Monday, February 11, 2013

Whedon's Dollhouse - Week 4

We can begin this week's reflection on Dollhouse by asking the question, do you like Topher? Your answer might or might not agree with the answer that Zimmerman Jones found on the Internet early on in the first season might (the answer he found was no). Is it true that (so far) Topher doesn't care about the dolls? Is Topher amoral? Just so you know, I probably didn't think about this question much when I first watched the season, but I never really considered Topher amoral. I maybe didn't know how to read him, but I think the show as a whole is a bit difficult to read; maybe this is what to what Zimmerman Jones is referring when he writes about the "moral ambiguity of the whole situation," also known as "being difficult to read." (82) As per the arguments in this first article for this week, does the "imprinting technology idea [shift] from being morally reprehensible to being . . . morally justifiable"? (85)

Do you recognize the evolution or transformation of Topher Brink as suggested by this author? On p.90, the writer suggests that the tactic of violence would not have worked at the start of the series. What do you think? (I know that you might not have watched the whole series at this point, but perhaps you can still comment with knowledge of the first 10 episodes or so).

Another question might be asked in considering Mason's article: is Adelle an amoral character as well?

As an aside, I am interested by Mason's suggestion that the show could be boiled down to terms available to us from Whedon's other shows. So, Dollhouse is "in Firefly terms, what happened to River's brain, explored through the consequences of Inara's profession." (102) This assumes, though, that Inara acts toward River in the same way as Adelle toward Echo. Thoughts?

Finally, out of the two episodes from this week, which works best?


Phil Wiebe said...

I like Topher, he's probably my favourite character. I think he cares about the dolls, but not in the sense that the viewer, or even other Dollhouse staff, expect - he does not care about them as 'humans' or 'people,' but he is not as cold as Laurence Dominic who treats them merely as tools or means to an end. I think Topher cares about the dolls the same way an artist cares about their artwork: their is an existential bond and the work is cherished, but ultimately the artist can detach and sell it, or see it used for other purposes.

Casting Topher as amoral is grounded in the belief that he willingly ignores the ethical quandaries of his work; while there may be a degree of truth in that, I think that mainly Topher is just young and a bit naive. When he's not drinking juiceboxes or eating junk food, he's so caught up in the technology and the innovation that he hasn't taken the time to take stock of the moral implications of his work. The conclusion of 'Topher of amoral' also relies on the idea that imprinting is essentially bad/wrong, which Zimmerman counters reasonably, as far as the first season goes; in the first season, I would say the Dollhouse/Rossum itself rather than the imprinting technology it uses is questionable. Topher is just a catalyst in that process; as far as his transformation, I think that Topher is a sort of inversion of the classical epic hero. In the classics, heroes possessed a nigh-supernatural attribute (in Topher's case, genius) but were undermined by a fatal flaw (for Topher, hubris) - the inversion is that Topher does not begin as a hero and face eventual defeat, but rather becomes a hero and redeems himself.

I think violence would have worked at the beginning of the series, but in a different way: Topher would have acquiesced for selfish reasons (not wanting to be around killing) rather than altruistic ones (wanting the killing to stop) - Zizek makes a similar joke about a empathetic socialist "Throw out this destitute beggar – I’m so sensitive that I can’t stand seeing people suffer!"

If we contrast Adelle and Topher, I would say Adelle is a far more amoral character - she 'owns' her choices like Zimmerman claims all good Whedon villains do, she just doesn't think she's evil (unlike other Whedon villains).

While interesting and a useful tool for critique of an authors' ouevre by considering all works in the body, I think always resorting to view and treat Whedon's new works through the lens of his old ones (especially Firefly and Buffy) is a fan-ish impulse that can obscure clear inspection. I think that Joss Whedon and the existence of terms like 'Whedonverse' may indicate that he is danger of his work becoming too bound up with his identity, or his 'brand' - though maybe that is what he is aiming for.

I thought both episodes were very good but episode 10, Haunted, was pure conceptual gold for the conceit of Dollhouse - the idea of someone being able to come back from the dead to not only attend their own funeral but also solve their own murder is not a new idea, but it works perfectly within the framework of Dollhouse and it was very well-executed.

Nicholas Greco said...

As for Whedon and the study of his works as a whole (the "whedon-verse," say), I'm not sure that is what Whedon himself is aiming for. I think it works in terms of fandom (that Whedon fans look for more Whedon-like material from Whedon that features Whedon alumni). I think you're right, though, that it doesn't really work in academia. I'm not sure we should be looking at a show through the lens of another.

While these texts might be intertexts, I'm not sure they have to be. It doesn't necessarily help us understand Dollhouse to apply the case of Firefly, and it kind of cheapens what Firefly as a text is trying to argue.