The Los Angeles Dollhouse
July 5, 2015 7:48 AM   Subscribe

But yes, definitely, I acknowledge that Joss Whedon, despite being one of my faves, is problematic and that in general yes Your Fave is Problematic. I’d even say that the particular idiosyncratic tics and hypocrisies and contradictions in Joss Whedon’s brand of feminism bear examination, that if we can be mean enough to make a Hollywood in-joke out of parodying the characteristic style of Michael Bay and James Cameron someone by now should’ve done it to Joss Whedon.

Someone did. It was Joss Whedon.
posted by Artw (85 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Jesus. I've never seen this show(dollhouse) but it sounds like a fucking cry for help. Is Joss Whedon ok guys?
posted by selfnoise at 8:04 AM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh god, with the exception of some parts of Dollhouse--all the good stuff never had a damn thing to do with Eliza Dushku, who was the weakest link, IMO--I remember being so bitterly disappointed at Whedon's return to primetime.
posted by Kitteh at 8:15 AM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Look, all I know is that I rewatched a few episodes of Dollhouse recently and they are WAY BETTER than some of the other manchild fantasy dreck on TV right now (I am looking straight at you Arrow, The Flash, etc). Why does Whedon get held to an entirely different standard when the other garbage doesn't? Bah.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:23 AM on July 5, 2015 [30 favorites]


Having watched the entirety of Dollhouse, I wondered at points if Arthur Chu wasn't maybe reaching a little bit, but he does paint an awfully alluring picture of Dollhouse as a metaphor for Whedon's troubled relationship with Hollywood. Like, if we can believe that's what the show is really supposed to be, maybe it'll somehow make Dollhouse better as a result.

Which isn't to say the show is bad. I DID watch the whole thing, after all. And Joss Whedon is a smart enough guy that I can see elements of the show reflecting his reluctant complicity with Hollywood's whims, even if he didn't specifically plan it that way as Chu theorizes. But I don't know that this satisfies his original point, that Joss Whedon has been satirized and he did it to himself. Self-portraiture is not the same thing as parody, and I feel like there has to be an intent behind the satire that doesn't apply here. Like, I think if Whedon really wrote himself into Topher's character (imprinted?), it was his way of working out things for himself and for the audience, not to specifically skewer his own blind spots for the audience's benefit.

I dunno. Maybe those two things are so close as to be the same thing anyways.
posted by chrominance at 8:33 AM on July 5, 2015


Why does Whedon get held to an entirely different standard when the other garbage doesn't?

Because he was supposed to be our genius savior and then he proved to be human and didn't save us?
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:34 AM on July 5, 2015 [23 favorites]


Ugh. I was excited, for once, to be in on the ground floor of a new Whedon tv show when Dollhouse first came on, as I missed Buffy and Firefly when they were on tv.

But the writing was terrible. And the acting — especially Dushku — was painful to watch. It was a total embarrassment. Good for Whedon if it was some meta thing he was trying to say, but the way he was saying it was laughable and probably wouldn't have been on tv at all if it wasn't for Whedon's name.
posted by papercake at 8:36 AM on July 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Needs less Torvald.
posted by clavdivs at 8:37 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dollhouse was a really great 13 episode miniseries trapped inside two seasons of TV.

Also Whedon is taller than me and that seems unfair.
posted by The Whelk at 8:39 AM on July 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


Dollhouse has held up quite well, if you look at it as a 2000s show struggling with some 90s hangover. Whedon gets shit because he's very self-consciously cast himself in the feminist ally role, but isn't completely orthodox; artistic talent is rarely orthodox. Hell, this article by Chu makes a lot of good points about Dollhouse's interesting sub-text, he just doesn't rate Whedon on some (fairly spurious) grounds.
posted by topynate at 8:39 AM on July 5, 2015


I enjoyed Dollhouse a lot despite its obvious flaws. I did, however, have no idea about the firing of dushku, which seems to go far beyond "guy being human and not living up to perfect ideals" and solidly into "massive jerk" territory. Now I'm mad and wish I hadn't found out. Bah.
posted by ominous_paws at 8:43 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ugh, the firing of Charisma Carpenter. Out thought myself in the edit.
posted by ominous_paws at 8:49 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I keep reading, in the linked article and elsewhere, that Whedon created Dollhouse to show off Eliza Dushku's impressive acting range, a notion that I find as confusing as it would be to read that he'd created Buffy to show off Sarah Michelle Gellar's impressive height.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 8:52 AM on July 5, 2015 [60 favorites]


Nobody's a perfect feminist or a perfect representative of everything.

Still think he should have just sent Cordelia to an alternate dimension for awhile or something if he couldn't figure out a pregnancy storyline better than that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:58 AM on July 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


The limits of Dushku'd acting ability is no more horribly apparent as when they imprint Dichen Lachman with the exact same character and she's much better at it.
posted by Artw at 9:00 AM on July 5, 2015 [31 favorites]


Named our cat after Viktor. Still can't believe he isn't in every movie ever. I think of that scene of him eating lobster in the kitchen and I get chills...
posted by armacy at 9:04 AM on July 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Dichen Lachman's and Enver Gjokaj's acting alone justifies the premise of Dollhouse. I loved the part where Topher imprints his own mind onto Victor, and it really seems like there are two of the same person in the room. (Seeing Alan Tudyk play the violent antagonist Alpha, after only having seen him as Wash in Firefly, took some getting used to.)

Dollhouse wouldn't have worked as a one-season miniseries because even if you cut out the main conflict and turned it into a slice-of-life show, there still wouldn't be time to see each Active play a variety of different roles, nor to see their own relationships develop when they're not playing out a script/Imprint.
posted by Rangi at 9:10 AM on July 5, 2015 [15 favorites]


I liked Dollhouse quite a bit, especially if you include the two "Epitaph" episodes but I'm glad that it ended when it did. I couldn't see the series' premise going much longer without becoming hacky and repetitive.
posted by octothorpe at 9:22 AM on July 5, 2015


It'll always have not being as boring and terrible as Agents of SHIELD I guess, if you count that one as a Whedon show (questionable).
posted by Artw at 9:26 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I liked the article.

And I want to pile on with the Enver Gjokai love. He was amazing in Dollhouse. Yes, he played Topher almost better than Topher did, but I remember, too, an episode where he got accidentally imprinted with a female character, and he played her so well—very accurately and completely but without the usual kind of fake "this is what a woman is like" voice and gestures that most male actors adopt when playing a woman. I have enjoyed seeing him again on Agent Carter, but in my perfect world there would be a highly-rated TV show called The Enver Gjokaj Playhouse where every week he and a carefully chosen ensemble—including Dichen Lachman--would present a different short play or excerpt from something famous, with interesting things like selected scenes from Romeo and Juliet with Gjokaj as a female Juliet. I love that man.

The first time I watched Dollhouse and the actors's names came up in the opening credits—Enver Gjokaj, Tahmoh Penikett, Dichen Lachman—for the first couple of names I thought it was going to be one of those credit sequences where the names are scrambled and then they unscramble into the real names. And then I thought, "Isn't it great that we live in a time when these people haven't had to change their games to Erik Grant and Tom Penn and Dianne Land to be actors?"
posted by not that girl at 9:33 AM on July 5, 2015 [56 favorites]


Shit like this is why I'm always so reluctant to call myself a feminist. I say "I consider myself a feminist," because I really do. But I always feel like I'm taking a big risk when I say "I AM a feminist," because there is always, always some other feminist out there who will show you that you're wrong. Usually they'll also show you that you're awful for it.

That attitude is why I stopped reading Jezebel (any online explanation of "No True Scotsman" should link straight to that site), but they certainly aren't the only culprit. Not by a longshot.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:43 AM on July 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


God, if only Dollhouse had been created to showcase Enver Gjokaj and Diechen Lachman's impressive acting ranges - since, you know, those are words that actually make sense in that order.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:54 AM on July 5, 2015 [16 favorites]


Shit like this is why I'm always so reluctant to call myself a feminist. I say "I consider myself a feminist," because I really do. But I always feel like I'm taking a big risk when I say "I AM a feminist," because there is always, always some other feminist out there who will show you that you're wrong. Usually they'll also show you that you're awful for it.

Attacking allies for insufficient purity is not the sole domain of folk self-identifying as feminists. c.f. RINOs, Fifth Columnists, Factionalists, Counter-revolutionaries, etc.
posted by percor at 9:54 AM on July 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


Generally, when anyone says, "You can't call yourself an X, because you Y," they're implicitly positioning themselves as the arbiter and gatekeeper. Not cool. It's a rhetorical weapon frequently used by assholes of all stripes, generally as a power play in an attempt to establish themselves as an authority.
posted by percor at 10:01 AM on July 5, 2015 [16 favorites]


The thing to remember (IIRC, ha) about Dollhouse and Dushku (who, I agree, is an actor of middling to below-average ability) is that Dushku, not Whedon, had the development deal at Fox. The show was built around her because it was her show and she chose Whedon as her production and development partner.

That accounts for many of the show's weaknesses, to my mind, especially in the first season.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:06 AM on July 5, 2015 [27 favorites]


Another watcher chiming in with the Enver-and-Dichen love. My wife couldn't stand Dollhouse as a whole, but cackled in glee when Enver's character was overlaid with the sorority girl.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:08 AM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Started reading this and was distracted... come back and I can't open it, guessing it's been metafiltered?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:12 AM on July 5, 2015


LooseFilter, QFT. Plus, Whedon's big hits (Buffy and Angel) both started with formulaic, monster-of-the-week plots for the first half-season or more. It led to some boring-ish Dollhouse eps, but it was pretty much baked into the premise. And Fox was not going to approve an all-continuity-all-the-time show, at least not at the time. You needed to have a plot-of-the-week format to build an audience at the time. People watch TV differently now, but network TV still often adheres to that format. Look at Scandal. It had a very similar development as far as changing from plot-of-the-week to continuity.
posted by rikschell at 10:48 AM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


+1 to the love it / hate it side. I was very excited for this show, and I'm very glad it got better when it did because otherwise I would have never given it the time it deserved.

I think this was a really great critique. I also think that "not good enough" is a damaging message.
posted by rebent at 10:53 AM on July 5, 2015


I haven't finished reading this article but I came in here to amen the love for Enver Gjokaj (and yes, also Dichen Lachman).
posted by Lyn Never at 11:08 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


The first time I watched Dollhouse and the actors's names came up in the opening credits—Enver Gjokaj, Tahmoh Penikett, Dichen Lachman—for the first couple of names I thought it was going to be one of those credit sequences where the names are scrambled and then they unscramble into the real names. And then I thought, "Isn't it great that we live in a time when these people haven't had to change their games to Erik Grant and Tom Penn and Dianne Land to be actors?"

I recall an interview with -- I think -- Keanu Reeves when Dracula was being released where he mentioned that over a meal once, the cast learned that Anthony Hopkins goes by his middle name (born Philip Anthony Hopkins) and they decided that if they all did this, they would sound remarkably like a 1940s movie cast: Leonard Oldman, Laura Ryder, Charles Reeves...
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:16 AM on July 5, 2015 [16 favorites]


but I remember, too, an episode where he got accidentally imprinted with a female character, and he played her so well

The last act of that episode was such a letdown, though. Gjokaj was amazing for most of the episode, but the script didn't let him carry the arc through to the end. They gave the big finish to Dushku, who was a wet paper bag in comparison.
posted by Banknote of the year at 11:47 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess since y'all are discussing it that everybody but me was actually able to load the page?
posted by lodurr at 11:56 AM on July 5, 2015


Tip: If the page won't render for you, clip it with evernote or try to view it using Clearly or something similar.
posted by lodurr at 12:02 PM on July 5, 2015


I had to reload a few times lodurr. First time I got the spinny loading thingy of doom in the middle of a white page & nothing else. Probably a failure to load some crucial javascript or something.
posted by pharm at 12:02 PM on July 5, 2015


lodurr: Oh, thank you. I thought it was just me. Saved it to Instapaper.
posted by SansPoint at 12:04 PM on July 5, 2015


That's what it looks like to me, especially given that Evernote was able to render the 'simplified' version. Probably if I used the DOM inspector I could make it load. Tried it on Firefox, Chrome & Opera, with and without privacy features. I think they probably have an issue in their infrastructure.
posted by lodurr at 12:06 PM on July 5, 2015


Yet another "Enver Gjokaj is spectacular" post. I really wish Orphan Black had gotten a hold of him to play the Castor clones. I like Ari Millen a lot but I think Gjokaj could have brought a nuanced separation to the clones that would have been the same level as Tatiana Maslany.

There's your anthology show: something like the Twilight Zone, only it's Maslany and Gjokaj playing different roles each week.
posted by rednikki at 12:07 PM on July 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


So, Whedon's 'feminism problem'....

To start with, does anyone know for sure that he's ever actually described himself as a feminist? I know he's often said he tries to write good, strong female characters, but has he ever self-described using the 'F'-word?

Not that it would excuse him if he didn't, but my impression has been that 'Whedon the feminist' is something he goes along with more than really feels strongly about.'

As far as Dollhouse being a parody, I agree that there's a difference between parody and commentary. I can buy the latter; but I don't really see any indication of self-mockery here. If I accept Chu's basic premise, that leaves me thinking what I've got is self-examination, not parody.

That would be a good thing, and I think there's a very plausible case for that. But 'parody' is a stretch.

I don't think he'd be as easy to parody as Chu seems to assume. He has stylistic tics, but a lot of them are ironic and reasonably deft ironism is hard to parody. Also, the particular ways in which his 'feminism' is problematic are complex, so they are also hard to parody effectively. I think some variant of Poe's law applies, here: So much of Whedon's work is interpreted so earnestly while yet living solidly in territory that ought to be parody that it can be difficult to discuss with fans. E.g. a few weeks ago I made a remark about his use of the 'whore with a heart of gold' trope in Firefly, and a friend (middle-aged and very earnest) replied frostily that since there were no characters in Firefly which fit that trope, he didn't know what I could possibly be talking about.

IOW, any critical discussion of Whedon can end up being a minefield.

Which is not to say that's happening here. I'm happy to observe it's not.

(My personal opinion of Whedon, FWIW, is that he's an enormously talented guy, particularly as regards writing dialogue, but that his stuff often seems terribly un-self-aware and not very well thought-through. I usually enjoy it, though. I think he's done the great disservice of being widely over-rated. There's just no way for him to live up to the pedestal people put him on.)
posted by lodurr at 12:19 PM on July 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


On reflection, I would rephrase to say that I think Whedon would be hard to parody because even when his ideas are problematic, they're often really well-written. That makes it difficult to make fun of them. Where's your handle?

Most of the Big American Novelist stuff from 1960 onward has big problems, and most of it that's any good is really hard to parody. (Could you imagine a parody of Catch-22, for example? Or even One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?)
posted by lodurr at 12:26 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


To start with, does anyone know for sure that he's ever actually described himself as a feminist? I know he's often said he tries to write good, strong female characters, but has he ever self-described using the 'F'-word?
He doesn't use the word anymore, but he has always identified as what most people would call a feminist. See, for example, this interview or this blog post. He's also a longtime ally of Equality Now, an avowedly feminist organization.
posted by kewb at 12:56 PM on July 5, 2015


my impression has been that 'Whedon the feminist' is something he goes along with more than really feels strongly about.'

I think that is true, but I think he has also accepted congratulations for feminist acts in a watery overtalky way where he's trying to mitigate but he doesn't lead with that mitigation, which is how he ends up in the position he's in.

The only really good response is: "I could do better. The producers I answer to could do better, and let me do better. What I have done is sometimes better than some, which is not to say it's enough. Now I'll say some words about what I think that means, but I wanted to make sure I first said the important part."

I don't think he's making any exceptional effort. I think he's a Gen-Xer who grew up in a liberal enough environment to be not-woman-hating, and to be grossed out by a lot of the nastiest Hollywood sexism, and to take opportunities to not do that thing when the fruit of doing so was within his reach. And for Hollywood, that's pretty radical.

One of the things about Whedon that's unusual for showrunners/writers/directors/producers is that he has (and has long had) an identifiable identity and personality in a way that is unusual in the business but not in fandom. He's person-shaped, which is a lot easier to aim at than a mostly faceless entertainment-generating entity. While I'm sure someone somewhere is absolutely furious at Glen Charles for some shortcoming in Cheers, it's not so much of a thing because he's just not in dialog with the public like that (as far as I know anyway).
posted by Lyn Never at 12:57 PM on July 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


Lyn Never, your last paragraph I think goes a long way toward explaining why he's held to what some view as a 'double standard.' He's basically doing what we first-gen/cluetrain-era web users always told people to do, which is to 'be person-shaped' as you so nicely put it, and he's experiencing the inevitable downside.

Interesting to see that he does seem to accept the risks involved.
posted by lodurr at 1:09 PM on July 5, 2015


This article has an interesting angle about how Dollhouse is about the entertainment industry, which other people have noted before, but then goes to this deeply uncharitable place with it. The stuff comparing the character's "diminutive Asian apprentice" to Whedon's "diminutive Asian sister-in-law" is super gross, imo.

As a proud feminist, I'm just so sick of these over-the-top think-pieces like "let me show you why everything by this supposed ally is terrible and wrong and they are scumbags." So much gatekeeping. Whedon has done some great stuff and a lot of problematic stuff, fine, but why are we expending so much collective energy on it? I feel like it's because he has come to represent a sort of voodoo doll for popular male nerd culture, which tends to be misogynistic, but jeeze. Am I the only one exhausted by all this? There's so much media out there that is deeply uncharitable to women that we barely even mention, in favor of deconstructing the work of people who are at least trying more than the rest of the industry.

I know "you should be focusing on more important things" is something commonly told to feminists to get us to shut up, but honestly, I increasingly see the feminist internet's intense focus on picking apart popular media as a hallmark of white feminism that's deeply out-of-touch with the kind of problems being faced by most women in the world. Deconstructing media is fun, but at a certain point it all starts to feel like some people think the important 21st century feminist battleground is in the realm of entertainment - and not making major points about representation, but nitpicking tiny points about character motivations in a Joss Whedon show. I'm not saying we shouldn't discuss media - I love doing so - but I wish we could keep a sense of perspective about the endeavor.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:41 PM on July 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


On further thought I'll acknowledge that this particular piece doesn't exactly claim Joss is an irredeemable terrible non-feminist - I'm conflating it with the many others that have been written. When I get angry about people taking media analysis too seriously and too far, I'm reacting to sections like this:

By the time of the post-apocalyptic epilogue “Epitaph 2” he comes to the conclusion that he can only redeem himself by killing himself in order to undo the effects of the Dollhouse on humanity.

Clearly Joss Whedon, who’s still making Hollywood movies and lining the pockets of media executives for a living, hasn’t gotten to that point yet. But he’s clearly thought about it.


What the fuck? Is Arthur Chu really idly speculating about whether Joss Whedon has considered suicide, or might in the future? The whole tone of this section, and much of the essay, is just awful. Bleh.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:03 PM on July 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm a little puzzled by this piece, because Dushku has said more than once that the central idea of the show is based on her experience as an actress, and trying to find her core self when everyone wants her to be different things. Has this guy listened to the DVD commentary? This is just about literally the text of the show - it's not a huge revelation. (I've spent kind of a lot of time thinking about Dollhouse, but noting its parallels to Hollywood does not require it.)
posted by restless_nomad at 2:21 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Damn you people and what you do to my Netflix list! Hadn't watched it since it was on air. Guess what I am doing now... Damn your keyboarding fingers!
posted by Samizdata at 3:07 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dollhouse was a really great 13 episode miniseries trapped inside two seasons of TV.

Exactly. And it still could be simply by cutting stuff out in the editing room, like much of the first half of Season 1 and a good deal of gratuitous Echo in what remains. Because -- spoiler alert -- it turns out she's not important after all. The bollocks about her magical spinal fluid doesn't actually inform the conclusion in any important way.

The limits of Dushku's acting ability is no more horribly apparent as when they imprint Dichen Lachman with the exact same character and she's much better at it.

As was, perhaps even more tellingly, Adaire Tishler.

And ditto to what everyone else has said about Enver Gjokaj. In a sane universe his career would have exploded by now. His Topher was the top moment of the show.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:24 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Attacking allies for insufficient purity is not the sole domain of folk self-identifying as feminists

It's the sole domain of zealots.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:51 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


What the fuck? Is Arthur Chu really idly speculating about whether Joss Whedon has considered suicide, or might in the future? The whole tone of this section, and much of the essay, is just awful. Bleh.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:33 AM on July 6 [3 favorites +] [!]


That read to me not as considering literal suicide, but Hollywood-suicide - leaving the industry, ceasing to make films, tv shows.
posted by pseudonymph at 6:06 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Critique is not an attack, it's just critique. In this case, it's an analysis which dovetails nicey both with Dushku's original idea and Whedon's aesthetics, which informs aspects of working within larger and more conservative structures which are consciously biased (Avengers being mandated to have only one female character, for example).

As I've become more aware of the world, I've discovered that almost everything has problematic issues - has ways in which it reinforces various inequalities great and small in the world. Learning how to acknowledge the weaknesses, etc... of things one loves is part of developing a more complicated relationship with it - it's in line with the elaborate fan canons and queering of the narrative which under-represented people do all of the time.

One of the ongoing problems of discrimination is the way in which we consciously decry it while unconsciously replicating it through implicit bias. So long as these biases remain unconscious, they continue to affect our behavior while we deny being biased, and so the biases continue unchallenged.

Finding a way out is hella complicated - I've consciously chosen to consume media not aimed at me as a way of combating my racial implicit bias, for example; I've been learning a lot from the Settler/Indigenous lenses I've found in particular, as a lot of the biases it highlights are ones I have.

Other means are doing things like checking the racial/gender breakdown of who one interacts with, and re-balancing as needed; Anil Dash did this with his year of following women on Twitter. I partially select my podcasts by gender and racial breakdown (it's harder to do that in other media, but I try).

Critique is another way to do this - the entire language of "problematic" is came out of people loving things but having problems with subsets of it - like in the essay on How to be a Fan of Problematic Things. These are not critiques by people seeking to destroy things, they are critiques who love something but recognize it's not perfect and consider it important to discuss ways in which it isn't perfect because people are hurt in other arenas by the bias expressed.

Over time, I've gotten used to the idea that someone can love and critique something at once, and it's made it both nicer to engage with a variety of media and made my conceptions of the world and all of the possible possibilities infinitely more complicated.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:07 PM on July 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's the sole domain of zealots.

Well, yeah, but sometimes it's zealots from the other side looking to overwhelm signal with noise.

I don't think that's outside the realm of reality for Whedon, either. I got a surprising education by watching Patton Oswalt, who I think is another GenX not-woman-hating person who has been choked with the lasso of Gold Medal Ally from both directions - the feminists who find him lacking and the gg'ers outraged that he's a SJW sympathizer. I know Whedon has startled some pockets of that culture (especially because of The Adam Baldwin Problem) by not being One Of Them.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:09 PM on July 5, 2015


It's the sole domain of zealots.

... and of people who haven't really bothered to think things through. (Laziness is very much not equivalent with zealotry.)
posted by lodurr at 6:29 PM on July 5, 2015


The scholarly paper by Eve Bennett [PDF] linked at the beginning is a much more in-depth read and goes into how Fox was to blame for some of the more troublesome elements:
Whedon summarizes their instructions thus: “Up the stakes, make the episodes more stand-alone, stop talking about relationships and cut to the chase. Oh, and add a chase. That you can cut to”.
posted by unliteral at 7:06 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Today, I sat in on the last bits of a panel called "Whedon and Dystopias" and someone (whose name I didn't catch or read on their nameplate because I was near the back) said that Dollhouse was an interesting look at first how one builds a dystopia and then later on how one subverts it. I didn't see the entire series, but if it's still on Netflix, I think I may re-watch it with that attitude (and this article) in mind.
posted by TrishaLynn at 7:47 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I keep meaning to do an essay on how Orphan Black manages to do everything Dollhouse was supposed to do and leave less of a gross aftertaste in my mouth at the same time.
posted by NoraReed at 9:02 PM on July 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


But I wonder if Dollhouse had starred someone who could act if it would have been successful in the way Orphan Black is.

Also vote me as another person sad that we don't have Gjokaj as the male clones, though I am pleased to hear he's on Agent Carter, which I want to watch.
posted by jeather at 9:17 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's so hard to say something like that, because a lot of the success of Orphan Black is because it manages to do feminism pretty okay, and it's only recently that people have realized that Joss Whedon might've done some good stuff with Buffy for the time period but he still writes a lot of really rapey stuff with some weird fetishism around particular "types" of women and he keeps saying awful stuff and trying to redefine feminism based on his own manpinions. Joss Whedon skepticism is such a product of the current era of internet, you know? And Orphan Black is very, very much a product of Right Now that I don't think it could've been made in 2009, or vice versa.
posted by NoraReed at 9:22 PM on July 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


Orphan Black has a better actress as the lead but the writing has gotten so terrible that I finally gave up this season.
posted by octothorpe at 4:03 AM on July 6, 2015


I heartily enjoyed the moment when Alpha blew up Rope Sex Guy
I heartily enjoyed the reveal of Dr. Saunders as Whiskey when she is paired with Alpha
I heartily enjoyed every line that the British lady in charge spoke

But it was really sad that Helo was in love with Echo. I mean, the character didn't have enough in him to not be Helo, and I sort of wanted Cylon Sharon to punch him in the jaw or something so his character arc wasn't all *HOT GIRL in a mystery how do I save the HOT GIRL*

But I sort of loved the next-door neighbor stuff. What, Mellie, Maggie? And when she offs that rapist? "There are three flowers in the vase. The first flower.." That was some good work right there.

It was like a dead Christmas tree with all these really fascinating ornaments on it
posted by angrycat at 5:57 AM on July 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


And Orphan Black is very, very much a product of Right Now that I don't think it could've been made in 2009, or vice versa.

Yeah, but I think that Dollhouse -- even with Whedon at the helm, and I agree with your opinions about him -- had a chance at being as good as Orphan Black, though it would have been different because year, 5 years changes things. And I think that part of what would have helped it would have been someone with more acting ability at the helm. Like Dichen Lachman.
posted by jeather at 6:51 AM on July 6, 2015


Really he should have just made Alias, like Fox seems to have wanted. She'd probably have been fine doing that - bit wooden, but mostly fine.
posted by Artw at 7:31 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


perhaps, Artw, but ambitious failures are still often more interesting than clean genre successes. (And I've little doubt Whedon is strictly speaking capable of 'doing a better Alias.)

Lost is still more intereseting than Alias, e.g., even though Lost really jumped the shark and then booted the landing. (Is Dollhouse more interesting than Lost? In hindsight, yes, but I wouldn't have said so at the time.)

(As a pure genre execution, Alias in its first 2 or 3 seasons was kind of a beautiful thing. But it got boring. Then just plain weird and pointless.)
posted by lodurr at 7:43 AM on July 6, 2015


The Big Reveal at the end of Dollhouse is that Echo’s entire struggle against her brainwashing by the Dollhouse was itself a massive ruse orchestrated by the Dollhouse itself

Wait, what? Am I stupid or was I not paying attention? Which episode was this?
posted by Justinian at 7:48 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Man, can you imagine how good Dollhouse would have been if it had starred Tatiana Maslany instead of Eliza Dushku?
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:58 AM on July 6, 2015


Maybe. Maybe not. It would still have been a product of its time and a function of who produced it. If it had had a different lead (who couldn't have been considered even if she'd been available back then because Dushku owned the deal), if it had been on a different network (but it wasn't), if the plot had gone the way you or I think it should, etc.

In 1946 you get The Best Years of Our Lives, and for its time, that's fantastic. In 1978 you get The Deer Hunter. Stuff changes.
posted by lodurr at 8:15 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wait, what? Am I stupid or was I not paying attention? Which episode was this?

It's the last three episodes. It's revealed that the Big Bad was interested in Caroline because she generated some kind of...I dunno, antibodies or something...that let her resist the imprinting process.

By making Caroline an Active and repeatedly subjecting her to this process, the Big Bad was able to study this and then use it to facilitate the global mindwipe without the risk of blowback. So Echo/Caroline reasserting herself was actually giving Rossum the information they needed to perfect the process and protect themselves from it.

Having said that, what they didn't anticipate was that Echo would become a composite like Alpha, only far more stable, giving her the skills to lead a plucky band of rebels. And they also underestimated the morality of Topher and Adele.
posted by kewb at 8:17 AM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


'whore with a heart of gold' trope in Firefly, and a friend (middle-aged and very earnest) replied frostily that since there were no characters in Firefly which fit that trope

That would be Malcom "Capt. Tightpants" Reynolds. And maybe not a heart of gold, per se, since he's just a good man... well, actually, he's all right.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:48 AM on July 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Didn't Firefly have an entire episode about a brothel titled "The Heart of Gold?"
posted by kewb at 8:55 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tahmoh Penikett

Was part of the problem, IMHO. He's one of those actors who has just one face (confused and angry) he uses for every scene. Other than that he's kind of theatrical dead weight. The casting of him and the similarly bland Dushku as the purported male and female protagonists of Dollhouse was one of the key failures of the show, even as it highlights Whedon's uneven track record.

A Whedon production is basically snappy dialogue wrapped around a high concept central framework which gets fleshed out with world-building as the story progresses. Sometimes that central framework is a bit rickety (cf. Buffy season 1) and sometimes the worldbuilding is clearly a combination of retconning and a technique known as "making shit up as you go along" (cf. Serenity). Typically, even the when the core of a Whedon production is a mess, it can be bouyed along with witty dialogue, self-referential humor, and general bonhomie, which requires, you know, acting.

All thoughout Dollhouse there are tremendous talents acting their butts off to overcome some of the structural/developmental problems built into the show, which only serves to highlight just how terrible the two leads were. I like Chu's deep reading of Dollhouse a Whedon self-parody, but it struck me as more like a failure because it wasn't Whedonesque enough. It set out to have a complicated, high-wire act of world-building and double agents doing triple reverse reveals, but then had to jam in some formulaic padding episodes. This would have been fine -- Buffy, Angel, and Firefly all have their share of skippable episodes -- had there been actors who could carry the show at its core, instead of its periphery.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:16 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Didn't Firefly have an entire episode about a brothel titled "The Heart of Gold?"

It's the episode that is probably the strongest proof that the quality of Firefly episodes Is inversely proportional to how overly literal they are about it being a "Space Western".
posted by Artw at 9:20 AM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Panjandrum: That would be Malcom "Capt. Tightpants" Reynolds.

You know, if I'd used that example he probably wouldn't have objected. It would have been less literal than the obvious example.
posted by lodurr at 9:40 AM on July 6, 2015


Artw: ... the quality of Firefly episodes Is inversely proportional to how overly literal they are about it being a "Space Western".

Oh dear lord, this. All the naive analogies to the Confederacy, all the Bat Durston gunfights, even a southern ball with a southern belle. And the farcical economics (really, you're going to buy enough fuel to hoist that think by taking a cut for hauling forty head of cattle?).

I gave up on it when i got to the 'Mal's wife' episode, where it all revolves around Kat Denning being Sexy Manipulative Minx #32 straight out of central pr)n casting. That ep is literally stuck half-way through in my 'to watch' queue and it's gonna stay there that way until it ages-off.

That said, I rather enjoyed Serenity, and through this lens I can see a lot of the reason why is that it jettisons most of the 'space western' baggage to tell an actual fucking story.
posted by lodurr at 9:45 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


it all revolves around Kat Denning being Sexy Manipulative Minx #32 straight out of central pr)n casting

I think you mean Christina Hendricks?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:49 AM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Didn't Firefly have an entire episode about a brothel titled "The Heart of Gold?"

Firefly also featured a "companion" as part of their ensemble, who was theoretically a highly-trained escort/courtesan/counselor and therefore a member of a widely respected profession, except for how the script was written to slap her in the face with "you're a whore" at literally every opportunity.

One can argue whether or not that's misogyny coming through in Whedon's writing, but either way it's surely bad writing.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:01 AM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Joss Whedon, who downplays his tendency to work with attractive actresses half his age by making himself out to be sexually nonthreatening, in his words a “male lesbian”

also Neil Gaiman and Tori Amos weren't fucking either so there
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:05 AM on July 6, 2015


Most of the Big American Novelist stuff from 1960 onward has big problems, and most of it that's any good is really hard to parody. (Could you imagine a parody of Catch-22, for example? Or even One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?)

Mildly off-topic, but there is a fine column in the Grauniad called Digested Read (by John Crace), which does parody/pastiche/reviews of celebrated books in their own style. One hundred of these were collected into a book called Brideshead Abbreviated. Looks like neither of the two books you mention are there, but it might be instructive to search the archives at the link above if you want to see what can be done.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:38 AM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Firefly also featured a "companion" as part of their ensemble, who was theoretically a highly-trained escort/courtesan/counselor and therefore a member of a widely respected profession, except for how the script was written to slap her in the face with "you're a whore" at literally every opportunity.

One can argue whether or not that's misogyny coming through in Whedon's writing, but either way it's surely bad writing.


I always read that as a commmentary on soceity's inability to accept either women who are powerful because they sell their bodies or those that are powerful because they don't. When she sleeps with someone she's a cheap whore but when she doesn't she's a prude. The script slaps "you're a whore" at literally every opportunity because that's what the world does. Kim Kardashian has built an empire out of having a nice ass and is worth millions, but she's still a dumb whore joke on every comedy show I've ever seen. That's what being a courtesan is.
posted by maryr at 12:07 PM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think you mean Christina Hendricks?

*hangs head* you are correct, a fiendish thingy. I confess that I am not very movie-star-compliant.
posted by lodurr at 12:23 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mildly off-topic, but there is a fine column in the Grauniad called Digested Read (by John Crace), which does parody/pastiche/reviews of celebrated books in their own style

I'll be looking that up (i love that kind of shit). I didn't mean to imply it was impossible -- I was just suggesting that the reason it's not common is that it's hard to do. I've seen it done, and it can be great. But I've also seen it done badly by pros. I think it takes a certain skill and a willingness to omit aspects you really love.
posted by lodurr at 12:26 PM on July 6, 2015


The script slaps "you're a whore" at literally every opportunity because that's what the world does. Kim Kardashian has built an empire out of having a nice ass and is worth millions, but she's still a dumb whore joke on every comedy show I've ever seen. That's what being a courtesan is.

Backing up the concept of "respected professional" in the text with actual events to support it would've been far more interesting than trying to show us exactly the same shit we're all completely (sadly) used to seeing.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:26 PM on July 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


maryr: I always read that as a commmentary on soceity's inability to accept either women who are powerful because they sell their bodies or those that are powerful because they don't.

I think that's stated farily baldly on a number of occasions. In fact, IIRC Inara has dialog that's more or less a paraphrase of your dilemma.

That said, this always came off more as pandering to me than really dealing with the issue. And the relationship with Mal is basically an abuse-dynamic. Which may well also be realistic, but there's not a lot of effort put into deconstructing it.
posted by lodurr at 12:29 PM on July 6, 2015


I used to look forward to seeing Enver Gjokaj. He's so boring on Agent Carter, though.

The script slaps "you're a whore" at literally every opportunity because that's what the world does.

Our world. In the world the characters live in, we're supposed to buy that Inara's job is super-high status and respected and yet every man she runs into treats her like a whore. You can't claim in the narrative that the job has no stigma if it so obviously has a stigma. It's frustrating, sloppy story-telling. And Mal is a dick.

I kinda think that Joss is a 90s feminist which was a time when feminism had mostly retreated to campuses, and he's been insulated to how much the feminist landscape has changed since then, and how different the expectations are now. Also, he's worked for bigger and bigger masters. I'm sure if he though network interference at FOX was bad, he really learned about a creative straight-jacket when he hooked up with Marvel. I'm not sure he has any freedom to exercise even his outdated feminism with those folks.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:53 PM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Backing up the concept of "respected professional" in the text with actual events to support it would've been far more interesting than trying to show us exactly the same shit we're all completely (sadly) used to seeing.

There were a couple times the text supported her being the only one with legitimized power (how The Train Job ends comes to mind), but it was never woven in enough to offset the sheer amount of shit that came her way, mostly at the hands of Mal, and it was undercut by the fact we were a priori anti-establishment.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:49 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought Mal's constant denigrating of Inara said more about his character than hers. But yes, from an outside-the-narrative viewpoint Firefly does end up associating Inara more with typical low-status prostitution than the high-class companionship she's meant to provide. She gets treated more respectfully in season 2.
posted by Rangi at 11:59 PM on July 6, 2015


Rangi: she gets treated more respectfully in season 2

[rimshot /]

Deoridhe: There were a couple times the text supported her being the only one with legitimized power (how The Train Job ends comes to mind), but it was never woven in enough to offset the sheer amount of shit that came her way, mostly at the hands of Mal,...

Yes: basicall we're getting told one thing, and shown another.

One could make the argument that that's how things work -- e.g., the "elevated" status of mothers, the "privileged" status of women (they get free drinks in bars! men hold open doors for them!) -- but I don't think that argument would be supported by this narrative.

Plus, I don't see support in the culture for the idea of privileged 'companions' of the sort Inara is supposed to be.

Firefly is just sloppy worldbuilding all around. It's not just the economics or the practical aspects of space flight, it's the social system that makes not very much sense, ever. You kind of have to like it for the clever dialogue or Mal's tight pants or Kaylee's dimples or something. (Personally I'm just happy it gave Ron Glass some work.)
posted by lodurr at 8:23 AM on July 7, 2015


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