In the tenth episode of the first season of Dollhouse, Echo is given a unique assignment while Topher secures Sierra for his own purposes. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Dollhouse.
It’s nice that after “A Spy in the House of Love,” we actually have a reason for this show to take a break. Given the chaos surrounding the discovery of Dominic’s true intentions, it makes sense that DeWitt would put most of the Dollhouse to rest. Through this, we get a fascinating one-off story that has horrifying consequences for the future, and we learn more about Topher. Shall we?
I’d never even considered the possibilities present in the imprint technology to extend human life, and while most of what we see here in “Haunted” only provides us with a single example, I’m kind of nervous about the implications for the future. I was initially confused at how this was even possible until Margaret, through Echo, explained that she came into the Dollhouse every month to update her brain scans. Her own paranoia about her method of dying fueled such an absurd act, and lo and behold, it was actually warranted. What unfolds over the course of “Haunted” is a surreal drawing room mystery, one that feels like a love letter to Agatha Christie. Of course, what makes this so strange is that the woman who was murdered is the one trying to figure out who killed her. And she’s in someone else’s body. AND EVERYTHING IS UNCOMFORTABLE FOREVER. No, seriously, this show already had the most uncomfortable premise just from the start, and every episode just makes me feel dirty.
Even worse, the way this whole ordeal starts is… well, kind of fun? I mean, Margaret gets to attend her own funeral with her best friend Adelle, and they proceed to rip on the entire family from the back row. At heart, there is an appealing notion to being able to live after death. That is, it only starts off this way. THEN WE SEE THE ACTUAL EXECUTION OF IT, AND IT IS MORTIFYING. Margaret assumed she was universally loved, that what she did in life was worthy of praise, and that she would be dearly missed. Instead, we see a portrait of an upper class family torn to pieces. We have the under appreciated and ignored daughter, the debt-laden and fearful son, and the alcoholic and estranged brother. Even Margaret’s husband isn’t mourning in the way that she expected. It speaks to just how wrong this is while also allowing room for criticism of Margaret. All of this, then, is exacerbated by the presence of Julia. Here’s someone pretending to be a close confidante of Margaret who is overly optimistic and positive, apparently as evidence that Margaret was able to be close to others. Instead, it acts to enrage Jocelyn and amuse Nicholas and William. Everything that Julia is telling these people clashes with the image of Margaret that they had.
It’s through this the murder mystery begins, especially once Margaret realizes that her husband is reacting to her death with anger. Oh, and selling her prize racehorse. I admit to not being entirely interested in how the mystery played out, especially since I found all the character interactions so much more fascinating. The mystery relies more on turning tropes on their head than anything else. The husband isn’t a gold digger as initially suspected; the brother really did reconcile with his sister; and Jocelyn’s issues were validated by the story. Her mother did ignore her daughter’s aspirations. And as cheesy as it is, I liked that there she was given a chance to right a few wrongs by the end of this.
To me, “Haunted” was always more intriguing as an exploration of willingly becoming your own ghost. What would it be like to be amongst your family when they don’t think you are there? Did you really leave behind the legacy that you thought you did? And when the time came, would you be able to willingly give this second chance up? It was great that Boyd vocalized his issues with this, and I started to wonder if his concern was actually foreshadowing. Would Margaret refuse to give up Echo’s body? But honestly, that’s not what this story was about. Yes, Margaret lived a decadent live where she could afford the privilege of attending her own funeral. “Haunted” never ignores the fact that this story is essentially about a bunch of rich, privileged people. Still, Margaret wasn’t in this to live forever. Am I worried that someone else might exploit this? OH, OF COURSE I AM.
More than ever, I’m interested to know how Topher came to work at the Dollhouse. I don’t ever want to ignore how complicit he is in this whole process, but I’m not ready to make any definitive statements about his character. Like DeWitt, his work in the Dollhouse is immensely complicated from a moral standpoint. DeWitt believes that the work she’s doing is good, and that’s her genuine belief. And while we’ve seen Topher face the reality of his job a couple times, he also generally believes that what he’s doing is fine. He believes he is helping people.
What I appreciate about his character is that there’s this conscious decision by the writers to examine what a person like Topher would be like. The nerdy white genius is not an uncommon trope, and what’s revealed in “Haunted” isn’t all that surprising. We’ve got a character here who is unable to make connections to other people in any normal sense. What’s important about this is that his birthday gift is not romantic. Topher made himself a best friend. It’s… jesus, it’s just so sad to me. I can’t presume to know what causes Topher’s anxiety. I can’t even guess as to why Topher is unable to make close friends. Is it his personality? His work? Something else? I don’t actually know, and this episode doesn’t get me any closer to understanding that. But these sort of character portraits only make me more interested in the show. I want to know more, both of the plot and the characters. It was risky sticking a “break” into the mythology at this point, but I appreciate it.
NOW GIVE ME MORE. THANKS.
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