Earlier today, Jacyln over at Bitch Ph.D., posted a compelling series of questions about Whedon's Dollhouse. And I just responded to her post with an absurdly long comment, so I thought I would replicate it here, bringing my answers to her questions (and I few questions of my own) to Fourth Wave readers. The questions in italics are Jacyln's questions from her post. My responses and questions (at the bottom) are in normal type.
1) Did you watch? What did you think? Yes, I saw it. As a fan of Buffy and Firefly, but not an obsessive fan of Whedon in general, I liked it with some serious caveats. The premise still disturbs me and the pilot did little to mitigate that feeling. I'm uncomfortable not only with Echo's tabula rasa imprintability, but also with the way viewers are (at least in the pilot) encouraged to like her handler and the geeky guy operating the imprinting machine (these people have names, which I don't remember, and I'm sure the machine has a name, too -- anyone care to enlighten me?). They're complicit in Echo's imprisonment and exploitation, and I'm uncomfortable with the fact that I already sort of like them even though they haven't (yet?) shown any signs of remorse.
2) Were you as psyched as I was to see that Mutant Enemy tag at the end? Yeah, kinda, in spite of myself.
3) How did you feel about Eliza D as Faith in Buffy? How have you felt about everything she's done since Buffy? What did you think about her performance as Echo? I loved Faith. I haven't really seen much of what she's done since Buffy. I actually thought she was a little flat as Echo, and not just in the moments when she's supposed to be flat because she's a shell. I'm willing to give her a little more time, though. In general, acting in pilots has a tendency to be a bit wonky.
4) Why the hell did Joss agree to work with Fox again? Or ever? I have no idea. I certainly hope it wasn't so Fox could pair Cameron (Summer Glau) from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Echo together for sexy dual promos during the commercial breaks. That was really beyond the pale and made my head swim. (I could only find the outtakes from the Glau/Dushku promos on youtube, but you get the gist; also, in the second video, check out the lovely grindhouse-style joint trailer for TSCC and Dollhouse put out by Fox last week.)
Urgh... Fox... WHY???!!! Oh. Never mind. Because you're Fox.
5) Um... are there still no people of color who want good roles in Hollywood? It's a real problem, isn't it? How on earth can we fix it, so that all the producers and directors aren't forced to only cast white people all the time? (Yes, there's Harry Lennix as Echo's handler, but a) that just makes him the token and b) Driving Miss Daisy, anyone?) I have no words. It's so infuriating and endemic of television in general that I don't even know how to address this question.
6) Ditto fat people, people with physical disabilities, people who aren't freakishly pretty, etc.? Ditto my answer to #5. I do feel like certain shows, especially non-action ensemble dramas (e.g. medical shows like ER and Grey's Anatomy, among others) are more likely to cast people of diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds who are less freakishly skinny. However, everyone's still gorgeous, even if there's an occasional woman who wears over a size 10. I don't know. It is television...the "everyone has to be pretty" conundrum is one of those problems where I have the tendency to throw up my hands.
7) Did they really have to start with the girl-is-broken-due-to-sex-abuse-and-requires-the-intervention-of-a-kind-man-to-seek-redemption plotline? Why is that never the secret weak spot for male action stars, huh? Yes, they did. Because they're idiots. And men never have secret weak spots that stem from sexual abuse, didn't you know? (Except for Derek Morgan in Criminal Minds, which is one of the reasons I love that show.)
8) If Person A is desperate and out of options, and is coerced into fully giving up her agency and identity, and if, after making that one decision, Person A no longer has any meaningful ability to consent to anything, nor does she have the ability to withdraw her consent from the original agreement -- under those circumstances, if Person C pays Person B money to have sex with Person A, is that really prostitution, as Joss and Eliza have said it is? Or is that sexual slavery? I love this question. It's (sexual) slavery. If Person A lacks consent because her personality has been wiped and there is no way to establish her consent for every various task she is asked to perform, then it's not just prostitution. Consent can't be given as a blanket endorsement of any and all activities of the body from now until eternity.
9) Can someone tell me that Joss is going somewhere good with this? I want to believe... I would love to, but I'm concerned as well. Petpluto over at Art of the Auction says the show could offer a compelling discourse about identity, authenticity and identify formation, but I'm withholding judgment until I've seen a few more episodes.
Now, I have a few more questions of my own:
a) Can a disturbing premise be mitigated by the subjugated character developing agency and control over her oppressors? If so, to what degree? Does she need to escape? Seek retribution? Take over?
b) How long can a show like Dollhouse continue on with this same "she can be anything you want her to be" shtick before something has to give?
c) Is it possible to maintain narrative interest if Echo escapes or if Dollhouse (the place, not the show) is shut down? If so, how? If not, then doesn't the continued need for the Dollhouse as an element of narrative interest necessitate the continued exploitation of the "actives" for our viewing pleasure?
As you can see, I've been thinking about this a bit too much.