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Why I Like "Dollhouse" Best

When I made my post a few weeks ago about having just finished watching Joss Whedon's Dollhouse for the first time, and saying that it was now my favorite of his creations, heron61 asked me why that was. This is the first chance I've had since then to sit down and make a leisurely reply.

First of all, let me make clear that when I say I like Dollhouse best I am not claiming that it is better made than the rest of Whedon's shows. That, for me, is an entirely different conversation. This post is about why Dollhouse appealed to me and moved me on an emotional and subjective level. These characters, their world, their struggles, and the resolution of the story arc (however rushed) were the most appealing and satisfying to me.

1. This is a show about mind and soul, not tech or superpowers. The persistence of a Self, and especially of love, beyond whatever was done to the personality, was a powerful theme that resonated with my esoteric studies and personal spiritual beliefs. We are more than our immediate personalities.

2. The characters were, for the most part, grown-ups. (Topher is questionable.) As appealing as the Scoobies and Team Angel are, I found it very refreshing to watch people who were not struggling to grow up, find their place in the world, and etc. If the Dollhouse characters lied to each other, it was in the service of the larger struggle, a strategic decision, not becuase they were afraid of how their friends would react. (I got so tired of the habitual lying to friends on both Buffy and Angel!) And the Firefly crew often behaved more like a bunch of adolescents in their relationships with each other than grown-ups.

3. Multiple personalities as a source of strength, not a disorder.

4. Adelle DeWitt. As I've written about here before, it's rare for me to see a Queen of Swords archetype written and portrayed so well. She has a sharp, incisive mind, a primarily rational outlook, a fierce, commanding presence -- but she also has a softer side. She was ruthless with her own emotions and needs when she felt they were getting in the way of what she needed to do -- but never stopped feeling them. I really liked the arc of her relationship with Topher, although I wish it had the time for more on-screen development. I loved her depression-and-despair-then-back-to-control-at-a-price-and-what-she-did-about-it arc as well.

5. The reveals of who was a doll, especially Victor and the senator. (I saw Mellie's reveal coming, although not in that way.)

6. The reveal of the Big Bad. Did not see that coming at all.

7. The ending was the most satisfying to me of any of the shows' endings. I really didn't care much for the whole arc of "The First" and the last scenes of Buffy. Angel's ending was empty and frustrating. And I never believed that dealing with the Reavers suddenly cured all the trauma that River endured. Dollhouse had to wrap things up more quickly, but I liked the way it was done. And I found great personal satisfaction in the last scenes of Echo uploading Paul's imprint and then settling down to finally, truly rest. This, in particular, is very personal, given my own loss.

8. A happy -- or at least hopeful -- ending for Victor and Sierra. Does any other couple in the Whedonverse get one??

9. Topher's arc. From an amoral, non-empathic geek -- a direct relation to Warren and his comrades in Buffy -- he finds a heart, conscience, and courage. Echo may lead the last battles, but it is Topher who actually saves the world he was so instrumental in bringing down. And he does so with full awareness and choice. I would argue that the individual development of Echo, Adelle and Topher that form the heart of the story -- and Echo is the least interesting of the three.

10. No superheroes. Echo becomes 'more' due to what is done to her, and Topher is a genius, but for the most part these characters are ordinary people caught up in extrordinary circumstances, doing the best they can without magic, super powers, oracles, mystic texts, or blasters. The high tech threats are somewhat removed from our present day world, but not by much. There's an immediacy to the struggle that appeals to me.

11. A lot of the series is about how one deals with fear, pain, and loss. Why would someone become a doll? How do you fill the emptiness? What do you do when you find out your comfy day job has made you part of something huge and terrifying?

I won't argue that Dollhouse is the best work Whedon has ever done. But it's my favorite.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 23rd, 2011 01:56 am (UTC)
That's a good observation about how much the Buffy characters lied and hid things from each other. It became a kind of annoying plot device.

It's a shame it was cancelled. I think it was a bit too leisurely in getting to its deeper themes. At first it came across as a kind of nonserious excuse to show Echo in sexy gear.

Did you see the mini-movie followup, that showed the same world years later, after a major catastrophe? I won't describe it further, but do run out and see it before you get a spoiler. It's definitely worth watching, though perhaps you like the ending you have already seen and don't want a coda to mess it up. ;)
Jan. 23rd, 2011 02:02 am (UTC)
If you're referring to the "Epitaph" episodes, yes they were part of the DVD collection, and they end of "Epitaph 2" is the resolution I was referring to. If it's not, then please tell me what it's called so I can look it up!

Watching the first part of the series definitely required some patience, and did seem like a "dress up Eliza" show.

Nice to know you're still reading here!
Jan. 23rd, 2011 02:18 am (UTC)
Ah yes, you did refer to his saving the world. :)

I am still using that ancient form of communication known as email, and LJ sends me one for each entry. Funny how one finds oneself coming up with the opinion "the old ways are the best ways" in this digital era...
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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