“I wanna do everything,” Caroline says, as Episode 1 ends.
Echo gets to do everything – she’s a party girl, a hostage negotiator, a mountain climber, etc.. But at the same time, Echo gets to do nothing – she’s always someone else when she’s doing something. There is no Echo, not really. Except that in this episode we get more indications that this isn’t really true. It’s supposed to be true – her owners want it to be true, and the emptier she is the more they both love and hate her – but when she’s tripping, she gets to confront all her submerged selves. Echo, Caroline, and who else?
Echo gets to do everything, but then she wakes up, as if from a dream. Did I go to sleep? For a little while. All of us get to inhabit other worlds, other selves, in our dreams; but Echo’s only really alive in her dreams. Or is it that she’s only really awake in her dreams? After she’s been wiped, returned to her “self,” she’s like a sleepwalker or a lotus-eater; and since we’re getting more and more hints that Caroline’s not completely gone, like the science promises, but remains somewhere deep inside Echo, maybe Echo’s existence as Echo really is Caroline’s sleep, a forgetting.
Will she wake up? That’s the question, then. Is this a Matrix scenario, then, chronicling the struggle of one consciousness toward a higher awareness while surrrounded by powerful forces that want to keep it asleep, and therefore pliable? And what about Alpha? He keeps targeting her, but leaving her alive. Is he trying to shock her into wakefulness? Is this what happened to him? Will “waking up” turn Echo into a killer?
Targeted. Echo is targeted: in this episode by the client who engages her, but also, seemingly, by Alpha. This targeting is, of course, not so different from Echo’s essential state, in which she’s bought and sold, used and abused, exploited, manipulated, manhandled. Echo is the nubile young woman that’s the focus of all of our society’s fantasies and fears. Again this is Joss subverting the Fox house style: Echo and Sierra are both hotties (as the term once was) who show plenty of skin, but this just emphasizes their role as symbols of the objectification of women.
It’s a concern that seems to have gripped Whedon ever since the Buffy days – remember how it turned out that being a slayer was just one more way men had used women? In Dollhouse he’s tackling this head-on. Echo, by being nothing of herself, is capable of being any woman, and thus she’s a stand-in for every woman.