Dollhouse Riffs: Riff #2: Bodies, Souls, and the Big Bad
“When you will have made him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions
and restored him to his true freedom.”
Antonin Artaud, “To Have Done with the Judgment of God” (1947)
“The Earth is a body without organs. This body without organs is permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities or nomadic singularities, by mad or transitory particles”
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (1987)
Malcolm Reynolds, Angel, Buffy, Joss, and River
In the Whedonverse, there are the Big Damn Heroes and the Big Bads, set up as moral antagonists. Buffy against the Master, Angel against Wolfram & Hart, and the crew of Serenity against the Alliance, Reavers, and Blue Sun. With the TV series Firefly, Joss and Co. created a ‘verse that became progressively grayer. The interconnections between the Alliance, Reavers, and River were finally explained in Serenity.
Dollhouse, Joss Whedon’s new series (thankfully renewed by FOX), plumbs the depths of moral gray areas. In a ‘verse premised upon the concept of implanting different personalities into individual bodies, how does this relate to the Big Bad? The key to unraveling this is the word bodies.
With few exceptions, Whedonverse heroes face embodied enemies: Vampires, Reavers, demons, evil lawyers, and Alliance meddlers. When the body is destroyed, the enemy is destroyed. Usually.
In Dollhouse, what is the Big Bad? Since the First Season is the only raw material we have, the nature of this essay will be more speculative in nature. To paraphrase the TV critics over at the AV Club, “Man on the Street” provided enough material for three seasons.
Let’s examine the suspects:
- THE DOLLHOUSE
According to “Man on the Street,” there are over twenty Dollhouses nationwide. They have strong links to politicians and corporations. What makes the Dollhouse so maddening is its supposedly philanthropic mission. It does not consider itself evil unlike, say, Spike or Wolfram & Hart.
Like Wolfram & Hart, the Dollhouse is an organization. Its recruitment of top-quality personnel parallels Alpha’s harvesting personalities for his body. In both cases, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Alpha and Dollhouse also experience regular breakdowns. While earlier episodes gave the impression Dollhouse operated like a well-oiled machine, regular security breaches and Echo’s consistent off-mission activities have turned this seemingly powerful entity into a paper tiger. The Pentagon represented the symbolic center of the world’s most formidable fighting machine … or it did, until a handful of fanatics flew a commercial jetliner into the structure. In the season finale, Alpha returns to the Dollhouse, accompanied by Paul Ballard, only to wreak havoc again and escape with a compliant Echo. The Dollhouse faces a crisis in confidence.
- THE ROSSUM CORPORATION
The Dollhouse has a shadowy relationship with the Rossum Corporation. It deals in mind-altering pharmaceuticals and has deep pockets. Like Blue Sun, the Rossum Corporation fits into the role of Evil Corporation.
Here’s where things get complicated. In the season finale, “Omega,” we learn one of Alpha’s personalities was a murderer named Carl Craft. Alpha creates an amalgamated personality from 38 other personalities, including one with multiple personalities. (Good one, Joss.) The “composite event” (to use Topher-speak) turns Alpha into a genius with a penchant for making Nietzschean declarations and cutting up people. Instead of higher intelligence, we get a mental breakdown. Like the psychologist said in “Man on the Street,” “If we can do this, then we’re over as a species.”
Alpha is a further complication of previous Big Bad Glorificus (aka Glory aka Ben, her “container”). Glory switches between her goddess-self and her container-self, leading to amnesia, mental strain, and insanity. Only two personalities caused that much damage. Imagine adding thirty-odd more to the mix?
Is Alpha a person? He is a composite personality. Personalities flow in and out of him. He is full of “free intensities or nomadic singularities.” These cause him to think he is the harbinger of a new species of mankind. He might be on to something if he weren’t completely bonkers.
While the Dollhouse is textbook Big Bad, the organization looks far better since it tried to contain Alpha. Even sending him to the dreaded “Attic,” is far better than the other option.
Alpha presents a different kind of amorality. The Dollhouse has a philanthropic, albeit mercenary, agenda. Dirtier jobs can be done, but at a price. Alpha exhibits sociopathic and psychotic traits. Money does not concern him. He’s like Heath Ledger’s Joker. He wants to ride the wave of chaos. Like Joker, Alpha also has a thing for cutting people.
The same twisted interrelationships existed, although never fully revealed in Firefly between the three poles of the Alliance, Blue Sun, and River. We can hope in Season 2 that Joss will reveal more of the interrelationships between the Dollhouses, the Rossum Corporation, and Alpha.