Friday 8 May 2009

The "little forgetting pill" and Dollhouse

One pill to Erase your bad memories. Would you take it?

I could have blogged on the healthkicker site but this is one of those constant questions that those of us with "bad memories" have: understanding that the past is the past and however painful, we have to learn to integrate it (if we can). Would I take it - no! Should anyone take it - no! I grant you that this was not an option for me, but I depended so much on my intellectual abilities even as a child, I doubt that I would have willingly taken a “forget me” pill.

Have you been watching Dollhouse, the new Josh Whedon drama? If Hitler's social programs are eugenics and genetic modification taken to its logical conclusion, then Dollhouse is the "little forgetting pill" taken to its logical conclusion.

Watching Dollhouse week after week is intriguing. For those of you who don't know what Dollhouse is, it is about a "corporation" that has brought the best technology (and people) that money can buy in order to be able to gather up a person's brain structure and put it into a largish USB drive and store it. The "dolls" are people whose minds have been wiped and then are kept in a high end "camp-like" place where they are monitored, kept healthy and wait until someone buys a particular service. [These dolls are the “Actives”; others are in the “Attic”.] A doll is then programmed with a variety of memories that will allow them to perform the required task. Each doll has a keeper who goes out on assignment with them and brings them back when the assignment is over. The show has always hinted that the corporation says that this is not creepy high end prostitution or jail, but rather that there is a greater good that can come of this. That, naturally, makes it all right to conduct experiments on other human beings.

The story line on May 1 was convoluted, but gave a hint at what some of these benefits of this process can be. Echo (the story's heroine doll) has volunteered to spend time at a youth home (i.e., an orphanage) for troubled children. The opening sequence has her reading a fairy tale to the children when one of the girl's starts acting out. Echo tells the woman who is in charge that she completely understands the girl.
Back at the Dollhouse, we are told that an experiment is going on. Echo has been imprinted with a brain engram (self assured and surviving well) that has been developed from the brain engram of the girl who was abused as a child. (where did they get the girl’s brain engram??) We are told the girl's back-story (addict mother dies, girl left with mother's pimp boyfriend who then sells her as a prostitute). We then see the healthy brain image that could develop if proper intervention can take place.

We return to Echo who is talking with the girl who is crayoning all over the pictures in the fairy tale book. The dialogue that takes place is on target. I have one major problem - Echo promises to return - given the trust issues inherent in the situation; what will happen to the girl if she doesn't? Echo's final lines about the abused girl are spoken to the woman in charge of the group home - "it will take time and it will be painful" but she will be fine.

There is no question in my mind that the ethical issues of this episode are raised deliberately and the writers of the episode put them side by side. The FBI agent is raging about the slavery upon which the Dollhouse is built; we get to meet Alpha, a male doll gone bad. Against this, we see the Dollhouse staff attempting to do some good, albeit with an ulterior motive, one can only assume. The Dollhouse is evil.

I hope it lasts. There are other Whedonites who complain about not being able to like any of the characters. In the beginning, it didn’t really go anywhere. But I remember the first few episodes of Buffy – it took a while to get going. I prefer to trust that man who gave us Buffy, Angel and Firefly. Dollhouse has great potential. Josh Whedon's latest sci-fi drama is about what makes us who we are. If we don’t have our memories who/what are we? Dollhouse pushes the envelope of what has been only hinted at in Babylon 5(watch it, if you haven't already).

In B5, it was the mindwipe. This was something that was done to criminals as a substitute for capital punishment. Their minds were wiped; they were given new personalities and spent the rest of their lives serving the community. The B5 episode dealing with the mindwipe is called "Passing Through Gethsemane” It starred Brad Dourif as a serial killer who had been mindwiped and was now a monk. He finds out that he was this serial killer and the person he has now become cannot live with the guilt he feels over what he did. One conundrum of this episode is “who is he really – the killer or the monk?”

Our brains already have ways of forgetting, of hiding our truths until we are ready to deal with them. Who’s to say that the little forgetting pill won’t leave traces – there will be gaps in time, for example. Take our cue from SciFi – monkeying around with the brain can cause big headaches.

Do we all want to end up as dolls? The “little forgetting pill” could take us there.

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