Saturday, May 30, 2009

21st Century Gothic

Peter Tupper unlocks Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, postulating that it's really an update of 19th century Gothic forms:

Gothic houses are all about secrets, and the Dollhouse is crawling with them. Much of season one is the progressive revelation of a traumatic event in the series’ past, when one of the dolls went berserk, slaughtered a bunch of people with only a kitchen knife, and escaped. In the aftermath, the Dollhouse ticks along, but no matter how hard the staff tries, it can’t quite resume perfect equilibrium, perfect control. There are always flaws, secrets, hidden agendas, traces of imperfection. It even has the requisite “mad woman in the attic”, Dr. Claire Saunders (Amy Acker), a physically and mentally scarred rejoinder to the Dollhouse’s regime of beauty and order.

Another tenet of the Gothic is irrationalism. Everybody in the Dollhouse has their obsessions and secrets, things they should know better than to do, but do them anyway.

Echo’s bodyguard, Boyd, loves her like a father, but his devotion is tainted with codependency and guilt. Echo’s would-be rescuer, FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett), is an obsessive, paranoid thug, as much her stalker as her saviour. The techie who runs the mind imprinting technology is an Asperger’s case who studiously blocks out moral consideration of his work with layers of rationalization. The ice queen who runs the house can’t help fishing off the company pier.

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