I think my husband will most definitely disagree with me, but I was very much not into this whole “solve your own murder/attend your own funeral”-Agatha Christie-Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous-style plot in the most recent edition of Dollhouse. He said something to me during the show that if he were to use the Dollhouse, he’d be using it to solve mysteries, which is fine and all, just not this mystery. Just not this way.
I’ve been reading Thomas Foster’s Souls of Cyberfolk: Posthumanism as Vernacular Theory and I have come to realize that the interesting things about Dollhouse, to me, reside in the fact that it’s constantly bordering on some really heavy theory and criticism regarding cyberpunk fiction tropes and, more importantly, issues of posthumanism. I’ve sadly not read William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, but in Foster’s critical study of posthumanist bodies, I realized that the entire concept of Dollhouse has its roots in Neuromancer’s Molly, who rents her cyborg body out for money for people to upload their own consciousness into. She’s a meat puppet, a kind of cyber prostitute. And so are Echo, Sierra, Victor and November.
When Adele’s friend Margaret is uploaded into Echo’s body after her death, she sets about on the plan she’d conceived one year prior to her death (when she was rich and suspicious) to reintegrate herself into her family as another person, Julia. She would be a ghost at her own funeral. I think there could have been something really cool with the concept of uploading a dead person into an Active and then having to hunt down that person when they realize they can have “eternal” life as an uploaded consciousness in a new body, but Margaret instead went to her second death voluntarily, citing that she knew Adele would easily catch her. That’s consistent with her character, yes, but I’m surprised that more Dollhouse clients haven’t thought about uploading their consciousnesses to Dollhouse files and making arrangements to have their personas uploaded into new bodies from time to time, allowing them to experience life after life. That is, after all, a major trope in posthuman narratives, the idea that bodies are unimportant, only as vehicles for consciousness and that eternal life is achieved not through deity, but through technology.
Dollhouse is always skirting these tropes, but never really engaging with them. I don’t find this problematic, just curious. I’d have liked the “solve your own murder” plot more if it were attached to another character, something that didn’t involve race horses and old money and Oedipal complexes, but something more criminal, something darker. Something engaging and, most of all, something in Eliza Dushku’s tough-gal range. She wasn’t nearly as bad in this episode as the guy who played Margaret’s son was, though. He is the worst on-camera cryer. Truly.
Yes, I proclaimed halfway through the 42 minutes that I really liked the episode so far, and got a very funny look from my wife in response. I am quite aware that the episode was silly and majorly un-Whedon (even though one of his brothers was a co-writer), but for some reason I really gravitated toward it. It felt like it was from a different show, but that’s not entirely a bad thing due to the show’s central conceit. Let’s put it this way – it felt like a good episode of another show. It was simply that I felt it was a good use of the Dollhouse, and that ten episodes in I think that the detective episodes capture my interest the most. (Except for the mystery of who’s shooting at the pop star. That sucked balls.) If we’re talking about the best detective story this show has had, it would obviously be last week’s episode as the three Actives crossed stories, and that is indeed the level each episode should be aiming for. I’m just sick of how many plots revolve around Actives malfunctioning, because it’s already old hat.
Or maybe I like stories where spirits return to stalk their family post-death, like Hello Again or Chances Are. I’m sure there are more serious films about the same thing from better directors than, say, Emile Ardolino or Frank Perry, but my concept of spiritual rebirth is sadly focused entirely on the wacky 1980s.
And the bad cryer? He learned that leftover pain from his short stint on the rightfully canceled Bionic Woman last season. And Convicted. Because that sucked.