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March 25 2009

(SPOILER) Joss comments on the fight scene from last week's Dollhouse. TV Guide's Matt Mitovich gets the lowdown from him. It's also spoilerish for Alpha's identity. So best avoid if you're trying to stay unspoiled for that one. Spoilers for other shows on this page as well.

Interesting, interesting.
Well... that means exactly nothing :)
Well, it was a very well choreographed fight scene.
I was actually more impressed by the fight scene in the house.
Both scenes were great but the Echo/Ballard scene was more visible, more varied, used weapons and was longer (as a single fight) so it takes the fight cake for me (except we don't talk about fight cake).

That comment's about as obliquely "about" the fight scene as can be and still use, like, words. Pity, i'd love a bit more on the behind the scenes stuff (bet it took ages for instance).

Also, not great news for 'Life' fans by the sounds of it (good in one sense I guess). Explains why we've been seeing Sarah Shahi sitting down a lot over the last few weeks though ;).
Oh. My. God. I just got spoiled for the BSG finale and I am sooooo pissed off at myself for reading this.

As far as Echo's message about an insider goes I'm sure we're not supposed to question it. Everything was set up to suggest an actual insider (Topher leaving the imprint for a moment) and if it was just a ploy I don't think they would have told Ballard about the other Dollhouses
Why wouldn't we be supposed to question it? It was actually the first thing that popped into my mind. In fact, only after the scene was over, it registered that it might, y'know, actually be true at face value ;). I think the episode does suggest that both might be true and I think I even kinda prefer it that way. I don't see any reason - from within the episode - why we should prefer one option over the other.

Also: I think Joss is just messing with our minds there (which is really very appropriate for comments on Dollhouse ;))
After watching again, I noticed that the door behind Topher (when he is putting the cartridge thingy in the computer) is closed...then he goes and talks to Boyd...then when he comes back to the same spot the door is open behind him. That makes me pretty positive that someone did indeed go in there and mess with the imprint.

So that rules out Boyd. Unless Boyd were working with someone else, and was distracting him.

I think it's Adelle...but then the question begs, does she know how to work that technology? Assistant girl seems to0 obvious though.

[ edited by ShanshuBugaboo on 2009-03-25 11:46 ]
Yeah but then Mellie as active seemed fairly obvious too.

Re: warning, the first thing I thought was how nicely the scene segued (or rather didn't segue, kinda ;) with Eliza's demeanour not changing at all, she played it as hardass all the way it's just the words that changed the meaning of the scene. Which felt jarring, which was cool. Then I wondered about whether it's a trap but beyond "Question everything" I don't see much reason to think so (yet) and the fact that Echo didn't suddenly turn into a sympathetic character, to someone that's "in on it" with Ballard makes me think it's straight up. But i'm far from 100% certain ;).

(whoever's playing him might believe he'd be more suspicious of a sympathetic character than he would of someone that's apparently confirming his worst "programmable people" fears for instance)
(whoever's playing him might believe he'd be more suspicious of a sympathetic character than he would of someone that's apparently confirming his worst "programmable people" fears for instance)


Exactly, Saje. And also: this would be a much easier option of leading him on a wild goose chase, seeing as this "insider" is unknown and faceless and the 'program' that spoke to him is just that.

Plus, it'd make a lot of sense because the Dollhouse took Boyd off the case, but I presume they were at least following Echo with another handler, right? I don't quite see how someone would slip a complete assignment like this one by the Dollhouse unless no one was monitoring and I don't quite see why the Dollhouse would send out a valuable commodity like an active without any supervision. Which suggests to me that people at the Dollhouse know about this assignment. And probably more than just one "insider".

Plus: the foreshadowing that something was happening in the music and the camerawork was very obvious, with regard to that particular imprint in Topher's office. It was so obvious, in fact, that it made me suspicious.

Adelle is seen manipulating people in this episode, just like we've seen her manipulate people before. In fact, Echo even suggests to Ballard that Mellie might be in danger, which causes Ballard to run home and find a distraught Mellie. This ties him closer to Adelle's sleeper agent. Win-win, really.

All in all, this led me to think that this was a ruse by Adelle when I saw it first. And it still seems like a plausible option to me. In fact, if the 'insider' option is on the up-and-up, it would pretty much only make sense to me if it was Adelle or another person high up enough to manipulate these events enough to, well, make sense ;).

Or am I missing and/or misinterpreting something (which is, of course, always possible)?
Not that I can see and if things develop in a direction consistent with seeking to control the direction of Ballard's investigation then Adelle makes a lot of sense. And we do see Adelle use misdirection and so on, even within this episode, so it could easily be part of some grand plan.

But right now I don't see the message putting him off at all, if anything it's even more direct confirmation of what he thought before and it gives him extra information that he didn't have (assuming the multiple dollhouses thing is true). I'm also leery of supporting a plot-point because it "makes things make sense" (to the individual) because things might just not make sense (e.g. it could be a mistake) especially because, to me, it makes even more sense for Ballard to doubt absolutely everything he's told by an active - in that sense it could be designed to confuse him with too many data points but for an entire complex, elegant plan to be based on the idea that he'll just go "OK, the programmable person told me I have an ally, guess I must have an ally" seems a stretch (course, the "insider" might be looking to slow build trust with correct information only to pull the rug out from under him when it most matters, like double agents since the year dot).

Basically, for now there're several potential explanations for the within-imprint-imprint and one of them is most definitely some kind of manipulation or feint by e.g. Adelle (Dominick seems much too direct for that sort of thing, so, for that matter, does Boyd). But to me it's only one possible explanation, right now I don't see any particularly compelling reason to believe it so parsimony suggests taking it at face value.
I've only watched the episode once but I thought we didn't know whether Echo had a handler during that engagement. I figured it was probably just like 'Stage Fright' where the handler waited in the van until he was needed.

I still think what Echo said was true if for no other reason than it would be a big anti-climax to discover that it was just a hoax. I don't think that would be good storytelling.
If it's a plan so cunning you could brush your teeth with it then it could still be good storytelling IMO. When you watch a heist or con movie for instance you expect there to be feints and twists but it's still satisfying when the creators put one past you (so long as they don't completely leave you behind i.e. in retrospect it has to make sense).

(one reveal I still think's possible is that Ballard knows/suspects Mellie's more than she seems. No hints of that at all so far but it would fit the "big twist" idea, twists within twists etc. No twists at all is also pretty possible of course ;)
If it's just Adelle pulling more strings, that's really boring. It doesn't move the story in any way, and it makes Ballard almost useless.

I don't quite see why the Dollhouse would send out a valuable commodity like an active without any supervision.

We've seen repeatedly that when Echo is out, the only information available to Boyd and Topher are vital signs. They're not listening in.
It doesn't move the story in any way, and it makes Ballard almost useless.

Surely that entirely depends on what we see next ? It could move the story in any number of directions (and it could also show Ballard as pretty clever if he e.g. seems to go along with it and then constructs some clever counter-plan - again, the idea of the hero being duped only to turn out to be the duper, sometimes after two or three levels of dupe/counter-dupe, is a staple of heist/con stories. When it's done well it's very satisfying IMO).
WSS ;)

But to me it's only one possible explanation, right now I don't see any particularly compelling reason to believe it so parsimony suggests taking it at face value.


Sure. But as I see it, there are two distinct options:
1) taking it at face value
2) plot by Adelle

Of course, either of these can be very complex, and there might even be some sort of 'linear combination' using the both of 'em. But both options seem to me to be clearly suggested to the viewer, because it's not that hard to figure out it might be an Adelle plot and because the other option is right there in your face. Both options right now seem equally probable. So to me, that doesn't equate to "let's take it a face value" but to "I'm agnostic on this". We literally can't know which of these it is, until we, y'know, do ;).
Why are "taking it at face value" and "plot by Adelle" seen as two distinct choices. (i guess I favor the "both" option.) It seems quite likely to me that everything the imprint-within-an-imprint said is true (there's someone one the inside, that person wants Ballard to help discover the true purpose of the dollhouses, there are multiple dollhouses) AND that the person is Adelle.

Remember, the "person on the inside" specifically said that s/he was not interested in helping Ballard bring down the dollhouse, but in using him to discover the dollhouses' true purpose.

I don't see anything that prevents that fromb eing true and from the person being Adelle. In fact, it seems quite likely. (Maybe I just don't see the "plot by Adelle" option as being something as simple as a more complicated way to defend the dollhouse from Ballard's investigation. That would be boring.)
I think Adelle took Boyd off the case because she knew Echo would be involved in a mission to deter an FBI agent from following the case. Boyd would have clearly interfered. Adelle may have also not wanted Boyd to know about her intentions with what she wanted to happen to Sierra's handler and Mellie. Also, I think Boyd may be in cahoots with Ivy because he distracted Topher at a crucial time in the programming process long enough for Ivy to modify the intended program. When Ivy was speaking to Topher, she was giving him advice on how to modify things. She is clearly capable, if not more capable than Topher to carry out any modifications. Dr. Saunders is just a doctor, she wouldn't be knowledgeable enough to tamper with the mind wipeage technology, but Ivy on the other hand, has the qualifications. Joss, has said that everyone is there for a reason, otherwise it would be easy for Topher to just work alone.
Also, Boyd is relatively new, why is he there? Could he be there to investigate the Dollhouse from the inside? What better way then to be a handler and in a trusted position. Topher, just loves the science and the possibilities (and maybe himself a little also), Adelle is willing to eliminate someone at her discretion that may threaten the Dollhouse. She also shows compassion towards Echo when she wanted to finish the house mission. She didn't have to do it, but she did it because Echo felt it wasn't complete. Adelle wouldn't do what she has being doing in all of these 6 episodes, if she wanted to destroy the Dollhouse, she could easily do it without this, by simply exposing it. She seems to truly care for the dolls and she has been shown that she will do everything to protect the Dollhouse.

[ edited by RollingInKittens on 2009-03-25 15:05 ]
Why are "taking it at face value" and "plot by Adelle" seen as two distinct choices

If the "plot by Adelle" is to mess with Ballard in order to protect the Dollhouse from him, then it would have to be distinct from "taking it at face value" / somebody wants to help him get at the Dollhouse. But while I lean towards the "Adelle or somebody else is working against the Dollhouse from the inside" theory, the episode definitely leaves both (and more?) possibilities open.

I'd love for it to be Adelle, because even if she is secretly anti-Dollhouse, she's still scary manipulative and watching Ballard and / or Echo try to "work with her" would be fascinating. So much potential for twisty turns, and fun with such a great character and great actress. (Is it Adelle or Adele?)

Who else is envisioning an episode where Ballard finds out Mellie is a doll and is entirely cold to her pleas that she loves him because she's programmed to. Oh, I sense some heartbreak a-brewin'.

Also: fight cake! Yum!
Ssshh, what did I say about fight cake ? Or, y'know, not say, cos, err, we don't do that.

Also, Boyd is relatively new, why is he there? Could he be there to investigate the Dollhouse from the inside? What better way then to be a handler and in a trusted position.

To me Boyd is too contentious as a character (and maybe too obvious meta-textually) to be a spy - if you're there to subvert an organisation you don't make a fuss and you don't ask as many questions as he does (or maybe you do as part of your cover). Also, personally I find it more interesting for him to genuinely be a dollhouse employee and be a basically decent man, just seems more ambiguous and richer from a character perspective (it being my preference doesn't make it any more likely to be true of course ;).

I don't see anything that prevents that fromb eing true and from the person being Adelle.

Yeah, that's one of the other possible explanations. Another is that the "insider" is Alpha (or alternatively not Alpha - and I don't just mean not the physically original Alpha but also not a copy - but controlled by Alpha in the same way, albeit apparently more benevolently, that e.g. "Richard" was).

Both options right now seem equally probable. So to me, that doesn't equate to "let's take it a face value" but to "I'm agnostic on this".

Well, maybe equally probable but there's a hidden variable in one (it's a plot by Adelle) and not the other so one seems more parsimonious. Don't get me wrong though, i'm not at all wedded to the "face value" interpretation so i'm not far off agnostic about it at the moment, it's just that the "evidence" for an Adelle plot (such as it is) seems consistent with several other explanations (including the biggie - it's just a writer mistake).
Let DownI just got spoiled for the BSG finale and I am sooooo p****d off at myself for reading this.

Thanks, really. I profit from your experience. I thought the fight was double-cool, best I've seen in a while (including movies), and wanted to read... but I DO NOT want to be spoiled.

So you saved me, anyway. Thanks!
And also, oooo, can I has some "must not talk about it" cake. (sorry, lolcat-itus, very infectious, apologies b!x)
I love it when we pass around food here. Still recovering from the easter egg hunt. Good times.
Who else is envisioning an episode where Ballard finds out Mellie is a doll and is entirely cold to her pleas that she loves him because she's programmed to. Oh, I sense some heartbreak a-brewin'.

Frakkin' toasters have no real feelings!
So. Boyd is ethical. And he works for the Dollhouse, which is anything but. In the words of David Byrne, well, how did he get there?
Septimus, you are too fast. Y'know, Ballard (or, rather, Tamhoh) has made me giggle a few times already by fullfilling this odd pattern I like to look for: actors who seem to be typecast really really specifically, in this case, not just as "the romantic lead" or the "gumshoe noir detective," but as the noble-guy-who-gets-obsessed-with-a-girl-who-it-turns-out-is-actually-some-sort-of-technological-multiple-who-then-valiantly-fights-to-save-her,-even-as-one-of-her-sisters-gets-a-remote-activation-that-causes-her-to-(try-to)-kill-an-enemy-of-her-sisterhood,-with-the-story-being-further-complicated-by-her-near-rape,-which-also-gets-him-in-trouble-with-the-authorities.
Maybe Ballard is Alpha, and doesn't know it.
Maybe you are!

It'd be just like Whedon!
Maybe we all are !? Dinn dinn dinnnnnnn !
I've been trying to browse (and make sense of) all your theories above. Now my head is officially hurting. Can I have some cake too, please? Don't mind which one.

[ edited by Harridan on 2009-03-25 16:57 ]
The first time I watched the episode I was distracted and missed the corrupted bit completely, so I had thought it was all going according to plan. So even on rewatch, it feels like it should have gone down like that. But the door's open and someone must have done something, so my prime suspect is still Adelle. My out there suggestion is Echo. My way out there suggestion is the mystery person who opens the door for the dolls to the chair room. I mean, who is that guy? Is his job really just to open the door? If he's there all the time, he must at least know who did it!
There are three flowers in the topic thread. The third one is green.
I made it the second one. Which side are you counting from ?

(still working on the whole "being brainwashed" thing, sorry ;)

My way out there suggestion is the mystery person who opens the door for the dolls to the chair room. I mean, who is that guy?

That's Doorman™. He opens the door, the door does not open him.
doubtful guest, I have a sneaking suspicion Paul's going to undermine any sense the audience has of his nobility. I think he's obsessed in a bad way.
Dana5140: I suspect Boyd was slightly misled about the nature of the job, and by the time he was in it and knew what was going on, that was it: he was in it. When recruting potential employees, the Dollhouse can't exactly lay out the entire job description at the beginning ... there has to be a dance of feeling each other out, lots of security checks, and so on, and then I suspect it's a bit like the cliched movie Mafia: once you're in, you're in.

I suspect, at this point, that Boyd -- once he realized the precise nature of the work -- made a decision to do what good he can from within the system he found himself in. And I also suspect that we'll see all of this addressed at some point this season.

But that's all supposition, of course.
I expected Joss' comment to be about the fight, but apparently it isn't. Ha ha. I was searching that page over and over for a whole other conversation.
Sunfire - I totally, wholeheartedly agree. I don't think he's after Echo for a good reason. See my personal speculations here . Hope the Linkage works.
Personally, I'd assume one of the two last bits.
I think we're going to learn some less-pleasant things about Boyd in the future. I'm guessing he's A Good Man with A Dark Past who may have been involved in Some Unsavory Things and I look forward to the tale of How He Wound Up In The Dollhouse. I'll bet it's a good one!
What was the "official" purpose of Ballard’s encounter with Echo anyway? At first, it seemed that she was supposed to assassinate him, but then came the twist with the imprint within imprint and I got kind of lost whether she was send there to distract him while "doll Mellie" took care of the rapist handler... or to frame him of shooting the cop... or just to kick his ass...

And if Adelle is the secret insider, why the hell did she send Victor to lure him to the Russians, who I guess were supposed to kill him and not just learn him a lesson to not put his nose into things that don't concern him...?

And if she’s not and really wanted Paul dead, then why didn’t she afterwards send someone to finish the job? Was Echo supposed to finish the job? Because her proclamation, that "the engagement is complete" after her brawl & chat with Paul suggested that she had a different aim then to kill him.

And one more thing regarding Victor – if Ballard put him on the look-out list of the whole police force from L.A. to New York, isn’t there a risk, that he could be recognized by someone during one of his engagements and because of that shouldn’t he be sent to the Attic? If Dominic constantly insists on sending there Echo, I think he should be also at least slightly concerned by Victor and the possibility of him exposing the Dollhouse...

[ edited by Anuris on 2009-03-25 18:29 ]
I agree, catherine. I think Boyd's also got something dark, if not downright bad, in his backstory that has led him to where he is.

Harridan, I don't think Ballard has a previous connection to Echo, I just think Joel's psych 101 treatment on him is dead accurate. I think sleeping with his cute neighbor he's been friendly with but rather oblivious to up until then had a lot to do with proving Joel wrong.

The thing about Dollhouse I've noticed is that everyone's a little bit right. Even Hearn. Programming people to have consensual sex is a kind of abuse. He's not wrong about that. He's really wrong that it's equivalent to what he did to Sierra, but he's right that the "good" work he did as a handler wasn't morally acceptable, either. On the flip side, everyone's got some badness. Even Boyd. He works at the Dollhouse! It's the ultimate moral conflict-- he saves Echo, but he also takes her by the hand and leads her into harm's way week after week. I'm fairly certain you don't end up doing what he does with a clean background check.

No one has pure motives in this. I expect the Actives are going to prove similar in their real backgrounds.
I suspect Boyd was slightly misled about the nature of the job, and by the time he was in it and knew what was going on, that was it: he was in it.


Someone please help turn me away from the line of thinking that says if Mellie is a doll, then why not (almost) everyone? Why couldn't a handler, or handlers, or all handlers also be dolls? Whom can we actually take at face value? Do we know if Boyd is really 'in it' voluntarily? Do we really know he's a moral person? Until we see Adele, Boyd, Topher, etc. living 'normal' lives away from the Dollhouse, how will be know for sure who they are?
Do we really know he's a moral person? Until we see Adele, Boyd, Topher, etc. living 'normal' lives away from the Dollhouse, how will be know for sure who they are?

Mellie is also living a normal life away from Dollhouse and she's still a doll, so I guess that even if we eventually see the employees of Dollhouse spending their free time outside the Dollhouse, we can never be completely sure that they aren't dolls. ;-)
Mellie is also living a normal life away from Dollhouse and she's still a doll, so I guess that even if we eventually see the employees of Dollhouse spending their free time outside the Dollhouse, we can never be completely sure that they aren't dolls. ;-)


I asked for help in leading me away from this line of thinking, not further into it! Heh. Of course we're supposed to start trotting down that uncertain Mulder-ish Trust No One mental path. It's just a little bit too much like .
I doubt everyone's an Active. That dulls the human drama. Having "real" people doing all this manipulative stuff to Actives is much more morally complicated and disturbing. Being programmed to do your job might work as a twist for one person or a few, but if it's everyone then the premise is pretty much eroded. If everyone we've gotten to know is a programmed persona, then morally they get a free pass. They know not what they do.
There's some mileage in that idea in the sense of asking "Is any one individual to blame for what society as a whole does ?" i.e. they could all be blameless but evil is (arguably) still being done by the whole.

But yeah, in general it'd be fairly dull if that were the case IMO. Feels like a very facile twist, little bit sophomoric maybe.
I doubt everyone's an Active. That dulls the human drama.

I agree, I was just saying that we can never completely rule out the possibility that someone, and that someone could be almost anyone, might turn up to be a doll.
I'm not so sure Boyd is so dark or has some badness in his past. I mean, just the fact that Dominic hasn't taunted him in some way when he was trying to save Echo or do whatever moral thing he was doing means that maybe that ammunition just isn't there. I'm thinking that his reasons are less dark. He doesn't seem reluctant to be there. I don't know. Maybe he's got a mistake that they in the Dollhouse are taking advantage of, but he doesn't seem to be acting like that is the case.

[ edited by NYPinTA on 2009-03-25 18:42 ]
Yeah, and I'm hoping they find some way to quell those concerns soonish. I don't wanna find out in Dollhouse's inevitable season six that my favorite character is an active.
Thanks everyone, that really helps. You are all very astute in seeing the moral, emotional, and premise-based reasons why my theory was a lot of malarkey.

The next question is the uber-question. Who watches the Watchmen? What is the higher purpose? Who runs the organization at a higher level, why, and what do they want? This isn't science fiction along the lines of Angel so we can't have an other-dimension-y excuse like "The Senior Partners". These are human beings. If people's theory about Adele is right, how much does she know about these people, if anything, and what would she do to find out more?
And one more thing regarding Victor – if Ballard put him on the look-out list of the whole police force from L.A. to New York, isn’t there a risk, that he could be recognized by someone during one of his engagements and because of that shouldn’t he be sent to the Attic? If Dominic constantly insists on sending there Echo, I think he should be also at least slightly concerned by Victor and the possibility of him exposing the Dollhouse...


I think that's a risk with any of the actives when they're sent out on engagements. They could run into someone from their past at random. The Dollhouse must have some sort of failsafe in case that were to happen, though maybe Joss & Co. haven't thought of it yet.
I'm waiting for Paul to find out about Victor, and thus become freakishly paranoid and bat-shit crazy because he doesn't know who in his life is real or who's a Dollhouse plant.
I have a very basic "suspension of disbelief" question. Is it really plausible that an FBI agent would freely share all kind of confidential case information with his next door neighbor? Carry around confidential files with confidential pictures just showing on the outside of the folder, in the hallway? Have his neighbor visit him at his workplace?

It's been so long since I watched The X-Files, and I have never worked in an actual policing organization, so people with more knowledge, please correct me if I am wrong about this.

All I know is, the office where I work is in downtown Washington D.C. right across from the FBI building, and the security there is very, very tight. And as far as field offices go, I would expect the non-disclosure stuff would be just as strict. Somehow I just cringe and refuse to believe, every time Ballard talks to civilians about cases.
I guess the Dollhouses need to be in the biggest cities so the actives won't run into people from their past. So there wouldn't be a Dollhouse in Portland Oregon, for instance, because running into people is pretty much the way things go around here.
Of course, when I moved to L.A. a while ago (no longer live there), I had no fewer than three run-into-old-friend-I'd-lost-track-of on the street events within the first couple of weeks, followed by another friend a few months later moving to L.A. without me knowing it and ending up moving into the apartment below me. All cities seem to act this way.
I'm waiting for Paul to find out about Victor, and thus become freakishly paranoid and bat-shit crazy because he doesn't know who in his life is real or who's a Dollhouse plant.

I gleefully wait for the same thing. But more the thing someone else said earlier about how he reacts to Mellie being an Active. DRAMA.

I kinda think he's hard boiled enough for his reaction to Victor to maybe be "I knew you were too chatty for a mob guy."
Programming people to have consensual sex is a kind of abuse.

I believe that it was established in the Buffy episode Dead Things that it's called 'rape'.
I'm waiting for Paul to find out about Victor, and thus become freakishly paranoid and bat-shit crazy because he doesn't know who in his life is real or who's a Dollhouse plant.

In which case Adelle is a step ahead of him, since her scheme ensures Paul likely won't suspect Mellie after this. Well he might be curious how she overpowered the guy, but she was pretty convincingly upset. He's a lot more protective of her than he was of Lubov anyway.

There are a lot of ways they could go if/when he finds out about Mellie, so it'll be interesting to see.
I believe that it was established in the Buffy episode Dead Things that it's called 'rape'.

Yeah I'm not trying to make it sound any better than what it is, it's just that it's an odd scifi literal-mind-control-with-technogadgets context and I wasn't sure if calling it rape might unintentionally dull the term we use in real-world contexts without any consent. Since the Actives' sex acts are consensual in the immediate sense (the persona's consenting) but not in the larger sense (the persona's just an imprint and the real person's not aware and able to say yes or no), I'm not sure what to call it. I guess what Warren did isn't really different though, since he did seem to not just control Katrina but more or less wipe her real self away and replace her with a very different personality. And in that context I agree her calling it rape.

The situation with Sierra and her handler is equally baffling to me in terms of how to talk about it. It was definitely rape in my mind, but because of the childlike complacency of the Actives it struck me as a very disturbing combination of adult rape and child molestation. It was like the worst of both sexual crimes combined into one horrible thing.

[ edited by Sunfire on 2009-03-25 19:55 ]
without at all meaning to suggest that "programming people to have consensual sex" is not a kind of abuse, what we see in this show in the standard "engagements" is not identical to the acts in "Dead Things," for the reason gone into ad nauseum (though appropriately) on previous threads (and kinda in some of the man on the street interviews): If you consent to be wiped and programmed to do things -- including "consensual sex", this is different than what happens to Katrina in Dead Things.

I should emphasize that I am NOT talking about the Sierra/Hearn thing right now, which is not equivalent to either of these scenarios, but is much more an act earning the clean cut title of "rape."

ETA: Sunfire beat me to much of this, and better expressed than I did that one risk of too quickly equating all scenarios is that we undercut the meaning of the word rape in the awful sense that we already know of. (What Warren Mears did is a tech-toy version of slipping Katrina a roofie, so clearly rape in the sense we know it.)

[ edited by doubtful guest on 2009-03-25 20:16 ]
But consent isn't worth the paper it's written on unless it is fully informed and at least what was shown I don't think even comes close to meeting those criteria.
If they are all actives, there is no show, for there is no one to identify with, and since that is already a major concern about the show, I cannot see Joss making that mistake and going down the same road BSG did.

Sunfire, I am not even sure you can properly say that even the persona is consenting. The doll has been programmed to do what it was was programmed to do, nothing more. Consent requires choice, and the doll has none; it does only what its programming tells it to.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2009-03-25 21:02 ]

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2009-03-25 23:09 ]
Well, that's clearly not true, as we've seen at least twice now. In the very first episode, Echo's hostage negotiator persona deviated from the plan when she discovered that the person behind the kidnapping was the same person who had held "her" hostage as a child. And in the "heist" episode, where Sierra was programmed with the same persona as Echo, we saw the DH staff explaining the situation to her, and she called all the shots in handling the situation (if they had programmed her for specific actions, they'd have had no need of her in the first place, because Topher would have been able to give Echo the directions himself.)
Well, Dana, that may be (your last point) but obviously this raises the question of whether consent is EVER valid, whether ANY choice is actually free. We all only make choices based on our "programming" (whether the source of that programming is societal, chemical, biological, or religious). Basically, it's question of free will. Do the (imprinted) dolls have free will? I don't know. That (and the related "do any of us?" question) is the central question of the show.

I'm not quite as pessimistic about the possiblities of the "everyone is a doll" plot. Obviously, it would have to be handled well, but I think that the issues it raises (free will, socialization, etc.) are certainly intriguing. And, I would not put it past Joss to make the mythology more and more complex and world-altering (just as he did with Buffy). From a dramatic/storytelling point of view, it raises issues (how do you identify with anyone? are any characters stable? etc.), but I think the show is already addressing those (with greater or less seuccess).
Yeah, it's not as simple as being programmed to perform certain actions, even at its simplest they're "programmed" to want to perform certain actions, that's the USP of the dollhouse and why it costs so much. And it's also one of the nubs of the show IMO in that it wonders to what extent we can be said to be "programmed" too, to what extent we can be said to make uncoerced choices. Similar to the way 'Dexter' wonders whether we "just" follow a set of rules for "how to be good" or whether there's actually some sort of reality to moral behaviour outside of how we're socialised by examining the darkly funny thought-experiment that is Dexter Morgan.

So the question surely becomes "can the initial volunteer (assuming they are volunteers) consent once to being "forced" to consent multiple times, even though they won't actually feel forced into it ?" (this as far as the dollhouse knows BTW i.e. i'm removing Echo's burgeoning awareness from the question).

And it's true that we certainly haven't seen the potential actives being informed about what they'll be doing but at the same time, we've seen a contract so it's not unreasonable to assume they're told about the terms of that contract. And to be blunt, if they even know the premise (i.e. if they know they'll be imprinted with various personalities in order to fulfill fantasies etc.) then they'd have to be profoundly naive/stupid to not think there'll be sex involved at some point. If we're honest I suspect it's one of the first ideas most of us considered when we first heard the premise.

So the question as to whether it's rape as we know it is open IMO. It all comes down to whether you can consent to things that you're not aware off or to things that happen to your body but while someone else is "home".

(again, Sierra/Hearn is totally different, that's rape because Sierra was being forced to do something she didn't want to do. It's basically child rape, as I said in the other thread)


ETA: Some of which was posted by Septimus, who could be thousands of miles away, at nearly exactly the same time. But we're all acting freely, for sure ;).

[ edited by Saje on 2009-03-25 21:32 ]
I don't see how the presence of a contract means that the recruit has been given a full explanation of what they are about to enter into. The whole operation is deeply shadowy, and hiding stuff in the small print and in overly technical language would seem a minor crime compared to what they do every day.
There are two possibilities we have to keep at least somewhat open/imprecise at this point, or this show can never be anything but a series of horrible events without meaning, boring and useless:

1) that there is at least some remaining mystery as to what it means to consent, and to what degree individual dolls did consent to what goes on here.

2) that it is at least possible to "truly" consent to situations that involve or result in awful things (as either you or others define awful) happening to you, the consenter.

Can you "truly" consent to joining the military, undergoing a medical internship, joining a medical trial, etc.? Of course you can! Can you "truly" consent to a homosexual encounter despite the fact that religious whackos like to equate this as no more consensual than bestiality? Of course you can! If a science fiction show with premises such as this one cannot ask that we be willing to try our best to wonder if some of the boundaries of what defines our selves, our choices, etc are a bit fuzzy, why even bother? This isn't to say we don't get to make any judgements at all about what is or isn't consent or what is or isn't abuse. It is to say that if, this early in the series, we take these terms as nearly airtight in their definitions, we're doing the show -- and probably ourselves -- a disservice.

ETA: have just finished putting my little tinfoil helmet on to keep Saje and septimus from listening to my thoughts (or are they zapping their thoughts into my head?)

[ edited by doubtful guest on 2009-03-25 21:43 ]
I don't see how the presence of a contract means that the recruit has been given a full explanation of what they are about to enter into.

Like I say, we don't see it. But assuming any of them are volunteers, isn't it reasonable to assume they must at least know what they're signing on for ? For instance, what is it that Caroline's so horrified by if she doesn't even know what's going to happen to her ? And if she even knows "imprinted and hired out" and she then doesn't think (pretty much immediately i'd say) "Oh, like for sex" then she's, being generous, very, very innocent IMO (which Caroline in the video - assuming that's really Caroline - certainly doesn't seem).

I agree though, in cases where they're forced into becoming actives (assuming there are any cases like that - we've seen none) then the original person (and arguably the imprint) could be said to be being raped. It still questions various definitions (like, if your body is raped when you're not in it then have you been raped ? I'd say yes and so does the legal system - in the West anyway - but I could maybe imagine an argument against).
Is it even possible legally (let's not even get into morally) to sign a blanket contract for sexual consent? And as far as I know, prostitution is illegal in California, so signing a contract that enables the Dollhouse to prostitute you is invalid.
It's one reason among several that the Dollhouse is highly illegal. Probably #1 on the list. Well other than "shall we kill this FBI agent? Hmm, let's mess with him more and see."
I think the contract is, as redeem147 may be suggesting, a red herring: I don't think any of us, regardless of where we stand on the consent debate, are actually thinking that the stakes depend on what Adelle and co. could get away with under U.S. or California contract law. The stakes for the show, and for we, the audience, in our ultimate judgement of it and its characters, will hinge on debates like the one we're having now about subtleties, and not about whether the dollhouse broke contract law.
... (let's not even get into morally) ...

Well, i'd say exactly the opposite - let's not even get into legally ;). A few people (you may even have been one of them redeem147) have already pointed out that a contract for illegal activities is totally invalid in the eyes of the law anyway so i'd say it's a moot point.

The contract isn't about legality, it's about an indication of how informed the future actives may or may not be. I reckon if someone's presented with something to sign then it's reasonable to assume that they'd have at least a vague idea of what they're signing on for. Put it this way, setting aside the law, why would Adelle even have them sign a contract in the first place if they didn't know what was in it ? How could she justify herself to herself if the volunteers had absolutely no idea what they were volunteering for ?
I guess the point I'm making (badly, I guess) is that there is no consent. Therefore, the word is rape.

And now I'll move on...
But assuming any of them are volunteers, isn't it reasonable to assume they must at least know what they're signing on for ?

Not to my mind, actually it's more the opposite, it seems reasonable to me to think that only someone who didn't fully understand what was going to happen to them would voluntarily consent to become an active.

Oh and what redeem said.

ETA As to why Adelle would bother with a contract, I took it as just more window dressing to show Caroline that it was all really very businesslike and not the least bit dodgy. See, you've signed here so we're absolutely going to let you leave in 5 years time because it's all here in writing...

[ edited by helcat on 2009-03-25 21:58 ]
It's weird because the very mindwipe idea separates body and mind. It's the original signee's body, but they're not home when it goes on assignment. And it's different from real-life situations where a person can't consent (like being drugged) because it's not just that the owner isn't conscious of what's going on, someone else is. And that someone else may have actually done the seducing. And it doesn't make it any simpler to know that there's a bit of Echo in that someone else despite the technician's best efforts, because Echo is who's left when Caroline is stripped away.

And it's still Caroline's body. That remains fundamentally true no matter how complicated the rest of it gets.

helcat, I do think there are people who'd sign up for this. People agree to all kinds of things. You can't ever accurately say "no person would ever voluntarily consent to this" because someone out there would. People do all kinds of stuff voluntarily I'd rather not imagine. It just makes them not me. I doubt the Dollhouse relies of that human quirk factor alone, but the whole part where they won't remember any of it later is probably pretty attractive to some people.
People agree to all kinds of things.

That's true. People go on Jerry Springer.
People watch it too ;).

ETA As to why Adelle would bother with a contract, I took it as just more window dressing to show Caroline that it was all really very businesslike and not the least bit dodgy.

Maybe but why would she bother if she wasn't at least trying to tell herself that they're volunteers ? And how can she do that if they don't have any idea what they're signing on for ? And also, why would they sign on for something in the first place if they didn't know what it was ? Your position seems to assume quite a lot is my point helcat.

Not to my mind, actually it's more the opposite, it seems reasonable to me to think that only someone who didn't fully understand what was going to happen to them would voluntarily consent to become an active.

Well, I guess for me the interesting question is "Why would someone sign on for something that most of us agree is pretty horrible ?". I'd rather avoid assuming they can't possibly have consented based on my own preconceptions (cos I agree personally, I think I might well rather die than sign on for the dollhouse) until we see evidence otherwise, that's part of the fun of the show for me, to wonder about those questions in a "safe", abstracted way (cos, ultimately, it's a fictional TV show, which let's me view it at a remove real-life doesn't).

I guess the point I'm making (badly, I guess) is that there is no consent. Therefore, the word is rape.

There's no legal consent but surely that's not the whole of it ? I mean, aren't moral questions sometimes bigger than legal questions ? Or maybe for you if it's illegal it must be immoral in a civilised society ? That's not a poke BTW, my father happens to think that too (I think he reckons it's implicit in the "social contract").
People also voted for Jerry for city council in Cincinnati. This was in the 70s before his tv stardom. They even elected him back to that position after he resigned because (here comes the relevance) he was caught paying a prostitute with a personal check.

Jerry Springer: always more relevant than you'd like to know.
Y'know, i'm far from an expert on these matters but wouldn't cash have been slightly less likely to get you caught ? No doubt Freud would have something to say about "unconscious desire to be punished". Or was that Jung ? One of those guys anyway.

(more practically, I guess we can assume he was a regular, doubt she'd take a cheque otherwise)


ETA: And there we see my unconscious bias coming to the fore, ugly thing. Which is to say, assuming the prostitute was a "she".

[ edited by Saje on 2009-03-25 22:27 ]
And also, why would they sign on for something in the first place if they didn't know what it was ?

Because it's the only option that someone's found for getting out of their current situation perhaps? "If I sign this you'll hide me/rescue me/prevent untold awful things happening to me." People sign things all the time without knowing the full ramifications of what they're committing themselves to. What they want to know is will it do something for them, beyond that they're not always as interested in the small print as you might think.

You say I'm assuming a lot, I think I'm making the most obvious interpretation.

[ edited by helcat on 2009-03-25 22:29 ]
I'd say illegal and immoral in this case. No, I don't always equate the two.
Well I can speak from personal experience and admit I don't read all the fine print on my banking stuff. It's all in bankese, which I'm not all that fluent in. I check the details I know to check but I don't read the 20-page booklet. So in that sense I give uninformed consent all the time. And Adelle's a lot more clever and duplicitous than my bank.
Sunfire, I'd take it a step further and say that part of the, um, "fun" of thinking about the premise here is just what you yourself would consent to if the situation were right. To take the territory we've been discussing here (which is obviously the most loaded), each of us might have a different list of both specific events/happenings and specific probabilities we would be willing to accept in exchange for certain other things. So, if we assume that the basic price is 5 years of your life and the basic payment is huge amount of money and/or similar marker of greater personal freedom/autonomy on the other end, and imagine that the dollhouse gave you a list of check boxes for what they would and wouldn't use you for (yeah, I know they could lie, but this is a thought experiment, so just go with it!):

..."events" -- not just the types of actions that could occur (kissing ok?, romantic scenarios without sex ok? sex ok, and if so, what kinds of sex?), but the scenarios (public vs. private, chance of people you care about ever being aware of what you "did" -- "I don't care as long as my mother never finds out"). Or perhaps for some it might come down to protection from consequences like disease or injury -- I could imagine someone saying "as long as I don't remember it (so, at least in theory, can't be traumatized by it), I don't care what sort of sexual situations you involve my body in as long as I'm not injured by it and I don't catch anything."). Or it could have to do with ideals ("if you use me as a sexbot to save innocent people from a terrorist attack, that's ok, but if you just send me to bachelor parties, that's gross!").

..."probabilities" -- This is kinda like the military-enlistment thing: Would you enlist in the army (or the dollhouse special division devoted to fights in the alley behind the Chinese restaurant) if you needed the money and the chances of being maimed or killed were very very low? if they were medium? if they were high? How about if you felt that the chances of something going wrong with the reimprinting of your original personality were low/medium/high? How about if the ideals/purpose of the fight were lofty (saving the innocent from terror, etc)?

Heck, I can imagine a lot of people fall firmly on the side of preferring the sexual scenarios --as long as risk of injury/disease were extremely small -- to the action/adventure/fight in the alley scenarios that seem more likely to lead to you waking up in five years crippled or dead. (I think I might be one, though, unlike Hearn, I am under now misconceptions about my desirability for this!) I can imagine another group of people who would not really care so much about the sex vs. violence continuum as they would about whether the cause was worth it.
"Why would someone sign on for something that most of us agree is pretty horrible ?".

From their perspective, they're going to lie down in that chair, and when they open their eyes, it'll be 5 years later, they'll be rich (I assume), and their current problem will be gone. Probably sounds great to some people. (Those will a deep faith in the technology!)

And Adelle's a lot more clever and duplicitous than my bank.

Here's hoping.
Well, my bank is one of the big nasty ones now. So maybe not?
Saje, is it really a bias to assume that the statistically most likely scenario is true? Men most frequently have sex with women, so it's most likely that Jerry's prostitute was female.
Men don't most frequently have sex with prostitutes though so we're already in statistically unlikely territory ;).

(it's more that it just didn't occur to me at the time that makes it bias I guess but it's an interesting question - if an underlying assumption is genuinely usually true then is it a bias or just what we might call common sense ?)

What they want to know is will it do something for them, beyond that they're not always as interested in the small print as you might think.

Yeah but i'm not talking about small print or (in Sunfire's example) whether e.g. your interest rate's fixed over 18 months or 24, i'm talking about the fundamental idea of what the dollhouse does (it's more like just walking into a building and giving them your money without even checking if they're a bank in the first place ;). I.e. no-one asks "What does this solution you're offering involve ? What'll be happening to me for the next 5 years (just broadly, I don't need specifics) ?" ? Not one of them knows even "imprinted and then hired out" (which even the general public - via urban legends - seem to know) ? That seems a stretch to me.

And as I say, if they know "imprinted and then hired out" and they don't then "know" sex will be involved then i'd say they're almost too innocent to have made it to adulthood (or maybe just bloody lucky ;).

(said before that I was disturbed when we first found out the premise and a few people on here said they found it quite attractive, just the idea of not being them. So it seems like people can be found that are willing to volunteer, even knowing the basic idea)
it's more like just walking into a building and giving them your money without even checking if they're a bank in the first place ;


I think I know what Bernie Medoff did with all those billions! Dollhouses!
So you think Adelle explained about the active maybe killing people during missions too? It seemed to me that Adelle was more interested in explaining how much the Dollhouse helped people, rather than explaining the exact ways Caroline might find her body employed.
Let's forego the deeper philosophical issues for the moment. Consent, at least as it is handled in health care and research, requires certain elements be present. One is comprehension, one is information, one is voluntariness. My own notes, and sorry for length, say this (I teach bioethics and am halfway through master's in the subject):

"Key among the principles of experimentation on human subjects is the concept of informed consent. Several elements are required for informed consent. The person must first be “competent to consent”- to understand consequences and to make decisions. The decisions do not have to meet any particular criteria for “good” decisions- he or she may enter a study for the “wrong” reason of may make a decision someone else things is “bad.” In other words, one must simply need to be able to understand the consequences of various decisions and have the capacity to make such a decision. In practice, many people who are clearly competent routinely make bad decisions regarding relationships, employment, medical care, and many other matters. The standard of competence for medical research is no different.
Consent must also be voluntary; that is, free from coercion. Coercion to participate in studies, however, can be very subtle and at the same time powerful. Coercion can come from many sources, including the patient’s family, the researcher, the physician, the institution, and even the health care system itself. While most researchers and institutions avoid coercing study participants, subtle coercion may not be apparent to those conducting the research, let alone the potential subjects for the research. Some of these elements are difficult to control. Family coercion to participate in some form of therapy is often strong, even when no clear benefit exists. This is often seen in cancer chemotherapy where, even though prolongation of survival may be minimal and treatment fraught with side effects, familial pressure to take treatment can nonetheless be intense. This is usually related to standard therapy, but the same factors may pertain in research situations. Studies of genetic pedigrees for inherited conditions are much more likely to be revealing if more family members participate. Family pressure can be extreme in these situations and even extend to those who do not wish to know if they carry a certain gene (such as that for Huntington disease).
Different aspects of coercion can become part of the health care system, as illustrated in the following two examples. First, people without insurance may join studies to receive basic care that would otherwise be unavailable. While this has often been a problem in underdeveloped countries, it is now an increasing problem in the United States, as nearly one-sixth of the population is currently uninsured. Under some health insurance plans, in an effort to decrease cost, physicians have not been allowed to present certain standard medical alternatives to their patients. Thus, patients in such situations may face subtle coercion to join a study because all medical options presented seem inadequate. The second example derives from situations where only marginally effective standard therapies exist and therapeutic research is felt by many to be a patient’s best option. Such research compares the most promising new therapy with the best control (but usually far from ideal) therapy. In aggressive attempts to control costs, health insurance plans are limiting a patient’s freedom to embark on therapeutic clinical trials by calling such trials “experimental.” Nearly all health care policies specifically exclude experimental expenses. Such denials occur even when the costs of the study are no greater than those for the standard therapy. An ethical dilemma arises when all potential therapies for the disease in question are experimental. The result may be that even those willing to enroll in large peer-reviewed clinical trials may not be allowed to participate.
Coercion by the basic researcher (one not licensed to treat patients), physician, or institution must also be controlled. Researchers are often reimbursed in clinical studies on a per-patient basis. The per-patient fee covers the experimental costs and often a portion of the researcher’s salary and even the departmental budget as well. There is thus great incentive to enroll as many patients as possible. While the basic researcher usually has little to use to coerce people into participating (other than reimbursement for the activity), a physician-researcher has much more power. To a large and ever-increasing extent, the physician controls the patient’s access to the US health care system and is often totally entrusted to make medical decisions for the patient. Many patients refuse to even question their physicians about these decisions, in part because they trust them since the possess requisite specialized knowledge and in part because of paternalistic (or maternalistic) attitudes held by many physicians. Under such circumstances, it is easy for patients to feel that if they decline to participate in a study, they may lose a precious doctor-patient relationship and even access to the health care system. Such issues must be addressed through consent forms and patient education, or coercion will occur. This is especially likely if the physician is a participant in or will benefit from the research (eg, the department employing the physician conducts the research). Cases of outright fraud and deception have been reported, although this happens more often outside of academic medical centers where oversight is greater. It is also important to regard the circumstances of the study and how the study will be employed in general populations where coercion is more likely.
Consent must also be informed. The participant must have adequate information to make a valid decision. The participant has the right to hear about all known risks of the study, including risks that are even beyond what would normally be discussed for medical informed consent. When routinely informing a patient about potential risks of a procedure or course of treatment, the physician makes an effort to reveal all realistic risks that are likely to affect the decision making of the patient. However, known risks of extremely small magnitude are often not mentioned. They are confusing and may adversely affect decision making to the detriment of the patient. For example, risks significantly less than dying in a car accident on the way to the doctor’s office are often not disclosed. With a study, however, particularly one that is not of therapeutic intent, all known risks should be disclosed for truly informed consent.
Merely presenting the information is not sufficient. Informed consent requires comprehension of the risks by the participants. The investigator should verify that the person really understands the various options and risks and potential benefits of the study. For this reason, many institutions encourage the participant to have a relative or friend witness the signature on the consent form. This provides the person with an ally who hears the same information, can ask additional questions, and can ensure that the concepts were presented in an understandable way."

Okay, so patently this is not true for Echo, but I am not overly concerned about this since I think the larger issue would be lost on the general viewing public and we are not really talking about medical research or treatment; this is a business decision that Echo made. Just like I had to forgo worrying about how slayers got a submarine, since Joss said to, I think we have to stop worrying about the specifics of consent, and simply attend to the story. Free will, however, is another story.
doubtful guest, I have a sneaking suspicion Paul's going to undermine any sense the audience has of his nobility. I think he's obsessed in a bad way.

Sunfire, I had to stop reading and just say YES you nailed it. How Joss would that be? As soon as Internet Guy called him on it, I was sure Paul would go overboard with the obsessing.
So you think Adelle explained about the active maybe killing people during missions too? It seemed to me that Adelle was more interested in explaining how much the Dollhouse helped people, rather than explaining the exact ways Caroline might find her body employed.

I doubt very much that Adelle told them everything they'd be doing helcat (partly cos even she wouldn't know ahead of time). But that's categorically not what i'm saying, that sort of mission specific detail, that sort of "exact ways" explanation is "small print" if you like.

My claim is just as stated above i.e. that most/all of them would at least know they'd be "imprinted and hired out" and that most/all of them should then "know" (i.e. as grown adults not be so innocent that the possibility doesn't occur to them) that they'd very likely be hired out for sex (my own feeling is that most people - as in the "man on the street" segments - on hearing "imprinted and hired out" would think "Oh, for sex" way before they'd think "Oh, to kill people" or "Oh, to crack a safe").

The point being, if they know ahead of time and still sign then the issue of consent is surely less clear-cut, becomes the complicated question that's been talked about above rather than a simple "It's rape" ?
I would say you can't give a blanket consent.
Interesting that we have all been talking about whether the dolls have consented to have bad things done to them, but not, as far as I can see, about whether they are responsible for the bad things they must at least suspect they will do to others. Can anyone think they are not responsible because someone who is not them- another personality- actually performs the evil deed?

If they are coerced into this position, it is certainly not the at least arguably excusable direct coercion of "take that person's money or I'll shoot you, right now." I would think we are more likely to hold them responsible for the bad things they do while dolls, than to conclude that they are responsible in some way, for the bad things done to them. At least I am, though I'm not sure why.

It is a bit like Angel and Spike being responsible for their soul-less acts. They consented to becoming vampires without much thought...and were no longer the same person while soul-less. But they feel, when re-souled, that they own their crimes.

[ edited by toast on 2009-03-26 00:08 ]
No, without explicit discussion of what the dollhouse might deem suitable for missions then the consent is worthless. Like Dana I have a background in medical research, that sort of 'we'll tell you the bottom line but let you infer the details' doesn't wash for that so I don't see it washing for something as huge as becoming a doll. The dollhouse exploits people who's life is so messy that they're prepared to take this option. I'll happily say Caroline was stupid to sign on but I also accept she is being exploited regardless.
I think if you know that you are going to do bad things you are responsible, as are the people that imprint you to do the bad things. Whether they know the extent of the bad things they may do remains to be seen.

There's a local case where a young girl harrassed her boyfriend via emails, facebook messages and I would assume in person (though that wasn't proven) to murder another girl, which he did. That girl who coerced him to murder the other girl has been found guilty of murder. The young man will be tried later.

Though I think a case can be made for non compos mentis in the case of the dolls as far as the individual acts go.

Can we agree that the Dollhouse is a very, very bad place?
If they are coerced into this position

Like the lady-on-the-street said, nobody volunteers to be a slave unless they're a slave already.

Joss responded to a question on this recently, saying some actives did volunteer, others not so much. The pilot showed Caroline in some kind of really bad situation, with no choice but to accept Adelle's offer.

There are potential shades of grey here, but they're all very dark grey. If Adelle manipulated things to put Caroline in the situation, that would be the worst, and morally indistinguishable from the example of Warren. If Caroline made her own very bad choices and Adelle just offered this as a way out, it's different.

I love that we're talking about this, because there exist very real parallels in human trafficking and prostitution. Joss is really saying something with Dollhouse, in a way he hasn't in previous shows.
Boyd is ethical. And he works for the Dollhouse

Joss is ethical. And he works for Fox.

;)

[ edited by ShanshuBugaboo on 2009-03-26 00:46 ]
we are definitely talking about the "very real parallels in human trafficking and prostitution," but that is most definitely not ALL we are talking about, and the lady with the slavery perspective was certainly not the only person-on-the-street with an interesting take on the dollhouse (and, hell, even human trafficking ain't the same thing as prostitution).

And I gotta say something else here: the whole "personal-background-in-medicine/medical-research" is a dangerous rhetorical hammer to swing, as it runs the risk of implying something I trust isn't true of the posters mentioning this, namely that those without such background aren't as likely to understand the sorts of subtleties at issue. Medical and Medical research consent is useful as ONE parallel to what we see going on here, but this ain't a documentary on cancer research! It's speculative fiction that aims to look at these issues (and others) under a lot of different lenses not available if we restrict ourselves to a single real world parallel.
It could be construed as an argument from authority (one of the top 5 debating fallacies ;) but it's better to trust that's not what folk mean until given reason otherwise IMO (it's bringing relevant experience to bear rather than saying "I know and you don't, idiot", or that's how I see it anyway).

Can we agree that the Dollhouse is a very, very bad place?

I agree that I wouldn't sign up, put it that way ;).

(I do genuinely think a "moral positive" might be possible though because i'm very sceptical of "That's just irredeemably wrong" style of arguments in the real world. According to whom for instance ? To me all real world morality is about net good/evil, basically utilitarian - much as I don't really like that idea personally because utilitarianism makes pretty much any atrocity possible so long as it benefits more people than it costs, very much including slavery BTW so long as it's secret, as the dollhouse is)

The dollhouse exploits people who's life is so messy that they're prepared to take this option.

Well, to me that seems like a blanket assumption. We know it happened to Caroline, we don't know about anyone else. Just because we might not consent to it doesn't mean no-one would and assuming that is begging the question in my view.

No, without explicit discussion of what the dollhouse might deem suitable for missions then the consent is worthless.

Just to be clear, we don't know Adelle doesn't tell them that e.g. they'll be having sex, we just also don't see her doing it. My own feeling is, even if she doesn't they should know that - it's barely an inference at all for a grown adult IMO - but fair enough, if your position is that she'd have to tell them about everything their body would be doing in the five years so that they could make an informed decision for everything their body was involved in (even though "they" wouldn't be there) then they cannot possibly give consent by your definition because Adelle can't see the future and so couldn't tell them that even if she wanted to.

For myself, the idea that "they" won't actually be there is partly what makes it greyer than it could ever be in real life and i'm also still not certain about blanket consent.

(in medical research for instance, you surely can't guarantee that they'll be informed of all possible side-effects beforehand - that's partly why you're testing, right ? - so how can they possibly make an informed choice by your definition helcat ?)

I would say you can't give a blanket consent.

Why not (not saying I necessarily disagree redeem147, just interested in the reasons) ?

One way of looking at it would seem to be "Caroline gave consent for it to happen to her body (while "she" isn't there) and the imprints all want to have sex, right down to their bones, so who exactly is being raped ?".

And more broadly, one of the real world parallels seems to be who we're attracted to is surely at least semi-unconscious so to what extent are we making a totally free choice and to what extent are we "programmed" to want to have sex with the sorts of people that we're attracted to ? Does that mean we're being forced into it ?
Boyd is so Book.
They are informed of all foreseeable side effects of any treatment. Does that mean something new won't arise of course not? However, you can't suddenly decided you want to put them through a new test that you hadn't explicitly mentioned at the outset without getting a new consent. So Adelle would need to explain all the types of engagements that the dollhouse currently put their actives through and that would be the limits of Caroline's agreement.

To clarify I mentioned my background not because it means it trumps everyone elses opinion but more to explain I have experience of the ins and outs of medical consent and that undoubtedly shades my views.
Even knowing what I know of the Dollhouse, I can honestly say that I could see myself signing up.

In fact, everything I have agreed to is before I know the details of what I'd be up against. College... didn't turn out like I had envisioned. Moving across the country isn't what I thought it would be... but I still did it, and now am living with my choices.

I can't see how some people can't understand that there are those people who would sign up. Bad things happen. Nothing happens. My brother wanted to sign up with the Marines just because he didn't see himself doing much with his life anyway, so why not? Was that informed consent? No. He chose blindly. Doesn't mean that this wasn't all explained in the "small print"; it just means that he didn't bother to read it.

I have to think that if something so bad happened to these people that they're willing to come to the Dollhouse... maybe they don't want to know what will happen, what they're signing up for. A sort of "don't tell me how, just fix it" mentality.
The added wrinkle here Korkster is of course that you make your choices (and yes we all make choices with limited information at some time or other) you have the power to change your mind and alter your circumstances. Once Caroline signs on the bottom line she's out of the picture for the next 5 years and has no ability to change her mind. Hence, why I would argue you would need the highest degree of informed consent before you say she shares culpability for her actions as an active.
The twist I would add to what Korkster said (w/ apologies if I misunderstand) is this: There's always at least some disconnect between your ability to conceptualize what is meant by the experience you are about to enter, even if the person explaining did their job admirably. You get to the other side of a lot of experiences and say "Wow, I had no idea what it really meant to experience that....I thought I knew what it meant to do X, but I had no idea." The truth of this does not mean you can't consent to join the military or go to college, or that the person who advised you failed in their duty. And, helcat, your point about "once you sign on the bottom line" kinda sidesteps Korkster's example of the Marines -- barring Mai Lai type stuff, you have basically NO ability, or even RIGHT, to say, "wait a minute, that's not what I thought I was signing up for." The military is the easy example, of course, but it would be fair, I think, to say that some element of this colours a lot of other situations.
doubtful guest- I never meant to imply that people cannot grasp the subtleties even if they lack formal training, only that some people may not completely understand what the law requires. That was the reason for the lengthy post, which describes the main issues for consent in medical settings. It was simply meant to be informative.
Thank you, doubtful guest for better explaining what I meant. Spot on.

To the impossibility of changing your mind...

Maybe that's where Echo comes in. She is the "base" of Caroline (Caroline without Caroline's experiences and family & such).

If she doesn't agree, or says "no" (like Sierra said to Hearn before he made her "play the game"), then our blank states do have the possibility to change their mind.
No they don't. They're very complacent, and that's especially true with handlers since they're programmed to trust them completely, without question. She said no when he asked if she wanted to play, and clearly it traumatized her, but she didn't resist. She couldn't. She's mindwiped to be completely defenseless AND she's programmed to do whatever he says under all circumstances.
I accept the Marines is more of a sign on and that's it game but in a world where we still have free will you can indeed desert. You may end up in prison but you have some input to putting right a decision you discover you regret.
As someone who views himself as about as unfit for the military life as could be, on one level I agree with you, helcat, but I'm kinda troubled as well, because I also have a lot of respect for the "word-is-bond" school of thought that says that you don't bail when the going gets tough...I should emphasize, again, that I am specifically NOT talking about mai lai/ abu grehb scenarios, which I regard as, in one sense, at least, clear cut: the military is clearly in the wrong by the standards of its own society and structure, so there is a nobility to the military equivalent of civil disobediance. I am talking about those cases when you sign on and, for less clear-cut reasons, find that you either don't like or don't agree with the situation you've landed in. In those cases, at some level, I believe you, the inductee, need to "honor your (literal or metaphorical) contract" exactly as we have been discussing Adelle and those in her postition to have some obligation to their (literal or metaphorical) contract. Maybe you can always, in the most literal sense, choose to bail, but if you don't have some ability to to stick to the consequences of some decisions you regret, well, that lands us on some pretty dicey territory by any standard. And now to bed...
Does anyone (in particular Simon) know if Snot Monster is ever coming back? I'd enjoy his thoughts on these q's
Oh absolutely, doubtful guest, I believe you see things through. However, there are times when morality trumps a contract or a promise. So while I don't condone just walking away the minute things get tough or you feel panicked but equally I know that "I was only following orders" only saves you so far and if I decide to stick with something that morally appalls me I don't know if I could live with myself just because I'd mistakenly committed to it at an earlier point.
She's mindwiped to be completely defenseless AND she's programmed to do whatever he says under all circumstances.

Have you ever seen Bastard Out of Carolina (good movie, BTW)? I saw it when I was a kid, so please forgive me if my memory fails. Basically, a girl's step-father is forcing her to have sex with him at a very young age (about the same "age" as our dolls).

This is a guy she used to *trust*, who's stronger & bigger than her, but still wants her *consent* (her walking over to him) so he can do his thing.

It takes many times of sexual abuse & rape before she actually starts to fight back. Even though she can't win, she still tries.

I think it's the same for our Dolls (and for us, for that matter). They've been programmed to mind their Handlers (mind our parents) and to trust them at all times (like we do with our parents when we're young). The difference though is that they're missing the outside influence of someone acknowledging that what they've experienced was *wrong*. Sierra reacts to it, doesn't like it, it affects her in other ways (her relationship with Victor), but no one to be on her side.

Of course, maybe Boyd's interruption and scene plays a bigger part than we know. Boyd *stopped* the man that Sierra was forced to trust, but didn't want to be with. Could that help her *resist* her Handler in the future?

What about Echo? Boyd played the Handler *trust* card in Episode 2, but was shot down by Echo ("nothing is going to be all right"). In a traumatic experience she was able to resist the calming effect the Handler was supposed to have. Echo has also been at the Dollhouse (and on engagements) longer than Sierra. Perhaps what Echo *resists* (learns/knows/compromises), Sierra will learn when she gets "old enough".
I resist equating the dolls with children if only because the dolls seem to lack curiosity. I think we were meant to view Echo wandering in to the room when Sierra was being processed so maybe she's developing it in a very rudimentary way. However, for the majority of time the dolls just seem like they're heavily medicated.
I agree helcat, I think curiosity is what separates Echo from the other dolls...though there could be something said for Victor's feelings toward Sierra.
Yeah, maybe rather than big complicated stuff like souls etc. curiosity is the "vital spark" that the dollhouse can't eradicate, maybe Joss is having a wee Gene Roddenberry moment and saying that when you take away everything else, all other wants and needs and pressures then you're left with the urge to know the world, to explore. It's a contender for our most cleanly noble quality IMO so I like that idea.

So Adelle would need to explain all the types of engagements that the dollhouse currently put their actives through and that would be the limits of Caroline's agreement.

Again helcat, just to be clear, we don't know she doesn't do this (but I agree it's far from a safe assumption that she does either) - my leading contender for when would be just after Caroline says "Actions have consequences" and Adelle says "What if they didn't ?", seems to me that could easily be the lead-in to an explanation (if so I really hope we find out how comprehensive it is, seems like an interestingly ambiguous reveal might be for us to find out - like Jason Bourne but moreso - that the dolls are actually totally aware of what they're getting into and still volunteer - the extra shades that introduces are more interesting to me than a morally straightforward "They're tricked into it").

And though it's true Caroline can't "re-consent" to new situations it's also true that in a fairly real sense "she" can't be hurt by those situations either (so long as her body eventually comes out intact) so why would she need to ? In that sense it's arguably actually much worse when a medical research subject suffers through unforeseen side-effects because they suffer and they have to live with it afterwards.
I just remembered that no one - not even Boyd - cared to ask Sierra who the molester was. At least on screen. Or did I miss something she said?
Did they think she couldn't, or wouldn't? Or did they hold her testimony not reliable? I mean, if you take away someones identity, who is speaking out of her mouth? Is it her base needs she expresses? Can I take it seriously? Do I have to take it seriously?

Sorry if I'm rambling here, but this raises questions about respecting another persons existential orientation and mind state. What irks her? What makes her happy?
Take Echo for example, when imprinted with a new personality. This personality has urges, and needs. Are they respected, because these are the needs of a new person? Or do people ignore them, because they are fake needs in a fake personality fabricated by a loon geek?

The answers given within the series by the different characters (take Dominic, for example, who seems to go for the latter road) is very interesting and always centers around the same thing:

Respect for another persons state of being.
Yeah I think that ties directly into the consent issue in that, do the imprints need to consent ? I.e. are they actually persons in the moral sense and so deserve the rights accorded to persons or are they more like "devices" ? I might anthropomorphise my car for instance (mainly to curse at it ;) but I don't believe it has human rights - are we assuming the imprints are human just because they look, sound and (usually) act human ? Is that all it takes to be a person ?

And, related to that, if we consider them persons then do they have the responsibilities that come with personhood (the flip side of human rights are human responsibilities) or are they totally morally blameless ? Can the imprints knowingly enter into the social contract (since they seemingly have no choice in the matter) and, in the real world, can any of us (since how much choice do we really have in that matter either) ?

Lots of interesting questions. Not got any answers but the questions are interesting ;).
I think the guy's called Matt Mitovich, Simon.
The equivalence proposed here between the Dollhouse and the military didn't occur to me at all.
Again helcat, just to be clear, we don't know she doesn't do this (but I agree it's far from a safe assumption that she does either) - my leading contender for when would be just after Caroline says "Actions have consequences" and Adelle says "What if they didn't ?", seems to me that could easily be the lead-in to an explanation (if so I really hope we find out how comprehensive it is, seems like an interestingly ambiguous reveal might be for us to find out - like Jason Bourne but moreso - that the dolls are actually totally aware of what they're getting into and still volunteer - the extra shades that introduces are more interesting to me than a morally straightforward "They're tricked into it").

I will accept that if Caroline received a full account of what she could be doing in the five years that she's signed on for it makes her more accountable for her choice, though you still have the issue of whether the inducement is so huge to be coercive. I have to say Adelle's notion that via the Dollhouse actions no longer have consequences baffles me. An active does dangerous stuff, she could contract a disease, she could lose a limb or her life. So actually I'd say her risks for long term harm are pretty high (that is assuming she is even released from her 5 year contract.)

What would the original person behind Alpha feel about what he's become?
I guess it depends how much of the original person is part of the composite Alpha "entity", it's possible he's even in the "driving seat" so to speak (or feels like he is). If not though then it comes down to what it means to even say "he" - I mean, if he's not there then in one sense it's got absolutely nothing to do with him and I could imagine that being how potential actives sell the less morally palatable things their bodies might do on engagements (to themselves I mean).

An example I used back when we first heard the premise is of you being sedated, your finger being chopped off and then used to pull a trigger in a murder and then being (seamlessly) reattached. It's your finger but I doubt anyone would feel as if the murder really had anything to do with them. This seems like it might be comparable but just with the active's whole body.

(which is partly what makes it SF&F of course since to me it's not meaningful to talk about a person separate from their body or a body separate from a person - our chemistry is part of who we are and vice versa - but it's a cool thought-experiment Joss has come up with)

I have to say Adelle's notion that via the Dollhouse actions no longer have consequences baffles me.

Yeah I think that "no consequences" line is very much a sales pitch cos as you point out, if your body is interacting with the real world then there will be consequences, no-matter how careful everyone is. In fairness to Adelle though, whether her motives are about altruism or good business, she does seem to care about their physical well-being to some extent (maybe in some cases even more than the "original owner" would). There seems to be a medical for both actives and clients for instance.

(and agreed, the circumstances under which people sign up makes all the difference to the consent issue, very much hope we find out more about that though I do also think the ambiguity frees the creators up to some extent)
Harridan, well-phrased comment, especially your final line...


...but (can't help it)..."loon geek"

(puts on best Katherine Hepburn voice): "Look, Norman, the Loon Geeks!"
Agreed, doubtful guest, you need to add a 'y' to that word a lot. :)
are we assuming the imprints are human just because they look, sound and (usually) act human ? Is that all it takes to be a person ?

Good point, Saje. Maybe the line "they're a little bit Bison" does carry more weight than I thought (meaning maybe it's not just Topher's opinion, but the Dollhouse's in general).

If they're bison, then they're not entitled to human rights or responsibilities. They're in their Master's (Dollhouse) charge.
and so, as we learned in 4th grade history, it's okay to stampede them off a cliff as long as we make good use of every little bit of bone and skin from their carcasses to make teepees and jewelry and stuff. I'm pretty sure that's what I remember about bison.
Bison have rights. The right to graze, for example. The right to stampede. The right to fight off wolves. The right to be a keystone species (you get a special shiny badge, I hear).

I don't have a problem with outsmarting them and killing them and using them resourcefully in a sustainable way. I do have a problem with killing them by the thousands to near extinction for their pelts alone. Like this.
I think my point in there somewhere was even bison have some rights. Also they are really cool.
They're alright but they're no Koala. Those guys take cool to ridiculous lengths.
Yeah, I really hate the way bison are objectified by this show! I think we need to pay attention to what the bison want!

(Who says only sunfire can come up with disturbing bison links?)
Saje you get points for (a) thinking koalas are cool (they are... they are also pretty boring. They sleep. They eat. Not even interesting enough to stampede! They look cute swimming though.) (b) you didn't call it a koala bear
I keep thinking about this book I read called "Altered Carbon" which takes place in some far-flung future where consciousness can be downloaded & put into new bodies. Poor people & criminals often end up having to put their bodies in storage, where other people can make use of them (for example, a rich person who wants a younger, more beautiful body, or someone who wants to hide their identity). In that universe, the person (the consciousness) is completely separate from the body--you are no more responsible for what someone else does with your old body than you are for what someone does with your old car (like the finger example above). I love the idea (though I see it as impossible--my mind can't exist without my brain). I think Dollhouse is in much murkier, but more interesting territory, sort of like what would happen if we really tried the "Altered Carbon" technology.
jcs, never read Altered Carbon - I basically read no sci fi - but one author I was persuaded to read and actually liked was William Gibson, who, way back in the novel that made his name, Neuromancer (also the book credited with creating words like "cyberspace," etc), one of the main characters has a back story of having basically allowed her body to be used as a sex doll for several years to make money for her future. As I recall, she has sorta hallucinatory, somewhat troubling, memories of that time period (can't remember if she was just drugged during those years or if there was a downloading/wiping process). I've always seen that as one of the likely roots of Joss' conception. (FYI: Gibson is pretty hardboiled, and seems to pretty much assume this is a pretty sketchy and potentially traumatizing way to spend a few years).
Well I'm glad I de-railed us into Bison...

And then jcs brought us back to a more peaceful downloading bodies area. :)
I keep thinking about this book I read called "Altered Carbon" which takes place in some far-flung future where consciousness can be downloaded & put into new bodies.

Have you read the others in the series jcs ? Well worth checking out, Morgan moves on from the sci-fi noir of 'Altered Carbon' to military SF (which i'm not normally a huge fan of) to the classical "Big Dumb Object/alien mystery" school of sci-fi but all seen through the same lens. He also wrote a novel called 'Black Man' ('Thirteen' in the US I think) which deals with some of the "personhood" issues that Echo examines but from a male perspective (though it's more about prejudice and the idea of a socially endorsed/created underclass - the "black man" of the title is a sort of super-soldier "uber-male", a genetic throwback to the pure alpha-male dominance responses of e.g. chimps but otherwise a thinking human - their bodies are "built" for space and other high-UV environments so their skin is dark, hence the name. Apparently the UK title was considered too racially sensitive for the US market). Patchy as a novel IMO BTW, partly because it's just too ambitious, trying to tackle more ideas than the story can bear (a criticism some might level at 'Dollhouse').

I've thought about those books in this context too though because the technology bears some similarities (i.e. it assumes that people and their bodies can be completely separated and still remain coherent) even though the consciousnesses themselves are "natural" rather than manufactured (quotes because a lot of Takeshi Kovacs' personal demons revolve around his training as an 'Envoy', the sort of special forces that special forces are terrified of - you send one in to topple entire governments - and what it's taken away from him as a human being).
I read Broken Angels, but didn't realize there was another one. Will put that & Thirteen on The List. I'm pretty forgiving of a clunky narrative if I'm interested in the world the writer creates. Another "downloadable consciousness" book is Kiln People by David Brin. You can download copies of yourself into ceramic "bodies" & send them out to do your errands...good stuff.

doubtful guest--Yeah, I've read everything of Gibson's up through Pattern Recognition (which I couldn't get into), but Neuromancer is a pretty distant memory. :)

I love science fiction that looks at where our technology might take us (big Nancy Kress fan), but I'm usually not that interested in aliens & space wars & wholly-imaginary worlds.

[ edited by jcs on 2009-03-27 06:52 ]
I've got 'Pattern Recognition' and 'Spook Country' on my TBR pile. Sort of a bit leery of re-reading 'Neuromancer' just because when I first read it back in the mid-80s it rocked my world and I suspect the flaws are gonna be more apparent to me now.

(also read and liked "Kil'n People" BTW though nothing of Brin's since has quite matched his early 'Uplift' books for me. Been meaning to check out Nancy Kress for a while, now could be whileish ;)
Haven't read a lot of the last gazillion comments, but I think it's safe to say, after last night's episode (Echoes) that there's a lot of coercion going on, in the signing up of actives. We now know a lot more about the desperate situation that was instrumental in getting Caroline to sign on, plus we've seen Adelle snare another person in a desperate situation.
Lots of yummy dark gray.

Fascinating stuff, for a thread about a fight scene. ;)

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