Yes, Joss Whedon did it again. Yet another of his shows lasted on TV for a mere two seasons. In fact, rumor has it that he only got the second season because Fox forgot to cancel the show. This inability of good TV to get high ratings is the bane of all cult TV fans. The infamous cancellation of Firefly after only one season is a shining (or shiny…) example of the way in which TV networks disregard the needs and desires of the most passionate of fans in favor of more numerous viewers.
So we were lucky to get two seasons of Dollhouse despite its relative lack of commercial success. And lucky is right because the show is, in my humble opinion, remarkable. It has its weaknesses, sure, like the rushed ending of the season…but that’s hardly Mr. Whedon’s fault. As usual, I blame this one on Fox.
Anyways, Dollhouse tells the story of a pharmaceutical corporation with the power to wipe individuals’ minds and re-program them at will. They put this power to use providing the rich with “not what they want…but what they need.” Which means most of the time, the dolls, or actives, are programmed to be their lovers, in all senses of the word. It means that not only are clients able to pay to use the actives’ bodies, but also to have their minds made to order.
Of course, this process has a lot of repercussions, addressed throughout the show and with, well, an apocalyptic sort of ending. If you’re a Joss Whedon fan this show is a must-see, but even if not, there are a whole lot of reasons why you should watch it.
First of all, it’s on Netflix. It can’t get any easier than that, right?
Plus, it addresses sex work in a way that is challenging and remarkably not stale. The show manages to throw in all the adages of the anti-prostitution movement, asserting individuals’ inability to consent, etc., but it also problematizes this. There is a whole cast of characters lining up on either side of the debate, and in the middle is Echo, a sex worker who is a remarkably powerful character who, by the end of the show can make her own choices. Basically, the show addresses the manipulative nature of the industry but presents the workers as powerful individuals in their own right.
There is, of course, a strong female lead. Eliza Dushku is more than amazing in the role of Echo. Not only do we get to see her physically take down everyone who tries to take advantage of her, but her character also intellectually and emotionally addresses the inequalities, systems of oppression, and her own personal downfalls that have landed her in this position. Plus, the other female characters are just as powerful, intelligent, and simultaneously sensitive.
The show addresses the apparent fluidity of post-modern identity. Dollhouse does a fantastic job addressing the fears and anxieties of a world in which identity can be created, shed, and re-created along with your outfit. It also debates the tenuous nature of the concept of the soul, or whether there is a fixed ‘self’ within each of us.
Without ever becoming soap opera-y, the relationships of the characters and the very nature of love, friendship, and trust are called into question.
Highlights the corrupt nature of government and corporations. The “partnership” between the Rossum Corporation and a high profile senator is the perfect example.
Finally, the show has some incredible action and even better acting. Amazing hand-to-hand combat sequences are a rare commodity in the days of Michael Bay style moving-from-shot-to-shot-so-fast-you-don’t-know-what-you’re-looking-at sequences. And while the editing is certainly a lot quicker than, say, in Buffy, you can still see what’s going on in these immaculately choreographed sequences, often featuring Dushku taking on, and destroying, guys twice her size. Plus, the acting by all the cast is absolutely incredible as their characters in the show take on different roles on a regular basis.