Monday, May 11, 2009
Our Dollhouse season one comes to an end, and look it brought a point with it. Ok, that's not fair. Slavery is bad had been Paul's push from the beginning, but other people can go there as that wasn't really the thematic kicker for me. Sarah wins the prize for being one of the first champions of the moral ambiguity angle. Although, we didn't take it quite far enough.
Get your coffee and settle in—I'm going to prove to you that Dollhouse deserves a second season, despite its somewhat flawed execution. I've been hard on the show here—citing pacing issues, frustrations with Paul's lack of personal life outside his quest for the House, the inconsistencies in Topher's clothing choices*, how everyone in this show is more interesting than Echo/Caroline, and a constant cry of where are you going with this?
Well, thanks to Uncles Joss and Tim as well as my tentative grasp on existentialism** I can at least put that last one to rest. Also thanks to That Girl, who was a sounding board for this essay on Saturday. (And contributed the self-loathing theme.)
It's reset button that kills me. Every episode, we wipe Echo. It all sort of becomes pointless, any learning she's amassed and her experiences are gone. Deleted. How can she develop as a character? How can what happens to her have any real impact? Is this what we're being told, that what we do has no impact? That we can be noble or criminally insane, because in the end someone wipes our hardrives?
No. Omega proves it. We have to look past the interchangeable cogs despair that Alpha wallows in. Joss has gone existential before—you can see it in Buffy. Part of that philosophy is that there is no Great Truth, there is no morality, just what we make out to be Right and Wrong in our personal definitions. Sound familiar? Like oh, the moral ambiguity of every character on the show? Yet all of them remain true to their personal principles of right and wrong. Whatever tricky moral waters the Dollhouse is beneath, we see the characters showing faithfulness to their friends, their actives, or their jobs.
There is good in the house. It's just up to the individual to define and choose to do that good. I'll get back to this later by explaining Paul's decision to sign up for the Ballard and Boyd Wondertwins.
Despite that we hit the reset button at the end of Omega, Echo is proven to be aware. She realizes she's hollow, and in that realization is proof of her individual consciousness and—to use Paul's word—soul. This brings up the question of what happens when Echo has to effectively die for Caroline's return. Well, it's not going to be an issue. Echo remains egoless—despite her composite—because at her core, she believes in the goodness of people and herself. She can sacrifice herself for others because of the belief that it has meaning—and she has done so constantly throughout the series. Recall Adelle saying how Echo is taking care of the House.
I'm not going to say she's inherently a good person because Caroline loved animals, and Alpha's a bad person because he was a criminal. I think you could argue it, if you wanted. Instead I'm going to say that Alpha and Echo are two different perspectives.
Back to the existentialism, Alpha throws about his Neitzsche. He is the Superman. He is above Right and Wrong and God is Dead. Well, Mr. Superman, Echo's reply is thus: Frak you. Being a superman doesn't mean you get to hurt people and cut up their faces and imprint random store employees with other people's souls and plan to oppress humanity because you're a "Superior Being."
Hoo boy. Where we can go with this. The destruction of our planet? Slavery? I'm going to stick with the morality thread. Here's your two takes on ascended beings as offered by Alpha and Echo:
(1) A monster without morals or structures who does as he pleases thinking only of himself and his pleasures.
(2) Someone empowered by the knowledge that they make right through their will, and thus wants to protect others because it is their duty to care for those who don't have the same level of consciousness.
Remember Briar Rose? It's ok to be saved, when you can't save yourself. (Or it's okay to be saved by a composite Superwoman of all the personalities downloaded into your body when your brain has been downloaded into Wendy the Shopgirl and you're at the mercy of a mad scientist.)
How does this fit That Girl's theory about self-loathing? If there is no morality or god or point to life beyond what we give it and you hate yourself and find that depressing, of course you're going to become a monster. If you believe that people are good and worth saving, you will craft a morality that instructs you to do Good for the sake of it bringing you pleasure.
We see this in Topher, and his line during Briar Rose of "this is not unlike pride." Take pride in doing good and it doesn't matter if we're all cogs in the machine, because you have chosen your morality instead of having it imprinted on you by society or religion. Thus, it means more.
How can I argue that Echo chooses to do good, even when she's wiped at the end of each episode? After she gets out of the chair in Omega, Echo senses Topher is upset. She tries to comfort him—despite that there's no gain in it for her other than to know she's eased his suffering. That moment of the show was more powerful for me than Paul arranging for November's freedom.
As for Paul? He had three goals this season:
(1) Find the Dollhouse.
(2) Save Caroline.
(3) Save Mellie.
He found the House. He saved Caroline—or her essence as imprinted on the wedge—by cooperating with the House, and seeing that Boyd—like him—retained a personal sense of right and wrong even while working for someone that Paul would classify as "evil." Plus, I think he saw a warning of what he could become in Alpha. Paul has been acting above the law, as Alpha did... Doing things that early-season Paul would have had serious issues with. The House vindicates Paul—he's not crazy, and he can continue to have a purpose and accomplish his goals by working with them. Hell, maybe he even thinks he can change them from the inside.
So, of course, it makes sense Paul would make a deal to save Mellie. It's his final goal. He's done with the FBI—they don't need him, appreciate him or believe him. The House does. Why not go to them? Especially, since they're probably going to have him killed if he doesn't. So, if he has to enter into willful slavery—and it was his own actions that brought him to that point—why not do so at the price of setting someone else free?
Maybe that's a little convenient—I mean 37 minutes into an hour long season finale the principle House folks were still talking in Adelle's office, but that's that pacing issue of Dollhouse coming back to bite the show in the ass. Now, it's found its feet so let's give it a second season not impeded by bad decision-making on the network's part.
Let this show run, Fox. I'm promising you it's going somewhere important.
PS Whiskey FTW.
* Really. Check it out. Half the time he's dressed like a real person, and half the time he's dressed like a teenage boy. One time he was dressed like an extra from HSM.
** The grip is often on my ankle shoving my foot into my mouth.