Dollhouse (2009) re-watch 1.06 ‘Man on the Street’

Previously on Dollhouse, Echo found God, SECURITY LAWRENCE tried to have her put down, and Dr Saunders and Topher ran a very serious medical investigation into the cause of Victor’s erections.

WELCOME TO THE MACHINE


Trigger warning: please be aware there are mentions of rape in the text ahead, discussion of sexual assault, and references to rape within the text of the episode itself.


When writing about previous episodes of the show, I have been asking a lot of questions: about the Dollhouse as an organisation, about the wider world’s knowledge and awareness of it, and about how it fits into society.  Now with ‘Man On The Street’, we finally get some answers about that world in which the Dollhouse exists.  The episode opens not with operatives from the organisation, or with clients from an Engagement, but with a TV journalist being filmed as he interviews various REGULAR ANGELENOS (as per the episode title) on their thoughts regarding ‘THE DOLLHOUSE’.  That’s right; it seems almost everybody in the city has heard of the Dollhouse before, and rumours of it have been going around since the 1980s(!), but still there is no substantial proof that it actually exists.  One guy looks around shiftily whilst he speaks to the camera, apparently paranoid about the possibility that somebody would hire the Dollhouse to assassinate him.  Another man thinks it would be a nifty way to try gay sex, eliciting some concerned looks from the woman with him, his wife or girlfriend.  A white woman labels the Dollhouse’s practices as human trafficking.  An African-American woman offers another alternative name: slavery.

Woman on the street

These TV interviews are staggered throughout the episode, so it’s hard to tell if they are all part of the same programme, or feature in multiple news segments airing at different times.  Either way, they help paint a picture of the landscape on which the show is built, indeed a far more detailed picture than we have seen thus far.  We learn that the Governor’s office has denounced the rumour as nothing more than urban legend, which could be because the Governor knows absolutely nothing of it, or because they are one of the many public officials connected to it.

We cut to a TV airing the same report in FBI Agent Paul Ballard’s office, where he is also playing Caroline’s yearbook footage, and the news report showing Caroline/Echo at the cult compound from the previous episode, on different monitors behind him.  FBI PAUL lives and breathes the Dollhouse conspiracy theory.  He’s also obsessed with finding Caroline.  MARK SHEPPARD pops up again to taunt Paul some more and talk shit about Caroline, and so FBI PAUL assaults him.  It’s supposed to come off as badass but it’s actually just really immature.  MARK SHEPPARD threatens FBI PAUL then runs off with his tail between his legs.

When we next see Paul he is tracking the payment made by Gabriel Crestejo, who was the Dollhouse client in the first episode.  We know that the kidnapper shoot-out from the end of that episode was being investigated by MARK SHEPPARD, who it appears has now closed his case and does not appreciate FBI PAUL interfering with it.  FBI PAUL is pacing back and forth behind Aisha Hinds’ LOOMIS, waiting for confirmation that his hunch is correct.  We are given a bird’s-eye-view of Loomis’ office, an angle we certainly didn’t see in the previous episode, and then moments later we get another high-angle shot of the room as seen from behind Paul and Loomis.  ‘True Believer’ opted for a mid-level shot from the back of Loomis’ desk, but now that space is no longer required to be clear, Loomis has two computer monitors, and a lamp where her monitor was before.  It’s cool to see this more inventive placing of the camera to show us the room from a different perspective, and it works as a more interesting establishing shot.

Anyway, Loomis pulls up Crestejo’s payment record, and we see that he transferred $439 MILLION to ‘the Mayfair fund’ just after his daughter was kidnapped.  So now we have an idea of how much it costs to hire the Dollhouse’s services – just for ONE Engagement! FBI PAUL has had his suspicions about a self-made billionaire internet mogul named Joel Mynor, and we get a bit bogged down with detail here, so listen up: Mynor holds a majority share of a company called REDWING, a subsidiary of which is called Q-FIELD, and Q-FIELD pays the same $439 MILLION to the Mayfair fund EVERY YEAR, on the EXACT SAME DAY.  FBI PAUL thinks Caroline is now so deeply buried that he has to approach the Dollhouse from a different angle, and figures that Mynor is his way in.  With Mynor’s date of payment imminent, FBI PAUL knows he has to act soon.

Paul & Mellie

Then he goes home and starts blabbing to FRIENDLY MELLIE, his neighbour who has a penchant for giving away dishes of food at a time.  She tries to make sense of all the convoluted FBI investigation information he tells her about.  She also catches FBI PAUL fixating on Caroline, even though his investigation is meant to expose the entire Dollhouse, not simply save one woman.  FRIENDLY MELLIE is not the only person to see through Paul in this episode.  His intentions are very transparent.

MEANWHILE, at the Dollhouse itself, we have some very troubling developments, which give this episode the distinction of having the darkest subject matter yet.  I’ve said before that it would be very easy for somebody at the Dollhouse who is in a position of power to abuse their power, and with this episode we get an idea of how that abuse might manifest.  First we see ECHO and VICTOR eating lunch together, and when SIERRA passes them by, Victor wonders aloud why she doesn’t join them.  He approaches her, and places his hand heavily on her shoulder in the clumsy sort of way that is forgivable because he is a mind-wiped zombie who doesn’t understand personal space boundaries.  Sierra, however, does not take kindly to his advances, and throws herself off her chair, screaming.  She doesn’t stop screaming.

Examination

We cut to her being examined by Dr Saunders, AKA AMY ACKER, and learn that Sierra has been raped at some point since she returned from her most recent Engagement.  Dr Saunders asks Sierra about Victor, and learns that he likes to play-pretend with Sierra that they are married.  The expression on Acker’s face changes subtly from gentle encouragement to one of concern.  Sierra leaves and Saunders informs HANDLER HEARN, Sierra’s Handler, and BOYD LANGTON, Echo’s Handler, about what has transpired.  It is assumed pretty early on that Victor is the perpetrator, supported by the evidence of his sexual attraction to Sierra, which was discovered by Saunders and Topher in the previous episode.  HANDLER HEARN is concerned that Victor is “Jekyll and Hyde-ing, like Alpha,” and insists he be put in the oft-mentioned but never seen ATTIC, if found guilty.  He storms off, and Dr Saunders tries to remind Langton that Victor is not by default a rapist simply because he is attracted to someone.  Then Echo leans around the door-frame and informs them that Sierra cries herself to sleep at night.

Echo is then sent on an Engagement, and we are introduced to Joel Mynor, who is played by PATTON OSWALT.  As we know, this is the guy that FBI PAUL wants to catch in the act with a ‘doll’.  Mynor has security guards establishing a perimeter around a nice house in the suburbs, and FBI PAUL almost instantly breaks through the perimeter.  What he doesn’t see is Echo/Caroline driving up to the house and greeting her ‘husband’, Mynor.  FBI PAUL finds candles lit and rose petals scattered around the bedroom of the house then hears voices from the kitchen.  He investigates and is pretty much FLOORED when he finds himself face-to-face with CAROLINE, or ‘Rebecca Mynor’ as she is currently known.

The Mynors

When Paul identifies himself as FBI, Rebecca thinks her husband has got them into some kind of trouble.  “You did porn! My husband does porn!” she gasps, and honestly the comedy is all in the delivery.  Eliza Dushku is great in this episode, pitching Rebecca’s voice at a higher register than that we’re used to hearing from her.  Suddenly FBI PAUL gets tased by one of the security guards (“is this a porn man?!”), and in the ensuing scuffle, LANGTON appears from nowhere to extract Echo.  “Porn!” she says indignantly, pointing at the rose petals as she catches sight of them.

Man to man

Having incapacitated several guards, FBI PAUL returns to the kitchen to question Mynor, who eventually cops to the truth.  He reveals that his wife died in a traffic accident years previously, when on the way to meet him at a mystery location – the very house that they are now in.  After years of financial struggle, Mynor had finally made a name for himself, not in the porn industry, but with Internet games, and had planned to surprise his wife with the new house he had bought.  Ever since Rebecca’s death, he has hired the Dollhouse’s services to send Echo, imprinted with his wife’s memories and persona, to the house on their anniversary so he can live out the day he never got to experience with her.  Patton Oswalt is a likeable guy, and he sells the poignancy of the situation, though I may be projecting some real-world context on to my reaction to this story, considering Oswalt’s own wife, Michelle McNamara, tragically and suddenly died earlier this year.  Nonetheless, FBI PAUL points out that regardless of the tragedy of Mynor’s loss, what he is doing with Caroline/Echo still amounts to predation.  As with FRIENDLY MELLIE, however, Mynor recognises that FBI PAUL’s interest in Caroline borders on obsessive, and postulates that the FBI Agent wants to be the shining knight who rides in to save her.  Visually, we see Mynor regain the upper-hand, as he strolls around his ‘new’ kitchen, popping open Champagne, and offering Paul strawberries.  He also points out that considering Paul’s trespassing and assault of the guards, he has little moral or legal ground to stand on in that moment, and so FBI PAUL skulks off to fight another day.

Security footage

At the Dollhouse, the staff there are running an investigation of their own, as they attempt to ascertain who has raped Sierra.  Previously a police detective, LANGTON decides to put his investigative skills to use as he is reminded of Echo’s comment about Sierra crying at night.  Victor’s temporary Handler cannot understand why – if Victor is indeed guilty – there is no evidence of his actions on the building’s security footage.  Langton visits Sierra’s sleeping quarters, and makes a mental note of the cameras’ field of vision outside the frosted glass doors, something that we see for ourselves with the cut to the security camera’s feed that shows him entering its blind spot.  Then Langton makes a call to SECURITY LAWRENCE and tells him to isolate Victor and his Handler.  Poor Victor recognises that the staff think he has done something bad, even though he doesn’t understand.

Victor

“What did you do?” Echo asks him.

“Nobody will tell me,” he responds, helpless.  Then he is taken away by staff.  I keep saying it, but Enver Gjokaj does so much with so little.  He really does a great job at displaying Victor’s vulnerability, whether in an imprinted or wiped clean state.

Later that day, we see Sierra with several other Actives, walking apprehensively through the hallways of the Dollhouse.  She reaches the frosted glass doors that Langton had been inspecting before, and after a moment’s hesitation, she enters the room behind them.  The room is lit from inside, so we see her silhouette through the frosted glass, and she is then joined by a man, who says “do you trust me?”

Silhouette

“With my life,” she responds, and then we cut to inside the room, where we see that Hearn is standing before her.

We know from the second episode that this verbal exchange is part of the Handler/Active bond imprinting procedure that we saw Langton and Echo go through in a flashback.  We know that the trust an Active places in their Handler is programmed, that they have no choice in the matter, that their well-being is dependent on their Handler’s actions.  If a Handler acts irresponsibly, their Active will suffer.  Hearn has betrayed the unconditional trust that his Active placed in him.  He asks her “do you want to play the game?”, which is a line to make your skin crawl.  It is obvious that Hearn considers Sierra to be a plaything of his, a doll in a doll-house, but he also infantilises her, adding a whole other level of vileness to his attitude and actions.  He reminds her she has to be quiet, then commands her to lift up her dress.  Once again, from out of nowhere, flies Boyd Langton, who lands a fist of fury on Hearn’s face, and sends him crashing through the frosted glass.

DeWitt & her love affair with windows

Back in BOSS LADY DEWITT’s office, Langton explains that Hearn couldn’t know he was under suspicion, that he had to be “flush with success” so that Boyd could catch him in the act.  Considering Hearn knew how to avoid the security cameras, and likely would not be caught otherwise, it is certainly a valid assertion, though it is not a tactic that respects Sierra and the trauma she has experienced.  What is unfortunate about this storyline is that by very nature of the state that she is in, Sierra is by definition a passive object, without agency.  She exists in a kind of limbo.  Is it better that she doesn’t know what happened to her? Should she know? There’s no easy answer, and at any rate, it’s not an experience I am qualified to speak on.  But what is clear is that she, and her fellow Actives, are absolutely dependent on the intervention of others when taken advantage of in their blank state.

DeWitt scolds Langton for taking action without informing her, but she also has a bonus wired to his bank account, mostly to assuage her own feelings of guilt.  This is actually the first scene – more than halfway through the episode – in which we see DeWitt, and she seems exhausted from the day’s events.  Not only have they discovered an abuser in their midst, but they now also have FBI PAUL telling a civilian, FRIENDLY MELLIE, everything he knows about their operations.  DeWitt has Topher prep Echo for a second meeting with FBI PAUL, this time on the Dollhouse’s terms.  Topher builds a profile to imprint Echo with, and once again sends Ivy to do his bidding, which is usually food-related.  This is our first extended look at how Topher creates an imprint and gets it ready to be programmed into an Active, and there is a reason why the process is focused on so much in this scene but I’ll get to that later. Just as Topher is installing the imprint onto a hard-drive, he is interrupted by Langton, who ushers him out into the corridor.  Langton wants to know what Echo’s newest Engagement is, as he’s been benched for sending another Handler through a door.  Topher has obviously been instructed to keep the details of Echo’s Engagement secret, because he lies to Langton.  Is this simply a safety precaution, or does DeWitt think Langton would disapprove of Echo’s mission parameters?

Hard drive

DeWitt has Handler Hearn brought to her and is suitably scathing when he wonders if she will have him turned into an Active: “I find it a bit sad that you think of yourself as a candidate for anyone’s fantasy.”

Hearn thinks he is justified in what he did to Sierra, that the Actives are asking for it by running around naked, which just goes to show that victims of abuse will be blamed for their abuse, no matter what the circumstances.

“We’re in the business of using people,” he says to DeWitt and Security Lawrence.

“You understand less about this business than you think,” DeWitt tells him.  But she has a use for Hearn, nonetheless: to kill FRIENDLY MELLIE!

FRIENDLY MELLIE, by the way, is orgasming in bed, thanks to the efforts of FBI PAUL.  You’re probably wondering ‘woooahhh, how did we get here?’ and I will admit I skipped mentioning their previous scene, as it appeared in the middle of Langton’s investigation.  Following his confrontation with Mynor, FBI PAUL returned home with popped stitches, asking for an ice pack and wandering around shirtless.  Eventually he kissed FRIENDLY MELLIE and then they decided they should just be neighbourly because Mellie doesn’t want Paul to pay her that kind of interest when he’s so obviously fixated on Caroline.  But then THEY SLEEP TOGETHER ANYWAY, so I guess the temptation was too great.

Neighbourly

“I was thinking about Caroline,” Mellie tells him afterwards.

“Well I wasn’t,” says Paul, a little defensive, but jokingly.

It is kind of funny, but I do wish the show would stop making so many same-sex attraction jokes when it doesn’t actually have any LGBTQ characters.

This is the first episode where we some three-dimensionality to Mellie.  She is not simply the sweet, doting, concerned neighbour; she displays an easy confidence in this scene, and teases Paul. It’s also worth noting that she is a ‘plus-sized’ woman whose figure is never called into question, and who is seen as desirable, and she is portrayed by a biracial actress.

FBI PAUL’s idea of desirable post-coital activity is for her to help him stalk Caroline, or as he puts it, for them to ‘go through [his] files’.  You know his FBI files.  The files that contain sensitive information about a Federal investigation.  The kind of files that civilians aren’t really supposed to be looking at.  Yeah, those files.  AND SO Paul dashes off to get take-out, and who does he see in the reflection of the restaurant’s kitchen door? Caroline! In the kitchen! He goes to investigate, but she gets the drop on him, and what ensues is probably the show’s most exciting, inventive fight sequence to date.  It’s not clear where the kitchen staff have got to, but never mind.  We see Paul and Echo use kitchen utensils and their environment in an attempt to best the other – at one point Paul pulls open a fridge door to shield himself from the huge pan that Echo lobs at him.

Eliza Dushku is much smaller than Tahmoh Penikett, and her height is used to her character’s advantage in the choreography, as she ducks under him, and dodges his blows.  What is interesting is that whilst FBI PAUL wants to help Caroline, he clearly recognises here that she is a danger to him, and so he takes the threat quite seriously.  He towers over her menacingly, and eventually picks her up, and slams her down onto a car in the back-alley outside.  Whilst the action in the kitchen was shown mostly through a series of mid-shots, as soon as the fight moves outside the camera pulls back, opening up the space by giving us a wide shot from the end of the alley, and again offering us a bird’s-eye-view from directly above.  Paul doesn’t pull his punches but when he finally has Echo in a prone position, he hesitates, and it gives her the opportunity she needs to smack him down to the floor.  But then the tone switches.

“The Dollhouse is real,” Echo tells him.  “They know you’re after them and they’re going to have you taken off your case.  That’s why they sent me.”

Paul pauses

“Why are you telling me this?” Paul asks.

“We have a person inside.  This person corrupted the imprint while the programmer wasn’t looking, added this parameter.”

“Is this the person that sent me the tapes and the picture?”

“No.  This is their first communication.”

So this rules out ALPHA being involved if – as I suspect – he was indeed the person who sent the tapes and photo of Caroline to Paul.  Somebody used the distraction that Langton provided to alter Echo’s imprint whilst Topher was out of the room.  Was Langton a co-conspirator, or simply a pawn? And who corrupted the imprint? We know Ivy had been in the room just seconds previously, so could she have doubled back?  Echo tells Paul that he is going about his investigation from the wrong angles; he shouldn’t be trying to find the Dollhouse’s physical location, because it won’t achieve anything: there are over TWENTY DOLLHOUSES located around the world.

“They have ties to every major political power on the planet; you cannot possibly stop them alone. … the Dollhouse deals in fantasy: that is their business.  But that is not their purpose.”

“What is?”

“We need you to find out.”

The Echo we see in this scene is totally different to Rebecca Mynor.  She is assertive and in control.  She gives Paul his gun back and tells him to let the Dollhouse win so that they will back off from his investigation.  Then to compromise him, and deliver on the original parameters of her Engagement, she shoots an approaching police officer and incriminates Paul.  “They will protect the information,” she tells Paul.  “They don’t want you dead, but anyone else–”

FBI PAUL realises FRIENDLY MELLIE is in danger because he couldn’t keep his trap shut, and so he dashes off.  We cut to Mellie, half-dressed, tidying up Paul’s apartment as she listens to classical music, when there is a knock at the door.  Thinking it’s Paul, she runs over and is assaulted by Handler Hearn in a ski-mask as he busts down the door.  He throws her around the apartment, and the music volume increases as Mellie’s screams and the sounds of furniture crashing to the floor grow more distant, facilitating our sense of helplessness as viewers.  Mellie is dragged across the floor, and the scene cuts to Paul running home, trying to phone her.  In a brilliant bit of narrative misdirection, we hear the phone ringing, and of course we think it is Paul.  Just as Hearn begins strangling Mellie, DeWitt’s voice begins to play on the answering machine:

“There are three flowers in a vase.”

Hearn’s eyes widen as he looks at the machine in recognition of the voice.  Mellie’s eyes open, and she stops struggling.

“The third flower is green.”

Mellie turns her head to look directly up at Hearn, and then she punches him, jumps back up, smacks him around, and BREAKS HIS NECK ON THE COFFEE TABLE.  DeWitt watches on her feed from the bug planted in Paul’s apartment, then continues over the phone:

“There are three flowers in a vase.  The third flower is yellow.”

Hearn hurts

Mellie instantly snaps out of her assassin state and breaks down crying, just as Paul bursts into the apartment.

FRIENDLY MELLIE IS THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE! There are a lot of implications here.  Obviously, FRIENDLY MELLIE is an Active, and a sleeper agent at that.  So not only was Russian Victor sent to deter FBI PAUL, but also Mellie was used to … what? The Dollhouse obviously had his apartment bugged, so they didn’t exactly need her to report on his activities.  And she actively encouraged him to keep searching for Caroline and continue his investigation into the Dollhouse, so she wasn’t deterring him either.  DeWitt did not intend for Hearn to actually kill Mellie, but to instead meet his maker at her hands, and I suppose to spook Paul.  I think it was meant as poetic justice that Hearn was killed by another woman he was physically abusing, but once again, this method used a supposedly susceptible woman as bait, exposing her to unnecessary trauma.  While whoever Mellie is when she isn’t Mellie won’t recall the incident, for now the Mellie imprint will have to live with the memory of an unknown man sitting on top of her as he strangled her to death.  And of course Mellie won’t understand exactly how he ended up dead in the next moment, so she will be as confused as she is fearful.

Paul comforts Mellie

In addition, the revelation that she is an Active means that not only was she raped by Paul when they had what they both thought was consensual sex, but also that he was raped by her, and that neither of them knew they were committing such an act.  Because Mellie’s identity was withheld from Paul, he did not have all of the relevant information required to make an informed decision to consent, and because she has no control over her actions or what happens to her, neither could she consent.  This is a really complicated situation, and I will be amazed if the show ever addresses it.  So far I cannot recall the word ‘rape’ being mentioned in any episode, except in this one in reference to what happened to Sierra when she was not on an Engagement.  A lot of media shies away from the word, as though uttering it is as despicable as committing it, but we have a responsibility to label and identify rape when it occurs, otherwise we only further perpetuate the culture that fosters it.  And rape does not always manifest in the sense of one person forcing themselves on another, as in the case of Hearn with Sierra.  If we don’t call attention to its insidiousness, then we only allow it to grow even more insidious.  It is also worth mentioning that, considering this episode was written by Joss Whedon , I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the troubling attitudes towards rape exhibited by the narrative in his other TV shows – and by Whedon himself – including both Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Firefly.

‘Mellie’ has now killed a man, in self-defence, so I wonder how much longer this imprint of hers will be used for.  DeWitt wants her brought in for a diagnostic, but to still be kept in play.  FBI PAUL is now under scrutiny, and hands in his gun and badge to the Bureau as a result of his perceived culpability in the shooting of the police officer, his attack on Mynor and his guards, and his feud with the Russian mob.  SECURITY LAWRENCE receives word – presumably from an FBI contact – of Paul’s suspension.  Hearn’s attack on Mellie is referred to as a break-in, and his fingerprints came up with a result for a ‘Russian floater’ (presumably Russian Victor?), which was supposedly evidence of the Russian mob’s responding to FBI PAUL’s antagonism.  It all seems rather contrived, though I suppose that is the point.

There is a 40 second take that follows DeWitt and SECURITY LAWRENCE as they walk from DeWitt’s office, into her private elevator, staying inside with them, and then following them out onto the floor with Topher’s IMPRINTING FACTORY.  It’s certainly not on The West Wing‘s level of walk-and-talk, but it’s nice to have some fluid Steadicam action to break up the static shots.  DeWitt and SECURITY LAWRENCE discuss the potential repercussions of the recent security breaches, and DeWitt requests that the Security heads of the other Dollhouses be informed of Hearn’s actions, regardless of what it does to her reputation.  It’s interesting to see DeWitt act in the best interests of other Actives, ones that are not even her own, if it means preventing any more from being abused, even if it results in her being poorly perceived by her peers for the transgressions that went on in her House.  I look forward to seeing her image soften more.

DeWitt & Lawrence Dominic

“Ignorance in this case truly is bliss,” DeWitt says, as they watch Sierra from above.

“I don’t think they’re as ignorant as they’re supposed to be,” Lawrence reminds her.  He has spent much of the previous two episodes telling her that Echo is a danger because she fights against her programming.

Finally DeWitt seems to acknowledge his concerns, and tells him ‘we’re working on it’, but it’s not clear which ‘we’ she is referring to.

We see Sierra invite Victor to look at a book with her, and then we cut to Echo, painting.  She tells DeWitt “it isn’t finished” but she is actually talking about her Rebecca Mynor Engagement, the painting depicting the Mynors stood in front of their ‘newly purchased’ house in the suburbs.  And so DeWitt allows Echo to finish her Engagement, and we end with Joel Mynor once again greeting his wife outside their new property.  Which would be sweet if he didn’t intend to sleep with her.

So Echo is continuing to remember things she shouldn’t – details from her prior Engagements, her memories of which should be wiped when she is returned to her resting state.  And not only did DeWitt observe this, but she indulged in it.  She may indeed be exhibiting a soft spot for the Active.

Also worth thinking about for a moment is the detail revealed to us right at the start of the episode; that rumours about the Dollhouse have persisted in LA since the 1980s.  It seems safe to say that the technology the Dollhouse currently uses was not around two decades before, so how was it even possible to carry out these activities back then? To wipe a person’s mind and imprint it with a different person’s memories and knowledge?  Topher certainly would have been a child then, so he cannot be responsible for the original technology.  Does that mean that he did not build the current system either? With so many Dollhouses around, and Topher equivalents in each of them, he seems less and less one-of-a-kind than he has so far been toted as.  No doubt he has made his own modifications to the LA Dollhouse’s tech, but how much prerogative does each Dollhouse really have with regard to acting independently of company policy?  And who does DeWitt report to? As always, we have ended up with more questions than answers.

I want to finish with something said by the last of the Angelenos interviewed by the news crew.  There is no hint as to who this man is, other than the classroom he is located in, suggesting he is some kind of academic.

“Forget morality.  Imagine it’s true.  Imagine this technology being used.  Now imagine it being used on you.  Everything you believe: gone.  Everyone you love: strangers, maybe enemies.  Every part of you that makes you more than a walking cluster of neurons: dissolved at someone else’s whim.  If that technology exists, it’ll be used.  It’ll be abused.  It’ll be global.  And we will be over. As a species, we will cease to matter.”

It’s all rather pessimistic, but it does remind me of what Paul said to Russian Victor in the third episode: “We split the atom; we make a bomb.  We come up with anything new, the first thing we do is destroy, manipulate, control.  It’s human nature.”  He was convinced that the mind-wiping technology exists, and thus was convinced that it was already in use (and as such that the Dollhouse exists).  But the academic’s words go beyond pessimism.  He is talking about the metaphysical, about humanity transcending to a different plane of existence, one where identities aren’t just erased, but are irrelevant entirely.  These kinds of ideas don’t just exist in fiction; there are Silicon Valley tech billionaires who believe we exist only in a simulation, created by vastly more superior beings from the future.  Is any of this connected to the Dollhouse’s purpose? Their business is fantasy, but why do they really exist? What is the technology intended for, ultimately? Much of this episode’s narrative deals with physical abuse of the body, but it’s also just as concerned with the idea of abuse of technology, whether it’s taking advantage of a system’s limitations, or using it for nefarious purposes.  This is something we are only going to see more of as the story progresses, and it is a big part of why the show is so thematically rich.  I look forward to seeing these ideas evolve.

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