Mag is a character on Dollhouse whom I would have liked to get to know better. We only saw her in “Epitaph One” and “Epitaph Two” and it’s clear that there was not a lot of room for character development there, which is a pity, because I think that she would have been rather interesting. Also, I am a huge, huge, HUGE fan of Felicia Day, both as an actress and as a generally awesome lady who does really cool things.
Mag is introduced to us as an “Actual,” a person who has managed to evade forcible imprinting in a world in which the technology behind the Dollhouse has been allowed to run amok[1. Which raises some very interesting questions about identity and what it means to be human if the show is reinforcing the idea that only a body with its original identity is an “Actual” and people with imprints are something else.]. She has joined up with a group of other people and they make their way into the Dollhouse, and then to the remote community where Echo and Friends are holed up; in “Epitaph Two,” they return so that Topher can make an activate a device which will reverse the imprinting and give people their identities back, theoretically allowing for the restoration of social order.
And the reason I’m talking about Mag in this series is because she’s a lesbian character, although if you blinked or popped a mouthful of popcorn at the wrong time during “Epitaph Two,” you might have missed it.
In a question and answer she posted on her site, Felicia Day mentioned that Mag’s sexual orientation was added on almost as an afterthought:
Q: Who was is who initially came up with the idea for the Mag/Kilo thing?
A: I believe that was Joss on a rewrite of the script. I personally had a backstory that I had been in love with Gryph in Epitaph One, so it was an adjustment, but not that hard a one. Maurissa is pretty hot as Kilo.
It’s not really clear why this change was made, but it’s worth exploring Mag’s presentation, even though we only see her in two episodes. It’s “Epitaph Two” where we really see her sexual orientation on display, and it’s done in a very subtle way. So subtle, in fact, that one could almost miss it. A passing reference is made to Kilo being a girl, and viewed as attractive by Mag, and we see her at the very end of the episode seated in a wheelchair in the infirmary[2. Do not get me started on the depiction of disability in Dollhouse. I mean it. We will be here all day. I will try to write about it in another post in the relatively near future, however.], with the implication that she is next to Kilo, although we cannot see Kilo.
I’m sort of annoyed by the “afterthought lesbian” that shows up now and then on television, but in a way, that annoyance is pretty heterosexist and binarist of me. Why should I assume that all characters are binary and het unless proved otherwise? Aren’t I sort of falling into the very trap I am trying to criticize? It’s true that many creators make this assumption, as evidenced by the fact that Mag’s sexual orientation was a rewrite, not an integral part of her character, but surely I could avoid slipping into the same assumption pattern.
It’s interesting, if sometimes embarrassing, to see how completely we absorb social norms and beliefs. I live in a hetero- and binary-centric society and thus I am often led to make the same assumptions about other members of society which I rail against, because this is what I know and what I am steeped in. In the process, of course, I also erase myself, which is an intriguing thing to ponder, and a further illustration of how very difficult it can be to live in a marginalized body if you live in a world where society indoctrinates you with the tools to erase yourself.
While I was initially not that pleased at how her sexuality was downplayed, I thought about it and actually felt that it was played appropriately for the setting. Mag is a character who happens to be a lesbian. It’s not the only or even the most important thing we know about her, it’s not an all consuming aspect of her characterization, it’s not something which needs to be belabored on screen. She just is, which is how I like to see depictions of minority handled in general.
And this was an episode which took place in a time of chaos and disorder. The focus was very much on how to fix a big problem and there wasn’t a great deal of time for deep examination of characters and issues. We saw numerous fleeting interpersonal interactions which probably would have been deeper and more expanded had the show been given more time. It’s not like Joss shies away from complicated conversations and events, there just wasn’t time to do them justice here.
Overall, I think that Mag’s depiction, if fleeting, was positive, especially if you don’t know the bit about how her sexual orientation was an afterthought.