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Dollhouse watch : Season 1

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  • Dollhouse watch : Season 1

    Hey

    Here is the S1 episode list (I'll link these to the first post made on each ep as they happen)...

    - Ghost (below)
    - The Target
    - Stage Fright
    - Gray Hour
    - True Believer
    - Man on the Street
    - Echoes
    - Needs
    - A Spy in the House of Love
    - Haunted
    - Briar Rose
    - Omega
    - Epitaph One
    - (Echo) *optional extra unaired episode

    As suggested, lets start by trying one episode Sun/Mon, one Thu/Fri.

    The thread is open for anyone to post their thoughts on the 'current' episode as and when they're ready, or as you'd like to reply to other posts. There's no need to rewatch the ep if you know it well enough and want to get involved but don't have the time to see it, just join in the conversation.

    **Please remember to spoiler tag any references to future episodes** some of us are watching for the first time and don't want to be spoiled (thanks).


    Let's get watching and see how the pace works for us. Ghost first then....



    - - - Updated - - -

    1.01 Ghost

    An interesting start with an episode that opens a thousand questions!! Just the concept of removing someone's personality and creating this temporary blank, passive and obedient placeholder is very sketchy for me. Being able to jumble and set other people's personalities together and zap them into that shell in such a way that there is complete knowledge, or a structured enough whole to feel complete, and true belief in being that person is seriously ropey. Neurologically affecting eyesight is one thing but also creating a belief in a condition like asthma, not so easy to simulate a full condition. And that subconscious memories would also be transferred too... well, hmmmm??

    But people do have accidents/illnesses that affect the brain and have them seem to change into totally different people, basic functioning and understanding of the world doesn't stop when someone suffers from amnesia, understanding of a condition doesn't even have to be given accurately, just in a way that allows for the belief in it and if we view our brains like a computer which records and processes then it is the successful insertion of a strong enough connection that can place details, subliminal messages do work after all. But still, to manage it in such incredible detail without a real computer programme and connection, The Matrix springs to mind for that, requires a pretty massive suspension of disbelief from the get-go.

    I find it hard to take the notion that a personality can be mapped and recorded that well, that detailed, and that the mind can be erased in such a way that wouldn't cause problems with overlaps, errors and rejections on reestablishing a new person. Of course the point about a slate never being truly clean was made at the very start and her memory of seeing the other active being erased was included in this ep. So I'm expecting we'll see more triggers, events or objects like the heart necklace perhaps, raising past selves or at the least breaking holes into the wider truth. It seems the breakdown of that complete erasure/replace system is going to get some early focus but it doesn't feel like she is going to get out of there any time soon.

    Obviously we don't know anything about the mess that she got into in the first place and who she was before she agreed to this (was it five years theoretically?). I assume the psycho guy who had killed people connected to her (her family perhaps?) and was watching the piece of footage was a brief glimpse at this information starting to seep out. If he is wanting to track her then I'd guess she knows something or saw something that is an issue for the bad guy and would explain her wish to effectively hide herself all ghost-like. The point was made that running from something simultaneously heads you towards something else though. Well, clearly there's just plenty more to be revealed there.

    The introduction to her handler was a bit weak for me (I was also distracted for a while trying to remember what his character name is in Blacklist, Harold Cooper in case you care ). He seems an odd choice for a handler as I'd have expected such an organisation to personality vet their workers unbelievably thoroughly!! How long has it taken for him to start questioning protocol as he is, showing disquiet? So I'm waiting on a bit more there to see why he is complying and sticking with them, it feels like there is a reason needing to emerge.

    The agent(?) who is trying to investigate the dollhouse myth seemed ok, pretty stereotypical in his tunnel vision and determination to get answers, refusing to give up the tasty bone he's been digging away for! The characters running the organisation are a bit comical in their stereotyping too - nerdy science guy/hard business-like woman/pretty doctor/generic and forgettable red shirt soldier guys - but I'm happy to roll with that. And of course, we got AA in a lab coat again, ha. Clearly there is more to find out about her. It feels like there is background to explain her presence as a cog in the system, she doesn't seem to be totally on-board with her employers' business and of course we had the unexplained injuries. Has she infiltrated them for a personal vendetta? Did she use to be an active?? We'll see.

    Eliza was good. Her 'vacant' mode was a bit dumb, but as that is the point of the placeholder phase I can hardly hold it against her. I liked her Miss Penn character and thought she did a fair job of the emotional notes and shifts in that storyline. The confrontation with the child abuser, the interweaving of 'ghost' to being insubstantial, the death of the original person whose memory she was feeding from, the death of her original self (like a kind of murder, as was said), I really liked that.

    So I enjoyed it well enough for sure and I'm interested to see where they are going with it in terms of who the character is and why she's in this situation in particular. The premise I'm having to very heavily shrug at for the moment because of how vastly complicated what they are suggesting seems to me. It is probably a degree of adjusting to the new setting/story idea, absorbing it. I don't have a problem taking a fantastical truth at some degree of face value, but I'd prefer for it to not be totally nonsensical and confused in itself. As a first episode it was interesting, had a good pace and raised enough questions I am interested to see more to find out if we'll get any satisfactory answers.

    Silly extra, as totally callous as this was it just really tickled me:
    Echo - Something fell on me.
    Nerdy, evil science guy - I bet it was something great.
    Last edited by Stoney; 07-08-17, 03:17 PM.

  • #2
    Just watched the first episode of Dollhouse - I know nothing going in, so laugh, laugh, laugh at my ignorance!

    The first episode struck me as somewhat dour and far too expositional for the subject matter. We've got a group of young people (no oldsters, no fatties, no uglies) who apparently are being used by an evil corporate (shades of W&H from Angel) to fulfill various fantasies through a wipe-out of their original memories in favor of various personalities.

    I'm really not a fan of opening scenes in which characters turn to each other and start speaking as if they haven't been doing this for years. Her handler's heavy-handed exposition - explained away by worry. But he starts worrying NOW for vague reasons that aren't really explained to us? It feels unmotivated and only present so that the characters can tell each other what they already know for our benefit to fill us in on the action.

    I'm assuming a Blade Runner-type world where no one can tell the wiped memory people from the other people - almost anyone in the show could be another Echo, including the big cheese corporate overlord himself. This is a common trope in Sci-Fi and I imagine that Whedon capitalizes on it here - which memories are real and is every one enacting a fictitious personality for some reason? Certainly Amy Acker's scars are an indicator that something's amiss with her - perhaps she was the prototype for Echo and it all went South?

    As Stoney points out, the premise is ridiculous - neurologically, it's an impossibility to "create" a new identity for each person because it would be nearly impossible to predict what various neurons will do when interacting with the brain and the body (especially if you embrace the theory of precognition - that our bodies react due to brain synapses before we even know it's happening) and I can't imagine a scientist being able to create such an effect without simply throwing away silly machines to be used on hot girls and going for controlling the President of the United States or just becoming the head honcho of the world.

    However, taking the fantasy world as real, I'd say that there's a lot of potential for drama - especially Echo finding out who she really is (we get a glimpse in the video) and rebelling against the evil corporate. The show is also an obvious postmodern metaphor for the loss of personality in late capitalist society. I'm reminded a bit of Weill and Brecht's 1930 opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny - about a town where anything is possible and everything is allowed - as long as you can pay for it. Why do we create if not for the pleasure of destroying what we create afterwards?

    But then there's a lot of collateral damage in terms of dramatic interest because of the very nature of the plot of Dollhouse. Since we can't really get a grip on Echo because she's not even THERE except in bits and pieces, the drama is going to drag terribly with flashbacks and whispered plots and small disturbances until she gets that vacant look off her face and hopefully becomes the enemy within (at least, that's what I'd do in terms of Plot).

    The problem is that her discovery most likely should have taken place in the first episode so that the viewer has something to ground them - otherwise, we don't care very much about what's happening emotionally and simply have to wait until Echo finally discovers her own source of her own echo. That's a problem that I'm surprised Whedon and Company didn't see in advance - the first episode doesn't really grab you the way it should because the GOOD GUY/BAD GUY (don't know if he's one or the other yet) is so one-track-minded in his pursuit of her that we're not intrigued enough and Echo herself is too much of a mystery for us to truly care about her.

    There's also a surprising lack of humor - even very dark humor - in the episode. I felt odd about the kidnapping halfway through - I'm suspicious that it's all staged for the rich guy's benefit. Or even one of the Kidnappers who may have paid for the privilege of living out some kind of weird fantasy. But then perhaps I think too much.

    The actors are very good - nice to see a lot of Buffy veterans in the show both on and off screen. I'm not too hot on the scoring - seems very generic and uninteresting with a lot of Hawaii-Five-O action riffs. Whedon's direction was fairly good - I like the Taxi Driver-like Godly point of view in the scene with the dead bodies - and there were a few amusing in-jokes (like the daughter almost being a member of the classic 'women in refrigerator' trope) although it looks as if they hadn't much of a budget.

    Looking forward to the next episode. Curious to see when Whedon allows Echo to "discover" who she is. Hopefully soon.
    Last edited by American Aurora; 26-10-16, 02:37 AM.

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    • #3
      Dollhouse, episode 1 Ghost
      (Odd that both the show title and the episode title are Ibsen plays with the S shaved off.)

      I didn't have as much a problem with the realism of the premise, because to me that's classic "willing suspension of disbelief". Writers are allowed to get one freebie. Sure, I'll accept a line of mystic vampire slayers, people getting superpowers from radioactive spider bites or being super-strong and able to fly thanks to the light of a yellow sun --- as long as everything else is worthwhile. Where Dollhouse fails, at least in its first episode, is it doesn't live up to its half of the bargain. It doesn't use the super-tech to tell a truly engaging story.

      One thing that sets it apart from the other Joss Whedon TV shows is a lack of pseudo-family. The Scoobies came together fairly quickly, so did Angel Investigations and the crew of the Serenity. It's a less inviting show because of that.

      Even a show like Breaking Bad has a family dynamic between Walt and Jesse (besides Walt's own family). Orphan Black has Sarah and Felix, even before the rest of the Clone Club get together.

      And I agree with Aurora, the lack of humour really hurt the show. To me a lack of humour always seems like a petulant teenager trying to prove how adult he or she is, and yet proving they really aren't adult yet. Most of the truly engaging dark shows have humour -- it lends a shading that can make it even darker in a way.

      I thought if Echo didn't discover the whole truth, she'd at least get a crumb. Going to bed with a token of Caroline's. Or starting to look into things. Or something.

      I wonder if the investigator has a personal reason for investigating Dollhouse. We don't really get a hint of it. You'd think they'd tease that just a bit more.

      Still Eliza Dushku and Amy Acker are always good. And Olivia Williams makes a fine "magnificent bastard".

      The first episode needed more of a hook though. It will be interesting to see if the original pilot had it, and the network made Whedon take the hook out for ... reasons.

      Comment


      • #4
        Well, I'm going off memory -- though I might rewatch tomorrow. But I think I liked this better than others did.

        A lot of the point of Dollhouse is to interrogate the concept of the Strong Female Character which was part of BtVS and also Eliza Dushku's various roles -- both as Faith and elsewhere. Along those lines, the episode's (case of the week) plot is specifically a narrative of an oppressed girl being saved by a woman who is conquering her own demons and breaking free of her own traumatic past in the process -- including overcoming the limits of her asthma! -- in action heroine/procedural cop show style. She saves the girl, who is a representation of herself, who is cowering in a box --

        And then immediately her moment of triumph is undercut and she flashes back from Eleanor Penn and her growth is erased. The growth was only a tool. For profit. And then Echo goes back into *her* designated box.

        The child kidnapper is a symbol of the most extreme form of domination -- adult vs. child, the most horrifying sexual predation specifically because the power is totally imbalanced. And the kidnapper is of course horrible. But this is partly a way to look at the kind of bargain that Caroline apparently reluctantly struck in the opening scene, with the more cultured Adelle, who is not a lone actor but has the whole force of an organization behind her actions. This is partly a story about consent, and how it can be twisted and coerced, and the horrifying example of the child is brought up to force the comparison. If Caroline agreed to come here, how far can that agreement extend? If Eleanor's goal is to act in defense of the oppressed, does it matter that she is forced not to recognize herself in those terms?

        The questions of the episode are mostly: how does latent memory affect one's identity and performance? What is required for someone to perform a service at the highest level -- and is it possible that what is required of someone, in order to perform a service, is for them to actually have their own story which climaxes alongside their success? Eleanor Penn's trial by fire and her ultimate triumph is necessary for the Dollhouse to get paid, but it appears it may have only been an illusion. We're talking in part about what it means to work for people much more powerful than oneself. What if enlightenment -- coming to the climax of one's personal journey -- is necessary in order to do a job, but that this is only incidental, and can be ripped away once one's employers (or other powerful entities) no longer need it?

        See also Topher's speech about a person's strengths being compensated by a lack, while looking at badly scarred Dr. Saunders, the familiar-faced Amy Acker. What Topher seems to be grasping is that human foibles, and human narrative, are something that are absolutely essential for high functioning -- and ultimately personal narrative an autonomy is maybe something else that can be weaponized.

        This is part of the pitch of the show: this is also Eliza Dushku's story, or at least began as such. She talked to Joss at lunch about what it means to be an actress, to take on different roles and then discard them just as suddenly. This is about the entertainment industry, too, and about serial / episodic television, where catharsis is created and then disrupted for the purpose of continuing to produce a product (for the ultimate purpose of selling advertisements!), which is here affected in so jarring a way as to undermine and call attention to itself. If a narrative has a character become whole and then be broken again, over and over again, for the benefit of an audience, is growth really possible for the character? Or for the actor who has to portray this cycle to provide periodic bursts of catharsis? (Or for the audience?)

        Eleanor's triumph before Echo returns to her pod is one of the key images I keep coming back to about this show.

        Also note the lyrics of Lady Gaga's Just Dance at the club, at the opening -- just quoting the early parts --

        I've had a little bit too much, much
        All of the people start to rush.
        Start to rush by.
        A dizzy twister dance
        Can't find my drink or man.
        Where are my keys? I lost my phone, phone.

        What's going on, on the floor?
        I love this record, baby, but I can't see straight anymore.
        Keep it cool, what's the name of this club?
        I can't remember but it's alright, a-alright.

        [Chorus:]
        Just dance. Gonna be okay.
        Da-doo-doo-doo
        Just dance. Spin that record babe.
        Da-doo-doo-doo
        Just dance. Gonna be okay.
        Duh-duh-duh-duh
        Dance. Dance. Dance. Just dance.

        Wish I could shut my playboy mouth.
        How'd I turn my shirt inside out, inside out right?
        Control your poison, babe
        "Roses have thorns," they say.
        And we're all gettin' hosed tonight.

        What's going on, on the floor?
        I love this record, baby, but I can't see straight anymore.
        Keep it cool, what's the name of this club?
        I can't remember but it's alright, a-alright.
        This ties in with Caroline's "I want to do everything!" speech as the mysterious fellow watches and prepares to send her a letter. While, yes, the sci-fi tech here is dubious, it's also about what it really means to lose one's locus of identity and actually be in a neverending party, the immediate past erased and vanishing, possibilities suddenly endless. And erase all sense of who you are, and you really can do everything, and do anything. No limits, permanent present. Just dance. Whoever she is at the moment depends on what others need her to be, and the trick is that she is unaware that this is the case, and so can be anyone as the moment requires and feel a sense of narrative completion each time someone else needs her to have one; she is unaware of the system that she resides in, or of how quickly she adapts (with some magic-tech help) to be the person required at a given time, to supply a given demand.

        So the ghosts -- yes, definitely the kidnapper/abuser, and also Caroline, and also Eleanor -- who rises from the dead (!!!) through Topher's creation of the personality Echo. And the purpose of Eleanor rising from the dead is primarily to help a paying client. But it briefly creates the reassurance that justice has been served, from beyond the grave, except of course the real Eleanor was not helped, and this "Eleanor" is spontaneously erased, so that the benefit of the narrative is to help other people feel more secure that justice can be served, even from beyond the grave, even if this is an illusion, and it's only the very, very rich who can summon this ghost to deliver their own retribution. The ghost is also the Dollhouse itself -- which stays out of the public eye (so much so that Ballard's desire to go after it is viewed as akin to chasing a phantom (or UFOs -- very Fox Mulder), and which, while imprinted, Echo is totally aware of, and is thus unable to fight ("You can't fight a ghost."); how much are we able to fight against conditioning which we are largely unaware of?

        Anyway, don't get me wrong, the episode is kind of clunky and I don't think Whedon is very good at writing procedurals. But there's a lot I really love about this episode. To some extent, I think the fact that it doesn't quite work as drama works for me, because on some level it should reside somewhere in a sort of uncanny valley of storytelling -- resembling a short ghost story of retributive justice but being far enough away that the false elements come to the surface. Whedon was also trying to make a procedural which only becomes apparent as a ghost story near the very end, before that is suddenly ripped away, so I suspect that he would have wanted it to have a bigger impact on each level of story rather than them all being a little distancing, which was the result. But it works for me, as a final result.
        Last edited by Local Maximum; 26-10-16, 09:21 AM.

        Comment


        • #5
          Local Max:

          A lot of the point of Dollhouse is to interrogate the concept of the Strong Female Character which was part of BtVS and also Eliza Dushku's various roles -- both as Faith and elsewhere. Along those lines, the episode's (case of the week) plot is specifically a narrative of an oppressed girl being saved by a woman who is conquering her own demons and breaking free of her own traumatic past in the process -- including overcoming the limits of her asthma! -- in action heroine/procedural cop show style. She saves the girl, who is a representation of herself, who is cowering in a box --

          And then immediately her moment of triumph is undercut and she flashes back from Eleanor Penn and her growth is erased. The growth was only a tool. For profit. And then Echo goes back into *her* designated box.

          The child kidnapper is a symbol of the most extreme form of domination -- adult vs. child, the most horrifying sexual predation specifically because the power is totally imbalanced. And the kidnapper is of course horrible. But this is partly a way to look at the kind of bargain that Caroline apparently reluctantly struck in the opening scene, with the more cultured Adelle, who is not a lone actor but has the whole force of an organization behind her actions. This is partly a story about consent, and how it can be twisted and coerced, and the horrifying example of the child is brought up to force the comparison. If Caroline agreed to come here, how far can that agreement extend? If Eleanor's goal is to act in defense of the oppressed, does it matter that she is forced not to recognize herself in those terms?
          Max, I didn't want to go there until seeing more episodes, but I wanted to address this specific aspect of Dollhouse that perhaps colored my reading of the episode a bit.

          There's something incredibly - off-putting is probably too strong a word - let's say warning bells - to me about a female protagonist who has to overcome and put aside traumatic sexual events in her past before she can find herself again. Yes, it was a core tenant of Buffy (Angel literally screwed her by preventing her from every truly trusting anyone again as a partner) and disturbing elements of this are in Seeing Red and Angel the Series and Firefly as well. But the narrative in the opening episode of Dollhouse kinda falls into those tropes and it pushed me away from the show just a bit.

          Don't get me wrong - I'm not pointing the finger at Joss Whedon and claiming that he's sexist - just the opposite. I think in his desire to fully explore the Strong Female Character, he gets bogged down in a lot of assumptions that appear to be feminist, but limit the full autonomy of a female protagonist. I've heard a lot of hemming and hawing from authors who justify this by quoting sexual assault statistics which are appalling and certainly a large part of a woman's story in this culture is bound up in her sexuality - but there's a certain attitude about female protagonists in which a past rape or sordid sexual history has become almost de rigueur in pop culture. It makes the author "edgy" and seemingly condemns the destruction of female sexuality while counting on it to create a dramatic background for a female character to claw her way back to freedom.

          In the past, female protagonists in popular culture generally were virginal Doris Day types or they had a sordid sexual past - how many women have won Academy Awards for playing a hooker? The title of this NYT article always stayed with me - Play a Hooker and Win an Oscar: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/02/20/mo...scar.html?_r=0

          And with the advent of female superheroes, sexual molestation or rape seems to have become attached to the standard trope of "sexually traumatic background" for most female protagonists - whereas Batman and Spiderman have parents and guardians who are taken out by bad guys, females like Jessica Jones and Veronica Mars always seem to have a monster molester/rapist lurking in their background that formed who they are and hover over them like dark clouds. For most male protagonists, trauma stems from not protecting their loved ones. For most female protagonists, the trauma almost always stems from not protecting themselves. And that makes all the difference. Basically - female trauma - I was raped/kidnapped. Male trauma - my wife or daughter was raped/kidnapped. The issue of consent is present in both - but there's only one gender actually feels the brunt of this either way.

          I can't tell you the number of scripts I've read in which the very strong female protagonist suddenly reveals that the source of her strength is a brutal rape in the past. Sometimes, the rape is even used in the present to reveal hidden depths of the female character or is designed for the male character (aka Spike) to change and grow.

          I've always thought that the AR was devastating for Buffy - especially for emotional reasons - there's no doubt that she could always have kicked Spike away even with a bad back because she is far stronger than him. But the shock of the violation is what temporarily immobilizes her - the disbelief that this is happening, the loss of trust and the horror of betrayal once again - as with Angelus, as with Parker, as with Riley, as with her father.

          But as always, it's the female who is focused on in the rape scene - as in most rape scenarios, we see the female's face grimacing in terror at the camera and Spike's angry face hovering over her (along with numerous shots of his back as he lies on top of her) so that we are in the position of the rapist. I'd say the terrible framing of the AR in Buffy makes the scene a 1,000 times more problematic because we are forced to view the scene from Spike's male point of view rather than Buffy's female POV which creates an element of male dominance that concentrates too much on the kinetic thrill of Buffy's terror rather than the pain of betrayal and loss of agency. The camera placement itself erases Buffy's agency. But more on that in the Season Six rewatch.

          BtVS had an out, however, in which Spike gained a soul and became a different person afterwards. Dollhouse is also wading in the same waters - Echo is not Eleanor and Eleanor is not Echo - so like Buffy's trauma, Echo's trauma is equally ignored in the long run. From a cursory glance, there's still so much anger on the internet regarding the AR scene on Buffy - that Whedon would do that to his lead female character - that many women feel it drove them permanently away from the show. I'm surprised that Whedon is directly touching upon this topic again when it was handled so poorly the first time.

          There's something really creepy about a male character "creating" characters who are defined by their sexually traumatic past. This may actually be a commentary by Whedon and Dushku on the entertainment industry's use of such tropes - but it feels very much like the series wants to have its cake and eat it too as Dushku slinks around as the kickass female protagonist who is also a sex dream come true.

          But I really can't say anything after seeing only one episode - that's ridiculous - I have to watch on to see if Whedon manages to subvert this stereotype. Your comments about Dushku and her own experiences in the entertainment industry give me hope that the series goes far beyond this idea into something more interesting.
          Last edited by American Aurora; 26-10-16, 02:41 PM.

          Comment


          • #6
            American Aurora, I hear what you are saying. Many people think that Dollhouse never succeeded in sorting out the contradictions in its premise, and so you might end up agreeing with them.

            I wrote a long response, then read it back and it was terrible. So I guess I'll stop here for now. I really love what Dollhouse does. I think that it is "about" is power, exploitation, and complicity. It's about exploitation in its most personal violations, and exploitation on a societal level, between institutions which are powerful and individuals who are not -- many of whom are nevertheless complicit in that exploitation. Along those lines, I do think that the show is about the difficult push-pull relationship that stories about people overcoming oppression/exploitation/etc. have with the actual plight of the oppressed. This first episode is about how a woman's trauma and eventual suicide are commodified, and/but commodified in a way that does good, for now. That is something specific that is not unique to this show, but I think that examining the possibility of using stories about overcoming oppression as a tool of oppression, and the question of whether it is even impossible to escape this cycle, is really interesting and hits home for me.

            I do think that the episode is to some degree trying to have its cake and eat it too. But -- well.... I think that it's complicated. It is a criticism of the system which the show lives in, while acknowledging that the show and those who work on it, benefits from, is exploited by, and is complicit in that system. Because, yes, a lot of "the system" is the specifics of the illegal activities of the Dollhouse, but the broader system is one in which power is concentrated into the hands of a few (the rich, those who have the technology, etc.), and more broadly it's the system in which a huge amount of power is concentrated into a relatively small amount of the world, where we in the West go about our lives in relative comfort while much of the world's population lives in much more abject poverty, and in a broader sense the very nature of human existence means that life is a constant string of negotiations of who can do what, who needs what, who wants what, and so on, where eventually we face the horror of death at the end. So you can tear down the worst systems and build better ones, but life is also to some degree a constant negotiation with others to selectively forget about horror in the world, keeping on board exactly which pieces of knowledge of the bad in the world are relevant to a particular problem and trying not to deal with the other horrors constantly engulfing us. I think Dollhouse is interested in speculating about alternatives, but basically for the start it is about: this is the way the world works, some of the time. This is the way storytelling engines work, and the way identification works, and the way relationships between the powerful and the powerless work, and it's a critique and an expose and a celebration and a tacit, reluctant acceptance of complicity by examining the worst parts of what may be an unavoidable part of human nature -- the constant use of other people's stories as fuel to further one's ends.

            Anyway I just looked up a review I recommend (there are week-by-week examinations, done in real time (no spoilers), up to season 2 episode 3), here, which includes the following section which articulates what I was trying to get at in the previous post a little better:

            And yes, the question that fuels this story, What is it that makes us who we are? Well, also funny but the finer explorations of identity questions are by those poets who have no pat answer; endless probe, rather than decisive cut. The neat-o Whedon double sleight of hand is in effect: "How are you who you are?" isn't the subtext but the tissue of the tale. The subcutaneous level, at least in "Ghost", is about storytelling: the value of make-believe and audience identification with fictional characters. That is the shit that provided the vigorous brain-massage for me. Let me tie together two ideas here, b/c "Ghost" bounced them off one another, like a bat Echo-signaling in Plato's cave.

            I have very strong feelings about telling self-important art or entertainment stories about child molestation. I won't feign outrage or oversensitivity, because I spend most of my time watching movies about teenagers being murdered, but it makes my porcuspines go up automatically. It's cheap. It's dangerous. It tends to trivialize the thing it is trying to dramatize. It is almost always inaccurate and dishonest and preys on a weird fear to get an easy response. And above all, whatever the story's intentions, they tend to end up as outrageous "cathartic" revenge fantasy, and the message (yuccck to anything with a message), rather than educating or healing or simply honest, degenerates into: **** you Child Molester! No one likes you! But see: no one liked him anyway. The only thing less productive (if less exploitative) than To Catch a Predator is a fictionalized To Catch a Predator.

            It is not empowering or heartening to watch a fantastically, impossibly poised and smart woman with a backup S.W.A.T. team get revenge upon the very molester who molested her by causing his violent death and metaphorically rescue a stand-in for herself from being violated in the first place. Whyyy not? Well, because that may be fun and feel like "yeah, got 'im!", but it's like knocking your math teacher into the dunking booth at the school carnival. Revenge, shh, don't tell anyone, is not actually good for the soul. And few of us are Ms. Eleanor Penn. And none of us have the resources of the Dollhouse.

            Then, right when Echo/Penn stepped onto the porch of the hideout where the baddies were counting the loot, something clicked. I'd forgotten. This isn't Echo's fight. She isn't getting her own revenge, catharsis or closure. But... she's getting it for that chunk of Anonymous Victim's brain that Echo has out on loan. So Anonymous Victim's consciousness may even be obsolete (she committed suicide, we're told, her Specific POV is gone... are you gone, if you live on in memory like this?), but her will continues forth, finishes the mission, then evaporates when complete. You can't fight a ghost, but a ghost fights back nonetheless.

            So we're watching Echo's body act out the story of another woman. I thought, when I heard the concept of the show, that clearly this premise will make it hard to engage with the characters and the story of their Engagements. But wait! -- and this is the second click-- oh shit, that's every piece of narrative dramatic fiction. By which I mean any story with actors acting. I'm not watching Anonymous Victim. I'm not watching Echo. I'm watching Eliza Dushku.

            I had a third, smaller click an hour later. You're not even watching Dushku, but her photographic image. By the time your eyes penetrate the four invisible screens of pretend, you're absorbed into the story anyway. Dushku's pretend is no different from Echo's (except that for the actress it is an art and play and her voluntary wish, while the Active seems to have been convinced she has No Exit, no other options. They're both doing a job, but the Active is under duress). No less "real" anyway. So I think here was a smart place to tell this icky story that tends toward unhealthy wish-fulfillment of an audience's fantasy of violent revenge. You see? You project yourself onto her, too.
            Does the result of the story justify the problematic aspects of having the plot focus on child molestation, to make this broader criticism of stories about that? Well.... I don't know. I have never figured out how to evaluate stuff like that. But I mostly do believe that there is a lot of horror in the world and that a lot of that horror is commodified for various reasons which can create more exploitation but also can help people, too, and that it's hard to talk about that without talking about the horror too.

            Comment


            • #7
              Really interesting discussion about the show's voice, motivations and societal reflections. I love this group for the guiding hands on interpreting these shows and looking for the wider themes, something I still struggle to do automatically, and at all well when and if I do think of it!

              I'm going to try to get the time to watch the next ep tonight but wasn't sure if everyone wanted to stick with that pace? Not everyone who had expressed an interest in watching has commented, but not everyone may on each ep so it is hard to know when to press on. I'd suggest we stick to the plan at this point and invite anyone who is only not contributing because we're moving too fast to speak up.

              Comment


              • #8
                Loved the commentaries about the first episode. American Aurora love your pretty spot-on assessment after viewing just the first installment.

                The show is also an obvious postmodern metaphor for the loss of personality in late capitalist society. I'm reminded a bit of Weill and Brecht's 1930 opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny - about a town where anything is possible and everything is allowed - as long as you can pay for it. Why do we create if not for the pleasure of destroying what we create afterwards?
                I definitely agree with that and am actually interested in comparing my memories of Dollhouse with Westworld which I am currently watching. The premises are different - "wiped" humans here and constructed androids in the other, but in both cases thinking, feeling beings are commoditized to conform to their users' expectations and specifications regardless of their own wishes or rights - in Westworld those expectations are generally quite a bit more extreme, since the rape, torture and murder is performed on what everyone sees as automatons, not "real" human beings. At the same time we are dealing with the tension between the "script", whether that's Topher's imprints or the stories the androids are programmed to act out, and the bleed-through of something else, the echo (Echo!) of memories(?), soul(?), true self(?)

                In both shows the sympathies of the viewer are with the dolls/ androids as we are meant to figure out alongside with them who they really are and to root for them to be able to overcome their slave status. The handlers are still somewhat depicted in a sympathetic light in as far as they have qualms about some of what they are doing in the name of commerce or if they try to tell themselves it's for the greater good. The paying customers are mostly the worst dicks imaginable, though there are exceptions in both shows, but I won't spoil anyone.

                Also loved your cross-reading of Dollhouse with Buffy, Local Maxiumum!

                A lot of the point of Dollhouse is to interrogate the concept of the Strong Female Character which was part of BtVS and also Eliza Dushku's various roles -- both as Faith and elsewhere. Along those lines, the episode's (case of the week) plot is specifically a narrative of an oppressed girl being saved by a woman who is conquering her own demons and breaking free of her own traumatic past in the process -- including overcoming the limits of her asthma! -- in action heroine/procedural cop show style. She saves the girl, who is a representation of herself, who is cowering in a box --

                And then immediately her moment of triumph is undercut and she flashes back from Eleanor Penn and her growth is erased. The growth was only a tool. For profit. And then Echo goes back into *her* designated box.
                The creation and deletion of Eleanor Penn is definitely an ironic take on the almost paint-by-the-numbers creation of a Strong Female Character: sexy - check, vulnerable (glasses and inhaler) - check, has no f**ks to give, because she is focused on her mission - check, tragic backstory where she was wounded and is still overcoming her trauma as an admirable survivor - check, smart, self-confident and self-sufficient - check. And once the story is over we understand that it is all a construct.

                Eleanor is Eleanor because of her memories, albeit painful and traumatic ones. Echo is a blank, because she has none. She is not driven, shows no initiative and has no particular abilities.

                I agree with the fact that from a realistic standpoint the "treatment" requires a good amount of suspension of disbelief, but I like the idea that we are to a great extent who we remember we are, that we are shaped by our experiences and that our abilities and our disabilities (unless they are truly purely physical) are rooted in the way life has shaped us. However, this is also where I find the "treatment" and the construction and deconstruction of Eleanor so chilling. Experiments have shown how easy it is to implant false memories and that people will eventually accept wholly constructed fictional narratives as actual components of their "backstory" and start embellishing them with made-up details while feeling they are completely honest in retelling a part of their life.

                In one experiment Elizabeth Loftus and her team were able to imprint the false memory of being lost in a shopping mall as a child to test whether discussing a false event could produce a "memory" of an event that did not happen. In her initial study, they found that 25% of subjects came to develop a "memory" for the event which had never actually taken place. Extensions and variations of the "Lost in the Mall" technique found that an average of one third of experimental subjects could become convinced that they experienced things in childhood that had never really occurred—even highly traumatic and distressing events.

                The practice of Recovered Memory Therapy which acts on the premise that we all have repressed memories that we need to recover actually capitalizes on this vulnerability and in the 90s there was a flurry of malpractice suits against psychiatrists who had made their patients "remember" childhood abuse, incest and being subjected to satanic rituals when it could be proven that this was not the case. The Royal College of Psychiatrists issued the following assessment of the practice as early as 1989:

                No evidence exists for the repression and recovery of verified, severely traumatic events, and their role in symptom formation has yet to be proved. There is also striking absence in the literature of well-corroborated cases of such repressed memories recovered through psychotherapy. Given the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse, even if only a small proportion are repressed and only some of them are subsequently recovered, there should be a significant number of corroborated cases. In fact there are none.
                What happens to Echo when she becomes Eleanor is an amplified case of what actually happened to people and it also begs the question of whether we should manipulate our memories. If we cannot tell an implanted memory from a real one and if some memories are empowering to us while others frighten and cripple us should we selectively remember and unremember things in our past? Which memories should we go for? The false memory of abuse makes Echo into the highly functioning Eleanor and capable of saving a little girl. It does not make her happy or healthy. Echo, who has unremembered everything is happy, but also pretty much useless. How and who would we be if we could erase the memory of a traumatic past event? Should we make ourselves remember things that are not true if that helps us be better or happier or more capable?

                The questions of the episode are mostly: how does latent memory affect one's identity and performance? What is required for someone to perform a service at the highest level -- and is it possible that what is required of someone, in order to perform a service, is for them to actually have their own story which climaxes alongside their success? Eleanor Penn's trial by fire and her ultimate triumph is necessary for the Dollhouse to get paid, but it appears it may have only been an illusion. We're talking in part about what it means to work for people much more powerful than oneself. What if enlightenment -- coming to the climax of one's personal journey -- is necessary in order to do a job, but that this is only incidental, and can be ripped away once one's employers (or other powerful entities) no longer need it?
                I think we are already seeing this today in the corporate world when people have to undergo psychological profiling and other personality assessment tests (more less scientific than others...) in order to find out if they are the right person for the job. Some of those assessments can be fairly ludicrous and have really little value, such as going by a person's blood-type (fairly popular in Japan) or graphology analysis (pretty silly these days where most people do not even hand-write on a regular basis). Yet, if the test determines you are not the right stuff, it does not matter what qualifications or skills you possess, you may very well be ruled out as a candidate.

                This is part of the pitch of the show: this is also Eliza Dushku's story, or at least began as such. She talked to Joss at lunch about what it means to be an actress, to take on different roles and then discard them just as suddenly. This is about the entertainment industry, too, and about serial / episodic television, where catharsis is created and then disrupted for the purpose of continuing to produce a product (for the ultimate purpose of selling advertisements!), which is here affected in so jarring a way as to undermine and call attention to itself. If a narrative has a character become whole and then be broken again, over and over again, for the benefit of an audience, is growth really possible for the character? Or for the actor who has to portray this cycle to provide periodic bursts of catharsis? (Or for the audience?)
                Great observation. I think there is a self-reference component in the story of the Dolls, who take on personas for a little while when a paying client is around and who can then go back into their little boxes until someone wants to play again. It is an apt metaphor for TV series and the people who portray characters in them.

                American Aurora, I can see your point here, and I will say that it may make some of the Dollhouse episodes uncomfortable to watch.

                There's something incredibly - off-putting is probably too strong a word - let's say warning bells - to me about a female protagonist who has to overcome and put aside traumatic sexual events in her past before she can find herself again... And with the advent of female superheroes, sexual molestation or rape seems to have become attached to the standard trope of "sexually traumatic background" for most female protagonists - whereas Batman and Spiderman have parents and guardians who are taken out by bad guys, females like Jessica Jones and Veronica Mars always seem to have a monster molester/rapist lurking in their background that formed who they are and hover over them like dark clouds. For most male protagonists, trauma stems from not protecting their loved ones. For most female protagonists, the trauma almost always stems from not protecting themselves. And that makes all the difference. Basically - female trauma - I was raped/kidnapped. Male trauma - my wife or daughter was raped/kidnapped. The issue of consent is present in both - but there's only one gender actually feels the brunt of this either way.
                I would try and defend Whedon in that he has given us several male characters where he breaks the pattern you lay out here: Xander definitely falls into what you call "female trauma" in that I believe he was most likely mistreated by his drunken, fighting parents, as does Angel's son Connor, who is abducted, raised in a hell dimension and systematically groomed to deathly hatred of his biological father. Wes may not have been physically abused, but what his father put him through on a regular basis definitely qualifies as serious mental abuse and in Wes' case he even gets his chance to overcome the traumatic memory, even if his father turns out to be a fake...

                Personally I find the avenging Rambo who needs to get even with the guys who killed/ raped his female dependents a much less compelling character than those who have experienced that they cannot protect themselves, like Snape for example, who is forever shaped and mis-shaped by his father beating his witch-mother and by the Marauders who humiliated and bullied him in school.

                Can't wait for the awesome things people will come up with next. This is fun! Stoney, thanks so much for kicking this off!
                Last edited by Clavus; 28-10-16, 04:49 PM.
                Smile, listen, agree - and then do whatever the f**k you wanted to do anyway... (Robert Downey jr.)

                Comment


                • #9
                  A quick aside first, I'm currently recording Westworld and so will scan past any references to it. I'd appreciate spoiler tags if you're referencing anything major though, just to eliminate the chance it pops out at me as I glance over. I'm aiming for spoiler-free for it of course, as always!

                  Originally posted by Clavus View Post
                  In one experiment Elizabeth Loftus and her team were able to imprint the false memory of being lost in a shopping mall as a child to test whether discussing a false event could produce a "memory" of an event that did not happen. In her initial study, they found that 25% of subjects came to develop a "memory" for the event which had never actually taken place. Extensions and variations of the "Lost in the Mall" technique found that an average of one third of experimental subjects could become convinced that they experienced things in childhood that had never really occurred—even highly traumatic and distressing events.

                  The practice of Recovered Memory Therapy which acts on the premise that we all have repressed memories that we need to recover actually capitalizes on this vulnerability and in the 90s there was a flurry of malpractice suits against psychiatrists who had made their patients "remember" childhood abuse, incest and being subjected to satanic rituals when it could be proven that this was not the case. The Royal College of Psychiatrists issued the following assessment of the practice as early as 1989:

                  What happens to Echo when she becomes Eleanor is an amplified case of what actually happened to people and it also begs the question of whether we should manipulate our memories. If we cannot tell an implanted memory from a real one and if some memories are empowering to us while others frighten and cripple us should we selectively remember and unremember things in our past? Which memories should we go for? The false memory of abuse makes Echo into the highly functioning Eleanor and capable of saving a little girl. It does not make her happy or healthy. Echo, who has unremembered everything is happy, but also pretty much useless. How and who would we be if we could erase the memory of a traumatic past event? Should we make ourselves remember things that are not true if that helps us be better or happier or more capable?
                  This is really interesting stuff Clavus. I have to say as someone who has a traumatic memory from very early childhood, 6yrs ish, and one from my teenage years too which I remember more clearly, that for me I accept both as a part of who I am. If I was given the option of removing them I wouldn't even consider it. Sure I may be more cynical and distrustful than I would be without those memories but I can't even begin to work out how many threads of my personality are affected by having those experiences and how much it would change me intrinsically if I hadn't. Plus cynicism and distrust can work in your favour sometimes and maybe I would make choices with a more casual tone with my children and come to regret it as they experience something similar. We walk our paths and are formed from all the good and bad we experience and both of those can help and hinder you. Even if it is inserting a supposed positive experience, the ripples won't necessarily always be definable and constrainable. Life is too complex to unravel and extract any bits that only ever have negative strands attached to them or insert positive falsehoods with any certainty that they will remain wholly so. That's my gut feeling on it anyway. Really looking forward to reading more of your thoughts as we go on.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Me first again it seems...

                    1.02 The Target

                    Can there be consent to what is happening to her body? I mean geez, I feel like I'm watching someone getting repeatedly raped whilst she is drugged to smile about it. Connell wants to use her as a target, to hunt her and that distresses her and puts her life at risk so it isn't OK. She didn't agree to that. But he wants to have sex with her and that is OK even though she has never met him, not even seen him before and certainly hasn't given any specific consent to him?? It isn't like the created person just happened to meet him and agree to their outing. They have somehow inserted into her mind that she wants to go there, on this occasion, and with him. There is a 'target' response that is part and parcel of their imprinting. And of course we learn that Connell was fabricated too. A fake persona taken on by someone. But someone formed from experiences, possibly traumatic, of his own father, if any of that was indeed real. But as much as his past memories may be of moments outside of his control, this was a situation of his choosing. Surely he is more responsible when he was fully 'awake' to select this situation, it's of his creation even if it is responsive to programming his father fixed within him. How much disclosure happened before Caroline signed her life away like this and regardless, how could it possibly ever cover the anything/everything for the right price that they are willing to pass her over to endure?

                    The innocence of the actives is raised and we see the introduction of her handler, Boyd, to his role and his discomfort. And we see their dynamic is based on an imprinted code with set triggers/responses and yet, it develops and she doesn't follow it and so he starts to feel a firmer connection to her, something more 'real'. This relationship is a fascinating one and very much so against the way that Topher sees her and Dominic, who at the end releases his emotions by being deliberately cruel and callous, angry at the failure of a system Echo never created and doesn't control but that she is an easy target to blame. Yet again there to use as he releases some tension verbally attacking her.

                    There was a good amount of information around the other characters that seeped out in this episode. For Dollhouse itself, Ballard, Langton and Alpha in particular. Some of it was a little exposition laden, and as interesting as the police investigating the scene of last week's episode was, it was pretty clunky.

                    It seems Alpha is the person running around watching home movies of Echo and delivering(?) envelopes. So it isn't someone connected to her reason to become an active as I'd pondered, but an old active that did exactly what I was expecting was going to develop with Echo, where the process was exposed as being flawed and past imprints resurfaced etc. So as we see flashes of this beginning with Echo (the self images she is seeing, the memories of the attack by Alpha, the shoulder to the wheel gesture...), we already have a precedent. It strengthens it for me. It would have been a little too much if the process had been working without any issues before glitches were beginning to happen for her.

                    Topher's unease at the failure of the process seems to be mostly buried at the moment. It seems a little like he works by distancing himself from there being anything 'real' about these people. Rather like Dominic's dismissal of Echo, although less deliberately cruel. Topher's response of trying to brush past the issue with Alpha seems to contrast well to AA character's response (still haven't caught her name). Seeing workers in the organisation struggling to deal with a traumatic experience and responding in different ways to their own experiences, their own memories, does raise the points that Clavus brought up, whether it can ever be better to remove or repress memories. The scars on the doctor's face show the permanency of marks though, and it makes me wonder if Echo will bear a scar from the arrow cut in this incident. Evidence on her body that can't be removed even if they successfully wipe her memory, and that won't easily fade away like the remaining grazes to her knuckles.

                    Echo's determination to go and take on Connell to protect both herself and Boyd and the failure of the triggering phrase to stop her, calm her, is meaningful because she has no imprint for this behaviour. It is the nature of the human mind perhaps. Whoever she is that they imprint is still absorbing the experiences she is having and processing them. They can't control every thought and action that an active can have because once created they are just that, let out there into a situation and 'active'. Perhaps it would take a significant experience to push them outside of the intended parameters of the situation, but a survival instinct kicked in. I found the notion their holding state could wipe basic human responses, far beyond the innocence of a child, but creating such a passive shell part of what was hard to accept in the premise. I reasoned that the inactive state is still a written programme, the mind isn't just emptied of memories but is told how to behave/conform so that they go through the desired actions in the 'at rest' setting. But it was gratifying to see that human instinct can break through and we have had an episode that tore the boundaries of the programming down in this way. We know this is a problem that they are experiencing more than just from Echo, they have precedents. That Alpha was able to tear through the organisation taking out employees and actives alike was still surprising. But it would seem perhaps that the speed and element of surprise can partially explain it, rather than the utter failure of fight/flight from all the actives, one of our most basic animal responses.

                    The demands of success, of Echo's popularity, are really interesting against the entertainment industry. The way that fans feel they can access the real person, have expectations of them, make demands of them, whilst they decide for themselves what they are really like. Even though every role they play is their job and is a fabrication. I have always found that aspect of fandom really fascinating, so seeing this element within this really interests me. Especially because I find it as uncomfortable, specifically the delusion of genuine contact. Adelle promised the client it would be real because Echo would be genuinely responding, imprinted to be exactly what he wanted. But it isn't that straightforward. As I said before, there must be a desire to please and a wish to make a connection with these people as an intrinsic part of the imprint in order to meet the client's demand. Echo appears to repeatedly leave them feeling she is making a genuine connection because, presumably, that is part of her imprint and the set up. Take a comiccon as a comparative example, where fans go to meet the real person, but actually meet them in the role of their comiccon persona. In some respects it is just another job. There is a necessity to it maybe, the need to stay popular and raise their profile, the need to earn money to survive. But at least the actors are choosing their roles, they are choosing (although not always) when/where they will be accessible. Even if their needs push them to agree to roles they don't like and situations they endure. And so we are back again to, how much consent could Caroline possibly have given?

                    I'm not reading reviews or information outside of this thread because I don't want to be guided too much, have my thoughts framed too much by others. Having the opportunity to interact and question each other always feels a big part of exploring these shows to me. I appreciate that consequently I'm likely to stay especially naive in my posts, but I hope you'll all bear with me (or skim past me, ha).

                    I really enjoyed this episode and am looking forward to all of your thoughts.
                    Last edited by Stoney; 30-10-16, 07:18 AM.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      With noone else having posted on ep2 yet, and as I need to watch and write my rewatch review during this week, I'm going to hold off moving on to the third ep and hopefully it'll give space for others to comment if they want. Having said that, if everyone else just wants to move on to ep three then that's cool too, I'll just catch up as soon as I can.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Hey Stoney!

                        I am really sorry that I've been missing for so long - election stuff really sucked up all my time. Now that it's all over, I'm hoping to start posting again this week. Dollhouse episode two tomorrow, for sure!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Thoughts on Dollhouse, Episode Two - The Target

                          I had a really tough time watching this episode - it's possible that my view of the show is affected by current events.

                          In some ways, it's about how our desire to create endless fantasy scenarios is a way in which we escape a bleak reality. The people who buy Echo (so far) are attempting to manufacture and manipulate the world around them - in order to create a never-ending series of platitudinous moments. And it almost always goes awry as obsession takes over and the dream becomes a nightmare.

                          I agree with Max that one of the major themes of the show is the divide between powerful institutions and exploited individuals - not only a political message at a time of reality as a postmodern conception of the deconstruction of reality - but also a metaphor for the different perspectives of audience and author/actor. I really loved Max's mention of the ways in which our culture encourages and even promotes a kind of amnesia or stilted memory in which suffering Others are quickly excised from our minds as we type on our smartphones and wear our expensive shoes made in countries in which freedom is much more limited and options are almost unbearably narrowed in a time of globalization.

                          And the same goes for various Others we don't wish to recognize as empathetic figures for various reasons - on both sides of the political spectrum. The lack of memory in terms of lived lives - the possible willingness to engage in this (I'm getting the sense from other posters that Echo is somewhat complicit in her own exploitation) deepens the complexity between the exploiter (viewer) and the exploited (author/actor)

                          What I mean by viewer and author/actor - unlike the men and women who buy her services in order to experience a desired mirror of emotional need, Echo's not just following the stories of various characters in order to achieve understanding - a kind of perspective-taking in which one develops empathy with the character - but she's involved in an actual virtual experience-taking in which her own personality is submerged in favor of the character that she plays. This is the essential divide between viewer and actor - the audience doesn't lose sight of their own identity but the actor often does as rehearsal and training suddenly merge to create a kind of alchemy in which the actor feels independent of themselves.

                          I like Clavus' mention of Westworld and how the viewer identifies with the automatons as much as with the "dolls" even though they are bereft of something that is often considered essential to human sympathy - the mystery of the personality that is primarily based on memory and an inner sense of self. We talked a lot about this in the Buffy Rewatch regarding how we are dependent in so many ways upon memory - and the philosophical question as to whether one is the same person if one's memories are transferred to another body, automaton or vampire.

                          And I think that memory is also one of the major functions of experiential art - art that moves through time - our deep reading of something is only compounded by our recent short-term memory (which radically changes moment to moment) of what has come before. And how deeply our memories are imprinted by this story feeds into how we experience this story.

                          There's something to be said for this in terms of how we read stories - several studies have shown that readers who become overly-involved in a fiction actually start to unconsciously change their behavior to match that of the protagonist. So there is an element of a story within a story here - Echo is subtly adapting each learned behavior in her bag of tricks - grafting on various memorable elements onto her personality as we see at the end of the episode. This is the most interesting part of Dollhouse so far - Echo's gradual awakening to what she has lost.

                          And it's obvious that at some point, she's going to discover her lost past and try to take back control and autonomy from the big bad company.

                          But this particular episode also struck me as even more problematic than the first - especially the constant ridiculousness of so many female characters slinking around like porn stars - especially the boss in her absurd five inch heels. The poor actress looked as if she was about to flop on her face! Again, the show feels like it wants to have its cake and eat it too - both clucking its tongue about all the terrible exploitation as it literally pulls the viewer through an almost orgasmic litany of exploitation tropes with heaving bosoms and action sequences.

                          I do understand Max's excellent summary of the show as a critique of power, exploitation, and complicity. But it feels disturbingly focused on the same tropes of "woman in danger" that also bothered me about the first episode.

                          Again - as I pointed out in the rape scene - we are given an endless series of scenes depicting the commonplace erotic imagery of a thousand slasher flicks - a terrorized woman in a skimpy outfit running away from a man who hunts her down with a BIG phallic weapon. She screams and pants and slips and bleeds and even enacts the hoary old cliche of "Dead man falling out of closet onto protagonist" for us as Ranger Bob goes down. After a while, this just becomes grating to me.

                          This may be deliberate, but there's a whole range of characters that feel a bit stale to me. The troubled handler who finds that he's becoming too close to his charge. The compromised trainer who fails to foresee the true danger. The nasty higher-up who mocks the lead as nothing more than a toy (and he'll soon find out he's misjudged her!) The second-rate Patrick Bateman who seems to be a smug yuppie douche until he goes all Ted Bundy on his date.

                          I'm enjoying the acting (although so many of the scenes feel stretched out and go on about a minute too long as if they had to stick some filler in) and I agree with Stoney that the scars on the doctor's face are a great metaphor for the inability to truly wipe away internal scars no matter how hard they try.

                          Also agree that there's a great intersectionality of star and fandom here - the ways in which fantasy and reality co-mingle in terms of projecting a certain image to various groups. Thinking about recent politics, I think this is immensely relevant today - perhaps even more so than when the show originally aired. I just wish that the show could pull away a bit from the constant (and almost comical) depiction of the female protagonist as victim.
                          Last edited by American Aurora; 10-11-16, 02:23 PM.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I can see totally what you are saying in that it is using cliche images of the female protag as victim. But perhaps this is just being used to be reflective of the enforced roles and the stripping away of individual depth. Fantasies are often a little shallow and corny (just look at the ridiculous lines Spike had the Buffybot pouring out). So as Echo breaks free more we will maybe start to see this being pulled down as her true self and individuality start emerging against the idea of being shallowed and programmed. That she will no longer be just a manipulated doll?

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Stoney:

                              I can see totally what you are saying in that it is using cliche images of the female protag as victim. But perhaps this is just being used to be reflective of the enforced roles and the stripping away of individual depth. Fantasies are often a little shallow and corny (just look at the ridiculous lines Spike had the Buffybot pouring out). So as Echo breaks free more we will maybe start to see this being pulled down as her true self and individuality start emerging against the idea of being shallowed and programmed. That she will no longer be just a manipulated doll?
                              I guess - but so far, a lot of what I'm seeing is conventional and reflects the usual directives from the top - Hollywood producers who fear an exodus of viewers unless they push more action and more tits and ass. If the show were more even-handed, we'd see other female and male "dolls" doing the same things as Echo in far more depth. The focus on Echo alone is a bit eye-rolling and dampens Whedon's point because it feels exploitative (watching Echo provide male fantasies) at the same time as it supposedly critiques this very thing.

                              There's also something a little off for me in the structure of this series - it's a monster-with-money of the week series in which various guest stars seem to buy a doll for their own pleasure only to see everything go wrong. Even though we're only in the second episode, this has already become a bit boring as we can't really relate to the main protagonist yet (until she either regains her memories or grows a new personality that is a composite of her varied selves) and the baddies seem more like cliches than compelling characters in their own right.

                              I'd like to have seen more background on why these men (and women hopefully) are driven to purchase such a dream world. It's too much of a cop out to say that it's everyone's dream - we need to see it dramatized to actually identify or understand why someone would choose to exploit another in this way.

                              Yes, the last baddie wasn't even a real person - and I think that's actually a terrible mistake this early on when the show is still trying to set the parameters of the Dollhouse and how it works. The whole Alpha subplot comes far too early when viewers are just trying to get their bearings - it would have been far more effective to delay the reveal that the bow-hunter was a sleeper mole programmed by someone else rather than throw it out there in the second episode to little dramatic effect since we don't really care enough about Echo to emotionally react.

                              There's far too much straining for clever twists and time-mucking and not enough of the serious groundwork that a writer needs to do to make us believe in this fantasy universe. As it is, the lack of careful setup in the first two episodes makes it hard for the viewer to truly believe this is happening - the tremendous technological advances that would be needed to create a "doll" aren't reflected by the world outside which seems to be at the same level of tech know-how as our world today. Almost so much so that the actual Dollhouse seems to reside in an alternative universe from ours - and that spells trouble for the series if it can't maintain a certain level of consistency. It's as if Logan's Run was set in New York City - and then the characters take a drive to Philadelphia and it's obviously our normal world. Jarring.

                              We should have seen some signs that the outside world is a bit off - perhaps set in the future (dystopian or utopian) or in a completely different world than our own. Otherwise, it's really hard to accept the premise that such "dolls" could be created at all in our own mundane world without equally apocalyptic impacts on other segments of society. The fantasy world doesn't feel contained - it's mutable. And the viewer loses interest as preposterous events continue to happen without any real world blowback.
                              Last edited by American Aurora; 10-11-16, 02:25 PM.

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