"We're good people. Nice people. We help people become better people by giving them what they need." -TopherI want to start off this week with an exchange Joss Whedon and I had on the conference call he did to promote the miraculous healing powers of "Man on the Street," but which applied to events from this episode that troubled me:
"You murder people. You gut them and use them as playthings." -Caroline
Am I interpreting correctly that when Sierra goes to the see the man she says is responsible for putting her there, that basically he kind of sold her into the slavery with the Dollhouse?It's that line about "how complicit the Dollhouse was in that" that's the key to deciding how I feel about "Needs" -- and, for that matter, about "Dollhouse" as a whole.
More or less. I wouldn’t even say sold, so much as kidnapped. Her situation is by far the worst of anyone’s. How complicit the Dollhouse was in that, how much they actually knew about her past, we don’t go to in the episode, but what actually happened to her is just as appalling as anybody’s story.
Because one of the things I hear from people who may have been a little bit reluctant to get into the show is what they call “the ick factor” of the premise. And Adelle tries to argue in that episode that most of the dolls are there voluntarily and they’re doing a good service for them by wiping out these other memories. But knowing that this is possible for at least one of the dolls, does that continue to make the show uncomfortable maybe?
I don’t know, maybe. It makes me uncomfortable. I’m not going to lie. But for me, it’s part of what we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with people who have power and are abusing it and people who don’t and are trying to regain it. And in some instances, we want to show the Dollhouse and in the instance of November, I think (it) is providing a service... And then in other instances, that is going to be abused and the ick factor gets very high. It seems to get high with Sierra quite a bit, I’m sorry to say, poor girl. She really gets put through it. But it’s not something we feel that we can shy away from without being a little hypocritical.
It's already become quite clear that the Dollhouse itself is an abomination. The revelation of how Sierra wound up as a doll simply confirms that reality. Even if every other doll is someone like Echo or November who needs to forget their old life for a while as much as they need the money, even if Sierra is somehow the only slave in the bunch (which I doubt), that's still one slave too many, and shows how easily and horribly the technology could be abused. And someone at the Dollhouse is complicit in her slavery; whether it's Adelle or someone higher up the food chain has yet to be revealed.
But if it is Adelle -- and based on what we've seen of her recruiting both Caroline and the science student from last week, it appears she handles intake for all the new dolls -- well, then everything she tells Caroline in the final scenes is a big, fat, disgusting lie, and it once again brings us around to the idea that this is a show where we're spending most of our time hanging out with despicable villains. A commenter last week tried to parry that charge by pointing out that plenty of great shows like "The Sopranos" have been told from the point of view of pretty monstrous characters. In response, I wrote:
I would argue that there's a significant difference between "Dollhouse" and, say, "The Sopranos." "Sopranos" was structured in a way that you saw the world almost entirely from the viewpoint of the bad guys (even Melfi became morally complicit after a point), and while you saw examples of the people they victimized, they weren't the centerpiece of the show the way that Echo is. It'd be like watching a version of "The Sopranos" where the main character is Tracee the stripper -- only perhaps even worse, because it would be a Tracee who has no idea how Ralphie's abusing her.And if you look at it that way, "Needs" was interesting because it showed us Tracee (or, in this case, Caroline) briefly regaining self-awareness and doing everything she could to bring down the bastards who did this to her.
What made "Man on the Street" seem like such a promising new direction for the series was the way that it shifted the focus away from Echo's missions and onto Agent Ballard's quest to bring down the Dollhouse, while at the same time reminding us of why the place needs to be brought down. "Needs" continued in that vein, and if it wasn't as strong as "Man on the Street," Caroline's growing realization of what this place was, followed by her one-woman attempt to bring it down, was fairly inspiring, and leaves me feeling good about where the show might be headed for the rest of this season.
My concern, though, is that, after getting a Ballard-heavy episode a few weeks ago and one tonight where Caroline's personality (if not her memories) returned, the show will have to get back to the Dollhouse at least attempting business as usual again, and I don't really want to watch more episodes where the only people who really know what's going on are Adelle and Topher and Mr. Dominic.
And I'm not sure how I feel about Boyd and Dr. Saunders at this point. After previously implying that Saunders might be the mole who reprogrammed Echo two weeks ago, the episode ends with the revelation that Saunders was the architect of this exercise in self-awareness, as an attempt to get the four problematic dolls to stop glitching. You can read that two ways: Saunders as a good soldier in the organization like Topher, or Saunders trying to make the best of a horrific situation and at least keeping these four from being sent to The Attic (whatever that turns out to be).
Boyd, meanwhile, is obviously no saint, or else he wouldn't be working here, but he's generally been shown to care more about the dolls as people than anyone else. But there was enough ambiguity in his discussion of Sierra and Nolan after they retrieved the dolls that has me wondering if he, too, knows exactly what the relation between those two is. It's one thing if he believes the line of BS from Adelle about the Dollhouse as a purely altruistic outfit, but if he knows the truth, then he's just as bad as the rest.
And in looking back over what I wrote, I feel like I'm all over the map on this episode, in part because of information that's hinted at but not made clear. I still feel like the show is heading in a much more interesting direction than in the early done-in-one episodes, but I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to overcome that ick factor without a significant change in format or point-of-view.
What did everybody else think?