Monday, February 16, 2009

A Series of Questions, And Answers

I'm stealing this idea from Fourth Wave, because I liked it. Like Aviva, I answered the questions on the website itself, but my answers were ridiculously long so I brought them here. The first set of numbered questions come from Jaclyn from Bitch Ph.D., and the second set of lettered questions come from Aviva of Fourth Wave. The questions from the Jaclyn are italicized, and the ones from Aviva are bolded, just to make things that much more complicated.

1) Did you watch? What did you think?
I liked it; I have hope that the good/great parts will continue, and that what I see as the philosophical thread carrying over from his previous works continue to be, well, carried over. The pilot gave me a lot of hope and a lot of food for thought.

2) Were you as psyched as I was to see that Mutant Enemy tag at the end?
Hells yeah.

3) How did you feel about Eliza D as Faith in Buffy? How have you felt about everything she's done since Buffy? What did you think about her performance as Echo?
I hated the character of Faith. Madeline Kahn in Clue, "flames on the sides of my face" hate. Plus, I've never seen the range or talent. Which may be partially because I don't see the infamous chemistry with everything and everyone.

ADDED FOR HERE (cuz there's stuff I forget to say): I haven't actually seen Eliza in anything post-Buffy except for Bring It On (don't judge - too harshly), and there I wasn't impressed. I also wasn't highly impressed with Echo, but am hoping that changes.

4) Why the hell did Joss agree to work with Fox again? Or ever?
(Because I'm a Whedonite): Joss wrote the show to highlight Eliza Dushku's (questionable, for me) acting talents and range. Because Eliza is contracted to work for Fox, Fox is where he would have to go to make the show. And he sort of compromised in the whole "oh, it's run by different people now", and that may be why he agreed to work with Fox again. But the reason I've heard as the catalyst for why Fox is to work with Eliza.

5) Um... are there still no people of color who want good roles in Hollywood? It's a real problem, isn't it? How on earth can we fix it, so that all the producers and directors aren't forced to only cast white people all the time? (Yes, there's Harry Lennix as Echo's handler, but a) that just makes him the token and b) Driving Miss Daisy, anyone?)
I have no idea. I think this is a definite area where Whedon falls down on the job, and then down some stairs.

ADDED FOR HERE (cuz, again, I forget stuff): Although there are still a dominance of white actors on the show, I do think Whedon did slightly better this time around by casting Dichen Lachman, a woman of Tibetan-Australian descent, as one of the other Actives to be highlighted and Tahmoh Penikett, who is part Native-Canadian (or rather, part of the White River First Nation) as the FBI agent. Not great, but better.

6) Ditto fat people, people with physical disabilities, people who aren't freakishly pretty, etc.?
Same as 5, minus the stuff about Tahmoh and Dichen.

7) Did they really have to start with the girl-is-broken-due-to-sex-abuse-and-requires-the-intervention-of-a-kind-man-to-seek-redemption plotline? Why is that never the secret weak spot for male action stars, huh?
While I would love it if a woman could be strong and capable and want to achieve something without having been scarred in the past making it logical or acceptable in a way men never need, the plot didn't bother me personally in this instance - partially because I saw it as a continuation of the idea of using people as objects. The man who called himself a "ghost" was treating the young girls as objects, the guy who was trying to get his daughter back was content to use Echo-as-Eleanor as an object, and while the person who made up Eleanor was destroyed by it because she "couldn't get away from him", Echo/Eleanor are destroyed because everything is taken away from them. I expect that this theme will become stronger (or at least, I hope it does) based on the fact that it was a key component of BtVS and River's story (and the crew's) in Firefly/Serenity. All that being said, I think there had to be a better way of going about it, because just because its Whedon and it fits the theme doesn't mean that it doesn't still fit a larger problematic narrative that women can't be successful and can't be driven unless they have been in some way broken or damaged. I don't know whether or not to give Whedon half a pass because he prefers to have all of his characters in some way broken or damaged.

8) If Person A is desperate and out of options, and is coerced into fully giving up her agency and identity, and if, after making that one decision, Person A no longer has any meaningful ability to consent to anything, nor does she have the ability to withdraw her consent from the original agreement -- under those circumstances, if Person C pays Person B money to have sex with Person A, is that really prostitution, as Joss and Eliza have said it is? Or is that sexual slavery?
Slavery. My thing is that the slavery on Dollhouse is not just sexual. Eleanor didn't do anything sexual with Gabriel, and still her part in the whole operation was not on the up and up and Echo/Caroline are still enslaved. Same thing if she has to break in somewhere. The persona embodying Echo may think that this was her idea, but it still is (theoretically) not something Echo/Caroline would do, and the owners of the Dollhouse are still using her body for their own purposes. I find that horrific, whether it is sexual or not.

9) Can someone tell me that Joss is going somewhere good with this? I want to believe...
I think so. I think he is converging on a couple of different themes here, including his ever present (or at least, to me ever present) idea that the greater good cannot be achieved through nefarious means; that a world or a government is not of greater worth than its individual citizens, and that as soon as you begin disregarding the sanctity of human autonomy and human life, you lose. He did it with Angel in season 2, he did it with the Operative in Serenity, he did it with Dr. Horrible in that work, and he did it (kind of backwards, in that Buffy rejected that premise outright) in BtVS' season 5 finale The Gift.

I also think, in conjunction to that, he is examining his theme of "women treated as objects". It fits into the above, but it is a subset theme of that with a feminist bent where he seems to show how society devalues women and uses them - or allows them to be used - and then has those women claim their autonomy back. The Slayer was considered nothing more than an object to be used for the greater good in BtVS, and River was considered an object to be used for the greater good in Firefly/Serenity, and Echo and Sierra seem to embody that same space. And I think through that creation, Whedon is both commenting how women are more likely, given our culture, to be treated as objects and highlighting how wrong that is. At least, that is where I think he's going with this.

And now for Aviva's:

a) Can a disturbing premise be mitigated by the subjugated character developing agency and control over her oppressors? If so, to what degree? Does she need to escape? Seek retribution? Take over?
I think a disturbing premise can be mitigated if it means to be disturbing, and means to address that which makes it disturbing. By that I mean a misogynistic work is different than a work that examines misogyny in our culture. I think that Dollhouse is of the latter category rather than the former, especially since they were (heavy handedly) discussing 'regular' human trafficking as well as being an evil that needs to be stopped. I think the show already wants its viewers to equate the two.

That being said, I think one of the ways Dollhouse will explore that disturbing premise is by having Echo fight for and achieve agency, much in the way other characters of Whedon's have done. I don't know if she should gain control over her oppressors. Rather, I think that would just create a second inverted power system - and I think that may be where they're going with that creepy guy at the end, the one who was mailing a picture of Caroline to Paul Ballard. Taking over will still basically be working within the system. What I think needs to happen is for the system to be dismantled, and for those who were working toward the 'greater good' by violated the autonomy of those involved to be punished.

And I do think she needs to escape. She needs to not be rescued by Paul or a conscience-plagued Boyd. She needs to do it, herself, for herself. She needs to take back her own control.

b) How long can a show like Dollhouse continue on with this same "she can be anything you want her to be" shtick before something has to give?
I'm going to go with a while. ...I don't need to fall in love with Echo; I can root for her without her developing a personality, because I believe that what happened to her was a violation and because I believe her lacking any distinctive personality does not mitigate the awfulness of what her situation is. Also, I think that as long as the other characters - good and evil and amoral - become more developed, Echo's development can be slower. If they give me something meaty with Boyd and Paul and Adelle and Topher and Claire, I should be okay. I especially think Boyd is important here, though, because his concern for Echo's welfare - even if it is only within the confines of the established Handler-Active relationship 'allowed' within The Dollhouse - allows the audience emotional access to a character that basically has none - until she begins to develop one.

c) Is it possible to maintain narrative interest if Echo escapes or if Dollhouse (the place, not the show) is shut down? If so, how? If not, then doesn't the continued need for the Dollhouse as an element of narrative interest necessitate the continued exploitation of the "actives" for our viewing pleasure?
I think if Echo escapes, the narrative interest could remain in her trying to figure out who she was and if she can get back to that person - and if she even wants to. I doubt Dollhouse will truly be shut down until the ending season (whether or not Joss Whedon gets a full run is a toss up, and I'm going with a big "no"), but even if it does, I think Whedon can take the show in the direction of where the Actives can go, who they are, and exploring the Dollhouse from the perspective of its consequences on its Actives and what the void it left is filled with.

If The Dollhouse is not shut down until the end, then I think continued exploitation for the dolls on the inside will be necessary for maintaining its evilness - and I think the show has to exist on a razor's edge to maintain that feeling of "this isn't alright" and moving the recognition of that forward while utilizing the flexibility of the wiped for stories. I'm not a writer, so I don't know if that is truly possible. But then again, maybe there won't be on-screen exploitation. Maybe after a certain point, the emphasis will be on who Echo is outside The Dollhouse and her efforts to shut it down. This is the one that I honestly on which I waffle the most.

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