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[personal profile] akeyoftime
Oh Dollhouse, did you really have to go there?

Ramblings pertaining to the portrayal of disability below the cut. Spoilers for episodes 2x05 and 2x06. Some acting props and a tip of the hat to gender portrayal at the end.


A bitter-cripple? Really? I thought everyone knew that doing it that explicitly was a tired old trope. Bad enough when you showed Bennett's injured arm first as if to shout, hello! This is the first and last thing you need to know! But to make it her sole motivation - and a villainous one, no mistake - is just embarrassing.

While we're talking about embarrassing, I dig the themes you were trying to get across when you had Echo 'overcome' her disability, but what a terrible way to demonstrate them. I know it's not the message the show was trying to get across, but I can't help but read that I should just be trying harder to overcome the pain, fatigue, and brain damage. I just have to want it more. (Also, that I should want it more, because I'm quintessentially deficient and maybe a little bit helpless in a body like this one.)

It also occurs to me that you could make a very solid case out of describing Topher's eccentricities as the symptoms of some conditions related to metal health. I don't know enough to make a solid case either way (there's some holiday research to do) but equally embarrassing, show, if you've been using psychological disability as the butt of the joke for two seasons.

Huge huge huge huge acting props to Enver Gjokaj for the downright uncanny transformation into Topher Brink and then the beautifully clear break back into Victor at the end. Someone had better hire that fellow now that the show is officially cancelled, because really? All I have to say is: why so awesome, Enver?

As to the gender discourse, I quite liked the use of Adelle's sexuality as the bluff, while the violence and threats were the real weapons. I've seen it done before, but it was particularly effective in this instance.

Date: 2009-12-06 02:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] missmimsical.livejournal.com
Not to make light of the fact she obviously is bitter about her arm, but I got the impression it was more the getting left behind that made her bitter. The arm is just the reminder that Caroline was a gigantic bitch and left her there to die while she scampered off to be cute or whatever. My two cents on that part.

As for Echo's overcoming of her disability, it was actually all in her head. Her nerves weren't physically severed like crazy-lady's were, she just thought they were. For this, I'm playing devil's advocate which is never smart, but I am doing it anyway. It really does look bad and I don't blame you for being more than a bit annoyed.

But Enver. ENVER! Oh my FRICKIN GOD!! That was GLORIOUS!!!! XD

Date: 2009-12-06 01:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] akeyoftime.livejournal.com
Discussion is good! I get to refine my argument on you :P

Getting left behind was absolutely a large part of the reason she was so bitter. I wasn't trying to erase that and I'm sorry if it came across that way. That being said, there were other ways to tell that story. Why have the camera linger on Bennett's arm if it wasn't meant to be important? (I'd be really curious to see if that was scripted or directorial choice.) Why not actually make Echo/Caroline feel all of that panic and fear and helplessness and betrayal? It would have been just as effective a challenge for her to overcome later. (Though potentially carrying other squicky disability issues - people should just snap out of depression and other mental illness, it's that easy, yeah? - I don't know if they could have won on this one.)

As for your "It's all in her head" argument, Dollhouse has shown us repeatedly that they're not just tricking the brain into doing what they want; they're actually changing brain chemistry, from curing 'mental illness' (Sierra) to embedding incredibly strong maternal instincts (Echo). The brain can be the malfunctioning part of the nervous system just as the surely as the nerves.

Date: 2009-12-06 01:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] missmimsical.livejournal.com
Why have the camera linger on Bennett's arm if it wasn't meant to be important?
Ratings? I'd say because it caused more viewer curiosity ("how'd that happen?") than a spazzed out "DON'T LEAVE ME" girl, which would have looked seriously pathetic in comparison. Especially because Bennett wanted the other lady to leave in the first place so she could do evil things to Echo. It would've been VERY hard to do convincingly. Which yes, is an easy way out, and I'm not excusing it. I'm just explaining one of the reasons it could've been done that way. Besides, we saw the "DON'T LEAVE ME" part in flashback at least 3 times, I think, so even that part was shown often. I bet someone with PTSD would be ticked off at the way that was portrayed too, like that Echo didn't get it at all because "it's not real, it doesn't exist, they're faking or lazy or...." or something.

Also we don't really know that Echo didn't feel all those things. She was rather panicked at the beginning and not that Eliza is a bad actress, but I'm not sure she would've been able to convey the actual panic part convincingly for an extended period of time. And how do you show, on screen, in less than 5 seconds, that someone is no longer being controlled by a debilitating fear of getting left behind? The guy was trying to kill her, I think anybody would be like "okay, bye now!" by that point. If they wanted her to break off on her own like she did at the end of the episode, she has no choice but to be able to be on her own. No choice.

Though it would've been nice for her to get out of the almost-getting-killed-by-dude predicament WITH the dead arm. You don't need to have a fully functional everything in order to survive.

Dollhouse has shown us repeatedly that they're not just tricking the brain into doing what they want
That's true too.

Date: 2009-12-06 02:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] akeyoftime.livejournal.com
Ratings?
Awesome. So we can interpret it as an acceptable way of gawking at the disabled? (Since she's fictional all, it won't hurt her.)

I understand the reasons behind it. That doesn't make it okay. I think that it's lazy storytelling and a hurtful stereotype; not all people with disabilities are pining after normal. It also implies that the loss of use to her arm is a terrible, terrible tragedy and that's not okay either.

Overcoming emotional trauma is equally problematic. It's not a well-thought out premise. I'm not sure that there is a better solution here, given that the show would be tossing it in the face of one group or another. Man, I love self-determination, but it's so close to bootstraps sometimes, and that's a terrible mind-set to adopt.

Her getting out of the predicament with only one arm would have been awesome! Maybe that would have been the best way to deal with the situation, though it doesn't erase the problems with Bennett herself and also stands the potential of falling into the super crip category if handled poorly.

Date: 2009-12-06 03:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] i-paint-the-sky.livejournal.com
I do agree with [livejournal.com profile] missmimsical that it does seem to be more the circumstances around the injury, rather than the injury itself, that Bennett is bitter about. After all, she doesn't seem to really be hindered by only having use of one arm. I'd definitely say it's more mental instability that is her big issue (I have to admit, it would be nice to see Summer play a character who is sane by default instead of the other way around).

Date: 2009-12-06 01:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] akeyoftime.livejournal.com
It would be awesome to see Summer play some more diverse roles. She's gotten awfully stereotyped :(

Quick note, I wasn't trying to erase the circumstances around the injury; I should have clarrified that. But like I said to [livejournal.com profile] missmimsical, why not make Echo feel all of those overwhelming emotions (if the betrayal and fear and hurt were really the core issue) instead of giving her a physical disability? Overcoming the emotional betrayal could have been an equally compelling storyline - imagine the double panic and fear she might have experienced when the senator's assassin status was activated. It also says something that the most lingering part of the imprinted memory was the injury to Bennett's arm. That was a choice.

Instead, we get disability as a an easy out for the writers.

Date: 2009-12-07 02:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] i-paint-the-sky.livejournal.com
That is a good point. Also the fact that the episode is titled Left Hand doesn't help.

However, in a way I think it's okay because honestly, no one cares about Echo anyway, right?

Date: 2009-12-06 08:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jezebeau.livejournal.com
Wait, wait, wait... you do realize you're asking *Joss Whedon* to write a character that isn't bitter/cynical, right? :P

Date: 2009-12-06 01:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] akeyoftime.livejournal.com
No no. I'm just asking him not to write a character that isn't bitter/cynical in clich├ęd ways about disability ;)

Don't be takin' my cynical Mal away from me, noes!

Date: 2009-12-06 11:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jezebeau.livejournal.com
I think you're overgeneralizing it. It didn't seem to be her sole motivation, just the overwhelming impetus behind her actions toward Echo, specifically. Even that, emotionally, appears to be more for the betrayal and abandonment than for the injury itself. To me, her narcissism and social ineptitude defined her more than the disability because she had adapted to the use of one arm (notice the one-handed keyboard? those things are cool!).

As far as Echo getting over her disability, I didn't give her any credit for that whatsoever. Echo is a Joss Whedon's Strong Woman(tm) superhero. When she needs to adapt to a situation, her brain unlocks the mystical secrets of deus ex machina and does it for her. You'd really think they'd have Topher trying to figure out where she hides all those other minds when they're wiping her.

Topher's biggest problem is that each and every person he works with has a type-a personality, and he gets pushed aside whenever one of them has an agenda. Their office interactions are based almost entirely on dominance and intimidation. I think he's also quite dependent on the security and familiarity of the dollhouse, so he becomes very anxious with anything that could risk removing him from it.

Date: 2009-12-06 09:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mercuries.livejournal.com
Oh, I didn't even notice how Bennett falls into that trope. Thanks for pointing it out. Not really sure what I think of the character yet - she seemed a bit cartoonish, especially in the first part, although she mellowed out a bit in the second when she was interacting with Topher.

Enver is just amazing, isn't he? Say what you will about the writing in Dollhouse, at least it's given some very talented actors some well-deserved work.

Date: 2009-12-06 01:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] akeyoftime.livejournal.com
I loved the way both she and Topher were overwhelmed by the genius of one another. Totally adorable plot point.

Dichen is generally excellent as well, and Miracle Laurie too, even if we don't get to see it as much these days. Even most of the single-personality cast are strong.

Date: 2009-12-06 01:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mercuries.livejournal.com
The awkward flirting was definitely fun! And an interesting contrast to the amoral aspects of both characters.

Gotta agree, especially about Dichen. Though Amy Acker remains my favorite (AND TOTALLY MY SECRET TV GIRLFRIEND YES).

Date: 2009-12-06 02:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] akeyoftime.livejournal.com
HOW COULD I FORGET AMY ACKER?

Shameshameshameshame :(

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