Dollhouse Riffs: Riff #1: Dollhouse, the Dollhouse, and “freedom”

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How free are those that control Dollhouse, compared to the dolls?

Topher and Sierra’s “play date” occurred under the nose of Adele.  Adele, smartly, lets it pass.  Without it, Topher would be driven nuts.  Or is this “play date” used as an opiate, a distraction for Topher.  Is Topher also a doll?  (A theory forwarded by my girlfriend.  I think there is some merit to it.)

The play date creates a carnival atmosphere, a great leveling that occurs between the powerful genius and the pliant doll.

A similar leveling occurs when Victor is programmed to help Miss Lonelyhearts, in this case Adele.  Adele needs to confess her concerns to someone.  Since her work involves secrecy and powerful clients, she unloads on Victor, then has his memory wiped.

Can those controlling Dollhouse actually leave the Dollhouse?

Yes and no.  While the handlers can come and go, they are bound by the strictures of their doll’s mission.  The regular staff (house security, medical, and the scanning/wiping station) all require a 24/7 commitment.  This is wrapped up in the alleged philanthropic nature of the business.

Inside the Dollhouse, it is a serene world of contrasts.  A military-style security system while the dolls inhabit a blissed-out world akin to a New Age spa.

Since Dollhouse staff can’t leave, does that affect their perspective on the world?

The contradictory atmosphere turns the Dollhouse into a calm fortress.  Thus far, in the series, we don’t know where the Dollhouse is.  Los Angeles is a giant, sprawling, diverse, and dangerous city.  Is it in a downtown office building?  Unlike the Hyperion Hotel of Angel Investigations, the Los Angeles Dollhouse is devoid of history.  The Dollhouse has a modernist anonymity of Wolfram & Hart or an Alliance core world skyscraper.

Dollhouse is analogous to fortresses and monasteries.  The dolls regularly exercise in the facility.  And akin to fortresses and monasteries, the Dollhouse also has darker parallels.  Survivalist communities, cult compounds, corporate campuses – the stuff of J. G. Ballard’s nightmares.  In each case, there is groupthink, fanaticism, and every once in a while some one snaps.

So what does this all mean, especially in terms of freedom?  That slippery subjective term has two sides: freedom to and freedom from.  However, the dolls aren’t the only ones that sacrifice “freedom to,” it is also the management, including Topher and Adele.  Everyone is sacrificing something, but sacrifice is not entirely selfless.  The dolls sacrifice their lives for a period of indentured servitude akin to the Foreign Legion.  Why is management sacrificing?  What’s the pay-off?  Or is the Dollhouse the pinnacle of the shadowy ultra-futuristic quasi-philanthropic business community?  If it’s the top, then what?

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