Hunting "Tail" on Dollhouse

March 2nd, 2009 6:42 pm by Kelly Garbato

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Caution: Major spoiler warning below the jump!

I’ve been a Joss Whedon fan since his Firefly days, so when I heard that he was working on a new project, Dollhouse, I immediately got all giddy like a schoolgirl. That is, until I hear that Eliza Dushku would be starring. Ugh.

Even before the hunting flap, I disliked Dushku. Perhaps it’s because she came off like an entitled snot in a very early episode of Punk’d; even before she was faux “arrested” for “shoplifting” in a local retail boutique, she copped a huge ‘tude over all the free swag she was obviously owed for being a celebrity. That, and Tru Calling looked absolutely dreadful. Well, and I’m also weird like that; Dushku isn’t the only celebrity I have an irrational, knee-jerk dislike for. Take Ben Affleck, for example: clearly, he’s a funny, charming, altruistic guy, but there’s just something about him that I want to hate. He’s smarmy, but not. Did I also mention that I have a crazy aversion to feet? So maybe it’s just me, after all.

Anyway, the aforementioned hunting flap gave me a reason to dislike her – a good one, actually. In an August appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Show, Dushku discussed her love of hunting – you know, that sadistic leisure activity which involves murdering innocent animals for “fun”:

Here’s the gist of the interview (via ecorazzi), in case you don’t want to sit through the whole video:

A couple night ago on Jimmy Kimmel Live Dushku revealed that she loves to hunt elk and deer. Not only did she brag about it, but she also showed off her bow and arrow skills and boasted about killing a deer in Oklahoma last Christmas. WTF, Eliza? Why are you such a jerk?

Even the studio audience turned on Dushku forcing her to joke, “My mother called me herself and said, ‘You’re a liberal from New England, what the ‘f’ are you doing in Oklahoma shooting things.” Backpeddling later she said, “When you’re in a relationship with somebody you have to, like, experience things that they do. A lot of people eat meat… and I eat what I kill.”

Dushku’s hunting isn’t so much the point, though, as it is a set-up for the rest of this post. Despite my ambivalence, I started watching Dollhouse on my DVR last week. It’s alright, certainly no Firefly, but also not the complete stinker I was afraid it’d be. The second episode, “The Target,” is of particular interest from an animal rights standpoint.

For those who haven’t yet seen it, let’s start with a brief outline of the show (courtesy Wiki), shall we?

Eliza Dushku plays a young woman called Echo, a member of a group of people known as “Actives” or “Dolls”. The Dolls have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas, including memory, muscle memory, skills, and language, for different assignments (referred to as engagements). The new persona is not an original creation, however, but an amalgam of different, existing personalities. The end result incorporates some of the flaws, not just the strengths, of the people used as templates. The Actives are then hired out for particular jobs – crimes, fantasies, and the occasional good deed. On engagements, Actives are monitored internally (and remotely) by Handlers. In between tasks, they are mind-wiped into a child-like state and live in a futuristic dormitory/laboratory, a hidden facility nicknamed “The Dollhouse”. The story follows Echo, who begins, in her mind-wiped state, to become self-aware.

In the second episode, Echo is rented out for the weekend as a “fantasy date” for an “outdoorsman”; frankly, story lines aside, “dating” seems to be the women’s primary form of “engagement” (two of three of the episodes aired so far have revolved around spy-type situations, however, “dates” are commonly alluded to). Certainly, engagements which involve sex are ethically problematic (well, the whole concept is ethically problematic, but the dolls-as-prostitutes, especially so) – without explicit and continual consent, what we’re really talking about is rape. Undoubtedly so when it appears that many of the “dolls” have been coerced into volunteering at the Dollhouse (similar to the set-up in La Femme Nikita).*

With this in mind, let’s turn to the second episode, “The Target”:

Echo’s latest imprint has her as the perfect date for Richard, an outdoorsman, who takes her on a romantic wilderness adventure. The experience takes a turn for the worse when Richard indicates he will conclude the “date” by hunting her for sport. Although Echo is imprinted with absolute trust in Boyd [her handler], he is unable to do more than deliver a weapon to her, and she must kill Richard on her own. Afterward the Dollhouse team discovers the handiwork of Alpha, a rogue doll, on the corpse of an unknown assassin. It was Alpha who had maimed Dr. Saunders and butchered the handler Boyd was hired to replace. Agent Ballard receives an anonymous package concerning Echo’s previous identity as a woman named Caroline, and continues his search.

We first glimpse Echo and Richard in the middle of their date; the two are white water rafting in a state park. After coming to calmer waters, they pull their raft to the shore. Richard then announces that it’s time for lunch. Instead of pb&j, he pulls a bow and arrow out of his backpack: they’re going to hunt their meal, he announces! Echo, unsure at first, slowly warms to the idea. She (read: her programmed personality) has never bow hunted before, so Richard offers an impromptu lesson. Echo takes the weapon into her hands, grabbing the bow with her left and drawing the arrow back with her right; Richard positions himself behind her, instructing her in proper form. As he wraps himself around her, the lesson quickly turns from educational to sexual: both Richard and Echo are clearly getting off on this. Momentarily distracted, a deer suddenly appears before them. Instantly all business, Echo draws the arrow back, as if it shoot the deer –

– and the camera cuts to a shot of a very naked and sweaty Echo, rolling off an equally naked and sweaty Richard.

So what we have here is murder as a sort of foreplay – literally. Beautiful. Gag, rinse, repeat. Fear not, dear veg*ns: here’s where it gets good. Well, not so much “good” as “interesting.”

After they’ve finished, Richard abruptly hops up and out of the sleeping bag, and starts dressing, quickly. He then gives an obviously hurt and confused (and then panicked and horrified) Echo a five minute warning – a head start. Grabbing his bow and setting his watch, Richard reiterates: he’ll wait five minutes, and then he’s coming after Echo. With the same bow the two just used to slaughter Bambi’s mother.

The rest of the show, of course, consists of a cat and mouse chase between Richard and Echo. Because she’s the show’s star, Echo triumphs, shooting and killing Richard with a gun her handler Boyd manages to bring her – before he takes an arrow to the leg, courtesy of Richard. Throughout the “hunt,” Richard derives a creepy, sadistic – and, yes, sexual – satisfaction from hunting Echo. Rather than chase Echo, he stalks her, slowly, surely, taking great pleasure in the process – and in her fear. To him, she’s just another piece of tail, not much different from the deer they slaughtered together.

Here, three forms of objectification and consumption are linked:

– Firstly, Richard “hired” Echo as a prostitute (at worst, rented and raped her like a trafficked woman). However, not any prostitute would do; instead of hiring an ordinary sex worker, Richard shelled out gobs of money so that a woman could be “made” – programmed – to his specifications. “Woman as consumer good,” indeed;

– As part of Richard’s “dream date,” the two then killed and consumed a sentient being, quite literally reveling in the murder, to the point where it led to sexual activity – in essence, rape, as Echo is incapable of giving consent in her brainwashed state;

– Finally, not satisfied with merely slaughtering non-human animals and raping women, Richard then hunted Echo as if she were “mere” wildlife, a resource to be consumed and exploited. As with the deer, Richard savored the hunt, clearly aroused by his domination of Echo. Her (seemingly immanent) destruction became further proof of his superiority.

Whedon and Dushku may both self-identify as feminists, but I don’t think either of the two are veg*ns or even animal welfarists; Dushku most certainly isn’t.** So I don’t know whether the Dollhouse crew was intentionally making a statement about the linking of violence with sex, or the relationship between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence. Nevertheless, I quite like how the episode led from one evil to another, in an almost seamless fashion: Richard begins by “buying” a woman, as if she were an object; then makes that woman complicit in the needless murder and consumption of another sentient beings; and progresses on to raping and hunting the woman herself. Echo is at once the victim and a co-conspirator of the patriarchy. And the brutal slaughter of a innocent non-human animal foretells future violence against a human woman, as well.

Plus, it’s a fine example of a hunter being portrayed in a less-than-flattering light – as a sadistic shithead, one might say.

Interestingly, I also encountered the sex-as-violence (or violence-as-sex) phenomenon while I was researching this post. For example, in searching for a transcript of Dushku’s Jimmy Kimmel Live interview, I found more than a few conservative, pro-hunting and/or misogynist websites which, unsurprisingly, applauded Dushku’s defense of hunting – while simultaneously commenting on her physical appearance, sometimes with objectifying results.

Take, for example, the following commentary***:

Eliza Dushku has one more reason for men to want to see her naked: she kills animals. Her appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live had her admitting to the public that while she enjoys girlie things like shopping and exchanging lip gloss, she also has a carnal side that involves slaughtering innocent, yet beefy, animals. […]

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I personally would have enjoyed her also mentioning the part where she then commences gnawing and ripping through the poor thing’s flesh with her bare hands and teeth, smearing blood all over, and then following off the ritual with a lovely photo shoot, I can live with just the image of her roaming through foliage in a neon bikini.

Here’s some pics of her at the Comic Con to keep your appetite quelled.

(Emphasis mine.)

So it seems as though the writers of Dollhouse tapped into a sick, sad cultural meme with the whole “murder as foreplay” plot line.

Now for the disclaimer: at the end of the episode, it’s implied that Richard is actually a contract killer, hired to kill Echo by an unknown third party. Even if this is revealed to be true, I still don’t think it negates the above observations – primarily because, whether he was contracted to kill Echo or not, Richard obviously took great joy in hunting both the deer and her. Additionally, if this was just a “job” for him, I think it makes his rape and subsequent stalking of Echo that much more significant: he didn’t have to do either, in fact neither was actually paid work (and giving Echo a head start is risky from a business standpoint) – and yet he did so anyway, mixing “work” with “pleasure.” A sadist through and through, even while on the clock.

* Naturally, this leads to concerns that Whedon and Co. may be glamorizing rape and using it as source of entertainment. However, the owners of the Dollhouse have thus far been portrayed as greedy, morally bankrupt criminals. If the plot continues to play out as hinted, this angle will probably become even more prominent (e.g., with Echo becoming self-aware – and aware of what the Dollhouse has done to her – and working to expose it, SD-6 styley).

** Though, while discussing the whole “hunting flap,” the husband recounted a recent appearance by Dushku on the Howard Stern Show (don’t ask; co-host Robin Quivers is reportedly a vegan, so that gets him a pass); he swears that she claimed to have been a vegetarian up until the day she started hunting at a boyfriend’s behest. I cannot confirm or deny either way.

*** I refuse to link, but you can find it at derekhail-dot-com.

**** FYI: I didn’t include them here, but there are a number of video clips available at imdb, here.

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2 Responses to “Hunting "Tail" on Dollhouse

  1. easyVegan.info » Blog Archive » From animal liberator to animal hunter: Life and death in the Dollhouse. Says:

    […] happy to report that, as promised by Ms. Dushku, Dollhouse has improved by leaps and bounds since last I blogged about it. Not only have we gotten to know Echo – our hero – a bit better, but more importantly, the show has […]

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