” then you aren’t watching The Dollhouse right.

But I’m positive there are people who watched Buffy less because they were interested in empowering women, and more because they were interested in watching Sarah Michelle Geller and Eliza Dushku sweat in very little clothing.

In the comments on this post, one of the commentors suggests that the Dollhouse is a morally ambiguous place, which seems, frankly, insane to me. The dollhouse is bad. The dolls are slaves who are raped by the wealthy. Patrons of the dollhouse are rapists. Do they have sob stories? Sure, but my sympathy for them ends when, instead of paying a therapist to work out their feelings about their dead wife, they pay a third party to rape a slave. The people to have sympathy for are the dolls themselves and their families, who can’t know that their loved ones are still alive (such as they are). If you watch the dollhouse and see moral ambiguity, then you’re watching it wrong.

(Part of this is complicated by this being a show on Fox.  The sexifying  of rape is demonstrated in this very well done video. Additionally, a lot of people said that they thought it was obvious that “Koeppler” was really Alpha because of his sexy abs when he changed shirts, which seemed incongruous for a lazy stoner.  That made me laugh since they only people who exist on Fox are ripped, conventionally hot, mostly white people. Which does seem like a problem with the Dollhouse as it seems to be run.  What if you want to have one last day with your dead grandma or what if you just prefer older women or men? Guess you’re stuck with squinting at Dichen Lachman.)

I’m also very suspicious when people claim to have liked the show from before the 6th episode.  This episode is a watershed for the series, not just because it’s the first episodes executed by Joss Whedon, personally, but because this is the first time that someone in the employ of the Dollhouse names what is happening there– rape. Sierra’s handler rapes her in a very unambiguous way, and afterward asks (paraphrase here): “Do you think it makes it better, that you make them think they’re in love?”

Before this episode you are invited to think that, yes, that is better, but it’s not meaningful consent. Meaningful consent can be withdrawn, which is impossible for a doll. Joss Whedon says that when creating the first few episodes, he was unaware that his show was about rape and trafficking. To enjoy these early episodes in which the probing of rape culture is impossible because the show’s creator did not realize he was depicting rape, is deeply deeply troubling.

The penultimate episode of the regular tv season was the best episode yet. I don’t read spoilers, so I was shocked at the reveal of Alpha, although I had suspected earlier that Dr. “Whiskey” Saunders was a doll, and I am generally terrible at figuring that sort of thing out in advance, so yay for me (and the show for its telegraphing, doubtless). The fairy tale motif was a little labored, but I actually think the story of the little girl that Echo was helping is more important than other citizens of the internet do.

Echo’s Sarah is the grown up verson of the child Sarah, she’s supposed to be in a unique position to understand her and guide her into the best possible growing up scenario.  (I’m assuming this is pro bono Dollhouse work, otherwise the foster system has a LOT more money than I thought.)  What I think has been overlooked is that in order to imprint Echo, Topher would have needed a print of the child’s brain.

We know from the previous episode, Haunted, that the download process is excruciatingly painful.  So… in order to save this little girl, who was in the foster system because she was repeatedly raped by a parent or step parent, Sarah was basically violated again, in a way that was both physically painful and emotionally and philosophically troubling. What a violation of privacy, to have your personality duplicated like that.

The show didn’t rest too heavily on this point, but I think it’s a very good way to look at the Dollhouse. Yes, some of what dolls can do is therapeutic, but it depends on a very rotten system where the bodies of (mostly) women are the fuel that keep the machine running.