Dollhouse depicts an underground organization where people go when they are out of options. The “dolls” sign a five year contract to allowing the company to program their brains with different personalities, after which they are released to continue their lives. The show aired in 2009 and 2010. It was canceled after two seasons, despite it being absolutely fantastic television.
The way I see it there are two sides to Dollhouse: the serious, moral side of what can be taken from it and what it implies about our society and culture, and the fan side in which I fangirl over how awesome the characters and their interactions are. We’ll start with the more serious side, because I think Dollhouse is a show that can be hard to be a fan of it you can’t get past the serious side.
On first blush Dollhouse is very, very wrong. They are programming people to be whatever their customers want, taking away the choices that the original people had and using them as shells to fulfill selfish desires. Objectification of women (majority of dolls are female). Taking away freedom of choice. What kind of world are we living in here?
But that question is exactly the point. Because the stuff that exists in Dollhouse, does exist in real life. You don’t see it on the streets or in the newspapers, but all over the world, women and girls, men and boys, are being bought and sold as slaves. The world as is shown in Dollhouse isn’t quite there yet, but the technology could exist, and added to the framework of human trafficking that we know of, it’s a scary thought to think of all the things that could go wrong.
Dollhouse shows us that world, and then shows us people who, even while being a part of it, don’t want the extreme. Adelle DeWitt is one of my favorite characters on the show because, not only is she a badass lady, she also cares deeply for the dolls under her command. When she discovers that Sierra is being raped she finds and kills the attacker (“Man on the Street”) without a second thought.
Dolls that get out of hand are sent to “The Attic” where they are basically turned brain dead. The Attic is actually a virtual world where the minds of those the corporation doesn’t want to deal with are trapped. It’s not really death, it’s simply stasis that cannot be broken out of. Unless you’re Echo, a doll who used to be a woman named Caroline, dead set on bring the Dollhouse down.
While the dolls are frequently set up on romantic engagements a lot of the cases are to solve a problem in the least intrusive means possible. A security guard for a star who refuses to have a security detail (“Stage Fright”), being an example for a young girl in a bad situation (“Briar Rose”), and stopping a virus threatening to wipe out a whole university (“Echoes”).
Echo starts to remember what her old life was and remember the other people she has been imprinted with. This knowledge begins a mission that starts with her and Paul, her handler, and eventually encompasses the whole dollhouse to stop this thing before it’s too late.
“Epitaph One” and “Epitaph Two: Return” show the world after it’s become too late. The two season finales show the world of the future in which doll technology has gone wireless and taken over society. A world where being an “Actual”, the person you were born as, makes you not only a rarity, but a target. This is the world that we cannot become.
For even with everything that this world has become, we are not immune to the way things should be. We see the Dollhouse, in all it’s fictional glory, and understand that we can never stoop to that. Meanwhile those who are victims to human trafficking know that we already have.