Dollhouse: Is It Done Yet?

Dollhouse: Is It Done Yet?

My thoughts on the latest Dollhouse episode are over at Fantasy.  One aspect that bothered me that I didn’t mention was the character of Mellie/November.  Mellie, specifically.

Ever since Mellie first showed up I have been super-annoyed and wary of her character. In the beginning because I am so over the I Am Desperately In Love With Man Who Ignores Me stereotype.  She seemed so pitiful and desperate that I was really rooting for her to be a doll just so it wouldn’t be so horrible for her to exist. It makes sense for the Dollhouse to program her to be desperate for Paul, even if it is still annoying.

So then we discover Mellie is a sleeper doll — fine. But THEN.  Then the annoyances keep coming.  Paul has wet dreams about Caroline even though he is sleeping with a woman who is — pardon me for being so crass — about 20,000 times more attractive than Eliza Dushku. Later Mellie tells Paul right out that she does not care if he doesn’t return her affections in any way, as long as she can keep doting on him. I’m paraphrasing — the actual sentence was so much more sickening than that. Yes, I know Mellie was put there to keep an eye on Paul by being the kind of woman he would want, but what man who is not an asshole would find a woman who would say such a thing desirable? It speaks to Paul’s character, I think, that they programmed her that way. And, of course, his response to this speech was not “Hey now, I return your affections, you do not need to say that or feel that way.” (Yes, I know, this would have been a lie.  Still.)  No, he responds by engaging in an excessively problematic “sex” scene.

Dear Show: WTF.

I have to wonder if there wasn’t some way to achieve the same goals with Mellie/November without making her character so awful. In fact, it would have made me feel so much more sympathy for Paul if the kind of woman he desired was not someone who only had one want or need (him) but was ultra-kick-ass and also thought he was attractive. It would have been so much more interesting if he really did have to struggle between being in the present moment with someone who cared for him and being obsessed with the Dollhouse (and Caroline). Lack of stereotypes is always a big turn-on for me.

Poor Mellie. I mean, I do definitely feel for the girl. Even knowing she’s a doll, I still felt really sad when Paul walked out and cruelly told her to go to hell.  (This is perhaps due to the fact that I think the actress is doing a damn fine job with this inanity she’s been given.) It was clever of him to do so in order to track her back to the Dollhouse, but think about that: he purposefully emotionally abused a woman because he essentially ceased to see her as a real person. He flat-out refused to save her even though she was just as much a “victim” as Caroline because he decided that Caroline was indeed real.

I have a problem with that.

If anyone is supposed to be a hero in this show, it is Paul. He falls very short of that label.

And if anyone can be said to be a victim here, I would definitely nominate Mellie. That she was created in such a way, subjected to such things, and will probably cease to exist from here on out is depressing. But not more depressing than another season of this show.

9 thoughts on “Dollhouse: Is It Done Yet?

  1. These episodes keep making the characters more complex; that’s not to say they get more or less likable. Just, more complex.

    I don’t think Paul is supposed to actually be a hero. I think . . . I think Paul is the Hero Red Herring. The one we are conditioned to accept as a hero. But his heroism is undermined by the decidedly patronizing, infantilizing White Knight narrative he’s got going.

    I felt for both Boyd and Paul while they fought. Both trying to be Good Men, to be Nice Guys, to be Successful Protectors within the confines of a system that makes explicit the awful, subjugating TRAP the Good Man myth creates for the woman-object at its apex. Everything they do is icky and wrong, and they don’t know how to create a new role, narrative, myth, or cognitive behavior pattern to get out of it. So they hit each other and argue about who is creepier and more abusive than whom. As characters, I felt bad for them. I also wanted to send them to Feminism and Male Privilege 101.

    1. I think you’re right about Paul, and I definitely see what you saw in his and Boyd’s fight at the end. I supposed I was just so completely annoyed by the Mellie thing I was not up to analyze the deeper intracacies of what was going on in that fight.

      It’s probably the most complex thing I’ve seen Dollhouse attempt to do (and it doesn’t surprise me that jane was the head writer for this one) and also probably the most successful. But yes, Feminism 101 for both men, jesus.

      1. The Mellie thing . . . I can see why the Dollhouse would choose to manipulate Paul in that way. They, presumably, know what will get to him. But that merely begs the Doylist question, why not write Paul as someone manipulated by something ELSE?

        I can see one reason — if the writers are trying to make A Point about the futility, condescension, and damaging arrogance of the White Knight narrative, then they would make Paul the perfect White Knight. The Red Herring Hero. And then proceed, point by point, to show what a problem that role is. To do that, Mellie is a perfect foil. We DO feel for her, both as Mellie and as November. She is what makes us all feel oogy about Paul.

        I am a fan of this show. That inclines me to be generous with what I perceive the writers’ intentions to be. That is not necessarily a good place from which to judge matters of sexist presentation and privilege. But I think . . . I think that, YES, Mellie is portrayed in ways that are highly, highly problematic. I also think that it’s in service of something — that something being a critique of the hero-myth. I liked the scene where we see how badly Paul treats Mellie, in order to “save” her. I thought it revealed how corrupt and damaging the rescuer self-narrative can be.

        If that’s not at all what the writers are intending, then 1) it’s just creepy and gross and 2) they’re doing a bad job of writing, and 3) why on earth would they be making a show about Paul as a hero and then show him in such a bad light? I hope my theory of authorial intention is correct. But . . . but even if I am correct, and this is what the authors mean, does that matter? Is it still oogy and an approval of abuse, even if it’s intended as a critique? I *think* not, I think that if it is intended as a critique, it’s an okay scene. But I am still pondering it, turning it over in my head, with each new episode.

        1. I think this episode is the most successful the show has been at being even a little transparent about these issues. I don’t know if it’s due to Jane being lead writer or them being so explicit with the Briar Rose story.

          Even being ungenerous to the writers, it’s very hard to ignore the parallels of having Echo spend time talking us through the whole Briar Rose/Prince Who Saves thing and its many issues against both Paul and Boyd fighting it out over her, literally. Because yes, as you said, they are both trying to be The Good Guy, the one who Saves or Protects her. But it shows how fucking problematic the both of them are.

          I must admit, when I first watched I chalked up my annoyance at them fighting over her to the usual “why is everyone fighting over this one girl when she is nothing special?” The show tries very hard to make me feel Echo is special, and yet I have never once felt it.

          Perhaps that in itself is a big red flag — these men are obsessed with and duking it out over a girl who, in the standard patriarchal sense, is special: she’s thin, she’s pretty, she’s helpless/childlike, and they can project their own needs/desires on to her — quite literally, in this case.

          I think I gave Boyd far too great a pass before because his inclination and need seemed to be just to protect her, which wasn’t sexual, which was a relief in a show like Dollhouse. But if his need had been sexual, that would have marked him as BAD OMG BAD because how dare a black man want to do anything but protect a white woman? (This is based on my own speculation, mind.)

          But in the end it’s just as sketchy as Ballard, and perhaps the show is aware of this, thus that fight scene.

          1. And now I’m wondering, on a slightly different topic, if there was ever a hypothetical casting call in which the FBI Agent was black and the Handler was white, and someone looked at it and winced and said “We can’t have a black man treating white women this way, it’s a political minefield. And we can’t have the Handler be white — if he doesn’t want her sexually, he’ll look gay.”

          2. Yeah cosign, that is mad astute.

            I’ve been trying to figure out what they’re doing with Ballard as well, I like this Red Herring Hero idea. They’ve showed so much of his ugly side this episode though. It wouldn’t have hurt to have him show slightly more indecision when he opened Mellie’s pod. And I’d love for Boyd to snap out of it and turn into the real hero, I don’t enjoy not liking his character.

            (came over from your wolverine/feminist SF post)

          3. I’m rooting for Boyd to be one of the heroes. I think he’s going to have to let go of the idea that he is saving anyone, and convert to the idea that he is a victim, too. Work together with all the Dollhouse’s victims to reclaim identity and power instead of clinging to this idea that he has some sort of position of privilege.

          4. Now I’ve spent five hours this morning trying to recast other things I like with characters/actors of a different race. It’s hard to even get my mind around — the seriously racist assumptions I find myself making are *unpleasant*.

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