Dollhouse 1.10: "Haunted"

This episode was a good reminder of why the earlier episodes in the season weren’t the most compelling. Largely stand-alone in nature, this episode feels a bit like filler, considering how the previous few episodes were finally starting to unspool the mythology. I'm not sure that the story would have worked earlier in the season, since it does expand on the situation between Paul and Mellie, but this was less about the mythology and more about shedding light on what the Dollhouse can do.

At the same time, isn't it worrisome that the implications of the main story were more compelling than the actual events? I didn't care about the mystery, so much as what it meant to the actives and how they could be abused. Using the Dollhouse as a means of extending life is a disturbing yet logical progression of the technology. It certainly brings up the question of identity: is the copy downloaded into the Doll the same as the original, or does the process introduce errors? Are pieces of the original personality missing? That's just the tip of the iceberg; the implications are practically enough to justify their own show. (Fans of "Caprica" can see another take on the same idea.)

That DeWitt would use such a method to allow her friend to come back, even temporarily, still introduces the notion that others could use the method on a more permanent basis. After all, DeWitt is not the only person running a Dollhouse, and the employees of a Dollhouse have a universally questionable take on morality. After all, once something is proven possible, someone will actually do it, no matter how unethical it may be.

For example, why bother finding the kinds of friends you want, when you can simply reprogram someone to be your best friend for your birthday? The writers play the same game they've played since the beginning: presenting the employees of the Dollhouse in a semi-sympathetic manner while giving their actions and choice unflinching attention. The end effect is something like a show about how most of the people working for Nazi Germany were ordinary people with relatively ordinary lives, rationalizing atrocities while taking pride in their work.

It doesn't end with the employees of the Dollhouse, as we see Paul take out his aggression on Mellie by giving her what she's begging for. I noted this in the review for the previous episode: once Paul knows that Mellie is just a programmed personality, if he continues to sleep with her, he can't claim that he's unaware of the implications. It's rape, and his rough actions make it clear that he knows it. Frankly, his self-loathing doesn't make up for it in the slightest.

With only two episodes left of the season (and quite likely, the series), I have to believe that there's a point to portraying the characters in such a negative light. I've considered the notion that the audience is being led to sympathize with the characters that commit such evil as a subversive tactic, but the execution doesn't quite have the nuance necessary to make that viable in the long-term. Thus far, I still think this might been better as a film or mini-series; a short single season might end up being all that the concept demanded.


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