Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dollhouse Is Feminist (Part 5: 1x03 "Stage Fright")

(see the video here)

The third Dollhouse episode, “Stage Fright,” is about the friendship between Echo and Sierra and how that carries beyond the Tabula Rasa state and into quite different imprints. There’s this singer, Rayna, who is essentially Britney Spears, and Echo is assigned to be her bodyguard after a creepy stalker fanboy makes attempts on her life. In order to draw him out, Sierra is imprinted to be Rayna’s biggest fan, and things are arranged so that she spends the day with her as part of a contest prize.

As it turns out, Rayna feels trapped in the music business where she feels essentially like a doll for the public. She’ll eventually lose her fame, anyway. She wants a way out, so she’s contacted her stalker so that he will kill her in a public way to make her famous postmortem. When Echo finds out about this, she rejects Rayna despite her imprinting telling her to care for her. When the stalker kidnaps Sierra, Echo takes matters into her own hands and deals with both problems by kidnapping Rayna and using her to negotiate with the stalker as a way to scare her into wanting to live.

Echo manages to defeat the stalker, save Sierra, and scare Rayna into being safe after Echo’s mission without playing by the Dollhouse’s rules in the slightest. Back in their Tabula Rasa state, Sierra starts to approach Echo, but Echo subtly indicates that it’s bad for her to do so. Echo, even in the Tabula Rasa state, is well aware of the Dollhouse’s sinister nature and is resistant in a long-term way.

This isn’t a straight-up Echo-fights-patriarchy episode, but it does have feminist themes. There’s a criticism of the pop female singer phenomenon, directly comparing it to being an Active—a fantasy of other people. This puts the fictional Dollhouse into the perspective of the real world. The stalker is a twisted male figure that has such obsessive adoration for Rayna and yet doesn’t respect her at all, and this is the antagonist that Echo faces, which is effectively her attacking the metaphorical Dollhouse client. Her eventual torment of Rayna shows that Echo can stray dramatically from the path the Dollhouse sets up for her as well as showing her devotion to Sierra—real respect and friendship—and serves as a big “frak you” to the powers that be. And she gets wiped again, but she grows toward being able to defeat the Dollhouse.

And again, the Dollhouse is evil. Plus, in the episode there’s this thematic song about freedom that makes a few appearances, and it’s used at the end of the episode in order to emphasize how Echo and Sierra need to free themselves from the Dollhouse.

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