TV Review: Dollhouse, Part 2

Be sure to check out Part 1 of this review before reading this.

SPOILER ALERT: No part of the show and it’s story is off limits to the discussion. You’ve been warned.

The first scene of “Dollhouse” ends with a profound climax. Through a hazy, monitor-like screen, we see Dollhouse manager Adelle DeWitt try to convince a college student named Caroline to join the Dollhouse (Caroline becomes Echo). At first she refuses, but the pressure is so great that she has no other choice.

“I know, I know,” Caroline says, “Actions have consequences.”

“What if they didn’t?” Adelle says.

Therein lies the Dollhouse’s fundamental appeal: escape. For those that enlist to become dolls, it offers freedom from the pain and consequences of a past life. For the clients, it offers people that are as real and genuine as anyone else but also perfectly suited to any relationship or task one could want–but minus the long-term consequences. Everyone’s happy; what could go wrong?

A lot, as it turns out. As in any good story, that’s only how people want things to go.

Adelle DeWitt argues for the morality of the Dollhouse by claiming that it gives people what they need. I won’t delve too deep into the psychology of the issue, but in the show, many of the engagements ring hollow or become downright vile. It seemed that few, if any, of the Dollhouse’s clients for romantic or relational engagements give us the sense that they are really satisfied. Most of the time it involves indulging their own vain, selfish desires or living hopelessly in the past.

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TV Review: Dollhouse, Part 1

I’m not a big television watcher. I refuse to take up the gauntlet of 24 or Lost, catch a few game shows every night, or follow any of the great sagas like Star Trek. Simply put, I try to avoid starting anything that will dominate my life for an extended period of time. The lack of creativity and story that comes with formulaic shows tends to turn me off. Yes, I love Psych as much as the next guy, but after three or four seasons it gets a little old, okay?

That said, the TV medium has it’s uses and can be done well. Two summers ago, I made it through Joss Whedon’s woefully short “Firefly” series. It quickly rose to the top of my list of favorite TV shows. Over the course of this past summer, I’ve worked my way through another of Whedon’s creations: “Dollhouse”.

You could start by describing “Dollhouse” as a sort of science fiction drama, though the genre hardly begins to explain anything about the show’s uniqueness. “Dollhouse” is set in modern times with one fictional factor: people have invented a top secret computer technology capable of manipulating the human brain. It can add and subtract memories, personalities, skills–even allergies and other sensory functions. In other words, you can wipe away someone mind and replace it with whatever you want, thus creating any person you want in any given body. You can even take a full “imprint” of one person’s mind and put it in another person’s body.

The show gets its name from an underground institution called the Dollhouse. In a Dollhouse, people sign their lives away for a number of years to become a “doll.” In doll state, heir minds have been wiped and restored to the “tabula rasa,” or blank slate, where they live in a state of absolute innocence and ignorance. Dollhouses rent out their dolls, or “actives”, as they’re called, to clients. Whatever a client wants is programmed into an active for a genuine experience, or “engagement,” with another person. These range from romantic engagements, where the active is basically a programmed lover, to undercover spy operations. Within their database of mind “imprints”, the Dollhouse supplies its clients with anything from the perfect wife to a master thief.

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The Silence of the Lambs and the Human Heart

I watched The Silence of the Lambs for the third time last weekend. It’s one of those films that deserves multiple viewings due to the depth of the characters, filming style, story, and excellent acting.

For those unfamiliar with the film, the basic premise is this: FBI leader Jack Crawford enlists the help of up-and-coming recruit Clarice Starling to help him track down a serial killer nicknamed “Buffalo Bill.” Bill kidnaps women, holds them for several days, takes part of their skin and then kills them. To help profile and track down the killer, Jack sends Clarice to talk to the imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a psychologist and serial killer himself who gained notoriety by eating his victims.

Whether we admit it not, we like Hannibal Lecter. That’s why he is such a great villain. Now before you object, let me explain. We hate him, of course, because he shows no regard for human life and brutally murders people. I would be glad to see him die, but still, we like him too. His attributes are too compelling to do otherwise. He always stays in control of the situation, and even when behind bars he remains superior to all those around him. He is very polite and tempered. He can read people, and he knows what questions to ask to get to deepest and darkest parts of someone’s heart. Even though he eats people, calling him just a monster or psycho is a gross oversimplification.

Of particular interest on a psychological and, I’d venture to say, theological level, Hannibal displays especially great insight into the human heart–his language sometimes even seems to have biblical influences. He never stops at surface explanations that really don’t explain anything. Instead, he always drives deeper–to basic motives, desires, and needs. He goes straight for the gods of our hearts. Consider this exchange between Hannibal and Clarice, as she interrogates him in prison about Buffalo Bill: Continue reading →