Monday, February 25, 2013

Dollhouse - Week 6

This is the week before a bit of a break. We have also gotten to the end of the first season and have begun the second.

Susan Quilty asks a similar question as was asked at the beginning of the course: "What constitutes personality? ... Can the total personality--the entire sense of self--really be removed and replaced at whim? Or does some unique piece of self remain in the body?" (133) Does the body keep in itself an inherent personality?

Season 1:
Caroline = central image
Echo = negative space

Season 2:
Echo emerges from negative space to be the central image

The point is that both of these entities are part of the same whole, recognized by change in focus. Quilty, though, seems to confuse these notions of difference in personality with notions of personality being inherent in the body. Later, she discusses the sense of self which Echo possesses, and the seeming sense of self (however slight) that the other actives possess in their doll state, sitting and eating together, for instance. This "instinctual level" is what Quilty suggests is "negative space."

Quilty suggests that love exists in this negative space, inseparable from the body. While I do find some of her arguments problematic, I do appreciate her final thoughts: "As Echo and one of the men discussed the paintings [in a museum vault in Episode 1.04], he commented, 'That's what art's for, to show us who we are.'" (144)

As per Hiromi and Da Silveira, is it only through narrative (or stories) that we understand the world?

A question I have here is, does cancellation work to make viewers perpetually uncomfortable, because the narrative ended without closure? In a way, I agree, but this discomfort brings pleasure. That is, closure closes the narrative; cancellation leaves the narrative open. Anyone who read any amount of Roland Barthes will understand that the latter is better.

I observed what they observed, that the second season moved too quickly (we can discuss this a bit more as we watch the second season in the coming weeks), but I'm not sure that cancellation works in the positive way they suggest. Allowing (or forcing) the closure of story arcs might provide closure, but doing so in a rushing manner doesn't seem to necessarily be a better way of doing things. Consider the fine example of Firefly, the other Whedon show cancelled after something like 11 episodes: closure did not happen (not even in the film Serenity, though perhaps the "closure" of certain storylines there was also rushed). This worked for Firefly; I want closure there, but I'm sort of happy that we are not getting it.

Again, I want it. But in wanting it there is some pleasure there. Barthes considers this in The Pleasure of the Text, in which he suggests the turning of pages to find out what happens next is most important, and pleasurable. It is in the turning of the page, not in the revelation of details, that we derive pleasure. (Don't quote me on this. It has been a bit since I read this book, so I might be quite off regarding Barthes' comments there. I think I do reflect Barthes accurately, but maybe not from that particular book.)

This week we watch Episode 13, which was not aired on television. What is your reaction to "Epitaph One"?

Note that next week is Reading Week. There will be no blog entry next week.

1 comment:

Phil Wiebe said...

In my view, personality merely represents the mental constructs of identity that, in Dollhouse, can be removed, altered, and replaced. Real, true identity must be attached to a phsyical body - a transplanted identity is inauthentic in that its remembered experiences do not correspond with the facticities of the body - a body is not static and changes through acts of will and of chance. A unique sense of self does not remain in a mystical way but rather the body is that unique sense of self. The personality that arises from the conditions of the body, like Echo, is the inherent personality. Her physical experiences were divided among many personalities, so the only personality that could reconcile all of them was the one that was generated by these very experiences.

Thus, the value of art: we can create something authentic, lasting, and separate from our selves with which to understand the world - to "show us who we are." I don't think we only understand the world through narratives, but they certainly are one of the best ways to understand it.

I agree that it is better fate for a good show to be cancelled rather than be stretched thin. Firefly is considered one of the greatest sci-fi shows of all time; if Firefly had gone on for many seasons for all we know subsequent seasons simply wouldn't have been as good as the first one. I always thought that the movie Serenity was a poor imitation of the glory of Firefly and a horrible ending for the characters I loved.

I appreciate that the threat of cancellation encouraged Dollhouse's writers to make their arcs speedy and potent, but by the second season things just seemed rushed and I feel like Dollhouse lost sight of its original intrigue. This happens inevitably in many shows that are centered around a conceit (whether that be dolls going on an engagemen, the police solving a murder, a medical problem being tackled, etc): the original premise that should be in every episode is lost in favor of longer, convoluted, character-focused story arcs. Sometimes that's great, but that's not always what viewers signed up for. Apparently I wasn't a Dollhouse 'true believer' because I honestly preferred engagements to Rossum intrigue.

Also, the direction they took the show might have been a bit too depressing for viewers; Dollhouse was never exactly a cheery place, but by the end of season 2 (and its two epitaph episodes) its dystopian visions were oppresively gloomy.

Epitaph One was a great episode though; probably the best in the show. By educating the characters on what the Dollhouse was, it gave the viewers an opportunity to fill in some of the blanks in the Dollhouse and Rossum's backstory as well. It was a fine blend of future and past, with all of our favourite old and new characters. The suspense and twist was above par, even for the series.

An Aside: Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory: "Roommates agree that Friday nights shall be reserved for watching Joss Whedon's brilliant new series Firefly... Might as well settle it now; it's going to be on for years."

I'm streaming the new Bowie album for free on iTunes right now. It's alright I guess? I also saw Beck's cover of Sound and Vision, which I disliked; Bowie knew when to be bombastic and when to be a minimalist and I feel like Beck's treatment would've been more suitable for something like Life on Mars or Heroes. Sound and Vision, like the rest of Low, was a bit more subtle than that - can you imagine Always Crashing in the Same Car done by an orchestra? It would be terrible.