As Dollhouse gets closer to the end of its second season, I’m left to ponder how exactly the world has brought itself to near self-annihilation as depicted in “Epitaph One.” This apocalyptic future where people are programmed to kill those who have not been imprinted by China’s phone call (and that, too, seems to be far-fetched—does that mean China becomes a bigger powerhouse than the USA or any other country?) appears to have little substance or realistic potential due to the lack of further elaboration that was provided by the episode. Though some things are explained through Topher’s mental breakdown and the Rossum executive who uses Victor’s body to inform Adelle that the dolls are now being used for body switch-ups, the transition is never fully shown—probably because I haven’t watched the episodes—and I’m a bit skeptical on how drastic the change in the Dollhouse’s purpose—from Brothel to personality/mind wipeout—was. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the idea behind identity, the significance of it, is threatened by the imprinting technology presented by Topher and subsequently corrupted by China.

Earlier we had discussed about Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom’s body-enhancement methods and the morality of restoring from a backup; most of us said the benefits such as immortality and the unlimited time we would have to do all the things we’ve always wanted to do without the hindrance of death sounded dandy and all, but that life would lose significance and all together be meaningless. In this episode of Dollhouse, a group of revolutionaries who refuse to be programmed and search for a place referred to as “Safe Haven” are facing the same sort of conflict and tension in morality in a future humanity dealt with technology of a similar premise. Though, instead of using clones as suggested in Down and Out, the option to use bodies without developed personalities is presented and it doesn’t seem to be opened solely for the elite, as seen with the little girl Iris. The woman’s “personality” inhabiting the girl claims she had no knowledge of being put there, implying that her body switch was involuntary and arbitrary, as opposed to the Rossum executive using Victor’s and other doll’s bodies for his leisure. Is the technology no longer reserved only to the rich, as suggested in earlier episodes and like the distribution of technology in the Bitchun Society?

That said, the implication could be that identity is only transient and without it would render our bodies as mere shells. Is it callous to say that identity is nothing but an illusion? Dollhouse seems to depict—though, not celebrate—that very notion, what with the dolls’ behaviors and lack of awareness of their wellbeing. The dolls are docile in nature and do not retaliate when their bodies are used against their will (except in the case of Sierra, but she too did nothing other than scream when Victor touched her). How immoral is the body switching idea in Dollhouse? In the episode “Haunted” the possibility of immortality and rejuvenation of humanity was mentioned and was shown to have some good through the character Margaret, when she resolved conflicts surrounding her family and abrupt murder.

How far is too far? When people are subjugated to the whims of a higher authority like China or other political power, thus stripped of their free will—is that going too far? I also want to address how, suggested in the flashbacks throughout “Epitaph One,” Victor and Sierra developed personalities. They both show no sign of “hollowness” usually associated with a doll’s demeanor, so I’m a little confused on how they broke away from that; if I watched the previous episodes I would probably have this question answered.

2 Responses to “Down and Out of the Loop”

  1.   Carmen Says:

    The idea of being able to swap bodies on a whim also makes me wonder about our identities. If it’s so easy to remove yourself from one body and move elsewhere, apparently we have nothing physical tying “us” directly to reality. Maybe identity is an illusion of sorts – it’s a concept we wouldn’t let go of easily, but when it comes down to it you can’t really pinpoint what it is. Is it your body or your mind? Does identity stem from the interaction between these two as well as how others perceive you? Also, different people can perceive of you in different ways, and all of these alternative perspectives can be vastly different from how you see yourself – who knows what your “identity” really is?
    In thinking about what you said about this fancy body-swapping technology once being a luxury reserved for those who could afford it, I realized that plastic surgery is kind of a similar concept that we actually have the technology for. If plastic surgery became more popular and widely available, would it have the same implications as body-swapping in “Dollhouse” or “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”? If you got plastic surgery that completely changed your appearance, would you still be the same person?

  2.   Kyle Says:

    I’d agree with your last statement that we most likely missed out on a good handful of plot details from previous episode, but I think you’re right in most of your assumptions. I too found it strange that the dolls had “personalities” in between jobs and while that might be a flaw with the technology, I think that more likely it is a part of the programming (for whatever reasons Topher came up with). And to kind of drift off into what Carmen was talking about, I think that this show’s implying that everything that makes a person unique really lies in the brain. Based on the show, a person’s backed up brain placed into any other body is indeed the same as the original mind in the original body. I’d disagree with that because I honestly think that we’ve got another element to us (like a soul) that can’t be captured by technology, but until something like that is proven to exist, our personalities are defined by the arrangement of our neurons.

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