Sunday, April 5, 2009

Blogging the Dollhouse: Episode 8: Needs

Big mind-fuck episode. “And it was all a dream…”

But in a good way. After the last couple of episodes I was almost starting to think the show was moving too fast, and then when Echo led everybody into the light I was starting to actually worry. Did the show get canceled without me knowing it? Was this a rush-job series finale? Of course not. It was a reset. And now we don’t know what’s going on. Is this really going to neutralize all of Echo’s progress toward an awakening? I can’t imagine we’ll be going back to straight monstrous-client-of-the-week episodes, but who knows?

The four actives’ “needs.” A cunning device to tell us more about how a couple of them, at least, became dolls, and thus to tell us more about the Dollhouse itself.

November’s looks, as Boyd says, straightforward: she needed to grieve for her daughter. So it seems we’re to assume that November became a doll to escape the unbearable truth of her daughter’s death. But is that all? Something about the way her visit to the grave was framed made me wonder if there’s more going on there – like maybe November killed her daughter. Either way it strengthens the Dollhouse-as-refuge thesis.

Sierra, as Boyd says, needed to confront the man who exploited her. This is a huge revelation for those of us still trying to figure out how uncomfortable to feel about the Dollhouse. Sierra, we’re now asked to think, was essentially sold to the Dollhouse by a guy who wanted to hurt her for rejecting him, and who now rents her for revenge. The Dollhouse to him is like a really expensive date rape drug. Weakens the Dollhouse-as-refuge thesis. Puts DeWitt in a bad light, certainly - if she was aware of it.

Echo’s is the least surprising, because we know the most about her. As Boyd says, she wants to free “all of us.” Interesting choice of words, there. It seems to point back to her activist past. On a thematic level this is the most intriguing of the four dolls’ needs, because of how easily the Dollhouse manages it. Caroline/Echo’s deepest need or desire is not precisely to free everybody, but to feel that she’s freed everybody. Once she feels that, her psychological need is satisfied and she can go to sleep again – it’s completely irrelevant to her subconscious that she hasn’t actually freed anybody, that it was a set-up, a lie, a dream. This goes right back to the show’s original critique of capitalism/mass society. Our corporate masters know the system breeds discontent, so they let us think we’re taking action with our Shepard Fairey posters and Rage Against the Machine cds, our Matrix movies and angry blog posts, because once we’ve expended our energy on them, we’ll calm down. If they can make us feel like we’ve smashed the machine, they can keep us from actually doing it. All in a day’s work, really.

What about Victor? He’s in love, as Saunders says. This in itself is a reiteration of a question they previously threw out there, of how deeply embedded what aspects of our psyches are. But does it, like the other three’s needs, also tell us something about how he got to the Dollhouse? His flashback to a military situation seems to suggest a trauma that he’s running from. But notice that shot – we saw it last week too – when Sierra’s flashing to a memory of a guy on top of her? That’s not the handler who raped her: wrong hair. It may be Nolan, the guy she confronts this week. But (and I didn’t think of this: I saw it in a comment on the Whedonesque blog that I don’t know how to link to): what’s if it’s Victor? What if he’s atoning for something, as well as running?

I like how they carefully moved Dr. Saunders out of first place in the Who’s-the-Mole sweepstakes. It may still be her, but the fact that she’s the one who came up with the plan to neutralize (we think) Echo’s progress toward awakening is a big black mark. They’re being very tricky with her. She could be doing this to prevent worse violence being done to Echo instead, such as being sent to the attic. But maybe she believes in the Dollhouse as much as DeWitt does, in her own way. Remember her last speech about the big bad scary outside world and how she was protecting the dolls from it?

As Boyd notes: we don’t know her very well.

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