Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dollhouse (S1)

2009, Joss Whedon -- Netflix

This, of course, was my second time through Dollhouse.  The first time through the series, I wasn't completely sure.  As a concept, it was fascinating.  BTW, I will speak as if you did not see the series. It is LA and there exists a technology that allows you to be imprinted with an entire separate personality and set of skills.  This is not Total Recall with a supplied couple of weeks of memories but still being essentially yourself.  It is truly a replacement of everything: memories, personality, skills, etc.  You become that person. But it cannot be done to just anyone, only a person who's had their brain tinkered with.  And according to the propaganda of the company who provides it, everyone volunteers to become one of these dolls.  Of course, what are these dolls most often used for?  Yes, "romantic engagements".  Basic premise?  Someone knows how to make living love dolls.  And our brave FBI agent  Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) is trying to find this dollhouse.

What I was not sure about was how long the premise could be carried.  The show could have been about the simple truth that Ballard believes most of these dolls are there against their will and are being "forced" to do things they would never agree to, should they be fully aware.  That would be the simple moral of most TV shows and the series did start at that.  Its quite a complex moral by itself.  The western world gave up slavery decades ago. But many of us still wish for the idea of someone who completely knows us, who bends to our will, willingly.  Slave & Master exists out there in the kink world. But this is done with the illusion that they are not slaves but doing it entirely of their free will instead of the illusion of being slaves.

Expectedly, the show displayed mostly the most innocuous engagements: men who wanted to meet the girl of their dreams on their birthday, people who had regular rendezvous with someone they had been in love with forever, etc.  The purely sex-slave stuff was left to the imagination.  And the show also showed what else the tech could be used for, such as hostage negotiation or in even seedier than sex, victim for a hunter.  It was all presented to give us a moral morass where we could believe what Ballard believed -- they were slaves who needed to be freed or what Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams), the LA house director believed -- they were fulfilling a need that society did not want to acknowledge.  As long as it was all done according to contract and dolls left the house with the money they wanted, at the end of their contract, why should anyone argue?

Like all Whedon shows, it is a fun ensemble cast of characters.  We have the FBI agent, all skills and black & white morals.  We have the director, very slick, calm and sure of what she is doing. We have an ex-cop handler (each doll has a handler) not completely sure of the morals of what he is doing but protective of his doll. We have Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) , the brilliant scientist responsible in some part, for the creation of the tech. And we have the dolls: Echo (Eliza Dushku), Victor (Enver Gjokaj) and Sierra (Dichen Lachman), the main characters of our attention. Each is just brilliant in their own way, some humorous some humourless, each complex in opinions and motives.

But really, this was just the base of show.  Where it shone, and this is very apparent when you watch it again in compressed format, was in the overall story arc.  Right or wrong, the technology exists and what exists can be abused, even beyond its original intent.  The true plot to the show is the intrigue behind the mega corporation who came up with this technology and what they actually intend on using it for.  The dollhouses are just one layer, a money making layer.  Down the rabbit hole is something more insidious -- control of the world.

This is where the characters really come out, as layers of the onion are pulled back, so are layers of the characters.  Is Ballard just a fool to believe saving them from the dollhouse is bettering their lives? Is DeWitt so blinded by her loyalty to her bosses she will forgive what she sees in front of her? Is Brink, completely amoral and convinced of his own independent brilliance, willing to let the tech be used for anything? And the dolls; what of the dolls?  What is Echo's true purpose in all of this?

The season ends with a near-future apocalyptic vision of what can happen, what will probably happen, when things go awry.  The corporation has domination plans but what if it all just goes fucking sideways?  What if the tech gets out and anyone, anywhere can be wiped, swiped and altered in the span of a breath?  What if a psycho releases personalities best left hidden into the general populace? What happens?  The world ends, is what happens.