Dear Moth Chase Readers,
Read on for more excellent, in depth commentary on the soon-to-be-gone series, the Dollhouse, by our two guest bloggers – Travis and Martin. You can read Travis’ earlier post on the first of Friday night’s two episodes here.
Natalie and Kathryn
Wow—so many things to discuss this week! What an incredible journey to the conclusion of this season and so the show. I’ll take up just two themes from your post and from this week’s episode: the notion of embodiment and your claims to some sliver of hope.
I completely agree with you on the last point—perhaps I didn’t make myself clear last time around, so I’ll use this opportunity to elaborate a bit. I think that the show operates along a certain orientation of hopelessness, but by the same token there are always present bursts of hope. Where I would locate the hope (and I’m not sure that you would agree) is precisely in a mere spontaneity (to use a Kantian term). Echo and others possess a basic spontaneity of reason that allows them to achieve acts that are outside of what we (society, handlers, programmers, Rossum, etc.) would expect. This spontaneity precisely seems to be tied to their bodies: their fundamentally human (animal) embodiment. We’ve seen this illustrated in Victor and Sierra’s coupling, Echo’s headaches, Topher’s pangs of conscience, etc. These are the glimmers of hope: but they are fragile and inherently fugitive moments.
Precisely because they are tied to bodies that are not only finite and frail, but also because these same bodies are the site of programming and indoctrination, whether social or more direct as in imprinting, such moments cannot last. If they were to last, they themselves would become codified sequences exhibiting all of the same failures (of society, of self, of friendship, of life) that the show highlights episode after episode. These moments must remain fundamentally transient. To my mind, we see this quite clearly with both of these episodes: there is no paradise—not for Echo, not for Alpha, not for the Dollhouse, not for Joel Myner, etc. Of course, the promise of breaking out of the structural limitations of the world continually underwrites everything: without Caroline’s ideals, Adelle’s merciless drive, Ballard’s care, Topher’s curiosity, etc. the show would not even get off the ground (not to mention Epitaph One’s promise of Safe Haven). But these are all fleeting moments that seem to be tied to somatic drives. This stress on embodiment (obviously always present when dealing with sex trafficking) paradoxically is made a focus in these shows through the subtlety in which it is presented. Echo’s “self-awareness” is garnered at that moment when she is able to see Caroline as occupying her body—and “she doesn’t like it.” Similarly, Ballard’s “brain-death” illustrates this from both sides of the coin: in the care that all of the characters cannot but help show to his unconscious, brain-death body, but also in the mercy that Echo cannot but help show to a body that speaks with his voice. At every step, the show highlights our continual dependence on our body, but also our human, all-too-human ability to lose sight of this dependence, our continual drive to forget this aspect of our humanity. In this sense, there is a neat dialectical economy between this somatic element and the spontaneity of reason, which oscillates between positive and negative, with neither being entirely good nor evil, but illustrating the inherent interdetermination between these various dualities (mind/body, good/evil, society/individual, etc.) on all levels.
Where I would like to get your thoughts and perhaps push you on a bit is on your estimation of Alpha. Alpha and Echo are obviously two sides of the same coin. But where you see him as a “schizophrenic madman,” I would tend to read him as the inverse of Echo vis-à-vis their estimations of the world. Where Echo embraces these fleeting moments of hope, Alpha takes them to be entirely insignificant, opting to embrace instead a wholesale nihilism. As he says: he simply doesn’t care. Now, it may be that this nihilism is beginning to collapse by its own weight (as his “acquisition” of Ballard seems to suggest), but it also may be that perhaps this nihilism has more fight in it. It seems that Alpha’s question to Echo powerfully centers around her namesake: is she merely to be an echo of the world—hoping to change it, but always without success—or is she to become the Omega to his Alpha, thereby completing a circle which oversteps or rejects the aforementioned omnipresent nihlism precisely in affirming it.