Saturday, January 2, 2010

Blogging the Dollhouse: Episode 22: "Stop-Loss"

This might be my favorite episode of the season so far. The Love Supreme is, of course, the one that proceeds from deepest within, transcending any superficialities of personality: Victor and Sierra have it.

And what does it inspire? Grouping, in their doll-state: a primal reflection of the deep commitment that mature love inspires, commitment that can lead to a life-sharing so thorough that the people involved can feel part of one another. Lenono. So isn’t it interesting that this kind of grouping is what enables Victor/Anthony to resist the groupthink of Mind Whisper?

Dollhouse has always been about the individual and the collective, the question of whether the collective can/should/does demand the individual surrender her autonomy. Doll technology is, by its very existence, an affront to the notion of personal autonomy: it threatens to dissolve us all into a sea of undifferentiated tools of Rossum. What this episode does (unexpectedly, I might add: the first time in a while they’ve blindsided me with subtext: cool) is present the possibility that we might be dissolved into a sea of undifferentiated consciousness, not only our individual autonomy gone, but our individuality itself.

Mutant Enemy gives this to us in the context of a Supersoldier plot. It’s a familiar device, not only from sci-fi and comic books, X-Files and X-Men, but also Buffy Season 4: if it comes a little out of the blue here, it certainly fits in with Rossum. Is anybody surprised they have a military contracting wing?

And it fits in perfectly with Dollhouse’s themes. The military is only the most obvious way in which the modern state tries to mold, remake, define, standardize, not to mention control, its citizenry. The rhetoric is inescapable and callused: the individual recruit is turned into a fighting machine, or a part in a larger fighting machine. Intentionally dehumanized: see Full Metal Jacket. Cannon fodder, human bullets: the soldier is the emblem for how the modern state sees its people: as resources, tools, component parts. That the soldiers themselves might have the best of intentions and the deepest of personal tragedies doesn’t change things: we can weep for Victor, even as we recoil in horror from the group to which he devotes himself.

Does anybody really leave the Dollhouse? No, or at least not more easily than soldiers can leave the army in these days of endless war, of stop-loss programs. (There’s a lot to notice in this episode vis-√†-vis recent military history. Boyd’s mention of Blackwater is just the start. Note Victor, Echo, Sierra in their black hoods. Remind you of anything?)

Grouping. Perhaps it’s inevitable: perhaps it’s unavoidable. The only way for Anthony to resist one group (Scytheon) is to take refuge in another (Victor-Sierra). It’s not so different from the position all the non-dolls are put in. They have to choose sides. Nobody can stand alone. And who’s the only hope? Echo, who consitutes a group in herself. She embraces that, masters it, succeeds in integrating her many selves into a whole, just as she succeeds in dominating the military groupthink she voluntarily adds to her inner matrix.

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