Sunday, March 1, 2009

Welcome to the Dollhouse

I've been watching the new show "Dollhouse" by Joss Whedon. I regularly watched Buffy and Angel and really loved how strong the females characters were in his shows, so I was ready to instantly like it, but it didn't happen that way.

If you haven't seen it yet, quick synopsis: Eliza Dushku plays Echo, a woman who enlists in the Dollhouse, where there are women (And one guy so far) who are blank slates, empty "hats without rabbits" to quote from the show, who have personalities imprinted to fulfill any desire from (at least in these 3 eps) male clientele. They are then hired as dates, negotiators, sexual partners, bodyguards. After each assignment, their personalities and memories are wiped clean and they are returned to a blank slate.

Aside from the show being all over the place so far, which I can temporarily live with as part of the chaos of a new series, what's really bugging me is this concept of a blank slate and imprinting of personalities based on whatever a male client needs her to be and then pimping her out.

When Echo is a blank slate, she is spoken to like a retarded child, condescended to. She has no identity of her own and is given different identities upon someone's request. When she is on assignment, she is whatever someone else wants her to be and any experience she has is erased - she can't own any of the experiences and what happens to her doesn't matter.

What's also problematic for me is that Echo seemed forced to enlist, or had her back up against the wall or something. The backstory hasn't been revealed, but it didn't seem like she enlisted willingly, so there's a hint of human trafficking here.

Joss considers himself a feminist, and in the first two episodes I wasn't really sure where he's going with Dollhouse and I started to unleash some feminist wrath, but by the 3rd episode it became clear to me that's what he's doing with this show is playing with the concept of female perfection, objectification and most of all, identity. He's slowly revealing that the characters in this world need to be whatever it is someone else wants them to be, even if that someone else is the general cultural expectation of women: be happy, be beautiful, be a fantasy, anything but what you yourself want. Your own experience isn't important. And, besides, who owns that experience if you're programmed to be whatever someone else wants you to be?

The additional conflict in the show is that there's no such thing as blank slates. Like the Echo says in the first episode, before her real personality is erased, a blank slate can never be totally wiped clean. She's not going to be perfect because they will not be able to wipe every memory of her experiences and who she was prior to joining the Dollhouse. What happens to the fantasy then? Who decides her fate when she starts creating her own identity? Who will be in control of her?

So while intially I was ready to disregard this show, I'm now intensely curious as to where Joss is going to take us. This show has potential to be great, despite a lousy 9pm Friday night timeslot. I hope it can last.

In the meantime, Eliza has a goldmine of a role: she gets to play a different character in every episode so far. But, she still looks, moves and acts like Faith. I'm hoping that these different roles will loosen her acting abilities and that she can make me forget that she's a vampire slayer.


Chelc said...

I, too, am curious to see where this goes. I keep forgetting to watch it - Friday night just isn't a time I remember to watch TV shows (well, never is, really - I guess I should get a Tivo!). I haven't decided if I like the show or not, although I like seeing her kick butt and I like that they're headed toward the retention of memories (implanted and real) to make things more interesting. But I'm going to need a clear direction soon, or I'm going to lose interest. I should catch up on the last episode.
(BTW, I'm a big Joss fan as well, and loved Buffy, Dr. Horrible, and Firefly, but these characters don't seem to have the instant appeal and group chemistry those other shows did...)

vivzan said...

Agree with you that there's no instant appeal or group chemistry. That's a real problem when the main character is supposed to change from show to show but my presumption from watching the 3rd ep is that something's going to happen where we'll see some sort of consistent thread within Echo.

They've introduced some other characters but, not seeing chemistry yet.

I believe you're a bigger fan of Joss as I still haven't gotten around to watching Dr. Horrible!!! I suck!!

skimwitted said...

I love the show and the exploration of identity. I like to think of it as past lives in a shorter span of time - no matter how many lives, we still have the same issues, tics, likes and preferences that are rooted in our essence.

I completely agree that ED's acting skills need some further honing. Never was a Buffy fan (sorry!) but I always see her as the chick from Bring it On (fun flick btw)