Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dollhouse By Any Other Name

Recently over at Whedonesque, it was reported that Joss Whedon himself will be writing and directing the first episode of the second season of his provacative and controversial television series "Dollhouse" starring Eliza Dushku and a whole bunch of beautiful talented people. Simon encouraged people to come up with possible episode titles for the first episode in the second season. I was going to answer that question over there, but I tend to ramble. What follows is what I was originally going to leave there at Whedonesque. Instead, I opted to just leave a one word response, then move the rest over here.

Joss Whedon's done pretty well so far with title names. Ghost, Man On The Street, and Epitaph One are titles borne out of the stories themselves. "Ghost" sounds like a corny title in and of itself, but when you watch the episode in question, it makes perfect sense. There's another episode later in the season that Whedon didn't title which is called "Haunted." Essentially this is what Dollhouse does to Echo and the other Actives: put the minds of dead people into her brain and let them think for her.

In fact, this is an ongoing theme of the series. The living is being haunted by ghosts in Topher's machines: dead minds are stored and then placed later in the brains of actives for the Dollhouse's own selfish (or occasionally philanthropic) purposes. If I were to suggest a title name to Whedon, and if I really wanted to challenge him, I'd ask him to write an episode called "Soul" and to please go where the name suggests. He'd probably chicken out and do an episode that involved blues music. The thing is, I'm a deist and he's an atheist. I'd like to see him address the issue of whether or not Echo/Caroline actually has a soul. I'm not talking about gods here. I'm just talking about the concept of a soul. I don't think Joss thinks she does, but I think Caroline thinks she does, and I think she has more evidence, given what he and other writers have put Echo through, to support Caroline's opinion.

Everything Caroline is, everything she's ever known and felt, is theoretically digitized and saved on that little hard drive box that Alpha threatened to destroy, and that Echo & Ballard saved from certain destruction. Yet Echo watched Caroline, in the body of that waitress, die.

All the people that have been in Echo are still in her. Topher wipes her brain every time, but the mind is a curiously delicate yet resilient thing. If Topher's wiping the brain like a chalkboard with every visit to The Chair, then where is the mind protecting the information? It's making a backup, and where else could that backup be but the soul?

Topher's not really wiping brains. He can only disconnect previously stored information from the high end brain to the standard functions of the body. So Caroline has always been in Echo in a state of dormancy. All the people she's ever been are in there. It's just that Topher has a way to make the conscious mind forget where that information is.

Like when you forget where you put your car keys and you try to remember where but you can't. You must know. You were there when you put the keys down. You had them. Nobody else took them from you. You were there when it happened, but your conscious mind has nothing to use to access that information from your brain. Like maybe a mnemonic device or a note you left for yourself, but even if you try to retrace your steps and go back to the moment you last had them in your hand, you still can't access the memory, because something was distracting you at the second you put the keys down. Then you finally find them and maybe you then remember why you put them there, but maybe you still don't. You just shrug and go on with your day but in the back of your mind something is nagging at you. You honestly don't remember putting them there, but you must have, and that memory must still be in your head somewhere. You just can't remember where.

I think, when Topher thinks he's wiping all memories from a human brain, all he's really doing is dislodging that information from immediate access. The conscious mind forgets who or what it is, and then Topher can fill that emptiness with more information, but it's all stored elsewhere. Topher doesn't actually erase it. He just makes an Active forget where in the brain that information is available for retrieval. The brain's got a finite space, but something not currently understood by science that is ethereal might be where that information is really stored. Some place that Topher's machines can't wipe.

So if I were going to suggest a show title to Joss Whedon, I'd suggest "Soul." I doubt he'd write it tho. Who would want to tune in to see that? It's too ...cerebral.

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