I quit blogging about Dollhouse for a little while for two reasons. First, our readers didn’t seem to be watching the thing (bad, bad readers, with lives to attend to!). Second, I kept reading interviews with Joss and Eliza (yes we are on a first-name basis shut up) saying, “The sixth episode is where it will all take off! Trust us! It was the etwork-nay that screwed up the progression of the first few episodes!” So, based on the beggings of a few troll-y people who were leaving “Trust In Joss” comments all over the internet, I decided to reserve some judgment.
Since we last checked in with our quasi-metaphorical-but-mostly-actual brothel denizens, we have learned (a) that even the Actives’ purported saviour, Paul Ballard, has been tricked into falling in love with one; (b) that the decision to become an active is, well, semi-voluntary at least; (c) absolutely nothing about this “Alpha” person; (d) absolutely nothing of interest or use about Echo/Caroline or any of the other actives for that matter other than bald assertions that Echo/Caroline us a “special active”; (e) absolutely nothing of interest or use about any of the Dollhouse “management” caste – i.e. Adele DeWitt, Dr. Saunders, or the “science genius” at the centre of it all; and (e) absolutely nothing that would shed light on why Paul is so obssessed with helping Echo/Caroline as opposed to just bringing down the Dollhouse generally.
In exchange for all of this we have had to sit through a lot of blank stares from Ms. Dushku, a whole lot of somewhat… strange acting from newcomer Miracle Laurie, who plays the Active November, and one out-and-out rape scene that just keeps coming back for more in flashbacks.
Perhaps you’re getting the general idea: the reports that episode six would make the series make some obvious kind of narrative sense were somewhat exaggerated.
That being said, on to the still-raging problem of this show’s utter lack of coherent feminist principles.
In that vein, dear readers, I’m gonna take a wild guess: Joss wanted to create a show about prostitution. But because no network worth their salt is going to allow such a thing to happen because they don’t want to be walking by Christian picketers on their way in every morning, he is forced to have this weird quasi-scifi scrim draped over his brothel. The quasi-scifi scrim is, as delineated above, something he’s not fully committed to. And as he is not fully committed to it, it is utterly fucking confusing.
This would probably be okay were the show to have some overarching “message” about its real subject that could hold the series together. (Nobody needed George Lucas to be more precise about what exactly the Force was.) Unfortunately for all of us on that score, Joss does not appear to have any particular philosophical commitments when it comes to the question of prostitution.
This became clear to me when the show began emphasizing the (pretty clear, because nobody was paying) sexual abuse of one of the Actives, Sierra (Dichen Lachman). Sierra is, increasingly, becoming the show’s “victim” character – she has been the subject of repeated rapes from her handler, and (slight inconsequential spoiler) even appears to have arrived at the Dollhouse by way of her audacious refusal to sleep with a man who therefore had her “committed” to the Dollhouse.
The problem with distinguishing Sierra as an “abuse victim” this way is that it implies that what happens to the other Actives when they are on a mission is “different,” and certainly, in the way the show frames it, less objectionable. There’s an element here of “well if she doesn’t know she’s having sex, and she’s having an orgasm, that’s marginally more okay!” Which is a pretty fucked up way to characterize the premise of the show, IMHO.
Again, this would all be made easier if somewhere, anywhere in a Dollhouse episode somebody sat down and tried to sort through the show’s extremely confused notions about consent and its implications. Right now, I’m not really clear on how consensual the process of becoming an Active is, in and of itself – all of the Actives seem to have arrived there by way of coercion and a Charlie Kaufmanesque promise that painful memories of their previous lives would be removed. And if being an Active isn’t really chosen so much as the best of a number of bad options, that matters. If you offer me the choice of being imprisoned or five years of indentured servitude as a sex toy for rich people, can I really be said to be choosing my choice?
Is anyone else even watching?