Monday, February 23, 2009

Not Your Mamma's Barbies!

As of last night, I have watched all the Dollhouse there is, and I am now prepared to add my two cents to the seething pile of pennies, nickles, quarters and silver dollars that is the internet.

Let me begin by saying that I am not a huge Joss Whedon fan. Huge is too big a word. Large, or the more understated "significant," would be a better choice. I've enjoyed Whedon's work, but I think he has flaws: I think he has a hard time pacing his reveals, he can be startlingly unconscious when it comes to issues of gender and race (though I do have to give him credit for trying), and I don't like his methodology of character death at all. On the other hand, he has produced some brilliant characters, stylish and atmospheric settings, and wonderful stories, so I keep on coming back. I should also admit that I am currently wearing my Captain Hammer T-Shirt that the Abigail got me; make of it what you will.

Secondly, I am likewise not an enormous fan of Dollhouse's source material. I only ever played Shadowrun the once and it was disastrous - fun, but disastrous - and I've only read one of William Gibson's books, Pattern Recognition, his least cyberpunky by far. I've read nothing by Phillip K. Dick (though I did enjoy Blade Runner and the movie adaptations of Minority Report). In general, I prefer fantasy-flavored fantasy to science fiction flavored fantasy (I should link to a post about my personal definitions of science fiction and fantasy and where I got them, but I haven't written it yet), though there are exceptions.

All that being said: so far, I am loving the hell out of Dollhouse.

Dollhouse has everything it needs to have: guns, moral ambiguity, mystery, and sexy people. It knows the hell out of its source material, playing smoothly with themes of identity and humanity in the face of out-of-control technology in an atmosphere of glitz and grit and creeping paranoia. I can't wait for more.

From a writerly perspective, what is it about Dollhouse that has captured my attention so thoroughly?

I love the way Dollhouse lacks a clear villain. Everyone's guilty. The main character's former identity, Caroline, is clearly involved in something fishy; why else would she agree to sign away her selfhood for five years to escape? I don't think I need to explain what's morally ambiguous about the company that runs the Dollhouse and everyone who works for it. Even the FBI agent investigating the Dollhouse is a violent, bloody-minded son of a bitch; on the side of the angels, perhaps, but definitely not a good person. Even the show's bogey-man, the scalpel-wielding, gentle-doctor-carving Alpha is definitely more than he seems.

Without a clear villain, it's going to be less a matter of who's "right" than a matter of who's left when the Dollhouse-of-cards comes crashing down. Characters will have the opportunity to rise or fall by their choices, not who signs their paycheck or what color their shirts are.

I am also deeply struck by how stylish Dollhouse is. The director, writers, and cinematographers have done a very good job of setting the show in a hyper-real environment, like our world but just a little more. The highs are higher and the lights brighter, but the shadows are deeper and corruption is everywhere. The show pursues this style intensely and faithfully, producing a world that is subtly not our own, but nonetheless very real.

Dollhouse gets the Burning Zeppelin Stamp of Approval. I can't wait to see what happens next.

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  • No formal questions today, but feel free to comment with your thoughts and feelings on Dollhouse or the qualifications I seem to use to judge media, both of which could lead to interesting discussions.

5 comments:

Scattercat said...

Was there another time, or is your disastrous Shadowrun game my beloved story of "How I Killed the Entire Party with a Single Force 2 Hearth Spirit?"

Mark said...

@ Scattercat

Yep, that was it. Fun, but disastrous. I may never forget how I accidentally killed how many civilians with a stray grenade?

Scattercat said...

Well, interestingly enough, grenades cannot kill anyone under the Shadowrun rules, which is kind of really screwed up.

As I recall, we left it as "arbitrary," since you guys were inexplicably SHELLING A PANICKED CROWD in your attempts to "quietly assassinate the target, and make it look like an accident." *hangs head, shakes sadly*

Shadowrun: It Has a Learning Curve.

Andrew said...

Personally I am a huge Whedon fan and I think that Dollhouse has the potential to be his best show yet. but that is not why I am writing.

"'life is like a walnut, until you open it its like a piece of cheese'
'Randle what the hell does that mean!?!?!'
"I dunno...lets eat'"
your words Mark, how you been?

Mark said...

@ Andrew

Fudge, actually.

Man, I miss you. Let's get in contact soon, ok? Email me your phone number and I'll give you a call.