Saturday, January 2, 2010

Blogging the Dollhouse: Episode 23: "The Attic"

Those Matrix comparisons are looking more and more apt. Matrix posited a world in which man’s creations escaped his control, enslaved mankind, using their bodies as a power source; consciousness, for the Machines, was an obstacle to be overcome. Hence the Matrix, the ultimate distraction. Keep ‘em fat and happy, give ‘em bread and circuses, McD’s and CNN. Dollhouse is, in essence, looking at that vision of the future and saying, “how naïve. You think the Enemy is going to be content to leave consciousness alone and unexploited? Furthermore, you think the Enemy is going to be a Them – Machines? The Enemy is, has only ever been, and always will be: us.” (Victor fighting himself in an Afghanistan of the mind.)

That’s one dimension the Attic moves in. The image of the Corporation feeding on humanity itself – just like in the Japanese programmer’s nightmare, wherein he’s constantly consuming himself (a distant echo of workaholism, I guess, but also a mighty hint of the Attic’s true purpose). Now connect this understanding of Attic-as-center-of-productivity with our previous understanding of the Attic as a prison, a warehouse for broken (i.e., disobedient) dolls. What does this suggest about the role of prisons in society? Exploitative much? Last episode we looked at the military-industrial complex (manufacturing endless wars to fuel manufacturing, one product of which is people who fit a certain mold); maybe now we’re looking at the prison-industrial complex.

But the Attic is also metaphysical. Dollhouse doesn’t wear its spiritualism on its sleeve like Matrix, but it’s just as sophisticated in its engagement with discourses of enlightenment, transcendence, ghosts in machines. The Attic is Hell: this is repeated a number of times. Echo, the Heroine in the making, must pass through Hell. And she doesn’t just pass through it: she starts busting things up. She harrows it, releasing at least two of its captives. She dies, rises from the dead, then raises two of her friends from the dead. This is some serious hero-construction here.


Where do we end? With the new League of Justice gathered in DeWitt’s office, ready to take on the world-destroyers. Now we finally know that DeWitt is on our side, and probably always was. In fact, I think this scene is hinting at just how far back DeWitt’s plans go. We know that DeWitt sent Echo into the Attic hoping she’d learn something. But I think DeWitt brought Caroline into the Dollhouse in the first place for the same reason. Notice how this last scene starts: closeup on Echo with that red wall in the background. It’s the same room we started the whole series in, where Caroline signed the contract with DeWitt. It’s such a similar setup that we might for a moment think we’ve flashed back to that moment in time. After all, we’ve just learned that Caroline knows the founders of the Attic: we’ve just had Caroline’s presence invoked, and it’s just about to be invoked again. Maybe DeWitt’s original bargain with Caroline was part of a scheme they both had to bring down Rossum.


At last I can say I’m fully hooked on this series again. Probably alone among Dollhouse fans, I never felt the second season quite equalled the first (scattered moments such as “Belonging” aside). But these last two episodes really had me in the chair. What's changed? I'm not sure. There's still not much in the way of a hint that the future of "Epitaph One" can be averted - I suppose we still could be told it was All a Dream, one of Clyde's nightmares, but I don't (want to) expect that. So there's still not much big-s Suspense. Rather, I think it's that the show had me emotionally invested in its characters this time and last: Priya (no coincidence, I think, that my previous favorite ep of the season was "Belonging"), Victor, Echo, even DeWitt in her alcoholic stupor.

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