Thursday, April 24, 2014

Remembering the Dollhouse

Joss Whedon is best known for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and now as the director of The Avengers. But it seems like a lot of attention flies over another of Whedon’s creations, Dollhouse. In a way, with Dollhouse having two seasons, was a more successful television series than Firefly, which has a huge fan following with only one season and a movie. Dollhouse might even be Joss’s most intelligent and relevant creations. Maybe it was too smart for TV. But the themes it covered are very relevant today.

The series follows Echo, a doll. She volunteered to have her mind wiped so that she can be programmed with personalities to suit the fantasies of high paying customers. Her contract is to serve as a doll for five years, at the end of which, whatever problem she was escaping will have been taken care of by the dollhouse’s parent company, Rossum, and she will be generously compensated with a trust fund that will take care of her for the rest of her life. It sounds like a nice deal, in a way. But as the series shows, the dolls volunteer in the sense that they consented to be dolls. The reality is that they were people in tough and desperate situations who were convinced that voluntary slavery, more often than not sexual slavery, is a great idea to escape their problems. They would not remember their time as dolls, but their bodies were rented to the rich and influential. They were property. And they were never really free even after their five year contract was over. The tech that allowed them to be programmed remained in their heads. And some never made it out. If they were a problematic or troublesome doll, they wee sent to "The Attic" to never be heard from again.

On the surface, the series was about Echo being somewhat of an anomaly. Somehow she was remembering the personalities she was programmed with and integrating those personalities. But it became more about a mega corporation that used the illusion of helping people so that it could influence people and government in a bid to make the world better for the chosen few. The chosen being the executives of the Rossum Corporation and it’s wealthy clients. As the founder of the company stated, the technology to change people’s minds was going to be out there, was Rossum going to be one of the destroyed or one of the destroyers? There was a lot of good acting. In addition to the great cast led by Eliza Dushku as Echo,  there were also some great cameos be Firefly alums. Alan Tudyk was a homicidal/serial kill former doll be the name of Alpha who was also pretty funny. Summer Glau appeared as Bennet, a brilliant tech genius and neuroscientist. And as this is a Joss Whedon series, other people he has worked with before show up here too.

This is a very intelligent series about technology gone wrong and the ethical lines that get blurred with technology that was meant to be beneficial to humanity. It is really a long essay about advancing technology and about how corporations can take over our lives. This series began airing in 2009 and I'm not sure even Joss knew how relevant to our world Dollhouse is. Well, maybe he did. Freedom has been a theme not just in this series. Not yet anyway. But think about how much of your life you sign over to companies online. People made a big issue of the NSA snooping on our calls, e-mails, and texts. But the general public gives out far more information to social media and internet companies with little thought about how all that information can be used. Look at it this way, in another Whedon series (Jed Whedon, Joss's brother), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the newly unmasked villain know as the Clairvoyant was able to fake psychic powers because he had access to the information people left in the digital world. So when the government collects information on us, it's spying. When a corporation does it, it's to tailor services to our needs. It's all well and good now. But what if someone with bad intentions had access to all the details of our lives? I'll get off my soapbox.

Dollhouse was not heavy handed with a message. It was just a really good series that had a lot of intelligent thought behind it. It asks what would we sacrifice our freedom for. Or more accurately, it shows how easily people will give up their freedom without really knowing it because someone gave them an easy solution to a difficult problem. In the real world we give up much more for a whole lot less and we don't always know we are doing it.

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