Monday, March 30, 2009


I've been watching Dollhouse on Hulu since its premiere. Part of it is that I feel so left out by the Firefly fandom - catching up on it several years later, I realize it's a great show. But my outrage only goes so far, after all, I had no idea it existed when it actually aired.

Unfortunately, Dollhouse isn't half as interesting, though it's certainly not bad. I'm rather enjoying it so far, when I watch, but there's not much there after the episode. The show seems to be lacking a thematic core. Most successful science fiction shows have major themes which drive the concept of the show, as well as its individual episodes.

  • The X-Files was built around concepts of belief, knowledge, and faith. How do you know what you know, and why do you believe what you believe?
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon's biggest hit, was essentially an update of Spider-Man: a fantastical parable of what growing up meant, and how "with great power comes great responsibility."
  • The new Battlestar Galactica focuses on the moral decisions of leaders, and when the ends justify the means, and when they don't.
  • Firefly is subtler than the others, but I think it is at its best when it focuses on resistance against an extraordinary power. The show has a tinge of sadness - it's about what happens after the war is lost, not the war itself (which is another reason I find the Serenity movie disappointing, in that the war has suddenly appeared and become winnable, in 120 minutes.)
Dollhouse has, on occasion, mentioned grand themes such as the morality of science, and what makes the limits of humanity. But the storylines of the episodes themselves tend to come down "There is no moral, Marge, it's just a bunch of stuff that happened."

There are potential themes for exploration. In addition to those mentioned above, the show's premise is rife with possibilities for questioning the concepts of consent, rape, slavery. But it's avoided those like the plague in a thematic sense, even as they exist within the direct narrative. That's probably wise, given that it's on network television. I'm not sure I'd continue watching. So instead we're left with a show that appears to be primarily a fairly interesting story, with an amoral heart.


Renaissance Poet said...

I do hope that they get more into the slavery/morality themes. However, one of the best ways to address those themes is through story-telling. We don't need Mulder's sign that says "I want to believe." But we do need something. Something more than we've been getting.

And, damn it, Eliza needs to eat. I'm really annoyed with seeing her ribs.

Unknown said...

I'm sure there'll be some moral tacked on as the season comes to a resolution. I'm worried that it'll be the main characters realizing "Slavery is bad!!!!" and rebelling against the big Dollhouse owners, in an overt and unambiguous fashion.

The show is rife with moral ambiguity, but hasn't used it at all to its advantage. It's odd.