Monday, February 04, 2013

Dollhouse - Week 3

In reading Tupper's article on the Gothic in Dollhouse, I came across an absolutely funny description of the Dollhouse itself: "a slightly sinister dayspa." (51) I'm not sure why I found that so funny, but I did. It seems that it betrays something of the series: that it is simply too dark of a premise to work at all. The setting is just a strange symptom of it simply being off. That's why the setting is not particularly threatening. So, while this might be true (that the show doesn't work, fundamentally), I think, rather, that the show works in spite of its darkness. It forces us to watch, knowing that it is too difficult of a show for prime time television. Comments?

Do you think that the notion of enigma is at work in the show? If so, what does it accomplish?

So, if Dollhouse subverts the gothic, is it a new gothic? What exaclty is it? (hint: there isn't really a right or wrong answer to many of these questions, in case you didn't guess - I don't know the answers myself).

Is Dollhouse a fairy tale?

Finally, which of these three episodes is most effective and why?

1 comment:

Phil Wiebe said...

The characterization of the Dollhouse as a 'slightly sinister dayspa' is humorous because it is spot-on in drawing out the contrast between Dollhouse's purpose and its location. Ostensibly, two of Dollhouse's most fundamental characteristics are 'top secret' and 'ultra sensitive' but the realities of their building do not conform with these ideas. A theme of mundanity runs through the whole project. It's underneath a very pedestrian office building. Beyond the facade of the spa, it's bland, with access hallways, wardrooms, and armories. Most bizarre is how just about anyone can walk into Topher's office, the heart of the entire operation, on a whim. There is an element of hubris in how much the operators of Dollhouse trust in their technology to render them immune to most conceivable threats, and thus they work in a dayspa underneath LA rather than in a Farraday-caged bunker in the Nevada desert, or something similar.

To me, the premise of Dollhouse does not come off as overly dark, but there is definitely a sense of something being 'wrong' in the atmosphere. As Eric Idle's character in the Secret Service Dentists ( sketch keeps remarking, "There's something going on here." I think this is where Dollhouse's pragmatic problem arose: for the first season, all the non-doll characters took the attitude of John Cleese's character ("No, there isn't") and then when things inevitably fell apart, the change was too drastic. The premise was so strongly 'pre-apocalyptic' that its narratives couldn't be maintained and had to make the jump to post-apocalyptic. Dollhouse in season 2 is cut from a different cloth, and something was lost of the original formula that made Dollhouse very exciting to watch.

The notion of enigma in Dollhouse is that we never get quite as much backstory and context as we'd like. I think this is a driving element in most thriller-style shows, but it's amplified in Dollhouse because it's coupled with the enigma of the future. While we may not know all the context and backstory in other shows, we usually have a pretty good idea of the characters' current intentions and goals and what they will/want to accomplish. In Dollhouse, we're often ignorant of the true motivations and principles - the characters even in their current state are nebulous, so their future is just as much an enigma. On a practical level, it keeps the viewer guessing and either disallows them forming solid understandings of the characters or jolts with every surprise.

While Gothic elements in Dollhouse are certifiably present, I would say that the show as a whole is not Gothic/Neo-Gothic because it simply lacks the romantic and sentimentalist roots. And it's only a fairy tale at times for certain characters. Dollhouse is really hard to pin down, for me, all I can think is that it is Blade Runner translated into television - maybe a new genre: "pre-apocalyptic."

I found episode 8, "Needs," to be the most effective because Whedon cashed in with satisfying viewers' hopes and desires big times and then took it all away in a cunning twist, drawing them back in for more. Very sly.