Saturday, April 25, 2009

Haunted By Hollows Part Two

Caroline: "You have repeatedly raped me!"
Adelle: "Excuse me? I have done no such thing! You agreed to this!"
Caroline: "I never had a choice!"
Adelle: "We always have a choice!"
That's the exchange I've been waiting to see since the first scene of the first episode of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. Since we first saw the two main characters of this shadow play treating tea drinking as if it were a chess board, that's the elephant in the room to which I wanted them to eventually return. Adelle DeWitt, mistress of the Dollhouse, gives Caroline an ultimatum: let us use your body as we see fit for five years, and we will give you back the rest of your life only better. We will fix whatever you perceive to be wrong about it, and you'll get a fresh start. Or except the consequences of your actions and the fact we will not let you go to the authorities and shut us down. Caroline had a choice, but if she wanted to continue breathing, she only had one choice. People feel like that all the time.

I don't get to make the choices that lead to that exchange though. Those decisions are far from my grasp. There's now rumors that Fox Television is not going to show the thirteenth and last episode of Dollhouse. It won't get broadcast. Something they want to save for the DVD no doubt, to encourage more people to buy it. The carrot put out on the stick for us consumers to go 'nom nom nom' on like hopeless squirrels. Joss Whedon has strived throughout this mockery of television publicity to shine a light of beauty and compassion on the Fox Network. He does not want his loyal audience to blame them for the inevitable cancelation of Dollhouse. It was perhaps doomed from the start. It's a premise that network television can't abide. We're talking about using technology to rape people. That's the long and the short of it. A fascinating concept actually. I wish I'd thought of it.

Oh wait. I did. Doctor Xanus. Back in elementary school. A crazy man built a fortress laboratory into a mountain, inside which he had captured human specimens which he then did insane experiments that tortured and twisted the very genetic make up of these poor souls, and he brainwashed their minds so they would follow his every order, fulfill his every maddening whim. Then one day, Doctor Xanus went out into the world to capture another victim for his experiments. He had left instructions for his slaves to continue their routines until his return. While away, his laboratory was self-sufficient, and was even designed to withstand nuclear winter, because he believed humanity was going to eventually destroy itself, and his efforts alone would find a way to make superior humans that could survive anything. He was an insane genius.

Anyway. Something went wrong. Xanus never came back. Maybe he was captured by police. Maybe he just died of natural causes. Maybe any number of a thousand other possibilities occurred. I don't think I ever answered that part of the story. Yet his fortress laboratory under the mountain remained for years, and those inside it continued his work and followed their routines as instructed, waiting for his return. Then one day, years later while on a camping trip with friends, a nerdy teenager named Trevor happened to fall into what he had thought was an old abandoned mineshaft. While trying to find a way out, he stumbled upon an entrance to Xanus' laboratory, and the creatures inside it thought he was their Doctor Xanus. I never finished the tale. I think I started from the idea of a kid falling in a mineshaft and finding a crazy doctor's humanoid brainwashed slaves, and then built the hows and whys around that fall into the mountain. That initial moment of surprise and shock and awe. I guess the end of the story would be the real Xanus somehow returning. Or maybe just the discovery of what happened to him once and for all, but I never answered that for myself.

So maybe the Xanus laboratory in the mountain is not exactly The Dollhouse. I guess there's nothing new under the sun. However, it's how we interpret the old in new ways that puts our individual mark on it. Still, perhaps one of the many reasons why I enjoy Joss Whedon's work so much is that it inspires one's creative juices. Not so that one thinks they can do better. That part kinda keeps my creative juices in check cuz I SO cannot do better than Whedon. Still, one sees a story about vampires existing in modern day and one thinks what other things could co-exist today upon which stories could be told? How many other alleys are there that some other blonde chick could walk down it and begin an adventure?

I'm not satisfied with part one of this vomiting of thought upon these pages [and I'm not satisfied with part two either now that I'm done with it]. There's something in me that won't spit out. It's painful typing these words and I'm not sure why. It's a simple thing. We all have choices. Every day. Every fucking day we make choices, from the nanosecond we wake up in the morning. To quote from the illustrious Margaret Cho, "should I get up and pee, or just pee in the bed?" Those choices have consequences. Peeing in the bed would feel good for about ten seconds, but eventually you're gonna have to clean the sheets... and air out the mattress. So we make the only viable alternative choice; we get the hell out of bed, go to the damned toilet, and we start our godforsaken day, which is going to contain a whole nightmare of other choices like that. Freedom versus control.. or rather the illusion of control via choices that are not really choices when you weigh the options. We make the best choices based on those available. The choices that are least painful or have the least number of bad consequences.

I could have written Evelyn Hollows story. I coulda tried harder to get it right. I coulda found the right medium within which to tell her story. I coulda done whatever one has to do to figure out what an audience really wants in storytelling and then mold and shape Evelyn Hollows' story to meet an audience's expectations. I could have done Evelyn justice. Whedon did it with Buffy. And Angel. And Reynolds. And Echo. Why can't I do that for the population of characters inside my head? Evelyn deserves better than me.

When I saw the episode Haunted, my mind's eye superimposed scenes of the Hollows Eve storyline when snippets of visuals or dialogue coincided coincidentally with where my mind had gone years before. Objectively speaking the comparisons are totallly irrational. Both stories have a leading talented equestian female from a well-to-do family who cheats death. That's about where the similarities end. However, seeing Eliza Dushku walking through the paces of a story vaguely similar to that of Evelyn Hollows... was rather creepy. Evelyn Hollows was buried in a long black dress, so that's how I see her pretty much throughout the story. So when my mind's eye would superimpose images of the Hollows Eve story as I watched Dollhouse's Haunted, the similarities were uncanny. Even her facial expressions triggered images I could only paint mentally from 1987.

Revisiting this, I'm still not doing it right, or conveying to you the reader how heartstoppingly queer this experience was. I did enjoy Haunted very much, but I can't tell if that's because it is thus far the best episode Whedon's Think Tank has done for the series, or because it rekindled a fire I'd long since thought extinguished, and without even realizing it, did justice to a tale I couldn't regurgitate out of my creative juices no matter how many times I have tried in the past twenty years. Perhaps that's a true sign of genius, if the talent of one storyteller can spark the creative juices in another. I don't know.

They say there are two different kinds of the same story. There's the story the writer writes, and there's the story that the reader gets. How the reader interprets the writer's story is something over which the writer has only an illusion of control. When I read Michael Crichton's "The Lost World" before seeing the movie, I had in my mind's eye seen only Sigourney Weaver in the role of Sarah Harding. In the movie, Stephen Spielberg obviously saw Julianne Moore in the part. Decidedly different strong women with remarkably different approaches to their role in storytelling. I was not disappointed in Ms. Moore's performance, but I had to do some mental gymnastics to hop on board Spielberg's superiority of the situation.

So there's more than two interpretations. There's as many different versions of a story as there are people reading it. If you have a group of people writing the story, each of them perceive the story differently too, even though accumuatively they only churn out one physical version of it. Even for one individual, there's multiple stories for the same story. I can't explain with any simplicity how many different versions of the stories surrounding Bridgeborouogh have taken in my mind's eye as I've struggled with trying to find a place to put it or a way to convey it that does the story justice. I have often also tried to leave Bridgeborough and tell stories that don't go there at all, but much like Kevin Smith's relationship with the View Askew universe, one always finds oneself gravitating back to the well that helped one begin. The neurons that fire creatively in my cerebellum are hardwired to a place I've never been, that doesn't exist, but I know precisely where it is. I can smell it. I can taste it. I can feel it.

And when something out of the blue triggers those memories in the most unlikely places, I find myself trying to make these connections and understand why, but there are no answers. Just as the perfume of a passing woman in a bar might suddenly call to mind an apple tree I loved to climb when I was eleven, that woman is not going to understand or appreciate the sudden sensations that flow through me, and I'm not going to be able to tell her she makes me feel young again. She's not going to understand. Or she's going to think I'm trying to stick my dick in her when what I really want her to do is help me find an apple tree we can climb together. Considering the dress she's wearing, she'd probably be less inclined to climbing than the other thing. Besides my back ain't what it used to be. Maybe it'd be enough for me to just politely ask her what fragrance is that, and then thank her and walk away. She'd never know why I asked. I'd be unable to tell her the story. Doubtful it would be of interest to her anyway.

Perhaps these stories of Evelyn Hollows and Justin Graves and Brandon Witcher should never be told. Maybe that's the point. If they were worth telling I would have been able to make it work by now. Or maybe I have failed them. The choices that I have made in my life have been choices that ultimately failed them. I am unable to go back and make different choices and I can't seem to find a choice now going forward that would give these characters their deserved day in the sun. All the years they have entertained me, and I lack the power to return the favor.

So I put them in the back of my mind and I try to forget them, and sometimes I'm successful in that choice. Sometimes I go entire years without thinking about them, or maybe that's what I tell myself. I actually think I think about them far more often than I let myself remember.

But last night, watching Dollhouse's Haunted, the floodgates were once again opened. I guess you could say I'm having... difficulty closing the gates again.

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