I hate dollhouse. I hate Joss Whedon for being its creator. I hate Fox for renewing it for a second season (one of the lowest rated show on a major network to be renewed ever). I temporally hated my own gender (and myself) for being complacent in the rape culture the show ultimately supports even while the head writer pats himself on the back for being a feminist. I have tried multiple times to write a full review eviscerating this piece of trash especially the season finial “Omega” but the fire in the back of my eyes stops me. I will shameful admit that I was enjoying the show until the piece of total trash that was “Omega” hit the airways. The show was deeply flawed before that episode but at its high point “Briar Rose”, I truly thought the writers got it. Then “Omega” hit and it was clear to me no they did not; not only did I hate “Omega” it made me hate all the preceding episodes; I hate that has only grown exponentially and as I will explain in part two it made me hate me. The writers of the show may want to write something meaningful but they lack the ability to do so. They may want to deconstruct the white knight complex but all they can do is regurgitate it. They may want to make meaningful commentary but all they can do is become complacent in supporting a rape culture they supposedly decry.
The way “Omega” went from deconstructing the white knight complex (Ballard in “Blare Rose” was brilliantly reduced from his self-image of a white knight to that of the horse) to giving us an example of a white knight in Omega was sicken. Ballard gets to in some way save ¾ women on the show: Adelle, Mille (Who he raped!) and Echo/Caroline. He get to be a hero even when him being one ran completely contrary to how the show has been laying the themes of the show and his character all the while making the shows women look like fools.
Ballard before “Omega” was portrayed as an ass kicking but incompetent, foolhardy FBI agent: that can’t close; has no friends or allies except maybe one; has no resource he can leverage; can’t interrogate (he captures a dollhouse client and lets him mind-screw him); twice fell for a dollhouse ambush; only got anywhere in his investigation because other characters feed him clues; rushes into criminal hideouts unprepared, and let’s not forget rapes his girlfriend. Before Omega, he got what you would expect; then came Omega. All of a sudden, he is a brilliant investigator that the dollhouse (that is run by a she) needs to be able to catch the renegade Alpha. First off, did the writers forget their own premise? You can create experts on demand what skill could the incompetent Ballard have (and even if he did have a unique skill they could just download the skill) that they couldn’t get in house?…. ….The brilliant skill of looking at files. Yes, you read that right the brilliant insight he had was to look at his file. No, not picking up something in his file no one else did. No, he had the idea to look at his file before he came along apparently this advanced criminal organization did not think to look at his file until now. This is horrible writing just from a plot perspective. However, add to that the person who is arguing that files ,devices that are used to store useful information, can’t possible contain useful information is female along with everything else in the episode it become imposable for me not to look at this in gendered terms. Adele may be an evil manipulative female rapist but she has always been portrayed as being intelligent “I played a poor hand well”. Yet she needs Ballard to tell her what files are for, ya that makes sense.
Some would say her hesitance to looking at the file is in character because of her loyalty to the dollhouse and that they all believe the technology is perfect and that is why she did not look. Bullshit! Although the series the characters fully understood that their technology isn’t perfect (“Scrubbing” “The Attic”). The episode “Needs” is the perfect example they put back the original personalities so they could work out issues steam from the originally personality shining through. Adelle fully approved of this gambit, which put the dollhouse organization at great risk. When Saunders proposed the idea she showed no skepticism she in fact seemed curious and was willing to test it yet now in Omega both her and Tropher are all like “that is impossible!”. Why the inconstancies, because without them Ballard could not be a hero.
After that, our rapist/knight gets to negotiate the release of Mille (the girlfriend he raped), which to the dollhouse organization is the loss of a valuable asset in exchange for his services (again what services, the ability to read files?). Let me get this straight having captured the Dollhouse’s sworn enemy; the female head of the dollhouse instead of killing him, mind wiping him or in some other way neutralizing the threat offers the threat a job ,inside the organization he wants to take down, and gives him a massive concession in order to convince him to take it. Again, this does not make sense no matter how you look at it but again Ballard the White Knight is being elevated and Adelle a female is being made to look like a complete idiot.
If it was Adelle alone maybe it would be tolerable but its every female character let’s move on to Echo/Caroline. The show in “Briar Rose” talked about saving yourself and yet does Echo/Caroline get to save herself? No not really, she goes a few rounds with Alpha and yet when it comes time to save Caroline’s “wedge” who get to save it– Ballard. Let back up a second. Echo at this moment in time had “composited” meaning she was the most super-powered women on Earth and the most super-powered women to ever exist in the dollhouse universe. What does being the most powerful women ever get you in dollhouse-verse? Not much. She fights Alpha for a few rounds and knocks him down, but apparently not even with 38 brains can a women have enough genre savvy to makes sure her opponent is down for the count before staying in the room having a conversation. Again, horrible writing just in it of itself; but again it cuts one-way makes the female look like an idiot while the male benefits. Same thing with Ballard catching the wedge why did they have to make him the big hero that saves the day that even if it wasn’t consent with his characterization as the horse? Furthermore, in the draft of the script the scene was even more “My Hero!” from what I’ve heard from those that have read it. If they really felt Echo couldn’t save herself it not like they had 2 just normally super powered women on-hand to do it instead… o wait they did. And dear God I just realized this now…one of those normally super powered women was the shows last major female character. What does that character do immanently upon waking in “Omega” she starts rubbing up against and aggressively coming on to the white knight/rapist. As I said, I just hate the show more and more every time I think of it.
However, I have even more problems with how the writers treated Echo/Caroline; although Echo Caroline was seen as being special; in Omega what is that specialness? Is it the power of her will? Is it her real self bursting through (annoying, eco-terrorist wanna-be that it maybe) through? Is it a commentary on female empowerment, on the power of the human spirit? No it is because Alpha believes she is hot it is a commentary on how men want to fuck Eliza Dushku. At least one person has argued that the show is an exploration of dark male sexual desire and that might have worked quite well until we hit “Omega”. If the show was supposed to be about destructive male desire then it clear Alpha and Ballard where supposed to parallel one another they are both suffering from the The Dulcinea Effect. Yet again Omega ruins it all if were supposed to parallel they both should have been taken down a peg not Alpha being a stereotypical villain and Ballard being elevated as a hero. Ballard’s story (and the season) should have ended with him becoming a doll after being reduced to the horse in Briar Rose that would have been perfect that would have fit the themes of the show… but no they had to write Omega. And yet it doesn’t stop there Super!Echo the most powerful women on Earth voluntary goes back so she could be mind-wiped, enslaved and then repeatedly raped. Why the hell would she (or anyone) do that! Especially after the speech she gave to herself. Ok, bad but did she just after being mind wiped give a gesture of affection (ship-tease?) to the man who did the mind-wiping to the man who just took away her agency, her freewill and will send her out to be repeatedly raped? Yes she did! *ugh*
Let’s continue way the shows treatment of gender and rape. Both the Ballard/Mille and Adelle /Victor rapist/victim ships are popular in the show fandom. The fact that people don’t seem to get that Ballard undeniable raped mille and that Adelle undeniable raped Victor frightens me; they where brainwashed they couldn’t consent or withdraw consent. It was rape. Period. You could say that is not the writers fault but in Omega they clear want us to feel sorry for Ballard (rapist) being separated from Millie (his victim). I don’t mind watching a show where one of the charterers is a repentant rapists but that the show apparently expect me to forgive him in two episodes to the point of feeling sorry for him losing the women he raped sickens me. Also might make me more sympathetic if said rapists didn’t just take a job working for Rape Incorporated.
That so many people don’t seem to understand what consent is and by extension what rape scares me. The original personality in each of these dolls is in the equivalent of insulin coma; they can’t consent it is rape period. If you think the imprints have person-hood then the fact they have a “parameters” that forces then to have sex with the “clients” means, the imprint is under the influence of a date rape drug; they can’t consent it is rape period. All the talk I’ve seen of well the imprint enjoy it (physical responses does not consent make); well it part of the imprint personality (shades of the blame victim “she was asking for it”); well she signed a contract (1. you can’t sign a contract to become a salve. 2. “Shades of prostitutes can’t be raped”); and the lovely he had to rape Mille to keep his “cover”; he had to rape Mille to live excuse (ya right, the women made the man rape her), is disturbing.
Some might say they have show rape as evil; but in context, it only helps perpetuate the same rape culture the shows supposedly feminist creator supposedly hates. The rapists that are portrayed as pure evil are caricatures (Nylon, Hearn) mustache twirling villains (let call them stranger rape); yet other rapists (Ballard, Adelle, to an extent the internet mogul) are seen as people we should emphasize with and there victim seen as enjoying it (let calls this acquaintance /domestic rape). See a problem, yet? Some may say the show is built around unfortunate implications while some are intentional unfortunate implications on the writers part the majority of what makes may angry is clearly unintentional.
I will admit some of the shit that makes me angry about dollhouse is not directly the fault of the writers per say but peoples reaction to it. Thanks to this show, we have people debating whether people on can sign a contract to become a sex slave and whether or not have sex with someone who can’t consent is rape or not. On that same note when you see reviews on line call the actives rape victims and then “whores” without missing a beat in between that is when you know your work hasn’t brought out the best in humanity. The writers may not be directly responsible, as they did not directly encourage or condone these ideas, but they are responsible to an intent because they opened a door there was no need to open.
Someone told something more or less this in response to my complaints about “omega”: what do you expect them to do scream rape is evil; why can’t they “broaden or complexify” the issues? This writers are directly reasonable for this, they created ambiguity, they wanted this. Problem is rape is evil, very, there is no complexity there is nothing to broaden. What the characters on this show do isn’t complicated they are rapists getting us to feel sympathy with the rapists because he is stressed about work (Ballard) or lonely (Adella) or mourning his wife (that internet guru in Man on the Street) crosses a line, it is making excuses, it is contributing to rape culture. Let me put it this way if someone made a show where “A Modest Proposal” wasn’t satire but a realistic solution to societies ill would that show be praised as brilliant and challenging? If we made a show where African Americans are shown as being slaves working for white masters doing manual labor (note that there no black dolls on the show), even if they thought up of some plot deceives to try and rationalize it (or as some would say “broaden or complexify” it). Would we praise it (and honor it creator for his work on race relations). No, it would be rejected by society and really with the ratings this show got it was rejected by society (1). Oh and now that I mentioned the internet mogul. Did the show just have us believe that Echo wanted to go back and be raped? I think it did (If you have not noticed by now there is a lot of rape on this show).
What is most scary about this is that the writers did to an extent get it right. The deconstruction of the White Knight complex in Blare Rose didn’t happen by chance. Yet, Omega got too many things wrong for that to be random either and that is when two phrases I understood intellectual and may have even used suddenly took on real power and meaning in my mind: institutionalized sexism and patriarchy. This is what struck me, for the first time in my life I realized how deeply ingrained misogyny, sexism, and patriarchy are in our culture. They are so deeply ingrained in the troupes that define fiction in the our idea of how a story should unfold. So ingrained that even when trying to defy conventions these “feminists” authors could only succeed in reinforcing them and to me the whiplash caused by the shift seen between “Blare Rose” and “Omega” made it far worse then a direct slap to the face would. The realization rocked me to my core.
I hate this show with a fiery passion. A passion that as I said above, made me hate myself for an extended period of time. This show is what made me temporally join the rad-fem contingent, as much as I hate to admit it this show has changed me permanently as a human being. This is why even thought I had to stop multiple times because of all the negative emotions the welled up inside of me; even thought I know writing this has put in a bad place and I’ll probably be here for another day when I write part two; even as this tempts the fury of rabid Joss Whedon fans; I had to write to this. There have been three events in the past few months that have changed the nature of how I approach life and in a rare occurrence; I can date 2 of them. Watching this trash on May 8, 2009 is one of them, the second event was what brought me fully out of that rad-fem phase (and in too a less counterproductive form of feminism) that occurred July 3 ,2009; that and what happened between the two points, and how it has all changed my outlook on life is part 2.
Other reasons Omega sucks not related to its treatment of women and rape:
The composite events where seen up until Omega as a spontaneous occurrence however in Omega the composite event was basically an industrial accident. This does not make sense the only reason Alpha was a threat was because of the skills he gained when he composited (the industrial accident). He may have experience soon serious bleed-through of his original personality but before the chair incident (where 48 personalities where downloaded simultaneously) the biggest threat he posed was causing non-fatal lacerations, big threat. This big bad composite event scenario was something that is completely under the dollhouse control the bleed through events “glitches” aren’t anything that an organization like the dollhouse should consider a threat or the NSA for that matter yet both the dollhouse and the NSA mole where scared shitless by the threat. Bleed thru could not have been a new thing for the dollhouse at the time of the chair incident either they had Tropher was running a “diagnostic” on Alpha and they were about to send him to the “Attic”; neither of these thing would have been necessary unless they have already seen dolls majorly “glitch”. If slashing whiskey was the worse, they have ever seen it was only because of the nature of his original personality you could easy prevent that too by not picking homicidal maniacs to be dolls. A look at his intake file would have sol…right those intake files you go thought the time and effort to collect but think are useless. Who runs this place? o right…*sigh*. Now if composite event can’t occur spontaneously only bleed thought the plot of “Needs” no longer makes sense as its point was to prevent the spontaneous composite events we have no evidence of being possible. The plots of the “Target” and “Grey Hour” no longer make sense, as the theory was that Alpha was trying to trigger a composite event in Echo. In Omega, however all he had to do to trigger the event was break into the dollhouse and get the necessary equipment; all Target and Grey Hour did was put the dollhouse on alert counterproductive to his goal.
Also just Alpha in “man on the street” it was speculated that the dollhouse technology would be the end of humanity as we know it. In Briar Rose Alpha was an intelligent threat, what with the batman gambit he pulled. In omega he is a stark raving mad “my Gods” yelling psychopath, uninteresting, I honestly imagined some L&O detective bursting in and saving the day, he was no longer an intimidating threat. There is a putdown Echo deliveries to Alpha that illustrates what I feel about Alpha; most people loved the one-liner me it made me roll my eyes Alpha was so insane that letting the thing speak for itself would have been a more powerful way of saying he’s crazy. Alpha should have on some level actually been transcendent he should have been the failed prototype for humanity 2.0 and that is what should have been what was scary.
Lastly Caroline’s wedge surviving; set aside the implication of Ballard catching it discussed above, it would have been more dramatically powerful if the wedge smashed to the ground. We would then have to be seriously invested in Echo’s journey; her growing self-awareness would then be the only way for her to be free, to be a real person.
(1) This is an important distinction ; as I’m fully against government censorship I will viscously defend Joss’s right to write this trash and Fox right to put the trash on the air doesn’t mean it isn’t any less a piece of trash.