When I wrote a post which praised people for breaking silence around abuse, I expected some push back. The push-back was the reason I'd written the post - I knew it was coming and wanted to get some praise in first.
I haven't received much response to me personally.* The one negative response I did receive was critical that I 'outed' Ira Bailey. I can see that the point of my post, which wasn't to name him myself but celebrate those who did name him, was lost because the silence around abuse is so strong, that any break in that silence is shocking.
But I was taken by the word 'out' - by the metaphor of the closet for abusive men. I've seen it used before, when someone got angry at a survivor of abuse for 'outting' her abuser. To me it seems so horrificly inappropriate, that I can imagine where people who use it could possibly stand on issues of abuse. But then it occurred to me that it may be a word people use without thinking about it, and that unpacking the implications of this usage might be worth doing.
The closet is a powerful idea and the metaphor carries important ideas about people's sexuality, and society's attitudes towards your sexuality. In particular the idea that 'outing' someone's sexuality is wrong is based on an analysis of the way society treats people's sexuality.
The first aspect of this analysis is that society unjustly judges people's sexuality as shameful. People stay in the closet because they are ashamed of a part of themselves. Coming out of the closet is worth celebrating because its a rejection of society's shaming.
Abuse is not a part of a person, it is a way they have hurt other people. Any (very limited in this society) judgement and shame that abusers experience is a reaction to what people have done, not who they are.
The second aspect of this analysis is that the negative consequences of being open about your sexuality can be significant. People die, they lose their jobs, they get harrassed - all because of an aspect of who they are. The unjustified shame around some people's desires has serious consequences.
The negative consequences for being abusive are much less pervasive than the consequences for being open about your desires. While there are some notable exceptions (particularly violence against pedophiles), generally people's response to those they know are abusive will be muted. If people don't want to be around someone who has been abusive that is a boundary that they are perfectly entitled to draw, and it is the person who has been abusive who should face the consequences of that boundary.
The third aspect of the analysis Your sexuality is yours and yours only. Your desires are yours to keep secret or share, when and where you want to, or feel safe.
Abusive actions do not belong to the person who did them - they something that you do to someone else. No one is entitled to ownership of the way they have hurt other people.
These three aspects of the closet, shame, consequences, and ownership do all in our society apply to people who have been abused. But they do not apply to abusive men (or women).
I'm sorry if this post seems to basic and didatic, but it offends me so much when people misappropriate the language of the closet for abusers. The metaphor does not apply to them and they do not deserve it's protection. I imagine that some people who use this language are not thinking about what they are saying, and are making an honest mistake. But words do matter, so I've tried to articulate why this usage angers me so much.
* The push-back against the women who named Ira Bailey has been significant though. Climate Camp, and particular their safer spaces comittee, have a lot to be ashamed of.
Monday, December 28, 2009
When I wrote a post which praised people for breaking silence around abuse, I expected some push back. The push-back was the reason I'd written the post - I knew it was coming and wanted to get some praise in first.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
This two episodes a week schedule is really hard to maintain. This is a trucated review of episode 8. I enjoyed it (despite the presence of both Alpha and the supposed love between Ballard and Echo), but I didn't love it the way I loved the previous episode, so there's less ranting.
I didn’t talk a lot in my last review about what had happened to Adelle – I felt that this episode shed so much light on her character, that it was worth holding some of the discussion off to this review. Adelle’s bargaining, craven reaction to Alpha, was very telling about how the three months we missed had changed her.
As Alpha said to her “All this bargaining, you don’t have anything I want that I can’t just take.” She’s lost her ability to bluff and negotiate – she didn’t just have her power taken away in that time, but her ability to use power, the desire to be in control and her belief in her ability to do so. (I don’t think any of the characteristics she lost were characteristics to be admired in a human being, but she’s definitely a very different character without them)
I think part of it is that she’s lost the lies she used to tell herself, the ones where they were doing good. She knows she’s brought about the apocalypse for her own personal power, and I think that knowledge is one of the reasons she can’t assert herself the way she used to.* She told herself all sorts of lies, and she doesn’t have those lies anymore. All she has left is the will to survive.
I don’t think she’ll stay like this forever though, something must happen. The Adelle we saw in this episode would let Clive Ambrose take Victor’s body to eat crab in for the rest of his life. (Making the Adelle we see now compatible with Epitaph One is, I think, an extreme challenge for the writers. I think they’re probably up to it).
The new Adelle has implications for the rest of the dollhouse. One of the things that we had been seeing, over the course of the show, is that those running the dollhouse were regularly deciding that it was easier to let people have some freedom than maintain total control. (This bares more than a passing resemblance to real life) Echo wasn’t really acting like a doll, Victor and Sierra were spooning. The process some dolls went through in Needs worked (from the point of view of the dollhouse) in making them easier to manage, as did some freedom. But Adelle doesn’t feel like she can allow them that freedom anymore. Her grasp on power is too tenuous.
Her reaction to Echo, Ballard and Boyd makes perfect sense. Her response to Echo seemed particularly cruel, and well designed. I found it distressing to watch Adelle use Victor against Echo. Echo and Victor had been allies – and the situation she was in was terrifying enough without the breach of trust there. (Not that poor Victor could help it – and more in the “is there anything Enver can’t do” files)
We even got a tiny Victor and Sierra moment, and I’m all about tiny Victor and Sierra moment. (although obviously I prefer large Victor and Sierra moments, or Victor and Sierra episodes, or “The Victor and Sierra Show”) I enjoyed Noir Sierra (that’s what she was right? I’m not an expert on film genres). It’s a shame that we haven’t seen more of that sort of thing, in the show. One of the many aspects of the show that Fox didn’t support.
I wasn’t overcome with excitement when I learned Alpha was going to be in these . I think Alpha was one of the biggest missteps of season one. Serial killers are profoundly uninteresting, and every decision they made about Alpha’s store made him more boring. I’m not a massive Alan Tudyk fan anyway.
But if they have to bring back Alpha I can think of worse things for him to do than go round systematically killing all the men who have hired Echo. In fact, by the old measure that the character who is meanest to Ballard is my favourite character for the episode, he was my favourite character for this episode (more on that later). It was particularly enjoyable to see him blow up Matt of the inane fantasies, because I hated that guy and who doesn’t love a pun?
Of the characters we’ve seen on screen that have had sex with an active 6 are dead (Hearne, bow-hunting guy, Matt of the inane fantasies, Nolan, teaser guy in a caravan and Ballard), 1 got stabbed in the neck, 1 is in prison, and 2 (Joel Myner and Adelle) seem to be intact. (I am assuming that baby guy didn’t have sex with Echo – because they were new parents and she wasn’t what he needed). That’s a much better ratio of rapists to consequences than in the real world.** Although how the dollhouse remains open with that survival rate among it’s clients is becoming more and more of a mystery.
I liked the return of Joel Myner (and the visual image of him running away from Paul Ballard down the beach was hilarious – I’d run too). Obviously he’s an entitled rapist creep, but I always thought it was interesting that the dollhouse was giving him what he wanted – not what he needed. That by giving him Rebecca every year they were ensuring that he could never really live in this world. He appreciated Rebecca in Echo, which I thought was awesome.
The bait and switch was beautifully done. Even if I had to grit my teeth through Alpha’s speech about how Ballard must really love Echo because he didn’t sleep with her. He quotes Nietzsche, what on earth does he know about human relationships?
But, clearly all that is forgiven, if Ballard is truly dead. At the end of watching Meet Jane Doe I was talking about how much I hated Ballard and the many ways I wanted him to die. But I knew that none of them could possibly come through “Ballard can’t die,” I said “But he could go into a coma, wouldn’t it be awesome if he was in a coma.” Dollhouse has a weird habit of granting my wishes,*** so now Ballard’s in a coma.
Let’s hope it’s the permanent sort of coma. I understand that Tahmoh Penikett probably hasn’t been written out of the series and Epitaph One gets a little pesky at this point, but they could have imprinted Ballard with someone else (or that could be Alpha with Paul’s personality viewed through Echo’s brain). The only problem there is that I don’t think Tahmoh Penikett’s two and a half emotions make him doll material as an actor.
It’d be annoying if Echo and Ballard were a tragic love story (they were together and we killed one of them – it’s a new things Joss is trying). But far less annoying than watching him. How are we supposed to view Ballard? How do the writers see Ballard? At this stage I honestly have no idea. The last two episodes were constructed like an epic love story. As if the audience had been hanging out for the kiss since the beginning of the series. But they had to know that a large chunk of their audience were chanting “Go Team Alpha!” Ballard was always creepy, they knew he was creepy – they had him having sex with a dead Caroline and raping Mellie. So why do this? Why take Echo in this inexplicable, ridiculous and unearned direction?
But all’s well that ends well I guess – go coma!
* Incidentally, I’ve seen it suggested in several places that they’re doing a season 5 of Angel and she’ll turn out to have a deep plan. I think this goes against everything we’ve seen in her character development in this episode. I also think it doesn’t make any sense – she hasn’t just joined some secret society or killed someone, she’s given Rossum the plans of how to bring about Armageddon.
** A fact that almost makes me uncomfortable. One of the things that bothered me most about X-files was that it was a moralistic universe – almost all the time, particularly in the early seasons, everyone who died deserved to die. While it’s satisfying to have people killing rapists left, right and centre, that’s not how the world works. I’d much rather watch an uncaring universe than a moralistic one, even a moralistic universe which shares my moral understanding
*** I complained that there wasn’t enough relationships between the dolls and I got Stage Fright (which I still think was under-rated). I complained that they were using sexual violence to tell stories, rather than telling stories about sexual violence and I got Man on the Street.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
It is hard to review an episode where you adored most of it, but had to watch some scenes through your fingers because you didn’t want to know (the closest I can come up with is the last episode of Buffy – there’s a special feminist cut that only exists in my head and doesn’t include Spike).
I’m going to start with the non-awesome: the unnecessary, unearned, out of nowhere, unawesomness of Ballard and Echo.
To start with the scenes in her apartment were badly written. Echo actually starts a conversation “So about that thing that happened three months ago, which we would have talked about already so I don’t need to explain it to you, but the audience has just seen it so I’ll start talking about that.” Then it’s exposition central, not made any less exposition central when Echo tells Ballard ‘you knows this’ and he doesn’t have the wits to reply ‘but the audience doesn’t.’ Even a plausible, non-creepy love story would be hard to tell with such clunky dialogue.
The three month skip forward was a real problem, Ballard and Echo’s relationship and (I can barely type this) the fact that she’s in love with him feel completely unearned. And as someone who would never have liked this development, no matter how well it was done, part of me is glad that we missed out watching most of it.(Although I could have totally got behind it if they’d made it all about Ballard’s creepiness) As it was I had my fingers over my eyes for some of the scenes. If they’d taken the time to do it right it would have gone longer, and that’s the last thing I wanted.
But, in terms of drama, in terms of making good TV, we need to see why she’s in love with him (if we’re going believe that she is, which obviously I’m denying – I actually think she was lonely and he was there, and you do strange things when you’re isolated and dealing with so many imprints). Until this episode we had no idea how she felt about him, except that she saw him as an ally. Now suddenly we’re supposed to see it as love?
But the real problem with Echo and Ballard was, as always, Ballard. I didn’t think it was possible for the writers to make me hate Ballard more for *not* sleeping with Echo, but oh look I do.
Ballard believes that Echo has the capacity to decide to return to the dollhouse – to a situation where she will have sex she is not consenting to on a fairly regular basis – but not to consent to sex. That’s a fucking patronising attitude to take. She expresses that this makes her feel like a freak, and he doesn’t even engage with her feelings. He is not interested in her, or her desires, never has been, and feels entitled to make decisions for her.
Which isn’t to say that I think that Echo and Ballard should have slept together (I really don’t). Just that the way the writers have portrayed them not sleeping together has made me hate him even more.*
I think the writers could have told this story but made Ballard less obnoxious - if he’d expressed his unwillingness to have sex with her as something about him rather than something about her. For example, if they referenced what Ballard did to Mellie and Madeline – if he’d told Echo the story and made that the reason he didn’t feel uncomfortable.
My favourite line with the episode (and Eliza Dushku delivered it perfectly) was “I try to be my best” – full of attitude. God he deserved it.
OK that’s most of the whining about this episode – now to the awesome. Apart from the problems with the Echo/Ballard relationship, the three-month skip forward really worked for me. This clearly could have been a seasons worth of material, and a lot of the stuff in the dollhouse would have been more satisfying with a build-up over time. But I found this episode fascinating and easy to follow.
I enjoyed not knowing exactly where the characters were, and making increasingly accurate guesses. The slow reveal of Echo’s actual situation were great (except where this revealed Ballard’s continued existence). But it was within the dollhouse that this story telling method had real strength. I think our lack of knowledge illustrated a truth about the situation where no-one was sure what was going on, or where they stood, or who they could trust.**
My only concern was that the episode felt a little bit weirdly structured. In the teaser we had a brief scene inside the dollhouse and an even briefer scene of Echo. Then we cut to a longer scene with Echo, which covered everything in the teaser scene and more, and then we cut to three months later. I think the episode would have been more coherent if the teaser had established the situation, and the rest of the episode was three months later. It’s not like Dollhouse hasn’t had long teasers before – the teaser for Spy in the House of Love was ten minutes.
The politics, and implications, of Echo and Ballard were completely fucked up, but I did appreciate that it wore the rest of its politics on its sleeves. In the scene at the grocery store they brought out the reality of hunger by focusing on the food and people eating. It was just a tiny segment, but it asked questions that very rarely get asked on TV, about the distribution of resources. This wasn’t some sci-fi, unreal sort of poverty, this was linked in with the very real poverty of food stamps. Like Echo and Galena, this episode asked why they couldn’t have food when they were hungry.
Then there was the portrayal of police and immigration. It wasn’t just that these police were portrayed as racist and violent, or that watching Echo beat them up was satisfying. It was that there was nothing about this which suggested that these particular cops were bad apples. They say straight out that this is how the system works. When Ballard came in their only reaction was disbelief that anyone would give a shit.
Now I’m the first to admit that I am pretty highly invested in people breaking out of prison. But I thought that whole sequence was incredibly exciting and very well done. The plan went wrong, as of course it must, but it seemed like a plan which had a chance of working, and when you’ve got Echo’s ninja skills it’s understandable that that’s your plan B. Even watching that sequence on the third and fourth time I find those break-out scenes gripping. (Although I do start to think things like: since when do the underwires of bras come out that easily). And Matt may have had the most inane fantasies in the world, but his imprint came through with her motorcycle riding skills.***
There’s been a little too much Echo rescuing woman of colour for my liking (the kidnapped girl, the pop star, Sierra and now Galena. I was going to say that she’d rescued every woman of colour with a role of any size, but then I remembered Ramierez, Victor’s handler, which is telling in itself). How about Sierra rescuing Echo for once? Or even just a WoC character that Echo doesn’t rescues who is important to the plot of an episode.
What I did like was that it wasn’t just Galena being rescued, they put in some small touches of her taking an active role – particularly finding the keys. We don’t know much about her, but she wasn’t portrayed as passive.**** She had obviously learnt English when she was in jail – she was prepared to fight for her life, even if she didn’t have Echo’s resources.
Echo needs other people, and she knows that. Right back in the beginning (when she got Galena into this mess) she was looking for a friend. She really is a people-person and that’s what’ll make her stronger than Caroline.
While Echo was rescuing people out of jai, over in the Dollhouse they were bringing on the apocalypse. I could have done without the Dubai-ness of the new house. Couldn’t they have been opening a new house in Winnipeg or somewhere? Clearly we’re not supposed to see American men in charge of the Dollhouse as un-misogynist. But when there’s no need why even open the door to ‘oh look at how scary and misogynist middle-eastern men are’?*****
Apart from that I thought the power struggles inside the dollhouse were fascinating. Like I said, I think the fragility of the people and relationships in the new regime were underscored by our lack of knowledge. Were people being cautious, were they on different sides, were they playing each other?
In many ways this was Adelle’s episode just as much as it was Echo’s. We see now the monumental consequences of her paranoia in the two parter. Olivia Williams (and the costume department) did a great job of conveying Adelle’s new status and just how hard it was for her. She was clearly kept on just for the sake of humiliating her, as she had to get Topher to sign-off on things. She had already lost so much by the time we saw her.
She regained her power not through her wits, her bluffing, or her ability to play a very bad hand very well, but by stealing something. What we saw was crawling back, even though she tried to insist that she was claiming some power. I think her character has been fundamentally changed by this, and it’ll have huge implications. I think Episode 10 was very revealing about where Adelle’s character is, but I’ll leave that to my next review to discuss.
And then there’s Topher, who needs a better hiding place. Like everyone else in the Dollhouse he’d learnt to play games. And, as Harding was surprised to discover, he was smart enough to put it all together. These developments fitted so well with the Topher we saw in Epitaph One. (And I think knowing where we’re going absolutely enriches the show). I think if you told me after I saw Ghost, that Topher was a tragic character I’d end up having much sympathy for I wouldn’t have believe you, but it’s true, and it has felt very real.
While there wasn’t enough Victor and Sierra in Meet Jane Doe, at least there was some. It’s amazing how much can be done with those two in under thirty seconds. We never saw the relationships that the scientists developed, but we don’t need to. Topher wipes them, and the scientists part, but then Victor and Sierra walk away together. They really are the most awesome couple in the history of the universe (or at least the history of TV).
I’m not saying that we should forgive Adelle for bringing on the apocalypse. I’m just saying that if Victor and Sierra had been split up that might have been worse than a burning car and a smudged Felicia Day.
I think that scene had its problems though, while it’s possible they were making a point when they had black woman in an Asian woman’s body being silenced while a bunch of white people applauded, I think it was too subtle (particularly given as a sizeable chunk of their tiny audience was thinking ‘oh look Maurissa’). And the only reason I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they might have been trying to say something, is because the person being silenced was the writer of the episode, which obviously adds a layer of complexity. Plus I’ve seen some other stuff she’s done and she’s clearly thought about issues around race, appropriation and identity.
Then just as Adelle has reclaimed her house, asserted her dominance over Topher and made it clear that no one is ever going to challenge her again, Echo comes back. (Don’t these people know they’re on Joss shows, saying things like that is asking for trouble) Now usually I’d make fun of slow-motion sequence with swelling music. But Echo’s return was epic and I loved it. I think it was something about Eliza Dushku’s performance made that whole sequence. That and the moment when she recognised Victor and Sierra and they recognised her. Seriously this show needs to build on those relationships rather than show Echo always interacting with Boyd and Ballard, the tag-team of annoying masculinity.
Eliza Dushku was really good in this episode – really phenomenally good. She nailed every moment (even the ones I didn’t want to see). I’ve always thought she was engaging, but sometimes her performances quite work for me (in particular I had real difficulties with the eyes half shut remembering Echo of early season two). But in this episode it all came together. Every single one of those changes, and characters and emotions was clear. She wasn’t alone, of course, Olivia Williams was the other stand-out, and everyone else, except Tahmoh Penikett and his three expressions, were fantastic.
I’m so very sad there’s only 5 to go (given that I’ve already watched A Love Supreme).
* Although at this point, Ballard could lead a revolution, solve my internet problems, provide me with a lifetime supply of Whittakers Dark Almond Chocolate and magic the ideal sources for my PhD out of thin air and it’d probably make me hate him more.
** At the beginning of the ep Topher states that he will never trust a woman again, and by the end of the ep he’s set the apocalypse in train by trusting a woman. Dramatic foreshadowing is a dangerous thing
*** Possibly the woman who wore the dress that was actually a shirt, also modified the scrubs Echo wore. I’m pretty sure standard issue scrubs don’t include bust shaping. You know Fox is getting desperate when they’re like “But, but, but, this script says Eliza Dushku is just wearing baggy clothes and scrubs – we have regulations against that kind of thing. Can they be sexy scrubs?”
**** I don’t really know how to talk about this; the whole terminology around being traumatised due to your powerlessness is so messed up. ‘Victim’ has been pathologised almost beyond redemption. ‘Survivor’ feels pointed at those who don’t survive. I think it’s important not to create a hierarchy of correct ways to respond to trauma. I feel that this thought should possible be a blogpost and not a footnote.
***** OK and this is a bit of an extended rant, but the whole OMG Harding is bad because he’ll send the actives out to a guy who likes to inflict pain thing didn’t work for me. Just as the ‘we don’t hire out the actives to be submissive, didn’t work for me. Dominatrix Echo liked to inflict pain, I’m sure she’d be a perfectly fine person to send out an active too (if the universe wouldn’t collapse from the weight of that one.) Boyd in particular has always taken the position “the most objectionable sex for actives to have is sex that I’m not into.” To me the key question seems to be will they hire out dolls on engagements where the imprint isn’t going to consent? I think that was supposed to be the implication of him quoting Marquis de Sade, that he didn’t want someone who would enjoy it. But that whole side of the dollhouse, and the lines people draw has been so muddy. I know the original desire to explore desire was destroyed by Fox, and maybe there was a point to these lines but never got to be explored. But I think it’s unfortunate that the show has ended up drawing boundaries around acceptable desire based on categories other than consent.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Today people I knew were incredibly brave. They refused to be silent about violence against women and named Ira Bailey (or Tim Bailey) as someone who had physically, emotionally and sexually abused women. They did this in a space which accepted him, and tolerated his abuse.
I'm writing this, because I know the pressure they will be under; I know the pressure to stay silent; I know how the words stop in your throat, even when you don't want them to. I want to praise the noise, the naming, and the trouble-making.
I want the people who named abuse to hear something besides the push-back.
In particular, I want the women Ira abused to hear something besides push-back. Those who spoke up were brave, but survivors of abuse have to be braver, theydon't get the choice of picking and choosing when it'll effect them. They should be celebrated for their strength. I wish I believed that's what'll happen in response to people naming Ira's abuse, but I know it won't. I want them to hear something that isn't silencing, I want to celebrate their noise.
God there's so much I could say, about the thousand of different ways of silencing someone. But it's late, and I just wanted to write a celebration of the amazing work people have done in fighting abuse.
NB I have enabled comment moderation.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I may someday soon go back to writing about things that aren't a TV show that hasn't even aired yet. But at the moment my internet access is patchy and my Joss love is strong, so it'll probably have to wait till January, when Dollhouse will be gone
So after a month off Dollhouse has returned with double episodes. This means my reviews will probably be even later, and a little shorter than usual. This week’s episodes were a two parter, so I’m reviewing them together. I’ll be reviewing the episodes that aired on the 11th separately (and they’ll be long reviews, even for me)
As you probably know the show has already been cancelled. For anyone who is interested in its history I recommend this interview with Mo Ryan. This quote is particularly telling:
The problems that the show encountered weren’t standalone versus mythology. Basically the show didn’t really get off the ground because the network pretty much wanted to back away from the concept five minutes after they bought it and then ultimately, the show itself is also kind of odd and difficult to market. […]But there was… We always found ourselves sort of moving away from what had been part of the original spark of the show and that ultimately just makes it really hard to write these stories. It makes it twice as hard as usual. [Normally] you have that sort of kernel that you’re building on that’s completely solid. You know, "She is a little girl with super powers." "He is a cranky doctor who always gets it right." Whatever it is you sort of can build off that. When you’re trying to back away from your central premise at the same time as you’re making that [show,] it gets complicated.
So Wesley’s a doll. Who saw that coming? The reveal was masterful. Although the nauseating ‘Beautiful damsel’ was a clear sign that something was up.
One of the questions that I’ve kind of wondered about is why they’re only selling the ability to hire dolls. Why weren’t they selling upgrades? Lots of people would want ninja skills. It appears to be that they’re harder – to maintain an original personality but add to it, is harder than making the perfect person from composites (which actually fits with the asthma idea from the first episode). When Rossum does it, they do it to further their own agenda – to give them the ideal senator (and while Bush jokes are pretty dated, they’re still hard not to enjoy).
Although Cindy’s rant about how much she hated having sex with him made no sense to me. Surely they could have either programmed him to be sexually compatible with her – or if that wasn’t what she wanted, to have no sex drive. In theory it was an interesting example of the messed up power dynamic between them, but as it was I was just “Where’s Bennett’s programming skills if she can’t nuke the senator’s sex drive?”
It was pretty exciting to see another Dollhouse – they clearly have a lot of freedom in how they operate and they’re not all spas. I wasn’t all that interested in the new higher up, but the inner workings fascinated me (I’m sad we haven’t seen the wardrobe guy again). Greek Gods seems a much more sensible naming system than the phonetic alphabet; you don’t run out of names. (Although you also wouldn’t get as much fun when watching army movies – I get so distracted now – when I was watching Generation Kill whenever they said “All Victors on the road” I wouldn’t be thinking about the vehicles).
And we met Bennett. Oh Bennett with your pretty hair clips and dead arm. I was hoping that Summer Glau would be less type cast - maybe she wouldn’t speak in sentence fragments that reveal her state of mind. But I enjoyed the performance and the character.
Her history with Caroline is tantalising, although I strongly suspect they’re playing with memory here. What we saw didn’t look like Caroline, or sound like Caroline. Although it’ll be interesting to see how Caroline’s abandonment of Bennett, and her determination not to abandon people in Needs fit together.
Her scenes with Topher were charming – they were equally socially awkward, equally star-struck, equally playing an agenda. I really enjoyed the non-gendered nature of the roles they were playing. The idea that Bennett and Topher were such a match for each other really underscores their isolation.
While we’re on Topher it goes without saying that Enver Gjokaj was ridiculously brilliant as Topher. Everything about the two Topher’s was pure genius. I particularly loved at the end, Topher’s struggle for survival, and attempt to argue as he is put in the chair (and Topher’s relief that he no longer has to deal with himself). It was a simple note in the on-going theme about people’s will to survive – when we build one experience on another we want to keep what that makes us. By the end of the episode the Topher who had stayed in the Dollhouse was a different person from the Topher who had gone to Washington, and Dollhouse Topher wanted to keep what he had.
Also for an extreme, Topher related tangent, this episode we met ‘kilo’ a random doll whose sole job it was to fall down. This doll was played Maurissa Tancharoen – one of the writers of dollhouse (and if you don’t know the writers of dollhouse by sight what have you been doing with your time?). It felt jarring to me – I think both the writing and the acting were a little off, and this was underscored because my brain was thinking ‘Hey it’s Maurissa’ rather than ‘I wonder what Topher is doing with his wonderflonium?’
But that’s not what I want to randomly tangent about. I want to randomly tangent about Topher’s dialogue about the teeny-tininess of Kilo. Maurissa has indicated on twitter that kilo (and her playing kilo) were Andrew Chambliss’s (the writer of this episode) idea. It strikes me as deeply creepy that Andrew Chambliss wrote completely unnecessary, tangential, and nonsensical dialogue commenting on the body of his co-worker. I think it’s a pretty creepy thing to do if it serves a purpose, but the randomness just made it worse. First, compared to whom is Kilo tiny? The vast majority of female dolls we’ve seen are extremely petite. It makes no sense that Topher, is surrounded by dolls all day would think that Kilo was particularly small for a woman. Second, the dialogue served no purpose than fulfilling Topher’s desire to talk at all times, which is an important character trait, but there’s no need to feel it with nonsensical, unintentionally creepy comments about women’s bodies (I’m all for Topher being creepy about women’s bodies; Topher is creepy about women’s bodies. But that’s no excuse for the writer to be creepy about women’s bodies)
I really appreciated Madeline’s plotline. I thought it was a really nice touch that it was killing Herne, a moment that was so satisfying to watch, which changed her mind about the Dollhouse (and it’s interesting that unlike Priya or Perrin, she decided to find a way to live with this knowledge rather than run from it).
But the most awesome thing about this episode was a Madeline view of Ballard. To her, he was a digusting predator. He was, for all his disingenuous denials to Madeline carefully ignore. It was really satisfying to see her anger, to see her name his behaviour for what it was.
And he made it clear that he saw her as someone from him to control. He went to her space and tried to kidnap her. I love that her response to his question the idea that she should trust him by lying and screaming.
I would have liked it if Paul hadn’t turned out to be somewhat right, even though his rightness was, in fact, entirely coincidental (his post-it note which says ‘mind control?’ is about as close to right Ballard can be before I get grumpy). He had no way of knowing what the consequences for Mellie would be of her testifying. He was trying persuade her not to testify because of his own agenda, not because he cared what happened to her. In fact there’s no reason to believe that Madeline wouldn’t have ended up in exactly the same position if she hadn’t gone to the hearing (she never did get to testify). Perrin would still have sold her out, and the Washington Dollhouse would probably have been able to find her. So I’ve managed to convince myself, over the course of this paragraph, that Ballard wasn’t right, and now I feel a lot better (and the Left Hand, like Belonging, had the perfect amount of Paul Ballard).
The reason Madeline got screwed over wasn’t because of her ‘mistakes’, but her isolation. She (like Caroline in her rescue attempts) isn’t organising with others like her. Echo wants to show solidarity with November, but they never meet (and that would have been awesome – Echo and Madeline on the outside taking on the dollhouse – now I’m sad it didn’t happen).
I hope we see more of her. I’m haunted by the line from Epitaph One “You don’t want to end up like November” “Which One?”
I had a problem with the plans for this episode – as so often happens on TV there’s a plan and it goes wrong. But it does raise questions about whether the plan was a good plan in the first place, or whether the writers just made up a bad plan so it could go wrong in the way they wanted it to go wrong. This was obviously the case with the ‘imprint Echo as a hooker plan.’ (and that was super-duper creepy. Did drug him, did she know he was drugged? There was a real lack of clarity about whether she was aware that she was raping him that trivialised sexual violence for me) There is no way that was a good plan, and there was no way he wouldn’t guess what was going on.
What was Rossum’s plan? Was Adelle being paranoid, or might they have targeted her. Because if what happened the episode was their plan all along, then Adelle made a very, very costly mistake, by interfering.
Despite the plausibility concerns, I really enjoyed these episodes of Dollhouse, they had a lot going for them. But, mostly, it wasn’t what I love about the show. It was twisty-turny, bad guys vs. possibly more bad guys, inevitable progression towards a not very interesting post-apocalyptic world. More rocket launchers than emotional resonance.*
What I love about this show is the relationship with the dolls to each other and the dollhouse. I love the deep resonance this has with resistance and survival in our world. (Yeah this is partly a complaint about the complete lack of Victor and Sierra).
We did see aspects of the dolls resistance this episode. In particular, we saw the feeble strength of one, how easily individual dolls were used and destroyed.
I really liked Caroline and Perrin’s relationship (minus the strangely sexualised cutting into each other’s neck). For a moment, they were figuring something out together. I think it was telling that Perrin decided to go back, decided to have his mind wiped. He chose to continue to believe that he was rescuing people, than working with people. That’s a sad choice, but in the circumstances an understandable one. This is a show about resistance, but also about acquiescence.
I wonder if we saw even more than that. Bennett’s suggestion that the brain can hold multiple imprints – maybe this integration will be the solution for the dolls we know and the other people who were devastated by the tech that’s still to come. Perhaps there’s more hope for the world in Epitaph One than a ladder that goes upwards.
*This is a reference to Joss’s commentary on Innocence where he says the two most important things to him in the work that he does are emotional resonance and rocket launchers. I think this is a great point about what great TV needs (as long as you take the rocket launchers as slightly metaphorical, but I am aware that the fact that I quote Joss Whedon’s commentaries is pretty geeky.