Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Five letters about Dollhouse Episode 4

Dear Joss and the other writers and producers of Dollhouse

This show has too much sexual violence. All four episodes so far have contained a threat of sexual violence on some level. If you want to talk about sexual violence, talk about sexual violence. Repeatedly using sexual violence as a minor plot-point is not okay.

In this episode you used sexual violence as a bait and switch for the audience. For a few minutes we were supposed to believe that the Greek guy had given Echo to his nephew as a present so that the nephew could rape her. That is unbelievably disturbing. It is also entirely plausible. We live in a rape culture; many men say that they'd rape a woman if they'd get away with it. One of the things the Dollhouse could give clients is an opportunity to rape a woman and get away with it. If you want to tell a story about that then do so, and I'll judge it on its merits. But don't toy with that scenario - please understand that sexual violence is serious and disturbing and treat it as such.


PS The trust on this is low as you are some of the same people who brought us "Spike has a soul now"

Dear Dichen Lachman (who plays Sierra)

Please continue being awesome.


Dear Liz Craft and Sarah Fain (writers of this episode)

First go read my first letter twice. Look I appreciate that your depiction of a woman lying about rape was much more critical of the person she was lying to than it was of her. But I think you should have probably thought a little bit harder about the implications of telling a story which incidentally included a woman lying about being raped.

Apart from that, I really enjoyed this episode. Thanks for including so much Echo, I like her much more than any of her engagements.

I thought the resonance of art was well done. From Echo's reaction to the Picasso picture to Adelle's comment about Michaeangelo's views about Marble, you let the metaphor relate to the characters without hitting us over the head with it. I found the ending of this episode almost as optimistic as the ending of episode two: "that meaning and humanity comes from our interest in representing ourselves."

The episode hit some really nice small notes. The accomplice-who-wasn't-shot was all smooth charm and trying to pick her up when things were going well, but was the one to blame her wipe on "Hysterical Woman Syndrome" - a nice display of the links between the way women are objectified. I liked that the connection that Echo built with the guy who got shopped saved them both, even though he thought she was a talking computer (nice dialogue throughout by the way).

I'm looking forward to more episodes from you.


PS Really do read that first letter

Dear Dollhouse wardrobe

Did you not read the script or do you think Stiletto heels are comfy shoes?


Dear Fox

You've got lots and lots of money. How about you use some of it to make a second season of Dollhouse.



  1. Anonymous6:46 am

    They should leave out sexual violence? Really?

    I'm probably one of the biggest advocates of not including sexual violence in art unless the point of the art is to have a meaningful dialogue about sexual violence... But isn't that exactly what Dollhouse is about? The whole concept of the show is an implied question about socialization and power structures as they relate to our agency and identity. Essentially they're asking: what does consent mean in a capitalist or other authoritarian system? And the title's allusion to the Ibsen play makes me really hopeful about how the show will respond to those questions.

  2. Anonymous9:16 pm

    I have to agree with the previous commenter, Ashley. I don't think you can find a better fictional vehicle to bring up discussions about objectification and dehumanization. I'm going to have faith (no pun intended) in Whedon on this one, I hope it's a recurring theme that he's seeding to deal with more directly.

    However, he's going to have to earn an audience's attention and respect before many viewers are going to be willing to watch an episode that takes these issues head-on.

    By the way, Anonymous #1, who gives anyone authority to give moral judgments?

  3. Anonymous #1, piss off. And learn punctuation.

    As far as sexual violence goes, I think I have to agree with Maia on this one. Although I really like the issues you bring up, Ashley. Dollhouse is exciting to me when I think about it in terms of consent and capitalism. But I think Maia has a point in that, even though the broader point of the show may be to examine the nuances of sexual violence, when it's brought up as a plot point in rather staid, formula ways, it detracts from the show's potential to say something radical and bold about sexual identity under patriarchy. And it makes me less willing to trust what they have to say too.

  4. Thanks for your comments.

    Lauren said what I was trying to say - of course I don't think they should leave out sexual violence altogher, I just think they should stop using sexual violence as a minor plot-point. For instance I think the sexual violence in the second episode was saying something about sexual violence.

    Ashley - I agree with everything you say about the whole concept of the show and consent. I just think that means that before they answer some of those questions they shouldn't use sexual violence when they're not prepared to discuss those issues.

    I might try and write a longer post about these issues to be more precise about what I'm trying to say.