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Dollhouse is a television show created by Joss Whedon that ran for two seasons on Fox, between 2009-2010.
"The Dollhouse," a secret facility in Los Angeles, rents out "dolls" (people whose minds have been wiped, rendering them docile and imprint-able) who have been imprinted with different personalities to those who can afford them. Oftentimes as romantic companions, but also for purposes such as corporate espionage.
Main characters include "Echo" (also known as Caroline, played by Eliza Dushku of Buffy fame), her handler/watcher Boyd, dorky genius Topher who programs the dolls (something of a stock Joss character), and Ballard, the FBI agent (played by Tahmoh Penikett of Battlestar Galactica fame) who is obsessed with finding and bringing down the Dollhouse.
Early fan response was largely negative; many female fans felt that the show was exploitative of women and represented a troubling insight into the creator's gallery of sexual kinks. Actress Eliza Dushku pleaded with the viewership to stick it out until episode seven:
- [P]eople have said that the show took off once they finally realized that Joss is best off left alone to do his thing. That happens around episode six—six through 13 are just extraordinary. I love one, two, three, four, and five, but Joss’ first script that he did after the pilot is number six, which is called “Man On The Street,” and it is just unbelievable. From that point on, the world unfolds in Joss’ way, with Joss’ speed, and it’s really remarkable.
Sure enough, around episode seven the season became much more complicated and meta, and some fans who had been alienated by its skeevy gender politics began to express cautious optimism that the show might intend to say something substantive about surface and what's beneath and the interplay of fantasy, gender, and control.
By the penultimate episode of S1, fan reaction was trending more positive, and plot twists were starting to look empowering rather than disempowering. Fan hazelk writes:
- The Dollhouse deals in fantasy. It makes it real. It spins strings of zeros and ones on a computer chip into living breathing girls and boys. It makes people out of things and fatally blurs the line separating the two. It’s not about abduction or rape or trafficking or human experimentation. It’s about objectification from which all the other badness flows. It’s about making stories into people and people into stories. But stories have a life of their own and these storytellers have been careless. They’ve left a door to the id unlocked and now the monsters are free.
Still, opinions remained strong both in favor of the show and against it. Giving episode 11 a positive spin, jlv writes, "Echo is the hero. She has shown her capacity to rescue others before. If anyone rescues Echo, it’s going to be Echo. The interesting question is how. " But coffeeandink writes "The subversion of 'Sleeping Beauty' and of both Ballard's and Boyd's attempts at rescuing Echo is well-done. I am disappointed because I am not particularly sympathetic to the show and to its limitations of feminist awareness; it makes all its critiques seem half-hearted, contradictory, and obvious."
(anyone have links to fanworks here? is it too early to say what's influential?) Some early vids, such as Yunitsa's My Medea, offered highly critical readings of the show's treatment of women. It Depends On What You Pay, by giandujakiss, is even more critical, casting pretty much every interaction on the show in the context of rape.
Where to Find Fanworks
- The Anti-Mary Sue by yourlibrarian "Some thoughts about viewer identification and the series premise in relation to Dollhouse." (2009)
- Eliza Dushku on AV Club
- Dollhouse 1:11 Briar Rose, accessed May 5, 2009.
- Dollhouse episode 11, "Briar Rose" or Princess Valiant, accessed May 5, 2009.
- Dollhouse 1 x 11, Briar Rose, accessed May 5, 2009.