Saturday, April 11, 2009

Blogging the Dollhouse: Episode 9: A Spy in the House of Love

First things first: “We’re pimps and killers – in a philanthropic way.” Best line of the series so far.

Re that, I love how they keep offering us new metaphors for how to think about the Dollhouse. Echo as dominatrix, in full regalia, talking about how beautiful a thing it is to surrender yourself to someone else’s power – to trust someone that fully. Well, isn’t that just what Caroline herself did when she signed up? I mean, beyond the idea of stepping outside the mainstream to fulfill people’s deep-seated, unspoken needs (a Dollhouse function that Dr. Saunders defends eloquently in this episode), it also speaks to the deeply religious idea of surrender. Submission to a higher power, submersion of self in the service of others, sublimation of desires in the search for transcendence. The dominatrix is a guru.

Needs. Despite last week’s title, this episode was the one that focused on needs. We got Ballard’s ego-crush when he realized that he was responsible for creating Mellie (a payoff set up in Episode 6 when the internet mogul pointed out that this whole thing was Ballard’s fantasy as much as his). Mellie only exists – that is, the doll we know as November was only used in this way – because that’s the kind of person Ballard was seeking. Does the very act of wanting someone impinge on that person’s free will? Can you be in a relationship without molding your partner or threatening your partner’s identity?

Langdon’s needs: he needs to take care of Echo. As DeWitt points out, he no longer needs to – but that’s not what Langdon was talking about. The dolls are programmed to trust their handlers, but trust, it seems, leaves an imprint on “normal” people, too. You can’t just turn it on and off; when someone trusts you, it affects you. Neither, it seems, can you completely erase trust: Echo’s still looking at Boyd when she says, “with my life.” And DeWitt is more shaken than she’ll admit by Lawrence’s betrayal.

DeWitt’s needs: a little loving, a little company for her lonely heart. Her fantasy is both touching and disturbing: she wants, among other things, a touch of the classy English life she has (I guess we’re meant to assume) left behind. But she also, one guesses, had the hots for one of the dolls. How different is that from what Sierra’s handler was doing? A lot, maybe; Roger could consent. But Victor can’t consent to being Roger. But DeWitt would say he did, when he joined the Dollhouse… I’m still not sure we have a handle on DeWitt. She displays not just firmness but actual cruelty in her treatment of Lawrence – and the way she struts around in the later scenes with that foil is, I’m sure, meant to remind us of the way Echo held the whip in the early scenes. But we’re continually reminded that DeWitt believes the Dollhouse has a higher purpose. Is she just being zealous in defense of that? Does she even know?

Lawrence Dominatri- whoops, Dominic. The last person we’d suspect, so of course it had to be him. But isn’t it interesting that they won’t let us sympathize with him? We do sympathize with Ballard, but Dominic – he tried to kill Echo. And, let’s not forget: he doesn’t want to bring down the Dollhouse. He wants to bring it under government oversight. What would that mean? We watch him go under the wipe with mixed feelings at best.

And Saunders. She keeps getting more and more intriguing. Her exchange with Langdon, where she points out that her discomfort with the Dollhouse isn’t the same as Langdon’s. Well, what does she think he thinks about it? What do we think she thinks about it? What this line of dialogue tells us, I think, is that (a) she feels queasy about a lot of what the Dollhouse does, (b) she recognizes a similar feeling in Langdon, (c) she knows that this queasiness should make her disapprove of the Dollhouse in toto, (d) she thinks that this is precisely what Langdon thinks because he’s an all-around stand-up guy, but (e) she feels that she, herself, isn’t ready to completely give up on the Dollhouse. Note: it’s now formally established that she almost literally has no life outside the Dollhouse. What is it that she needs that the Dollhouse has?

Last things last: the title. From the Anais Nin book? Or from any one of the many songs that borrowed that title? I vote for the Doors song “The Spy” – “I know the dream that you’re dreaming of / I know the word that you long to hear / I know your deepest secret fear.”

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