Holding Out for a Dollhouse Hero
After having just watched the eighth episode of Joss Whedon’s high-concept action thriller Dollhouse, I realized why this beautifully cast, cleverly scripted series is ultimately so unsatisfying: there’s not one regular character to honestly root for or admire.
The Dolls themselves are certainly sympathetic characters, but are little more than mindless babies in their natural state. All of the extraordinary abilities exhibited by these “actives” are built on false personalities. It seems impossible to parse which impulses and desires they exhibit are actually their own, or if a mind-wiped zombie can even have honest feelings. Every hint we’re shown of the people they once are later proven illusory…. a lie.
Those that work in the Dollhouse itself are willing participants in all manner of inhuman atrocities. Yes, a few employees of the Rossum Corporation seem to honestly care for their mentally neutered charges, but a few sleepless nights in the service of evil isn’t particularly noble. Most seem resigned to, or downright amused by the savage acts committed by and on their infantile charges.
This leaves us one obsessed FBI agent who is obviously much more concerned with debriefing Echo than taking down a global slavery operation. Even if agent Ballard’s intentions were pure, he’s certainly accomplished nothing meaningful to date, other than a brief rendezvous with the girl of his dreams.
Like those wayward souls who serve the Dollhouse, it seems the actors and viewers alike are trapped in a situation beyond their control. The best they and we can hope for is that there is a method to Mr. Whedon’s madness, and like some mirror-mirror Buffyverse, there’s a “Big Good” hero waiting to confront our merry band of villains and save the day… and the series.
Written by Jeff in April of 2009. Last edited June 2017.