The premise of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse begins simply enough. Rossum Corporation, a mega biotech firm, has developed the technology to “imprint” a person with the personality of another. To further their research (and make a profit at the same time), Rossum creates the Dollhouse – an organization that rents imprinted people, known as “Dolls” or “Actives”, to the highest bidder. These Dolls are generally volunteers, people escaping from their past, who sign a five-year contract to Rossum. Their memories are wiped and stored, leaving them in an “Inactive” blank slate for the new personalities. At the end of the five year period, the volunteers’ original memories are imprinted back into their bodies, and these former Dolls live out the rest of their lives, richer than ever.
Dollhouse starts with the generic fantasies. Clients rent out dolls for their own sexual desires or other strange fetishes. As the two-season series continues, however, the darker side of the Dollhouse presents itself. After all, Dollhouse technology presents infinite possibilities beyond sexual fantasy play – it can mean the rise of the super soldier, the hope of resurrection, and the consequent evils of immortality. But at the same time, Dollhouse begs a fundamental question. If we can imprint an entire artificial self on another human being, what does this mean about the concept of self – the very concept of a soul? Does the original outweigh the imprint – or are both equally human beings, necessitating our respect and protection? If so, is Topher’s last act one of mercy or genocide?
Various science fiction shows and books have addressed this subject of the self before, from Star Trek to Neuromancer to Dune. Let’s take a look at how the Dollhouse narrative compares to these previous works, and addresses the concept of self. (Caution – Spoilers Ahead!)by