In the seventh episode of the first season of Dollhouse, the fictional world of the Dollhouse is expanded in a horrifying way and MEHCAD BROOKS, HELLO, I LOVE YOUR FACE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Dollhouse.
Am I going to have to re-think what this show is actually about every episode? Because holy shit, I had no idea what was actually going on, and I bet I still don’t. With “Echoes,” the writers reveal the actual corporation behind the Dollhouse, delve into the reasons Caroline became an Active, and make us laugh throughout. This is actually the first story on this show that feels like it belongs in Joss Whedon’s world, and I’m so impressed that we’re getting it so early into the season. It’s a deconstruction of the characters we’ve come to know while also being a very intense study on the motivations that led to someone like Caroline (and possibly Sam) giving up their entire life for five years. Honestly, there’s just so much good shit here to sift through, and I am so pleased that I’m watching this show.
First of all, it’s clear that I’m going to have to re-examine what exactly this show is about. I still think it absolutely works as an exploration of human trafficking, the notion of consent and how that is tied to identity, and the lengths humans are willing to go to make their fantasy real. On top of this, though, “Echoes” introduces the Rossum Corporation, the entity behind the Dollhouse. It seems that this multinational company not only funds the Dollhouse, but is responsible for its existence. I’m not entirely sure what Rossum does, but what little I gleaned from the flashbacks involving Caroline suggested that they were in the business of researching the mind. And while we do get a basic introduction to the disturbing experiments Rossum was carrying out in the name of science, I’m more intrigued by the concept of power and corporate identity. Woven into the fabric of this story is the idea that the Rossum Corporation has power through capitalism, that they are exempt from following the law because they have access through their money. While there have been hints in the past that someone or something had authority over the Dollhouse, this episode gives us the first chance to see DeWitt terrified of her superiors. So what sort of power does Rossum have? What are they capable of?
I don’t know the answers to these questions just yet, but it’s fun to engage with them. It’s such a terrifying idea because it’s so very real. I mean, I live in a country where corporations can legally be treated as people, where elections can be bought and sold through super PACs, and where politicians don’t have to represent the people who voted them into office. Granted, that’s a very simplistic and reductive way of dealing with corporate personhood in American politics and economics. I could spend days talking about this sort of stuff, about how I believe that Dodge v. Ford Motor Company set a horrifying precedent for corporate America, and how that ostensibly relates to Dollhouse. But I don’t know that this is the place for this yet, especially since I don’t know how Whedon and company are going to deal with these themes. However, I admit I’m now 80 billion percent intrigued by this show because I want to talk about these sort of things, and I’m excited that I might get the chance to do so.
And there are SO MANY OTHER LAYERS TO THIS EPISODE! Like, the whole time I was watching “Echoes,” I was overwhelmed by how many things this show just gave me to talk about. First of all, I don’t even know how to analyze Mellie. The reveal that she is actually November, an Active, just fucked up everything I might want to say about her character. Like, there’s something to be said about how great it is that this show is writing about a woman rejecting a super hot dude because she wants his true attention. Like, she doesn’t want to be his second-in-line; she doesn’t want to risk her own life because of Paul’s obsession. And this is fascinating! But… she’s programmed. She was made this way, and it hurts my brain to think about how to talk about this. That’s something unique to this show. The very concept of identity is turned on its head, and you have to think about what all these interactions mean. It’s hard to wrap my head around this! It’s even more difficult once you factor in what the drug in this episode does to the Actives. Instead of blissfully hallucinating, their worst, most traumatic memories are brought to the surface. For Echo, it was the loss of her boyfriend after they broke into the Rossum labs; Sierra relives her rape at the hands of Hearn; Mellie flashes back to a combination of a manufactured memory of her previous boyfriend, Ballard’s refusal to drop the Dollhouse case, and Hearn’s attack on her; and then we’ve got Victor, who tried to save someone while in the Marines (probably in Afghanistan, given the timeline of this show), but instead was nearly blown up. It’s fascinating to me that they don’t universally revert back to pre-Dollhouse memories. Why is that? Is there a chance that the Actives might remember their old lives and identities at some point? If a drug itself can trigger these things, isn’t it possible that there’s some other way to access these memories? I mean, doesn’t this episode imply that the Actives aren’t erased completely?
I CAN HOPE, OKAY.
It must also be said that this episode is funny as hell. First of all, Boyd. High. Boyd is high in this episode. I WANTED SO MUCH MORE. And then Dominic was high, and I was about 100% done with this show because I couldn’t handle how great of an actor Reed Diamond was in “Echoes,” and then DEWITT AND TOPHER HANGING OUT AND EATING FORBIDDEN STARCHES TOGETHER WAS THE BEST. IT WAS THE BEST THING. I do admit that it’s weird to be mortally terrified by this show in one instance, and then want to laugh until you cry the next, but you know, “Echoes” navigates these two tones quite well. I think that being able to do that is a testament to just how complex and nuanced Dollhouse can be, and that’s really exciting for a science fiction show of this nature. It’s nice to know that things don’t have to be deadly serious all of the time.
Of course, at heart, this is incredibly serious. I wonder if all the Actives agreed to their contracts because they got too close to discovering what the Rossum Corporation was actually up to, which is a mortifying thought. Hell, that’s a pretty brilliant way to defuse dissent against your company, isn’t it? Offer these people something that solves the frustrating problems they have in life, including the possibility of jail, and take five years of their life in the process. They become the very thing they (might) have been fighting against. ALSO HELLO EVERYONE, DOESN’T THIS SOUND SUSPICIOUSLY LIKE A SHOW I JUST REVIEWED OH MY GOD.
Anyway, I’m excited to see more of this show. This is great!
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