Saturday, May 02, 2009

Haunted: a comparatively short dollhouse review

At this point, I think the character I feel most engaged with is Mellie. She doesn’t know what’s going on, she doesn’t know that she’s a doll that was programmed not to understand the word left-over. I want her to be happy and free, and she could never be either, let alone both at the same time.

I think they needed to show Paul raping November, and they definitely needed to make it that ugly. I’m glad that they showed that he had a choice, that he made a choice, but I think the story needed to turn him into what he hated, and I think it was that hatred for himself, not the dollhouse, that drove him.

What I found most powerful, about those scenes, was the speech Mellie gave

I like being with you, I love it actually. And you say everything is fine and so I’m going to stop asking if it is. If that means lying next to you while everything is not fine, then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you what you need, and let you take it from me. If you want to give back, give back, but it doesn’t have to mean anything.
I doubt Topher had to work hard when constructing that imprint. To find a woman who believes that love is one way, and her only role is to give. We’ve all been imprinted, after all.

The first time I watched the scenes with Topher/Sierra* I was filled with anxiety about where they were going to go. To me having sex with Sierra, knowing that she was forced into the Dollhouse, is a whole level of vileness. I didn’t necessarily mind the show going there; I like hating Topher, but until I knew what they were doing I was anxious.

But instead the story was infinitely more pathetic. Topher wasn’t looking for someone to have sex with, he was looking for someone to play Laser-force and eat cake with (some people never got enough 9 year old birthday parties). All the employees of the dollhouse seem so atomised, some to the point of complete derangement. The abuse they’re carrying out doesn’t make the happy, or fulfilled, or whole, it just gives them power. And power won’t eat birthday cake with you.

The parallels between Topher and Paul were emphasised by the way the scenes were paired together throughout the episode (in the beginning of the episode scenes with Paul directly followed scenes with Topher). By the end of the episode the white night has chosen to rescue. Whereas it becomes clear that the amoral dick doesn’t want to rape and active. Which doesn’t make him virtuous or even sympathetic, but it does make him interesting.

I do have theory I want to share with the world, so I can say ‘I told you so’ if I’m right. I think there are many signs that Topher didn’t just construct a friend, he imprinted Sierra with himself (which just ups the pathetic level). I’ve wondered why Alpha would have been imprinted with the skills to construct imprints, in order to use them in a composite. I think that Alpha was Sierra last year, or the year before, and had been imprinted as Topher to help Topher celebrate his birthday. That’s why he can do remote wipes.

You may notice that I haven’t yet talked about the main plot of this story. There’s a reason for that. The idea of Dollhouse having the capacity to provide eternal life was a fascinating one. But in this episode I felt that they squandered it on un-engaging characters and incredibly cliched jokes (‘she was nothing like mother’). While I appreciated the thematic unity around connection and isolation, it didn’t make the story of the very rich dead woman interesting to watch.

I remain uninterested in the problems of rich people. Particularly as clichéd problems as ‘I’m not sure if my much younger and poorer boyfriend married me for love’ and ‘I never showed any love to my children and now they resent me for it’ (clearly not just a rich person’s problem, but I find the story much less interesting when the origin of the distance is an abundance of money).

I could maintain interest in monsters of the week stories on Buffy (sometimes I’m not going to stand up and defend ‘go fish’), because they always involved with or related to to the characters that I knew. I think actual procedurals, the stories that make an episode of House, or the interminable cop shows, require a different sort of story-telling, one that the people of Mutant Enemy aren’t necessarily very good at. The episodes where we dealt with the woes of a one off character, were never the strongest episodes of Buffy, Angel or Firefly (Inca Mummy Girl, She, or The Message, for examples). How to introduce, make us care about, and resolve a person’s story in 25 minutes or so, is a really big challenge. The Dollhouse one shots I’ve enjoyed so far, I’ve enjoyed because there’s been some glitch in the imprint and we’ve seen Echo or Caroline underneath (The Target, Stage Fright and the Grey Hour). If they can’t do that each week (and they probably can’t) they need to work on making the stories great.

* Dichen Lachman was, again, fantastic (although she could do with a little more to do). I particularly loved the way she talked about the ‘sleepies’, and the whole sequence was hilarious.


  1. That's a really interesting theory! I think you might be right. But how do we know that Alpha knows how to create imprints and not just wipe them? There was also a comment made in tonight's episode (which you haven't seen yet so I won't spoil that) which might negate that theory though. . . . . . .

    I totally agree about Haunted. I was so uninterested in the main plot of the story and way more interested in what was going on with the characters I already knew.

    But as much as I want to identify with and love Mellie, it's hard to, and I think that's because I know she isn't "real" on some level. But that really starts to unravel, doesn't it? But I want her to be real and not programmed.

    And BRILLIANT on the analysis of her speech.

  2. Now that Joss Whedon have officially season two, doesn't that make kidkraft dollhouse more exciting for fans everywhere?