Whedon Fighters

Joss Whedon's Dollhouse premiered last week, and The Box breathed a sigh of relief. I've been waiting so long to see Eliza Dushku kick ass and smart off in the style of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of ass-kicking in the first episode. Or smarting off, for that matter. Maybe that's because Dushku's character, Echo, is without a personality for most of the time...except when she's imprinted with perfect abilities and sent on missions without her knowledge.

The premise is that a black-market organization is wiping people's minds and then imprinting them with personalities specified by their clients. Thus the "Dolls" are perfect at what they do, be it assassination, negotiation, or casual sex (we're introduced to Echo at the end of a perfect romantic weekend with a very rich man). After each mission, Echo's mind is cleared and she wanders aimlessly around the Dollhouse until she's called to duty. Whether blank or imprinted, she and the other dolls are always oblivious to their situation.

A series about a woman with no autonomy doesn't sound like it's going to win Joss Whedon another honor from Equality Now, right? But then again, all of his shows feature leading ladies who are good at things against their will. 

Sarah Michelle Gellar looks great in a crossbow.Buffy Summers thought being a vampire slayer was "ooky" throughout Season 1, and the rest of the series was about her coming to terms with her power -- and the sacrifices it required. Buffy was a feminist icon for delivering some serious whoopings to vampires and demons, but also for being brave enough to make tough decisions. She missed her prom, she killed her boyfriend, and she died to save the world. These were her choices, but they were also her responsibilities. She was a fighter as much as she was a martyr, and she grappled with that distinction throughout the show (and continues to in the comic books).

Charisma Carpenter is a vision as Cordelia.On Angel, Cordelia Chase transformed from self-absorbed beauty into the most powerful member of the team. After receiving extremely painful visions that allowed her to see terrible things happening in the future, Cordelia came to lead Angel Investigations in its fight against evil despite dangers to her health. In the episode "Birthday", she was given the chance to give her visions to Angel and become a famous actress with no stake in good v. evil at all. But when she realized she was the only person who was strong enough for the visions, she chose to keep her powers by becoming part demon.

Glau's got mad ballerina skillzWhedon's stunted Firefly series followed a cargo ship as it travelled around space harboring fugitive River Tam. She was brainwashed at The Academy, a covert government agency experimenting on gifted children in an effort to make the perfect assassin. River's mind-reading and combat skills were hinted at in the series, but didn't reach fruition until the film Serenity. She's almost superhuman (thanks to Summer Glau's incredible physical ability) and can take down any foe, but her powers are triggered by subliminal messages that she has no control over. It isn't until the end of the movie that River seems able to fight at will.

Dollhouse is practically a blank slate.Unlike the Whedonettes who precede her, Echo chose her situation. The first episode opens with Dushku's pre-wiped character deciding whether to join the Dollhouse, knowing exactly what it will mean. Now that she's in there, she has much less autonomy than is typical to Whedon's female characters.

Her powers aren't all that impressive, either. She's stuck with whatever she's programmed to do, even if that means she's nothing more than an unwitting escort for the day.

But I don't think Whedon is trying to pass Echo off as a feminist icon just yet. He's giving her an extremely tough situation to get out of. The more to empower her with, right? If anyone's up to taking this so-so show to the next level, it's Joss Whedon. Let's just hope Fox gives him time to do it. 

by Juliana Tringali
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10 Comments Have Been Posted

Joss Whedon

I also believe that Joss will be able to show us the strong side of echo. and i can't wait to see. Joss just needs his time!

One note

Point in fact, Buffy DID attend her prom (a bit late) and received the Class Protector Award. :)

Joss is brilliant at writing women characters and at getting to the heart of any matter he tackles. I have full faith in Joss and company and can only hope Fox feels the same.

You're right

She did attend the prom in Season 1 and Season 3...she was just very late.

"Unlike the Whedonettes who

<i>"Unlike the Whedonettes who precede her, Echo isn’t in the Dollhouse against her will. "</i>

has been changed to:

<i>"Unlike the Whedonettes who precede her, Echo chose her situation. "</i>

All we have on this is the character's own words, which were "I don't have any choice". I don't think this point should be glossed over. Echo's consent, such as it can be (consent is not valid if it can't be withdrawn, of course), is non-existent if she was coerced. And all the information we have so far, _including her own words_, indicate that she is not there by choice.

I think this point is going to need to be key to any feminist analysis of Dollhouse.


Good eye! I changed the wording when I noticed I was over-using the word "will", but my intention for the meaning was the same. I do think Caroline/Echo made a choice, but I guess we can't know for sure yet.

Really? What evidence is

Really? What evidence is there that her choice was uncoerced? She specifically says 'I don't really have a choice, do I?' in that first scene. How is that indicative of the kind of lack of coercion required for there to be a real choice? Personally, my take would be 'I don't think Echo made a choice, but we can't know for sure yet.' And it also worries me that people are thinking that a signature on a contract is equivalent to uncoerced consent.


I think the article makes a good point, she is the first to choose to be in the situation she is put in, but it comes down to context. How much of a legitimate choice did she have?



Echo 'chose' nothing, and the first ep is pretty damn clear about that. In fact, to me it's even more troubling than Buffy's 'being chosen' because there was *conversation* about Echo's lack of choice. I'm not sure why we would want to hang onto the idea that she chose to be a Doll...

I think you're making too

I think you're making too clear a distinction between coercion and choice.

The conversation in the first scene (and I wish I could find a transcript, but the internet is being unhelpful) sounded to me like, "You're in an effed situation. We can get you out of it, but you've got to sign up." So there was a choice. It was a crap one, with consequences to be endured (or maybe with option B, kind of <i>un</i>endured?). But it was a choice nonetheless.

Which is more of less what drama is, right?

I have just finished venting

I have just finished <a href="http://www.sfx.co.uk/page/sfx?entry=blog_dollhouse_and_sexism">venting my spleen</a> on this very topic elsewhere on the interweb so seeing Bitch discuss it is really interesting.

I have to say I feel that because of Joss Whedon's past successes though many people are giving him more credit than they would someone else who had put together what is, fundamentally, such a sexist show. Don't get me wrong, I think Joss Whedon is amazing - and clearly not misogynistic himself. However as a show Dollhouse is both sexist dross (and don't get me started on Eliza Dushku's 'keep watching till episode six' entreaty - really? Six episodes before it gets good?!) and just not actually that interesting, engaging or interesting.

I'll stick to my Firefly DVDs for now...

Love the magazine by the way - I pick it up in Borders in the UK. Didn't realise your site was so fab. Keep up the good work!

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