Have you watched the show “Dollhouse?”
In terms of plot, I think it’s only fair. I’m going to give it a couple more chances, but most of my faith in the show is rooted in the fact that creator Joss Whedon has done some pretty amazing work.
And also, beneath the level of plot, there’s some interesting stuff going on.
The premise of the show is that there is this organization called the “Dollhouse.” It possesses a group of people (mostly attractive young women) whose minds can be programmed with whatever memories and personalities high-paying clients wish for.
It’s a little less dirty than it sounds.
Somewhere, (embarassingly, it might have been Entertainment Weekly) I read that Joss Whedon almost always deals in subtext and symbolism. The writer said that “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” explored adolescent angst by turning our private demons into demons of the more traditional sort. “Firefly” was an exploration of the broken nuclear family. I don’t remember if the writer said anything about “Angel” but I’d suggest that this show turns Buffy’s adolescent preocuppations into a focus on young adult concerns about vocation, duty, and balancing friendships and morality against career concerns.
And so this writer was wondering about “Dollhouse”. And I think I get it.
On some level, the show is really about how persuing our own destiny rather than fufilling the roles that others prescribe for us. One of my early criticisms of the show is that it’s hard to root for a main character who is basically a different person on every episode. But what they are starting to explore is ways that elements of the main character’s original personality poke through thedifferent memories and characteristics they give her on each episode.
The shows title cues us into this theme, I suppose. Are these characters more than just dolls in a dollhouse? The main character’s “name” also feeds into this idea: they call her Echo.
I think that might be the most clever aspect of the whole thing. Because “Echo” could evoke the echoes of her own personality breaking through. Or it could refer to the idea that all she can do is “Echo” the traits that she’s programmed with.
There are interesting questions about person-hood and our intrinsic worth running around in all this. And this sub-text kind-of redeems the fact that the shots inside the Dollhouse look a bit like pages torn from Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar.
Is redeems the right word? I enjoy beautiful women, so one one level I don’t mind them all wandering around with empty expressions on their faces.
But perhaps this is the point. I don’t want to feed into the “I’m so beautiful, pity me” idea. But there is something to all that.
Attractive young women are the ones who lives are the most like Dollhouse operatives. We have these expectations we project onto them. We expect them to perform in a certain way. We try to force certain personality characteristics onto them…
It occurs to me that this show actually returns to some of the ground Whedon covered with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The movie that kicked the series off was pretty crappy, but I think what Whedon was trying to do was consider this character who society tried to force into an empty, meaningless existence. She was told that she should be a cheer leader and put socializing at the top of her list of priorities. What she discovered was that she can resist this programming and find a world that is deep and complex and infinitely more rewarding.