I’ve posted about Dollhouse before.  You can see previous posts here, here and here. The big thing I took away from most of the eps of Dollhouse was consent.  It seemed to me that Joss Whedon was exploring differing levels of consent and how valid the consent of the person who signed themselves over to the Dollhouse could really be.

It couldn’t really be informed consent, could it?  So is it really valid?

I’m not sure the show has, or ever will answer that question, but I believe it is worth pondering in any case.

Season 2 of Dollhouse starts tonight.  By all accounts it will be darker than season 1.  I’m really looking forward to finding out where the series goes from here.

I also happened across (thanks to Whedonesque.com) this, somewhat dated, but recently posted interview with Joss Whedon about Dollhouse.  It gives a little insight into how he sees the show and what he intends.  It’s worth reading.

Whedon vs. Whedon

March 19, 2009

Joss Whedon the feminist, vs. Joss Whedon the writer, director, creator.

There are a lot of folks out there who consistently try to judge Joss Whedon’s television shows through a very strict feminist lens because he’s a professed feminist and sometimes writes strong female characters. On one hand, I think discussion of feminist issues is always a good thing. On the other hand, I’m insanely bored with people criticizing Mr. Whedon because the women in his shows aren’t all strong, or always strong and don’t always win and aren’t always right.

It doesn’t seem to matter that he writes television where the women are often very strong, win a good portion of the time and are very frequently right. It also doesn’t matter that who or what a person is in real life doesn’t always translate directly into their art. Or that in real life even strong women aren’t always strong or right or win every battle, or are even always happy.

It seems to me that balancing a feminist sensibility with a desire to write a show that enough people will watch and enjoy to keep it on the air has got to be a nearly impossible task.

What I think Mr. Whedon does better than most television writers is write female characters who are real and have dimension. They’re not just eye candy, they don’t just serve a single purpose and they’re not cookie cutter or stereotypes. Buffy, Anya, Faith, Willow, Tara, Zoe, River, Kaylee, Cordelia and Fred (to name a few) all had depth. None of them were perfect. They all had flaws, pain and weakness. Some had more flaws, more pain or greater weaknesses than others. But to be fair, Mr. Whedon’s male characters are certainly no less flawed, pained or burdened with weaknesses than are his female characters.

I think many of Mr. Whedon’s critics think that because he is a professed feminist who supports Equality Now and has been honored by them, and because he enjoys writing strong female characters, that somehow every female character he writes should fit some sort of feminist ideal. I think that’s a ridiculous expectation and would most likely result in colossally boring television.

Now Dollhouse comes along, and just a few episodes in some feminists are crying foul, or at least criticizing the show from a feminist standpoint. Again, I always think that discussion of feminist issues is good, and Dollhouse certainly has some people talking, but I really think it’s too soon to judge the show and I think some of the judgments being made are unfair and over the top.

I recently followed a link from Whedonesque to a pod cast criticizing Dollhouse/Joss Whedon where one of the critics admits that she hasn’t even watched the show. That was the point where I turned the pod cast off.

I also happened across a blog post where the writer stated that all five episodes thus far have included sexual violence. (I apologize for not providing the link, but I didn’t save it and can’t recall how I found it.) There has been violence in all of the eps thus far, and since our heroine is a woman and the bad guys thus far have been… well… guys, naturally some of that violence has been between male and female characters, but I wouldn’t define it all as sexual in nature or even as having sexual components or overtones. Some of it, yes, but not all and certainly not episode 5, True Believer.

Dollhouse is a slow starter and I’m sure that a lot of viewers are far too impatient to stick it out until it really takes off. Some others are disappointed because Dollhouse doesn’t have the comedy element that Mr. Whedon’s previous shows have had.

I think that Dollhouse is a complex show with a lot of potential and I plan to keep watching and see where it goes, for as long as Fox keeps it on the air. And to be honest, I’m not sure how I could judge the show from a feminist standpoint, even if I wanted to. The starring actress has played a minimum of two different characters per episode and not all of those women can be strong, though many of them have been. They certainly cannot have the same depth that I appreciate in Mr. Whedon’s other female characters, and Echo (the recurring personality) specifically does not have depth, being a rather childlike, suggestible and easily controlled base personality.

Right now, what I know is that the show keeps me more interested with each new episode and that I want to see what happens next. I think it will be worth revisiting this discussion after a few more episodes, when we have a better idea of what the heck is going on, but for now I think it’s best to sit back, watch the show unfold and eat some popcorn.

Just a few random thoughts on Dollhouse Ep 3 Stage Fright and BSG S4 Ep 17 Someone to Watch Over Me
Cut for Spoilers

Dollhouse Ep 1: Ghost

February 13, 2009

As an ardent fan of Joss Whedon, naturally I watched tonight’s premiere episode of Dollhouse, his new show on Fox.

First, let me say that I’m terrible at reviews. This is more synopsis than review, I suppose. Let that serve as a SPOILER WARNING. If you don’t want to be seriously spoiled on the first episode of Dollhouse, read no further!

I thought the episode was good. It started out strong and kept my interest. I think it should have plenty of appeal for audiences, if it got any tonight.

And just to be safe, once again:

    SPOILER WARNING!

Now, where were we? Oh yes, Ghost. The setup is quick but hits several key points. We meet Caroline. She is in a bad situation, but we don’t know what it is. She needs out. She just wanted to make a difference in the world, but actions have consequences. The Doll recruiter (Miss DeWitt) can make it go away, but Caroline’s contract would be for 5 years.

We’re getting into the issue of consent right away. How real was Caroline’s consent? Did she really have a choice?

From here, we jump into some action. Caroline, or whoever Caroline has been turned into, is racing a motor cycle. The guy she’s racing turns out to be a weekend fling. He has contracted her services for a perfect weekend with a girl who likes to race and enjoys a bit of bondage. Here we learn that the doll’s programming seems to include a timer. When the contract is up Caroline turns, walks out of the club and gets into a waiting van. She chats with her handler on the way back to the dollhouse and we get the impression that she was really enjoying herself. She wants to go back, after her “treatment.”

Instead, her mind is wiped and she turns back into Echo.

More action comes as we’re setup for the next part of the story. A little girl is kidnapped while on the phone with her dad.

Back in the dollhouse, Echo’s handler and doctor seem to be having their doubts. They’re not entirely comfortable with the situation. It seems clear that we’ll be getting back to this in future episodes.

We also see Echo exploring the dollhouse. Her personality is childlike. She is curious and sensitive. Echo is distressed to find another active in pain during some sort of extra tough imprinting process, but is easily distracted and guided away to her massage.

The father of the kidnapped girl contracts with the dollhouse for a negotiator, who turns out to be Echo, with a personality imprint called Ellie Penn. Ellie is nearsighted. We learn that the imprints are based on real people and come with flaws. In addition to her nearsightedness, Ellie has asthma.

Upon meeting Miss Penn, the father has his doubts. She’s a beautiful woman and he doesn’t take her seriously. Doesn’t think she can do the job. He pushes, and despite being warned not to discuss anything related to the dollhouse, he says a few things that seem to cause Ellie some distress. She has flashes of the pained active Echo saw. He also gets Ellie to admit that she was kidnapped, held and abused when she was a little girl.

Ellie negotiates the ransom and she goes with the father to the drop. There, she recognizes one of the kidnappers, freaks out a bit and has a bad asthma attack. She tells the father not to let them go and that they’re not going to give the little girl back. He gets shot and her handler shoots the lead kidnapper.

The handler goes to Ellie & suggests that she might want a treatment. Back at the dollhouse, this seems to have been the wrong thing to do. Handlers aren’t suppose to interfere. Ellie goes to get her treatment while her handler argues with Miss DeWitt that she should be allowed to finish working on the case and find the little girl. She has the knowledge. She recognized one of the kidnappers from one of the personalities in her imprint. Miss DeWitt doesn’t seem to be willing to let Ellie finish the case, but in the end, Ellie’s treatment doesn’t seem to have been a mind wipe. She’s still Ellie and they go after the girl.

We get a bit more negotiation and more violence, but the girl is saved in the end.

Throughout all of this is the side story of Paul Ballard, an agent investigating the Dollhouse. He appears to be a bit Mulderesque. He believes in the existence of the dollhouse, despite a lack of evidence and he’s crossing lines and messing up other investigations in order to get to the truth.

Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable episode. There was a lot to introduce in a short amount of time, but I think it was done effectively. I think it did a great job in revealing the central concepts of the dollhouse and how the actives work. Some of it felt a touch heavy handed, but I think it may have been done to avoid confusing the audience.

The episode included was action, mystery, ethical dilemma and really attractive actors. Something there to appeal to a lot of different viewers.

The jumps back and forth between the various story threads were well timed and added to the experience rather than making it confusing or hard to follow.

I can’t judge much of the acting yet, except for that of Eliza Dushku. She did a great job making the 4 personalities distinct from each other. And as always, she was great fun to watch.

I’ll be looking forward to more character development. The handler and doctor both seem to have back stories worth getting into. And Miss DeWitt may also prove interesting. So far she seems very cold and calculating which almost certainly means there’s a giant chink in her armour that we’ll be exploring at some point.

The overall setup was strong and will hopefully bring the audience back next week. Joss Whedon posted to Whedonesque that he’s most proud of episode 6, so I hope we get that far. The time slot isn’t the best, but hopefully people will have DVR’d the episode, or watch it on Hulu. I think Dollhouse has a lot of promise and I’d like to see it continue.