I edited this post to add an important point which I somehow managed to leave out this morning! Sorry. Jump to it if you’d like!
Otherwise known as the “Look, everyone suddenly has morals!” Edition.
So, a lot of people are raving about this episode, saying it’s the most amazing one this season, etc etc, and I’m sorry, but I’m just not seeing it. I felt like the show just made a huge logical leap. Yes, it’s been growing towards this point, but this was like…looking outside the window and seeing a sapling in the morning, and there being a mature oak tree in the afternoon. Too much, too fast, and not believable (within the realm of the show, I mean).
We are to suddenly believe that the Gary Stu…sorry, I mean Topher Brink…suddenly grew morals? All of a sudden? Just because Echo showed him a painting? It doesn’t fit with what I know of his character. Yes, he’s been gradually pushing towards it and there have been bits and hints here and there, but…seeing as how I view Topher as Joss’ Gary Stu, it almost seemed like Joss trying to work out his guilt over the show, in some ways. I think he does feel bad about the criticism, and this was him throwing out a bone, and it made me feel a bit ill, honestly.
One of the biggest criticisms of Dollhouse has been that it depicts rape and human trafficking. So this episode put these plots in the foreground, and that almost made it worse; apparently it’s only rape because Priya was abducted and is being used, over and over, by Nolan. It’s only rape because of the extenuating circumstances, not because it’s, you know. Rape. This despite the fact that Priya clearly felt violated by what had been done to her and her body. Yes, some of that violation stemmed from the horror at being “whored out” (in his words) over and over to a slimeball, but it’s telling that she felt this violation even though she didn’t personally remember those experiences. This would seem to suggest that, you know, other Dolls might also wake up bitterly unhappy when they find out everything that’s happened. Just a thought.
Oh, and it’s only human trafficking when the coercion is totally obvious? It’s not trafficking when people are more subtly coerced and pressured? When people are lied to and given incomplete information? It was only trafficking because in Priya’s case she was literally strongarmed into the Dollhouse? No, thank you.
And I really dislike the message the show seems to be sending, which is “something bad happen to you? Why not just erase it and make it go away.” I think we’ve all had that feeling sometimes, the desire to erase the past, but would we really want to? Is the best solution to trauma simply pretending it didn’t happen? Within the framework of the Dollhouse, I would argue no, because the Actives are clearly left with unresolved issues as a result of their supposedly erased trauma. But, in the sense of a larger message, is telling people to avoid hard reality really a great thing to do? When we see Priya at the end deciding to be wiped and asking Topher to erase this day from her history, it leaves me with a sense of uneasiness. The message that real world actions don’t have consequences, that you can just erase them from your life and not have to live with them, that’s a dangerous message to be communicating to viewers, I think.
Maybe I’m way off base here. Maybe I’m just tired of the adulation of Joss Whedon from people who act like he can do no wrong, from people who refuse to engage with the problematic nature of his shows. And those same people are raving about this episode, saying “see, he’s addressing these issues you humourless feminists keep whining about, the show is about more than you think it is, it’s a sweeping commentary on society, Joss Whedon can do no wrong.” But Dollhouse is speaking to a very human desire, the desire to erase, to “fix” things by making them go away, and I am liking the way that this is framed less and less as the show progresses.
It was nice to see a Sierra-centric episode, don’t get me wrong. Dichen is a way better actress than Eliza, and she really knocked this one out of the park. But I ended up being disappointed in this episode within the framework of the show because it didn’t fit with what I know and what I have seen, and I almost felt like it trivialized the very real complaints being raised about the show. It felt like a slap in the face to me, honestly.
At the same time, as a standalone, it was a solid episode. It was one of the better ones this season. I know it sounds odd to talk about being disappointed and angered by it while still recognizing it as good. It was good, I just think it should have come a few more episodes down the line. They jumped the morals gun a bit too quickly, and as a result, it felt forced to me; even though these characters were heading in this direction, they should not have been chivvied along like this.
I have very little trust and patience left for Joss. He’s made some good television, and he’s made some truly horrible decisions, and Dollhouse is looking more and more like a horrible decision.
Edited to Add: So, in discussing this episode with someone else, I realized that I managed to leave out a rather important critique of this episode when I wrote this post this morning. I actually meant to talk about it and thought it was here but it obviously wasn’t, because this person was like “uh, how could you not mention this?!”
So: Can I talk, for a moment, about how monumentally offensive the framing of mental illness was in this episode? First we have Priya being taken without having the capacity for consent so that Topher can “cure” her mental illness, and he’s patting himself on the back for being such a great person. And then, we have the Great Reveal, which is that actually Priya’s mental illness was deliberately created and not real. And then, suddenly, then it is bad that Priya is in the Dollhouse because she’s actually just a Normal Girl!
Yes, that’s right. It’s not bad that they effectively abducted someone who did not have the capacity for consent to conduct an illegal experiment on her, it’s bad that they entered a Normal Girl into the Dollhouse under false pretenses. What. The. Heck. And why oh why did Priya choose to go back to the Dollhouse when given choice (assuming that she was), knowing this about them?!
I know that I can’t blame every bad thing in Dollhouse on Joss, but this is a Major Bad Thing, and he clearly signed off on it even if he didn’t come up with it. And people continue to defend this show? People continue to try to argue that it has some merit, when it’s actually just a sexist, ableist vomfest?!
(For the record, the first eight comments on this post were left before this edit was made.)