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November 04 2010

Buffy and Dollhouse: female empowerment and disempowerment, respectively. The writer argues that Dollhouse is "an extraordinary exposé on structural, systemic oppression and its implications for feminism".

Personally, I found the few episodes of Dollhouse that I did watch to be more than a little unnerving.

Thanks for linking, Simon. Interesting article .. but..

No, they don’t have to be punished by sex.

Seems to me that, in the long run, every time Buffy had sex, she got punished for it. But that's JMO.

[ edited by menomegirl on 2010-11-04 19:35 ]
I also think it was about building yourself when other people (you friends, your family, your employer) are too busy telling you who you are to watch what you're doing. That's called your 20s.

If I was going to sum up Dollhouse in one sentence, for me, it's this: the greatest things about it are why it got cancelled.

It wasn't easy TV to watch at times, which makes it difficult TV to sell. It was about the subjugation of women and men by society - and by society, I mean each and every one of us. It turned the camera back on the audience, and as such, not everybody wants to go to that place each week.

The episodes varied from week to week wildly - season two went from an episode with a dancing queen, to an episode about a rape victim, to an episode about political conspiracy. That's confusing for an audience.

...And I loved it for all of the above. My one liner about Dollhouse has always been 'So, Joss Whedon watched BSG, then'.
"Not even Echo is safe from criticism – her insistence on “freeing” the other dolls is morally problematic, because she too is robbing them of their free will (not that they had any to begin with) by forcing emancipation on them, with potentially drastic consequences."

I always thought it was interesting that she's also not above being willing to sacrifice the one for the good of the many. When Victor's contract is up and he's released, she's upset because she was going to use his help to free everyone. She does grow from there, though - telling Tony and Priya to go be together, rather than stay and be the soldiers that she needs.
This show was cancelled far, far too soon, and is without a doubt Joss Whedon’s most mature work yet. Rarely has primetime television been so engaging, terrifying, beautiful, and as intellect-probing as Dollhouse was.

I fully agree with Gossi on this and the BSG reference. I absolutely loved the show for how unnerving it was. Then again, I've always been one for works that turn the mirror on the viewer/reader/etc. and forces us to confront our own complicity.

I cannot wait to see what Joss' post-Dollhouse work will be like, especially his television work. The BSG influence has definitely been positive thus far.
Imo the reason why it didn't find success as a tv series was not because of its taste in subject matter which was - imo - not really all that groundbreaking in itself (granted, I admittedly have a very strange sense of taste) but because it struggled so consistently to satisfy the entertainment value side of things that is what, at the end of the day, separates the tv show wheat from the chaf - so to speak.
Nice to see the early episodes given some credit for perhaps being more than they appear to be and a well enough written piece. Maybe i'm getting jaded though but I haven't read much about 'Dollhouse' since it aired that hasn't already been said by one/more of the many insightful commenters on here and elsewhere, that's no fault of the article's author, it's just how it is (kind of the "million monkeys" idea - there may not be a million of us but there's a lot. We're definitely monkeys though ;).

Was it influenced by BSG (in a sense beyond that everything Joss and the other writers watch influences and inspires them) ? Maybe, only Joss really knows I guess. Didn't see anything in the show that took me by surprise in the sense that my own feeling from some of his comments/posts as well as from parts of Buffy and 'Angel' is that he's always been pretty much in touch with his own darkness, I don't get the impression from 'Dollhouse' that Big Dub was watching BSG and had a lightbulb moment, like "Wow, I should go to a really dark place in a TV show now that Ron Moore showed me how" ;). And thematically 'Dollhouse' is more specific. Beyond Tahmoh's involvement I reckon it would've been basically the same show if Joss had never even seen BSG personally but - barring travel into a parallel universe where he didn't ;) - it's kind of a moot point.

Is it explicitly feminist ? It's certainly about control, personhood, identity and complicity, among many other things and those're also important in feminism as I understand it. To some extent I think it's a case of congruent issues rather than necessarily being big-f Feminist though (in the same sense that any fiction that talks about e.g. souls could be seen to be religious whereas to me it's just that religions also talk about souls - it's common ground cos it's about people and we're dead common us ;).
I strongly disagree with this writer. She appears to be speaking for Whedon, stating that she knows what Joss was all about in his writing, which is patently wrong (I like how she says "Of course he knows" as if she actually does know that he knows). In fact, he has said little on the issue of feminism in this show. Or on the issues that others have raised with regard to prostitution and loss of agency. Could this be fertile ground for feminist analysis? Of course it could. But I see this as a far more problematic show, flawed and not completely thought through, in my estimation. I find it relies on Gaze, on body, in ways that do not seem to illuminate issues but rather to use them in "maybe yes, maybe no" kind of way; that is, by appearing to vilify Gaze, it actually privileges it by showing us not just toned and naked female bodies, but male as well. Was personhood an issue? Obviously so. But so was agency, and that is rarely discussed in the literature I have seen about the show. What about consent? Is that solely a feminist concern? I don't think so, yet consent was at the core of this show and never really addressed. I, for one, could not enjoy it; my wife simply watched without applying a critical analysis lens and quite did.
Dana, I have to disagree that consent wasn't addressed. Was it resolved and wrapped up in a neat little bow? Nope, but is that something that we expect from Joss? I think it's also fair to say that there are lots of folks who watched it with a critical analysis lens that was different from yours and quite enjoyed it. I do love that there are such wildly divergent opinions on all of these things. Long live debate and differing opinion!
Yeah, the "not addressed" issue has come up a few times and i'm with zeitgeist - the consent issue wasn't answered (or at least if it was the answer given was "It's complicated") but it was a significant part of several episodes and an undercurrent in virtually all of them (and you only have to look at the episode discussion threads on here to see everyone applying their critical lens to the show - particularly where consent's concerned, over which I personally got into several, err, "vigorous" discussions ;) - whether they were enjoying it or not).

By "not addressed" it sometimes seems (to me) as if folk actually mean "Joss didn't tell me what I wanted to hear". On the other hand, i'm acutely aware that that's kind of a blanket dismissal of varying concerns about the show (of varying legitimacy, IMO) so it's difficult to know when to apply it.
I loved this article. I could nitpick a couple of statements with which I don't totally agree, but overall .... excellent.

I'd say a lot more, but gossi already said most of what I had in mind, especially this ....

If I was going to sum up Dollhouse in one sentence, for me, it's this: the greatest things about it are why it got canceled.


And I certainly think that 'consent' was addressed. Overtly in some cases, and that it was in fact a constant, in the subtext.
I agree with Dana. And I think this would be an interesting thesis topic.
Hi, guys. I am not disagreeing with you. I am not saying consent was not an issue, but only that, while raising questions it provided no answers. And I think it was complicated by the fact that often the show appeared to want to have it both ways. This reminds of an old adage by Roger Ebert regarding war movies- there are no war movies that ever really disparage war because in the manner in which they present war they have to make it exciting, so it appeals to viewers. I find DH much the same. I do appreciate that I am only one voice among many, and as I noted, my wife really enjoyed the show while I found it frustrating and offputting. I read through a particular critical lens, and I thought it failed to address the questions of agency it raised- and I was also offput by the fact that virtually everyone in the end turned out to be a doll, thus ensuring no point of identification ever. I sometime feel that we credit Joss with having more intent than he might,as if somehow he sat down and thought long and hard about how to present these questions of consent, agency, prostitution, identity and so on, when really, all he is doing is presenting a TV show that we then assess and analyze and provide meaning to, for ideas that for him might not even be on the horizon or are just free floating. But that's the reader response guy in me! :-)
Wait a minute, you're a reader response guy Dana5140 ?? Why didn't you tell us before ?!

;-)

I am not saying consent was not an issue, but only that, while raising questions it provided no answers.

Cool, that's what I thought you meant and it goes back to what gossi says above re: cancellation - that lack of supplied answers is a plus for some of us and a problem for others. To me the fact that it's (largely, certainly before the last few episodes) left up to us to draw our own conclusions, ponder our own involvement in exploitation gives it real depth that a show that tells us what to think misses (because in real life it's not always clear). Unlike with Buffy (and 'Angel' though to a lesser extent) we don't always know who the good-guys are and the realities of moral ambiguity are presented, well, realistically.

As to how much Joss thinks it through, sure we give him a lot of credit but to me a) he's earned a lot of credit and b) this is a Joss Whedon fan-site so, y'know, what else is going to happen ? ;) But since consent, personhood etc. are so central to the show I don't think it's crazy to assume he gave them a bit of thought.

Does that mean his philosophy as presented is necessarily consistent and coherent ? Nope, in that sense I kind of agree with the "wants it both ways" accusation since it seems like the requirements of a TV show might conflict with presenting an entirely consistent philosophical point of view e.g. there's a deterministic element to "souls" and genetic essences and determinism seems, to me, inconsistent with a hero (who has to be, by definition, active in the world in order to affect real change). In that sense the "agency" question is almost moot - heroes have agency, that's just part of being one. Even then though, 'Dollhouse' undercuts a lot of its heroes (even, ultimately, Echo) so to some extent it actually does have it both ways because it says "This world has qualities that seem inconsistent with heroes and guess what, this world may not have heroes".
Pretty much WSS, and thus some of what WDS :). I do think it comes down in part to whether you wanted these issues answered directly or whether you were okay with being lead around the issue from a myriad of angles and left to draw your own conclusion and obviously either way is a valid reason to like/dislike the show. I was just worried that it sounded like you (Dana) were saying that it didn't confront the issues at all, and then I was going to have to wonder what show you were watching :). And though it can be used as a blanket statement/way to write people off, I don't think it's unfair to say non-judgmentally, that there are people who will not like a show because it answers questions, but that they aren't the answers they wanted it to convey. It's just a fact of life. Some people juggle geese.
"From the initial inception to Season Two there were a lot of bumps on the road. Some people were made very uncomfortable because we were dealing with issues of sexuality and by not exploring it, the more it seemed to be the elephant in the room. Hopefully, people can take feminist ideals away from this. The idea was very simply: this woman doesn't exist. She literally doesn't exist, and she builds herself from scratch. To me that is the most powerful act that a person can do." - Joss Whedon, Defining Moments from the Dollhouse Season Two DVD.

Whedon says the first group he pitched the show to — after Dushku and Fox — was the board of Equality Now.

"I knew that would be the toughest room I would ever sit in," Whedon says. "What I basically told them was I was examining the idea of fantasy, and some of the stuff that would happen would be good, and some of the stuff that would happen would be kind of awful, and that the whole point was going to be to blur those lines, to take what we want from each other sexually, how much power we want to have over each other."

I hardly call that not having at least some intent to address issues of sexuality and consent through a particularly feminist lens.

I am not a reader who needs the answer to every question a work raises, nor am I particularly fond of works that seek out to answer every single question and wrap them up in a nice little bow. Dollhouse walked the line for as long as it could, and as effectively as it could given the monstrosity of the story itself. Here's a perfect example of a show that could have easily run for at least four or five seasons and develop into one of the greatest pieces on identity in television history. For all its flaws and all the stories it had to sacrifice in order to reach a highly premature conclusion by that 26th episode, the show was fantastically made.

As for the BSG influence, it is not at all just limited to Tahmoh Penikett's involvement, or the guest appearances by three other BSG veterans. Echo's final scene with Paul, the memory wall in Adelle's office...all very BSG-esque.

"She totally went all Cylon on me and sent a sleeperized assassin after Echo right behind my back." - Topher

I just love that line. Fanboy acknowledgement.
Notably, NLK, you did not mention this part of that article:

"Jacki Lyden asks Whedon to explain how a show starring a young female character who has no free will isn't the ultimate misogynistic male fantasy.

"I won't necessarily say that it isn't that," Whedon says. "The fact of the matter is that, in the wrong hands, it is a completely misogynist thing, except it's happening to men as well — but what we're trying to do is take someone's identity away in order to discuss the concept of her identity.""

Also, notlikecousteau, the quote you offer says nothing about consent. In fact, Joss says this:

"Lyden points out one of the uncomfortable aspects of the premise is that Echo "doesn't really have a choice about who she's sleeping with … it isn't consensual."

Whedon agrees. "I'm not saying that nonconsensual sex is ever OK. This is, after all, a science fiction show.""

And that's it. That's the entirety of the consent issue. News flash- Joss says nonconsensual sex is not okay. I think we all know this, but the real question is to ask how this is presented to the viewers. In fact, he knew this was going to be a problem:

"And what would Whedon do if he finds his supporters being turned off by the new show's premise?

"The fact of the matter is, I've been worried about this. It's kept me up nights. But I believe the best way to examine anything is to go to a dark place," Whedon says. "You can't be a storyteller and a speechwriter at the same time.""

I can hardly be said to be someone who wanted Joss to write a crappy program. I honestly feel he wanted to have it both ways, and made a noble effort which failed- my opinion, of course, and obviously many others disagree and find it very enjoyable and thought-provoking. He wanted to make this about identity and about choice with regard to sex, and while claiming the feminist mantle, or having it bestowed on him by others, he was left in a quandary. If it is always about the story, the subtext has to take second place; the text becomes primary. I think the story became so important that the way viewers would read that text became a secondary consideration. I find it hard to support a hard feminist reading of DH, though I know others have done so- but there are just too many counters to such an argument, some of which are rather controversial and have led to real arguments on this board.
Dana, leaving those particular quotes out was not meant to conceal anything, hence the fact that the quote I did use is completely linked to the article. I just did not feel the need to quote the entire bulk of the article.

As for the quote itself, it does imply that the show deals with consent or the lack thereof: "...to take what we want from each other sexually, how much power we want to have over each other." In any relationship where one party has or wants power over another, how much free will (consent) is or can be exerted by the other person has to be brought to light, as the show does both explicitly from the very first scene of the aired pilot (CAROLINE: "I don't have a choice, do I?") and also subtly through the various situations and relationships that occur in the narrative.

Joss told a story, perhaps very brutally, centered around a character who was all but physically forced to agree to give up five years of her life to some bizarre corporation, and then wakes up two years later to find she's in many ways no longer in control of her own body. In fact, the most disappointing aspect of "The Hollow Men" for me was that after all the build-up towards a Caroline vs. Echo mental showdown, all we get is Echo blowing up a building and still causing the end of the world. However, Echo and Caroline do seem to have reconciled with one another's existence at the end of the series. There's technically two women there who have fought for their identities and against exploitation, then chosen to start anew and live as one. Where's the lack of feminism in that?

Feminism deals with issues of identity and consent not only for women, but also for men and folks of other gender identities. In the wrong hands, Dollhouse could of course have been an exercise in blatant misogyny and rape revenge storytelling, but Joss knew better than that. The show is by no means anything at all like Dead Girl, Captivity, and other such media.

Dollhouse might be Andrea Dworkin's worst nightmare, but not every feminist subscribes to her own prescriptive brand of feminism. I certainly don't. Joss doesn't seem to either.
I don't remember Joss ever trying to claim the feminist mantle in regards to this show. I do remember quite a few fans and articles foisting that mantle upon him because of Buffy however. I know there are other people with better memories than I who can point to the interviews where Joss basically says that Dollhouse is NOT meant to be a exclusively a feminist tale.

The meetings with Equality Now are an interesting sidebar, but rather than looking it as some sort of attempt to get a feminist endorsement of his show, I believe the context of those meetings (again, shooting from memory here) was to attempt to bounce the idea off people who WOULD find it offensive on some level because being aware of his own beliefs, I'm sure the thout occured to him. In a sense, it was an attempt for Joss to "check" himself.

Dollhouse was not a comfortable show. I have no doubt they were prevented from doing a lot of the things they wanted to do. Still, I don't think because we were shown things in the text counter to what we wanted to see means that he has failed either. You can't set up the idea of mass-abuse of power by showing the Dollhouse neatly cleaning things up every episode. The problem was we saw the table being set in all it's icky, gory, unseemlyness. And by season 2 (which was also a complaint) the writers feeling that this could be the last season couldn't subtley come down on any of it. They were too busy compressing the middle and end of the story into one season.

So in a sense, I have no problem with a feminist reading of DH, but I think it has to take into account the economic realities of the show, why certain choices were made, etc. Framed properly, it is easy to spot that S1 and S2 are two vastly different animals and that the economic reality of the show would cause a lot of the failures that would be later claimed as defects of that reading. That said, I STILL believe Dollhouse is better served by looking through a different lens.

[ edited by azzers on 2010-11-05 23:19 ]
Is it a feminist propaganda show? No, of course not, but it does have plenty of feminist-friendly interpretations of power relationships, sexuality, and identity.

The very fact that Adelle develops fantastically both past and around the stereotype that all such high powered women are merely cold-hearted bitcas indicates that this is a show that very much had a quite progressive view of women. Adelle is allowed to be flawed, vulnerable, heroic, caring, stoic, drunk, in control, out of control, as her character was and/or needed to be. She's not placed on a pedestal as a feminist icon, but she's allowed to be one of the most engaging female characters in recent television history and not just because Olivia Williams is an extremely talented individual.

[ edited by NotLikeCousteau on 2010-11-06 00:10 ]
Caroline/Echo fought against exploitation only after she had already agreed to be exploited. And she did have a choice- she could have chosen to go to jail, but chose not to. Remember, oddly enough, Faith also made a similar choice in S1 of Angel- she finally accepted her jail sentence. No gun was held to Caroline's head- I am not saying that coercion was not used; it was, but she still had a choice to make.
Uh, no. Caroline had been fighting Rossum for at least two years, if I remember correctly, before she even makes it to Adelle's office in whatever year those flashbacks in "Getting Closer" occur. Boyd even explicitly states that her only other choice is to be found guilty of several terrorist acts amongst other crimes and most likely end up on death row.
Adelle even comments that Caroline “left a trail of misery in her wake, and more than a few bodies.” Now, whether this is mainly referring to Leo and Bennett, I cannot say, but Caroline does spend quite awhile trying to expose and bring down Rossum before the first scene of the show occurs.
Caroline/Echo fought against exploitation only after she had already agreed to be exploited.

Bit awkward really, which names to use when, it's been a consideration since the earliest discussions. Echo never agreed to be exploited for instance (cos she only appears post "consent") and as NotLikeCousteau says, Caroline had been giving Rossum grief since the original incident with the animal lab (leading up to the long term infiltration plan involving Bennett).

Whedon agrees. "I'm not saying that nonconsensual sex is ever OK. This is, after all, a science fiction show.""

And that's it. That's the entirety of the consent issue. News flash- Joss says nonconsensual sex is not okay. I think we all know this, but the real question is to ask how this is presented to the viewers.


C'mon, that's never "the entirety of the consent issue" as far as the show's concerned, not in a million years. We see at least one actual rape and discover that at least one active was forced to be there. But we also see one that was coerced (but not forced) and two that volunteered (but may not have been entirely compos mentis - one due to PTSD, one due to grief). When the consent issue is totally clear-cut (as with Priya/Sierra) then it's presented in a totally clear-cut manner i.e. she was forced and that's wrong - in both cases the men directly responsible are killed which to me is a fairly clear signal of disapproval. It's just that not every question of consent raised by the show is so easily answered and when it's more complicated the show deals with it less straightforwardly, refuses to offer us easy outs.

That isn't "not addressing" the issue, that's just addressing the fact that the issue's complicated.

I know there are other people with better memories than I who can point to the interviews where Joss basically says that Dollhouse is NOT meant to be a exclusively a feminist tale.

I distinctly remember an audio interview wherein he's asked about criticisms that 'Dollhouse' isn't feminist and replies something like "It was never meant to be". I even remember mentioning this before. I just don't remember who with/where/when the interview was. It's possible I suck.

(I think it's the same interview BTW wherein he says that his original intention was always to show everyone being exploited in some way and everyone exploiting in some way too. Which to a certain, not entirely successful extent, he did - the key thing being, however it ended up, the original idea apparently wasn't to show the subjugation of women by the patriarchy, it was to show the subjugation of individuals by society while still making the point that that society is made up of those individuals i.e. we're all complicit)

In a sense, it was an attempt for Joss to "check" himself.

Yep that was my impression too (and the linked article - dated February '09 - talks about his worries over crossing the line). What that article doesn't mention BTW, is that IIRC when he asked Equality Now the idea wasn't met with unanimous approval at all.
Uh, no. Caroline had been fighting Rossum for at least two years, if I remember correctly, before she even makes it to Adelle's office in whatever year those flashbacks in "Getting Closer" occur. Boyd even explicitly states that her only other choice is to be found guilty of several terrorist acts amongst other crimes and most likely end up on death row.

Fwiw a choice is still a choice - no matter how much one's options may suck.
Dana - are you saying that because Caroline had a choice, she did give consent (albeit under coercion)? Or does having a choice not equal giving consent? Under what circumstances would you have considered the issue of consent to be satisfactorily addressed by Dollhouse?

At the risk of generalization, I think the root of the underlying difference in opinion here is a philosophical one pertaining to the specific role of storytelling in society, and what function people believe it should fulfill.

Through one lens, Whedon is addressing a complex issue and refusing to give easy, unearned answers. Through another, he's 'trying to have it both ways' - playing on an audience's desire to be titillated, while decrying the same instincts that bring about that desire. Do the economic necessities of television ultimately hamper Whedon's goals, or do they further them by allowing him to reach a broader audience? A deeper questions is: what are those goals? Does he want to promote a certain view, or to engage in a discussion by allowing characters with different views to come into conflict, without overtly favoring one side or the other?

If the case is the latter, a story which gives any weight to an argument that a viewer opposes is bound to be tough for that viewer to accept. Given that the very premise of the show, and hence its entertainment value, is posited on an institutionalized lack of consent, it may be an insurmountable hurdle for someone who thinks that there are absolutely no gray areas permissible in a discussion about consent in a sexual relationship; i.e., any suggestion that someone could A) engage in a sexual act with another party who has not given full consent, and B) not be absolutely evil.

Given that the Dollhouse clients are not universally portrayed as black-hat villains, it's not difficult to see how one might think the storyteller is giving tacit approval for the situations the technology creates. Alternately, it might be feared that the story would be misinterpreted by some of the audience into seeing the show as open approval for those situations, and to thus have an unintended adverse effect on society. Regardless of how aware the show is of its own moral quandary, I can see how someone could be ideologically incapable of accepting the show's very existence, given the situations it necessarily has to allow for it to proceed from week to week.

To be clear, I side with the author of the piece in thinking that the discussions raised by the show are vital ones. My purpose in making this post was to explore the opposing viewpoint, and to try to understand where it might come from.
Alternately, it might be feared that the story would be misinterpreted by some of the audience into seeing the show as open approval for those situations, and to thus have an unintended adverse effect on society.

I think this was definitely an element for some viewers. People were (maybe justifiably) worried that if you cede any ground on the consent issue you're essentially allowing a foot in the door to the "When she says no she means yes" crowd.

To me the difference is, although 'Dollhouse' was reality adjacent and looked at real, serious issues through the fictional lens, ultimately it couldn't happen (because it fundamentally depends on a sort of Cartesian dualism that just doesn't seem to be true in our world). That abstraction allows us to talk about the consent issue at one remove, to ask what it actually means to "say yes/no" in the first place, to flip it around and wonder about situations where when "she" says yes she means no (quotes because though most people didn't make as much of it, there're obviously male dolls in there also being raped if that's your position on the issue).

Fwiw a choice is still a choice - no matter how much one's options may suck.

Exactly. Caroline had a choice (just a shitty one), Priya didn't. Anthony and Madeline did but were they capable of making one and at what point do we decide someone isn't and ignore their choices for their own good ? Is a free choice even possible in principle and how would we know it when we see it ? How free is free enough ? And that's only the tip of the consent iceberg that the show asked us to consider (and which we did consider, at great length in some cases ;).
This is why I love this show. I like being made uncomfortable by the tangled web of moral ambiguity that permeates all of Joss's work, and never to such an extreme as in Dollhouse.

One persons 'being made uncomfortable' is another persons yummy food for thought.

As for Joss's intent (which we can never understand completely), one thing about the creative process always seems to get left out. A lot of the best art, in any form, gets flung straight out of the creator's unconscious onto the screen/page/canvas, as the case may be.
This is IMO where most of the best stuff comes from. It's a gift from the mind & heart & soul of a creative individual, to his/her audience.
I also believe this is the reason why Joss always runs up against opposition from the Suits. People in charge of making a successful show and making a profit (nothing wrong with that), have a vested interest in smoothing out the raw edges.
Joss is all raw edges content-wise, no matter how prettily he packages it, so ... recipe for incompatibility with network TV.

I have to admit that the loss of the opportunity to watch Dollhouse unfold over a period of time that would have allowed Joss to delve more deeply into this deep, dark well, is more painful to me than the loss of Firefly.
Which I know will not be a popular sentiment, but I was far more emotionally engaged with DH than with anything else Joss has done, right up there with BtS.
saje- re: which name to use. Yes!

Given that the Dollhouse clients are not universally portrayed as black-hat villains, it's not difficult to see how one might think the storyteller is giving tacit approval for the situations the technology creates.


This! But at the same time, no one is given a free pass. Joel Myner for example is given tragic, sympathetic reasons, but it's not like this somehow wipes out what he's doing either. He's at the Dollhouse because of his inability (either perceived or in reality) to deal with his loss. This is also Madeline's reason for GIVING consent.


Fwiw a choice is still a choice - no matter how much one's options may suck.


However it is technically blackmail by law. Is this technically the Gaius Baltar arguement? Through Caroline's desire to continue living in some form she gives consent to something monsterous. Quite frankly, since I agreed with Baltar's actions I'm not particularly shocked to find I agree with Caroline in that choice either. In Baltar's case, it was sign a document that kills a bunch of people or we'll kill you and do it anyway. In Caroline's case, it was sign the document and die with a chance of living or basically don't and die anyway. I think we're meant to assume that Rossum at this point is powerful enough that her conviction and sentancing were a given.

More broadly, the contract she signed was (in legal terms) under duress which would make the contract unenforcable anyway. So whenever I read Caroline's decision, I have to take the assumption that she believes the legal system is rigged against her anyway. With what we learn later in the show, I feel that's probably a safe assumption for her to have had. Otherwise her actions make no sense.




I have to admit that the loss of the opportunity to watch Dollhouse unfold over a period of time that would have allowed Joss to delve more deeply into this deep, dark well, is more painful to me than the loss of Firefly.


You're not alone on that one, although I would have loved to see either over a longer period of time.

[ edited by azzers on 2010-11-06 18:48 ]
More broadly, the contract she signed was (in legal terms) under duress which would make the contract unenforcable anyway.

Yeah, this came up previously too (but as I say, over the years we've said a lot, it's not surprising that we're repeating ourselves by now). The dollhouse is an illegal underground organisation that, even prostitution aside, commits multiple felonies in the course of its business so any contract signed with them isn't legally binding anyway, whether it's by "free" choice or under duress.

To me the contract was always more about Adelle squaring her own conscience away, it gave the deal legitimacy in her mind, not in the courts - the making of choices was important to her, the contract was a signifier of a choice made. And anyway, under what situations would its enforceability ever come up ? If they've released you at the end of your contract then its enforceability is moot, if they haven't then who exactly is going to take them to court (given that "you" are still an image on a hard-drive while your body's imprinted with another personality) ?
Just adding to say that there's an expanded version of this essay over at PopMatters.

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/139153-buffy-and-dollhouse-visions-of-female-empowerment-and-disempowerment

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