It sounded like a good idea on paper: a young woman becomes someone new every week. Her personas (or imprints) can be anyone or anything. She is perfect at any job that she does. A mysterious organization is behind everything. A loyal agent works to find her and crack the secret. Joss Whedon writes and directs. A leaked script showed her working as a councilor and nurse. And then…something happened.

Somehow, the man behind such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog – the man known for his strong female characters – managed to create a show about a brothel. True, it is a brothel with both male and female escorts, but it still somehow turns into a brothel. So far, not a single episode has aired that did not have some gratuitous nudity. Though, to give credit, that nudity has gone both ways.

So far, we have seen Echo (the main character played by Eliza Dushku) in a variety of roles. She has been a negotiator, a bodyguard, a midwife, a safecracker, and a cult follower. But she’s also been a blind date, a long dead wife, and a dominatrix. (For a full list, go here.) And somehow, even the non-sexual jobs ended up with Echo wearing less than a full outfit of clothes.

In comparison, the one male Doll who plays a large part in the story (Victor) has so far only had one on-screen sexual job. Of course, that one happened to be with the woman who is running the entire branch of the Dollhouse that the story follows. And, as it happens, a large portion of the sexual awakening in the dolls seems to happen to Victor.

Sexuality in general becomes a very strange topic within the shows. On the one hand, the Dolls are being basically prostituted out. On the other hand, when not active, they are as innocent as young children. What’s extremely interesting is seeing how it develops as the show goes on.

At first, it is blatant. The Dolls are sleeping with their clients throughout the series. All the characters seem to have a tendency to take their clothes off as much as possible. But then, something seems to shift. The focus of the show finally goes away from the gratuitous nudity and moves to actually exploring the topics that are being brought up.

Some people are citing network meddling as the cause of the less-than-stellar first half of the series. Going by Fox’s and Whedon’s past history (both together and apart) that is a fairly likely possibility. Sex sells and Fox executives know this very well. Dollhouse is, after all, aimed at the 19 to 45, male crowd of science fiction enthusiasts. Though this still being Whedon, there is are several strong female characters as well, and the male characters take off their shirts – even though it is less often then the female characters end up “dressed up.”

What’s interesting is what happens when the show finally takes a step away from the blatant sex and sexuality and begins to deal with the topics that it had begun to bring up earlier. Suddenly, even though the Dolls are still basically living in a brothel, the show actually begins to address this. And what’s even more unusual for a modern day show is the fact that they start addressing this through the male Dolls first. Victor and Sierra (another prominent female Doll) begin to develop a relationship – or as much a relationship as two people with no memories or personalities can have. At first, it is a very innocent relationship, with them spending time together and looking at pictures together.

But then, their relationship takes on an interesting turn. Victor begins to get aroused whenever Sierra is around in the showers. At first, the workers at the Dollhouse assume it is because one of his previous assignments has been used too much and is leaking through to his base status. But then, it becomes evident that he only has a reaction to Sierra. The show then takes another twist. When it is discovered that Sierra is being raped, Victor is of course the first one to be accused. When he is, of coursed, cleared, his first instinct is to go to protect the girl. Without personality, without memory, without knowledge of social norms, Victor still manages to both react physically to a girl he likes and to control these feelings to protect her.

Victor also becomes the Doll that is used to make a point about the people who use the Dollhouse. A typical Dollhouse client never has to deal with the Doll’s in their base state. They only see and deal with the personality or character that they requested. At their base level, they are nothing more than the guy who hires a prostitute for his own fun. Though the major difference between them and the Dollhouse clients is that as the show progresses of the clients don’t use the Dolls just for sex. But among the people who use the Dolls for sex is Ms. DeWitt, the woman who runs the Dollhouse. She has seen Victor as a mindless Doll and has sent him out on a variety of engagements. She knows exactly what she is getting involved with. This, however, does not stop her from using her own services to create a partner who she can confide in as well as sleep with. It is only when she realizes the folly of having this “security blanket” that she stops. She sees herself as pathetic as the clients who only request creative bed-partners.

The other example of a Dollhouse worker using a Doll for his own purposes doesn’t even involve sex. The laboratory worker is allowed personal use of a Doll once a year for his birthday. His request is not sexual in the least. Instead, all he wants is a special day with a friend who understands him and shares his interests. When making his request, he doesn’t even care which Doll he gets. He has a deep need, and Dollhouse can fill it. Ironically, he is truly using the Dollhouse in the way it was meant: to make a person who can fill a unique position.

So far, Dollhouse has gone through a roller coaster of possibilities. It started out sounding like an excellent idea. Then, it’s first few episodes made people wonder what exactly the network and the writers were thinking. But after that, the show took off. Yes, it is still at its core a very well run brothel. But the show recognizes this fact and works with it. The characters know that what they’re doing is on the morally grey horizon and they acknowledge this fact. What’s even more interesting is that gender differences end up being only superficial. The Dolls are used for all jobs – dangerous and not, sexy and not – regardless of their gender. In their base state, the Dolls are all perfect blanks. Only Joss Whedon could take a show about a brothel and turn all expectations upside down.

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