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Dollhouse, weeks 11 & 12

"Why do you have to go back in the wedge? Why don't you come home?"

"I did sign a contract..."

"I have thirty-eight brains. Not one of them thinks you can sign a contract to be a slave... Especially now that we have a black president."

"We have a black president?"

Dollhouse Shark

...that's assuming, of course, that a show can jump the shark without ever first standing on solid ground. Thoughts:

* From last week: The idea of using a psychologically healed version of a trauma victim's own personality to act as the trauma victim's therapist is conceptually clever, the kind of interesting exploration of the Dollhouse technology's implications that I wish the show had done more of. Of course there are some logical problems with the concept: in order to get a recording of the trauma victim's personality to work with, you have to put them in Topher's chair, a pretty traumatic experience in its own right. Also, if you can edit someone's personality this way, why bother with traditional therapy at all? Why not just imprint the trauma victim directly with the "fixed" version of themselves?

There are bigger problems here. One of the risks you run doing a show about the victimization of women is that you can end up perpetuating the very stereotype that you're trying to undermine -- that all women are natural victims (past, present, or potential). So the fact that the trauma the girl had suffered was that her stepfather pimped her out felt like a tired cliche. How about a non-sexual trauma instead? How about a traumatized boy (who still sees Echo as his ideal adult self -- now that'd be interesting!)? Or if you're going to make the kid a rape victim, how about a little more character development so that's not all she is?

I also thought it was odd that the Dollhouse -- you know, the Evil! Sex! Trafficking! organization -- would be using its powers to help a rape victim. I'm sure they'd do it for a client, and never mind the irony, but this girl is an orphan, so who's paying? Topher's dialogue with Ivy suggests that it might be a charitable gesture on the part of Dollhouse management, which seems... incoherent.

* Wash from Firefly is Alpha: Hmm. I like Alan Tudyk, but because I associate him so strongly with Wash, I had a hard time buying him as a sociopathic killer. I think I was also a bit thrown by my own faulty expectation that Alpha would turn out to be someone we'd already met.

The big disappointment is that Alpha just isn't that interesting, once you get to know him. Turns out the Dollhouse didn't make him into a monster -- he was always a monster, a garden-variety Male Predator who tortures and kills women because, well, that's what Male Predators do. All the lab accident in the Dollhouse did was give him some computer skills. (It also demonstrated, yet again, that Mad Scientists are Idiots. When are you people going to learn not to use the brain marked "Abby Normal"?)

* Amy Acker is a doll -- and a gray-haired old man. This I liked.

* Agent Ballard decides to join the Dollhouse staff: Excuse me? This makes NO sense. This is a guy who's destroyed his career and risked his life in order to bring down the Dollhouse, but now, roughly ten minutes after finding the place, he does a 180 and agrees to join up with the Evil! Sex! Traffickers! in exchange for freeing one of the sex slaves (and it's not Caroline, so I guess he's over his obsession with her). Sorry, don't buy it.

What he should have done -- what a real person would have done -- was lead those FBI agents who'd surrounded the Dollhouse inside, and show them the facility. Yes, his old coworkers think he's nuts, but the proof is right there, and surely he could have convinced them to indulge him one more time, especially given the fact that they've already been called out on a bomb scare. Heck, he wouldn't even have to tell them he'd found the Dollhouse -- he could just tell them he knew where the bomb was, take them inside, and once they were there, surrounded by the evidence, say "OK, actually, there's not a bomb -- but here's the Dollhouse!" At which point, I kinda think Adelle and Boyd could have been convinced to cooperate, so he'd still be able to save Caroline from Alpha.

* "I have thirty-eight brains. Not one of them thinks you can sign a contract to be a slave...": Oy. I only have one brain, and I know you can't sign a contract to be a slave. Before my morning coffee, I might need a Google search to remind myself which Constitutional amendment formally abolished slavery (it's lucky number 13), but the basic fact that slavery has been abolished, that it's illegal -- that I don't forget. So rather than being the Feminist A-Ha! Moment that it apparently was intended as, all this scene does for me is drive home what a dim bulb Caroline is.

Even leaving aside the American History 101 stuff, consider the circumstances here. Caroline wakes up in someone else's body, tied to a chair, with Alpha encouraging Echo to kill her. Having narrowly escaped death, Caroline's response is not "Put me back in my real body and get me the hell out of here, now!" but "Put me back in the wedge and return me to the folks at the Dollhouse. Even though they clearly can't be trusted to keep me out of the hands of psychopaths, I did sign a contract..." Oh, Caroline -- I see a Darwin Award in somebody's future.

A better answer to the question "Why go back to the Dollhouse?" -- the same answer a real-life victim of Evil! Sex! Trafficking! might give -- is "Because I'm terrified that if I try to run, they'll track me down and kill me." Of course I would hope that Caroline would find the courage to run anyway, but I could still respect her as a character if she gave into the fear. I might give in, too. But to even consider going back, because you actually think you owe the Dollhouse? Nah, sorry -- not even if Sarah Palin was president.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
May. 11th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
It is possible, but twelve episodes in I feel like I shouldn't have to take that back story on faith anymore.
(Deleted comment)
May. 11th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
I blame Fox's crappy directors/writers and Joss for crawling back to them.
May. 11th, 2009 11:14 pm (UTC)
Huh? I feel like you know something that I don't. Looking at the credits for the final two episodes, they're written by Jane Espenson and Tim Minear, and the finale was directed by Minear as well. Was this really not the case?
May. 12th, 2009 02:39 am (UTC)
Well I'm curious as to why Fox will not air a 13th episode, although I can see the case for DVD sales. (The Fox TV Network vs. Fox Studios is a bit stupid too.)

Dwight Little, who directed the second to last ep, his resume does not impress me to think he belongs to the Whedon camp. Really whoever Fox hires to tell them that Joss is doing something wrong. Why would you pass up a Joss written and directed to finish the series?
May. 11th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC)
May. 11th, 2009 08:40 pm (UTC)
Caroline is allowed to be dim. She is never sold to us as particularly brilliant. However, Alpha is sold as a genius, but holes up in a place the dollhouse could conceivably trace him to. Also, I'm really not sure why he needed the elaborate ruse with Ballard for his invasion.

I do kind of like the idea of Alpha as a serial mind stealer, killing folks and taking their memories and skills for his own.
May. 11th, 2009 10:04 pm (UTC)
I thought the difference between Alpha's and Echo's (not Caroline's) reactions was interesting. Here she is, freshly polylobotofied and experiencing a transhuman perspective on life, and the core fighting strength that makes her a survivor is the only thing that comes out. Huh, not sure what I think of that.

Now, as to why someone who can actually wrap their mind around the multitude choose to go back? Here's someone who can probably piece together the eternal human verities from first principles based only on what's in her own head, and she doesn't care. Being in the dollhouse has "hollowed her out" and her primary identity _did_ walk away from her life. Maybe Echo+Caroline would have chosen to walk away, but Echo wanted to go where she was valued. The only person in there who wasn't a member of the "We love Echo" club is sitting in cold storage now, and apparently will never see his personality and his body reunited. The Dollhouse is safety and purpose in a way that Caroline's life (and the residue of it that remains in Echo) could never be.

I just wish that there had the scene where Ballard and he ex handler were lead to Wendy/Caroline's corpse and an explanation of what Echo was came out. I can imagine the truth of what Caroline had become, and how she didn't need rescuing from anyone - even a posthuman Male Predator, might have made Ballard's change of heart make some sort of sense.

I am really surprised that the decision was made to put UberEcho "back in the box". Having her volunteer for that would have been interesting, and again made a lot more sense than your next view of Echo being fresh-wiped.
May. 11th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
I wanted to beat someone over the head with a stick when the "black president" line came up. Hello, has no one heard of border coyotes? Women promised new lives as maids or with other jobs, only to be brought to the US and used as sex slaves because they "owe money" to the people who brought them there?

*headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*

And hell, Uber!Echo might have been amazing. I would have loved to watch a show about a cat-and-mouse game between her and the Dollhouse--her own complex feelings towards the place, their attempts to deal with someone who knows them inside and out, the hurdle of having thirty eight people in your head... That show? Would have been amazing. Instead, we have cardboard characters who sway in the wind, and basically the same setup that we started with. What the hell? I'm done with this show.
May. 11th, 2009 10:57 pm (UTC)
Topher's dialogue with Ivy suggests that it might be a charitable gesture on the part of Dollhouse management, which seems... incoherent.

There's an exchange of dialogue in the original pilot which implies charitable engagements are an ongoing thing, possibly a pet project of Doc Saunders, which may be having benefits for the psychological well-being of the actives who are sent on them. I liked it, and was surprised it wasn't re-used later in the season (as so much of the rest of that script was). Maybe they just forgot.
May. 14th, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)
You could probably reuse that graphic and just erase "doll" if the new season of House doesn't play out well. This institution business could go horribly wrong.
May. 18th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
Speaking of sharks, I saw this XKCD and thought of you (and Meisterbrau).

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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