Friday, January 1, 2010

Blogging the Dollhouse: Episode 20: "Meet Jane Doe"

1. Ballard once knowingly slept with a doll, and he couldn’t forgive himself for it. Now Echo throws herself at him, and he refuses. In his mind, sleeping with Echo would be just like sleeping with November: wrong, because it’s using somebody’s body without her permission. But is he right? Echo doesn’t think so. She asserts that she is someone in her own right, an agency, not just a placeholder for Caroline (“Jane Doe” isn’t just a stand-in for a name, it’s also a name). This means she has the right to sleep with Ballard if she wants to: she is qualified to make that decision. Ballard can’t bring himself to agree, and that’s because he still can’t accept Echo for what she is. In his mind she’s something unnatural that will one day have to be put to sleep so that Caroline can wake up. It’s a great science-fictiony dilemma – but note how Mutant Enemy give it to us through echoing Ballard’s earlier encounter. We as viewers are being asked to remember the earlier episode, and what it meant, and note how things have changed, and what that means: we’re expected to notice the parallels, and the productive deviations. This is called subtlety.

2. Keith Carradine is a marvel as Harding. He projects evil, sure, but what evil: he plays the character with a casual, almost avuncular air that constantly throws the viewer off balance. You know he’s evil, and he never disappoints, but he never telegraphs his evil. He plays Harding as a man completely comfortable with his own evil.

3. Topher. Well, he finally did it this time. Now we know that it really is all, all his fault. And Adelle is, of course, right when she accuses him of partially faking his horror at this new tech. He didn’t make detailed schematics because he wanted to destroy them: he made them because he wanted to make them.

4. Adelle. Her betrayal of Topher, turning the plans for the Doomsday Device over to Harding, is a key moment in the series. It comes as a shock, because somehow we’ve been lulled into liking her. More than that, we’ve allowed ourselves to start thinking of her as on the side of good – she’s against Harding, so she must be alright at heart, right? But what’s happened now? Is she really just selling out to save herself, as she tells Harding? Or was she ever really opposed to Rossum’s aims in the first place? Or is she, as her eyes seems to suggest in her final confrontation with Topher, doing this to protect him somehow? What’s her relationship with Topher anyway? There’s more there than meets the eye.

5. Echo. There’s something Matrixy about seeing her Rolodex through her imprints in search of one that knows how to ride a motorcycle. Of course there’s a lot of Matrix in Dollhouse: you could write a thesis on how Dollhouse reflects/refracts/riffs on that movie’s key themes and motifs.

6. I have to say, though… Rushing forward three months in time. It sapped a lot of tension out of the episode for me. A lot of developments (Harding’s ascent, Topher’s adoption of Bennett’s chair design, the decision to imprint dolls as scientists, etc.) were thrown at us all at once, rather than the three or four episodes it would have taken to introduce all this stuff properly. Nothing was given time to breathe. I’m not saying each episode has to take place in a day, but still: maybe Aristotle was onto something with that unity of time business. I do feel the cracks are starting to show in Season 2, in terms of M.E. rushing toward a conclusion.

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