There *is* a me
Dear Moth Chase Readers,
Read on for a post by our guest blogger on the soon-to-be-gone series the Dollhouse. And make sure to read Martin’s response and commentary on the second of Friday night’s episodes here.
Natalie and Kathryn
Dollhouse: “Meet Jane Doe”
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)*
“My name is Echo.” With that line of dialogue tonight, something radical has shifted in the Dollhouse universe. “There’s a lot of noise from the chorus girls,” Echo says, “but they’re not me. There is a me.” Even without the second episode – whose action-packed zombiepocalypse I’m happy to leave to you to try to summarize – “Meet Jane Doe” was clearly bringing us back to the encounter with Alpha, the Dollhouse’s errant Ubermensch. Escaping last week in a doll state, we now find Echo swiftly transforming from renegade somnambulist to something entirely different: an agent, an “I” who, encountering something less than ideal about herself in Bennett’s memories of Caroline, has come to own the identity of many as herself. But while Alpha is the very embodiment of a schizophrenic madman, the fluidity of whose imprints is only the occasion of megalomania and sadism, Echo – whose owning of her name is a refusal of Omega as much as of Caroline – is emerging as something completely different.
Here’s where I want to disagree with your read of last week’s episodes a bit; if I understand you rightly, you see a fundamental tragedy to the moral ruin of Dollhouse’s universe. Granted, things don’t look good; we continue our steady march toward the dystopia of “Epitaph One,” and what I thought last week was a genuine moral awakening on Adelle’s part was clearly not – she took the ethos of craven self-preservation to a whole new level this week. And even Topher’s emergence as a moral agent seems doomed to irrelevancy (much like Blockbuster). But there’s still Echo; there’s still something being held out here that signifies, even in the grip of something overwhelmingly totalitarian, that out of the flowing images and swirling data bits of contemporary telesociety, we still manage to craft small fragments of a narrative that might tell us a bit about who we are. More than ever in history, we contain multitudes, and we contradict ourselves. But in Echo’s case, the fractures of those contradictions seem to be the occasion of genuine creativity. And fascinatingly, the assumption of her identity has to do with nothing so much as the fleshliness of her embodiment. The ugliness of being a doll is that one is generally a sex slave – yet Echo can say that she’s been saving a body for Caroline all this time. No longer.
Urge and urge and urge/Always the procreant urge of the world. So Whitman says earlier in the poem. One of the other fascinating moments in tonight’s episode was the reunion of Echo and Ballard. Watching Ballard turn the corner in season 1’s “Man on the Street” and run into the literal incarnation of his obsession, with the climactic fight between them (shades of Buffy season 2), has morphed into the charged yet sublimated sexual tension that serves their common interest – taking down the Dollhouse – in this episode. In a very real sense, the shifting center around which every character in Dollhouse is built is their desire. This is what Adelle and Rossum traffic in, the baseness of human desire. But desire is also what drives Echo, Ballard, and certainly Sierra and Victor, who continue to be the show’s unabashed sweethearts. The only ones who are not marked by their desire? The ones who profit from it, Adelle and Harding. There’s something to be said there about the contradictions of network interests in television shows, the self-aware male gaze of Whedon as auteur, and the song of ourselves this show at times manages to be.
*Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”