Dollhouse Riffs: Riff #4: Season Openers


Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse opened with the episodes “Vows” and “Instinct,” bringing new faces like Jamie Bamber and Alexis Denisof.  The season also began with a critique of two idols within the conservative mindset: marriage and motherhood.

In “Vows,” the Dollhouse organization imprints Echo with the personality of an undercover FBI agent.  In her assignment, she married a wealthy amoral arms dealer played by Jamie Bamber.  Bamber (Lee Adama on Battlestar Galactica) uses his authentic British accent.  His good looks and easy-going charm create a false front to his nefarious activities.  He is not above selling dirty bomb components to terrorists in the name of a decent profit.  As a heterosexual businessman, he is not exactly the best poster boy for California’s segregationist Prop 8.  “He sells weapons to terrorists, but at least he’s not gay.”  Echo as the undercover agent made a particularly prescient statement.  She rationalized her faux marriage and the resultant sex as nothing but “acts between bodies.”  When one digs deeper and deconstructs the hysteria behind Prop 8’s passage, it boils down to a rather naïve assumption about bodies.  To the proponents of Prop 8, marriage is nothing more than having a dictatorship over the means of production.  In this case, heterosexual sex and the offspring that result from said union.  The Dollhouse technology of imprinting personalities on to a mind bring a violent anarchy to these Bronze Age notions of marriage.  Echo’s “glitching” at the end of “Vows” shows how our Cartesian assumptions about mind-body separation smash into a million little shards.  A little nudge or a minor malfunction will produce a psychopath like Alpha.

Another new face is seen in “Vows” with Senator Daniel Perrin played by Alexis Denisof (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, How I Met Your Mother).  While former FBI Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) gets co-opted and “turned” into Echo’s handler, Senator Perrin appears as the crusading idealist for the second season.  Since Senator Perrin appears to have a loving relationship with his wife and he remains morally committed to righting corporate wrongs, one is hard pressed to find a real-life equivalent existing in the Congress of today.  If Senator Perrin were real, he would have invited the Rossum Corporation to write whatever health reform legislation came across his desk between accepting bribes for lobbyists and flying to Argentina to visit his mistress.  It is funny how reality reflects back on to this amusing action show.

Former Agent Paul Ballard further illustrates the uneasy relationship between corporate America and public service.  While Ballard gets emotionally blackmailed by the Dollhouse, the phenomenon of the “revolving door” is nothing new.  In the series The 4400, NTAC Director Dennis Ryland (Peter Coyote) retires amidst scandal and then goes to work for Haspel Corporation as an executive.  The concept of the “revolving door” would cause outrage and moral indignation if it were not omnipresent and totally normal.  Regardless of party affiliation or political stance, it occurs at all levels and has been going on for quite some time.  No conspiracy and nothing secretive involved.  It happens every day in every constituency.  What was considered corrupt and nefarious as done by Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed is nothing more than a typical Tuesday in Washington, D.C.  Moreover, like Paul Ballard, one feels powerless to do anything about it.  The money is just too good to pass up.  Unfortunately, that’s the same reason arms dealers and narcotrafficante use for their eccentric business practices.  Like Samuel Beckett said – the Nobel Laureate, not the Quantum Leap character – “I can’t go on.  I’ll go on.”

With the crazy events of this summer past, it is heartening to see Joss Whedon’s action show tackling topics like corporate corruption, the incestuous relationship between corporations and the government, and the shallow ethos underlying the bigotry of Prop 8.
My only pet peeve with the new season is the opening credit sequence.  While it is understandable that Eliza Dushku gets adequate face time in the opening credits, since she is one of the executive producers, the all-Echo, all-the-time is a little frustrating.  The other dolls and the other characters deserve a little visual.  An ironic statement of egomania in a series with a main character who is alternately a blank slate and a crusading altruist.

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