Because the Dolls Are Seriously NOT Having Fun

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This morning I was busy accomplishing great things when I thought, "Hey! I forgot to watch the latest episode of Dollhouse over the weekend!" Of course I forgot; I'm not really interested, and I've been watching only out of obligation. But I tend to meet my obligations, even to Joss Whedon, so around noon I clicked onto Hulu to catch up on Joss's crappy current project while I ate lunch.

The ep started off with some creepy guy arranging a strange croquet tableau with real women propped up by the sorts of stands used to position mannequins. I figured it was a client of the dollhouse using its "dolls" in the most literal ways: as dolls. I continued to think that even after he used a croquet mallet to bash in the head of one of the women. I continued to think that after we flashed to the dollhouse and there was a discussion of helping some guy who'd ended up in the hospital after being hit by a car, which was what happened to the creepy guy we saw using real women as life-size dolls.

BUT NO! Turns out that the creepy guy was NOT a client of the dollhouse, but the nephew of a stockholder of the dollhouse's parent company! And Creepy Guy's brain scan reveals so clearly that he's a serial killer, that even the amoral, idiotic Topher is unwilling to bring this guy out of a coma.

And then it turns out that the guy has to be questioned, because it turns out that some of his kidnapping victims might still be alive, and the rich uncle wants to find them while they're still alive so that can be paid to be silent and not press charges, thus avoiding the embarrassment the family might experience if the discovery of dead bodies require some sort of investigation into how they died.

At this point the show is able to give some screen time to the guy who plays Victor, who has not done much so far this season. He gets to have Creepy Guy's identity downloaded into his brain, and that's how Agent Ballard is able to ask him why he kidnapped these women.

I admit I did not watch especially closely. I admit I did not want to watch too closely. The first half of the show foregrounded the experience and attitudes of the kidnapper/murderer of women, the way he sees women and how entitled he feels to hurt them, and that's not something I enjoy watching.

And here's the thing: this episode gave me a panic attack. It raised my pulse, my heartbeat and my temperature. It made me anxious and afraid. It made me want to run away and vomit, in that order. It made me feel as if I was threatened by sexual assault.

The fact is, I believe I am threatened, at least somewhat, because this show traffics too easily and facilely in the degradation and abuse of women. And I'm SICK of this shit, even if it is from Joss Whedon. As Joss himself acknowledged, "depending on how it is handled, the show could end up either being 'A fight for her identity or just a misogynist fantasy.'" Too, too often, the "fight for identity" stuff loses out to the "misogynist fantasy" stuff.

I'm sure someone will argue, "But the dollhouse wanted to stop Creepy Guy! The whole point of the episode is that it's WRONG to kidnap women and use them as props in your sick little twisted fantasy!"

But if the show really wanted to offer that critique, it should have had SOMEONE on the show acknowledge that similarities between what Creepy Guy was doing, and what the dollhouse does. I listened for such a thing, and I didn't hear it--though, as I said, I couldn't watch too closely. If someone else caught it, please let me know.

As far as I am concerned, the show didn't offer an explicit critique or condemnation of kidnapping women and using them as props in gross fantasies is that it couldn't, because the actions of Creepy Guy mimic too closely the basic operations of the dollhouse. OK, Creepy Guy actually murdered someone. But the dollhouse is by no means opposed to murder as a basic principle; Adele has arranged murders in the past, and, I suspect, may yet do it again.

And I am fucking tired of being told that violence against women is edgy entertainment.

5 Comments

THANK YOU. I generally see where Joss is going with his turning victims into victors, but this episode (after the last two that included gratuitous harm to women as lazy plot devices that could easily have been written as strong, interesting scenes or themes) made me question what the man has been thinking. I turned it off after that first scene and haven't yet decided if I'm willing to watch more. I'm pretty sure that wanting to pay the victims for their silence makes it worse.

I am still generally intrigued by the show's premise, particularly when the dolls are given assignments that aren't related to sex. But even fighting back isn't empowering when there is a smarter way to deal with the situation.

Hi CWM--

I'm glad you found the post insightful. I may yet watch a few more episodes in the future, after I've had a gone long break. I was all proud that I resisted the impulse to watch last week's episode, 'cause I admit there was a moment where I thought, "Oh, just WATCH it; it's Joss!" But I didn't. And then someone told me it didn't matter because the show wasn't even on. Maybe Joss is running out of steam too.

This has nothing to do with the obvious misogynistic overtones, but I just rolled my eyes at stereotypical serial killer. From the get-go I was irritated with the writers; it's like they took him from some stock description of a sociopath. Hair combed way over to the side - check. Dorky suit - check. Talks like an old lady - check. Okay, we've got our serial killer!

But then again, this sort of thing seems to be pretty typical of the writers of Dollhouse. Either they're not bothering to try because they know this show is doomed, or they're just incredibly inept.

As someone who loved Buffy I am saddened at the turn Joss has taken. As a feminist, and now someone who works in a transition house, no, violence against women is not funny and not good TV. I watched about 5 minutes of dollhouse and turned it off after deciding it looked stupid and sexist. I am glad you posted this so that I did not have to see it for myself.

Hi Rebecca and Carmen--yes, it's just SAD that Joss is doing such crappy work these days. The writing, the plots, pretty much everything: it's all a disappointment. We KNOW he can do better, so why doesn't he?

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on October 12, 2009 1:56 PM.

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