Dollhouse – Why All the Hate? (TV)

I interupt this gaming blog to talk for a minute about TV, and in particular Joss Whedon’s new show, Dollhouse. Warning: The post contains broad spoilers of the first 3 episodes.

Now I’m just an ordinary viewer watching the show as it airs. I haven’t had any sneak peeks or read any spoiler sites or anything like that, and I’m going to share some assumptions here. I may well be proven wrong. but I’m willing to risk it.

So first of all, I’m enjoying the show so far, and hope that it makes it for a long run. But if you don’t like it, I can respect that. Everyone has different tastes, and in particular this show lacks the humor that most Whedon shows contain, which might put off some Whedonverse fans.

What I don’t get, though, is that section of the audience that seems to actively hate the show. Not only do they not want to watch it, they want it to go away; they don’t want anyone else watching it, either. 

That puzzled me so much that I’ve been trying to understand why. Most of the hate seems to surround the way women are treated in the show. One comment I read said “Every time Echo sleeps with a guy, I feel like she is being raped.” A few other comments reflect the same feelings to a greater or lesser extent; that what happens to the “dolls” here is really uncomfortable, and most of them that we’ve seen so far have been women. 

I don’t disagree with these feelings.

But I think what these viewers don’t understand is that Dollhouse HQ (the organization) are -not- the good guys here. They are at best morally ambiguous, and more likely just plain evil (that remains to be seen). The fact that Echo does some good while she is out on a mission is more or less a side-effect of what the company does. We see the ‘good’ missions but the bread & butter of the firm seems to be prostituting these “dolls” to the filthy rich. Yes, it’s dehumanizing, criminal and uncomfortable. That’s the whole point. We’re supposed to hate Dollhouse HQ and want it to be brought down!

My guess is that Echo is going to be the rogue agent that eventually hooks up with Alpha to try to tear down Dollhouse the Organization.  She’ll have help from Dr. Saunders (Amy Acker’s character) and the protection of Langton, her handler. The “good guys” in the show are Ballard (the cop trying to expose Dollhouse), Echo as she starts to retain her memories, and Boyd Langton. Maybe Sierra as well?  

I just think the viewers who actively hate the show somehow think we’re supposed to be rooting for Dollhouse HQ and that seems like a vile thing to ask us to do, and so they attack Whedon and the show. But that, to a certain extent, exposes the problem with TV these days. No one has any patience. Everything has to be explained in the first episode or else people form assumptions that they are unwilling to let go of. If you watch the way most of the Dollhouse staff treat the “dolls” it is really clear that these are bad, or at least heartless, people. I guess Whedon needed to spell that out in the first 5 minutes of episode 1 in order to avoid offending viewers?

I wonder if these same people wanted The Sopranos taken off the air? Probably not, because it was immediately clear that the Soprano characters were criminals and so viewers knew what to expect. 

Dollhouse has the potential to be a pretty complex show. Imagine Echo, having her memories wiped over and over, but learning somehow to hang on to some piece of herself, and struggling to figure out what’s happening to her and how to escape. Imagine Langton growing more and more attached to her and trying to operate from the inside to help her, while Ballard gets closer and closer to the truth. There’s a lot of good material to mine here, if viewers give it a chance.

But I don’t think they will. Which is a damned shame.