Reason "Dollhouse" Is Misogynist Bullshit #2: Topher Brink

| 9 Comments

This Casting Alert at E! Online describes Topher, the guy who programs the dolls, as

20s, genius programmer who's articulate, nerdily attractive and blithely amoral. He's responsible for imprinting the Dolls—and making sure they stay unaware of anything. Is fascinated by the science and kind of digging the illegality. Fun to be around but might not be remotely trustworthy.

In this interview at SciFi.com, Joss himself says that Topher "is going to be cute and funny and sexy, he programs them, and he has a very amoral kind of point of view."

And in this interview at Collider.com, he says that "Part of the mandate of the show is to make people nervous. It’s to make them identify with people they don’t like and get into situations that they don’t approve of."

And my reaction is... You're shittin' me, right? You don't REALLY think this guy is cute and funny and sexy, do you? You don't really think that many people are going to sympathize with a nerd who would wipe everyone's mind blank if he had half a chance? 'Cause I sure as hell don't.

I LOATHE this guy, for lots and lots of reasons, and I'm pissed that Caroline didn't scrape his brain like a piece of burnt toast when she had the chance.

The first reason I hate him is, of course, that he's amoral. Maybe I'm weird, but I don't really find that appealing. The second is that he is painfully sexually inhibited, to the point that he is unable to say "erection," preferring, he says, the term "man reaction." The third is that he is a coward, afraid not only of the dark but of any sort of physical pain or discomfort. The fourth is that he's completely immature--his favorite beverage is a juice box.

The fifth is that any humor his character might provide occurs because all those other flaws, which aren't funny, are played for laughs, which aren't forthcoming. He can't carry the comedic weight his role is assigned.

A huge problem--not only with Topher, but with the whole show--is that in most episodes, Topher is about IT as far as comic relief goes. OK, in "Echoes," ep 7, where the memory drug makes people who still have their brains act silly, there's more silliness than just Topher being afraid of the dark or being so uncomfortable with adult sexuality that he relies on childish euphemisms. Otherwise, most of the humor is along the lines of not-blank-slate-doll-Mike making a list of "naturally sweet" foods like "cantaloupe, mangoes, mayonnaise." It's so slight it barely registers, and it doesn't say anything about the character, because the character doesn't really exist.

I really do hate Topher, and I wish he'd go away. Remember how Joss killed Doyle at the end of the ep 9 of Season 1 of Angel, making way for Wesley, who was much less attractive a human being and much less interesting a character than poor dead Doyle? Why can't Topher die and make way for a less amoral, more sympathetic character?

In "Needs," when Caroline/Echo has him at gunpoint and forces him into the chair, I was really hoping the writers would go ahead and let Caroline/Echo imprint her memories and personality over his. So what if it would cause his brain to implode. That would be a good thing! I would love to see Topher a hollow, vacant shell of his former self, wandering around the Dollhouse and cleaning up gross bodily fluids, much like Maggie Walsh at the end of Season 4, after Adam turned her into a zombie--except Topher would have the added burden of trying to integrate Caroline's sensibilities into his own paltry, fucked-up sense of self.

But no, he's still around, programming actives and giving treatments, and, it appears, likely to stay around, because apparently the writers actually think this shit is GOOD and are self-deceived enough to think that thoughtful people will like it too--not just a few loyal fans, but lots of people.

And to demonstrate that I'm not the only person who has problems with Topher, here's some good analysis from a blog called Watching Dollhouse:

is he really the type of person you want taking care of your imprinted mind? Amorality, I’m sure has it’s place in the world, and perhaps someone who has no moral code is best suited to the job, from the point of view of his employers. But surely the ethics behind the science of this operation, requires someone who has morals?

p.s. I acknowledge that my tirade against Topher doesn't constitute a reason Dollhouse is misogynist bullshit so much as a reason it's just bullshit, period. But the fact that it's bullshit, period, makes its misogyny worse as well.

9 Comments

I don't hate the show as much as you do, but Topher? NEEDS TO DIE. There is nothing even remotely interesting about him, and he's so obnoxious on top of it. Even his name is obnoxious - the geek trying to be cool. I like geeks, but he is a geek in the most pretentious, obnoxious kind of way. And not at all cool.

OT: I went to the mediabistro link you suggested regarding the Israeli paper that airbrushed out the women in the photo. All I can do is shake my head. This what happens when you mix religion and secular politics.

I'm afraid you crossed the line here. If you think that Joss is being a misogynist or that Dollhouse sucks or that Topher is badly written/acted, that's fine. You do not, however, have the right to make blanket statements implying that no intelligent person could possibly disagree with you. When you say "apparently the writers actually think this shit is GOOD and are self-deceived enough to think that thoughtful people will like it too" you basically say that I and anyone else who likes the show or the character are not "thoughtful people".

I think very deeply about the television that I watch, and I happen to enjoy Dollhouse a great deal. I am male, but I am also a feminist and have fought for women's rights for more than twenty years. I deeply resent the implication that I must be either unintelligent or a misogynist if I enjoy Dollhouse.

And on another note, I have to ask something. You have said that you are a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I assume that you loathed Xander then? I only ask because almost everything that you point out as negatives about Topher are also true of Xander. The big difference is that Xander isn't amoral, but he is almost incapable of talking about sex ("I've never been... up with people."), mostly a coward ("I laugh in the face of danger... and then hide until it goes away."), and talk about immature... He even drinks juice boxes which he used to keep in a mini-fridge in his room (remember when Anya disrobed and he turned around with a juice box in hand?). Honestly, I don't think the character of Topher works nearly as well as Xander did, but I still can't use any of these traits as negatives. Or, are you saying that you liked Xander despite these shortcomings? I honestly am curious.

I deeply resent the implication that I must be either unintelligent or a misogynist if I enjoy Dollhouse.

Tough shit.

re: Xander--the immaturity, the inability to talk intelligently about sex--yes, those things really bug me at times. Both of those things are, I think, among the failings of BtVS in general. But as you mention, Xander is not amoral, which makes him a much more likable character, and makes his other flaws easier to accept.

There is also the fact that Xander is genuinely funny at times. Topher never is.

Another problem with your comparison between Xander and Topher: you fail to consider the difference in their ages. When the show begins, Xander is a sophomore in high school. When he tells Faith he has never before been "up with people," he is a senior in high school. At the point he squeezes a juice box in reaction to Anya shedding her clothes, he is barely out of high school.

Topher, on the other hand, is in his mid 20s.

A certain immaturity or reticence that could be amusing at best and understandable at least in the case of an adolescent like Xander, is merely annoying in the case of an ostensible adult like Topher.

In other words, your assumption about my opinion of Xander is seriously flawed, as is the logic you used to arrive at it.

re: Xander. I haven't been able to see any of Dollhouse yet and maybe because the show is in early days, the comparison is not valid but the thing about Xander is that the character grew and developed. By seasons six and seven, he wasn't so awkward about sex any more, thanks to having had a complex relationship with Anya; he was no longer the "immature" male figure (Andrew took that role as Xander began to be more responsible and to show more self-mastery); and I don't think it would ever be fair to describe him as a coward, even from season one: everyone may have teased him about being a coward ("he hides behind his Buffy") but he always put himself into the fights and especially when he needed to help or protect his friends.

Hi Spike--

it occurred to me after I posted my comment that I had not address the issue of Xander's self-proclaimed cowardice--or the bravery he displayed in spite of it. Thanks for correcting the omission. I think you're right, in all your analysis.

Heaven forbid a character is flawed.

Also, if you want to talk about misogyny, why do you mention the "father of the essay" when you could just as easily cite a female author who would keep up a blog during modern times if there was a different timeline (Adrienne Rich, for example). There is so much misogyny in the English language that we haven't talked about, and you're poking at a show on FOX of all networks? I think you need to look for harder targets than Joss Whedon, whose works have been prodded at by more feminists than almost anybody.

Heaven forbid a character is flawed.

Oh jesus christ. More trolling from idiots who don't understand the difference between a complex character who is "flawed" the way human beings are, and a character who is poorly conceived, unrealistic, unconvincing and fails to function the way the creators of a work intend.

Also, if you want to talk about misogyny, why do you mention the "father of the essay" when you could just as easily cite a female author who would keep up a blog during modern times if there was a different timeline (Adrienne Rich, for example).

I mention the "father of the essay" because the history of the essay was one of the topics I specialized in when I got a PhD.

Adrienne Rich is still alive, by the way, and could keep a blog if she wanted to. But I'm not convinced she'd want to. For a good long while, she was very in to controlling who had access to her stuff, and sometimes wouldn't read if there was a single man in an audience she was supposed to read for.

There is so much misogyny in the English language that we haven't talked about, and you're poking at a show on FOX of all networks? I think you need to look for harder targets than Joss Whedon, whose works have been prodded at by more feminists than almost anybody.

I have a longstanding interest in Joss's work, and I've earned the right to critique it by taking his work seriously for over a decade at this point. I don't go looking for shit to offend me, and I wouldn't have watched "Dollhouse" if it had been made by anybody but Joss.

What's YOUR excuse for reading a blog that offends you and where you have nothing to offer but bullshit nastiness?

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on April 6, 2009 7:41 PM.

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