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.


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?"

Anonymous 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.

Anonymous 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?

Anonymous 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.