Dollhouse, weeks 11 & 12

“Why do you have to go back in the wedge? Why don’t you come home?”

“I did sign a contract…”

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

“We have a black president?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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