I watched last night’s episode with a dizzying array of emotions. I laughed hysterically through much of it. I felt nauseated, and turned on, and entranced. I was scared, and I experienced utter joy when my vision of how the episode had to play out came true. And now my head is swimming with how amazingly well-crafted and intricate this episode is; I’m on my knees. It’s going to take multiple posts to talk about it, because there’s so much here, and I really want to talk about it.
Earlier in the day, I’d been thinking about Briar Rose, and how Echo tells the girl Susan that there’s more than one way to read a fairy tale. Rather than imagining yourself as the sleeping beauty, why not be the rescuing prince? The girl reads the story again, this time not with digust but rather glee and passion, for now she can see herself as someone with agency and power; she can imagine saving herself. Echo, mind you, has been imprinted as a future version of Susan, so this is perhaps more literal than we might think.
This reminds me of how I was taught to read myth. Myths are stories that never happened, but are always happening. Everything in them happens for a reason, and everything *in* them has a meaning. They are told over and over again because they speak the truth about the patterns of human life. Every character is an archetypal aspect of yourself. To map yourself personally to universal myths is to live mythically, to experience communion, and to see the road before you. It’s almost like experiencing time-travel, as Jean Houston says, where your future self communicates to your present self, to help you find your path when you are lost.
The story of Briar Rose in this context is very interesting, because Briar Rose is cursed and blessed to prick her finger on a poisoned spindle. A spindle is used for making thread, and thread is used in making tapestries. The tapestry is a metaphor for Fate. The kind of self-awareness it takes to see Fate, indeed to put yourself into it, it’s not unlike dying or losing consciousness. Or sitting in the Chair. Her future self is the Prince, and her entire kingdom gets the message when she gets the message, a kiss. She saves herself through self-love, but also love of the Other, for she is also not the Prince.
So I’m watching Belle Close realizing that Echo is remembering all the people she has been, that she literally steps into their stories (or rather, they step into her) and that they change her. She’s like a tapestry, weaving every thread she touches into her being. She saves them, in a sense, and it seems without reservation. We’ve seen this over and over in her. As Caroline, she tried to save the animals from being science experiments. She tries to lead the Dolls out into the light. As Eleanor Penn, she saves the kidnapped girl. Her facility for this is rooted in her empathy.
In Epitaph One, we see a Flash from the Chair. It’s a FlashForward from our perspective, but a FlashBack for the little girl who’s experiencing the memory as Caroline is transferred to her body. The Flash is a conversation between Adelle and Caroline. Caroline has returned to the Dollhouse, breaking a hole through a concrete block wall.
ADELLE: You’ve come to save the innocent lambs?
CAROLINE: They’re not lambs, DeWitt. I think I’ve mentioned that before.
ADELLE: What about the rest of us, Caroline? Are you going to save us, too? Or have you come to kill us?
CAROLINE: Can you give me a reason not to?
ADELLE: I’m not going to plead with you. Your mind’s made up.
CAROLINE: Yes, it is.
Caroline has a coldness to her that I’ve never seen in Echo. She’s judgmental. Adelle knows it, and Caroline has no reservations about it. This scene has felt very “off” to me, until Belle Chose.
The Garden of Eden
At the beginning of the episode, we get into some really juicy dynamics. Paul is looking for Echo in the showers, he’s echoing her name (did anyone else notice the twin mirrors?) and then he sees her naked. He looks down at her naked body, once, and to his credit keeps eye contact with her the rest of the scene. He’s uncomfortable, the way guys are when they’re trying to be professional and respectful.
Paul: Would you like, ehm… a… towel?
Echo: Yes. Thank you. I’m wet.
She is unabashed and without shame. Topher, on the other hand, gets embarrassed just saying “man reactions”, which is itself a dampening of more robust terms like “erections” or “hardons.” Echo smiles a bit as she says it, and I wonder if she’s aware of the double-entendre. She looks down at herself, and then at Paul’s crotch. She doesn’t go any further with it, though, and soon she’s ready for her next treatment. She’s not trying to exert any power, nor does she cast any judgment.
And it’s been said (especially by Topher) that there’s no judging in the Dollhouse, but it means something different as understood by a Doll. Dolls aren’t fallen; they don’t know how to judge. The people who run the Dollhouse, on the other hand, are quite familiar with judgment and attempt to gloss their activities with a relativistic spin. Adelle sugarcoats the new patient, and Topher paints himself as a humanitarian. Some withdraw, like the handlers who treat their work as security guards at the mall.
Echo, now Kiki, is blithely unaware of all this. Her engagement is with a best-selling English professor. She primps in the mirror, half-aware, and soon she is off to have her shiny clean mind filled with the delicious golden apples of her most beneficent charmer, Edmond Gossen. He spins a tale of empty-headed medieval writers, and implores his students to explore the Economics of Love through Chaucer. Kiki becomes his star pupil, receiving instruction on how to be the perfect Alice.
So, I have to say, I loved this whole scene, even as I found it disturbing on several levels. Unlike Kiki, who’s in over her head, I find it pretty easy to compare The Wife of Bath’s Tale to this Dollhouse tale. The professor uses it as a metaphor to instruct his pupil. And here’s where I feel the fireworks: the smudged blackboard (our “clean slate” and a reference to the pilot episode) has Pope Gregory VII’s dying words on it. This opens up a whole line of connections to religious and secular authority, and how the divine is mediated between social institutions and indidivudals.
Even Kiki’s name has a plethora of venues to explore. Kiki’s Delivery Service, the story of a young witch coming into her power, which is a function of her belief in herself. Or the 1931 move Kiki, about a fired showgirl who’s in love with her boss, Victor – and Echo has been juxtaposed with Victor throughout the episode. How about Kiki de Montparnasse, the self-made artist, model, and singer who was born Alice Prin?
Alice in wonderland, more like! This episode could make for several dissertations, if I put my mind to it! So many ways to make sense of it all, so many connections, such rich irony and structure and resonance. It makes me excited, and this is where I converge and diverge with Kiki at the same time. I’m in the position of student, but I’m turned on by the knowledge of my professor and learning what he knows, not by the prospect of an A on my paper, an A that only means I know how to use my sex.
Echo’s been cast as Alice before, mind you. In Echoes, she’s the Doll who breaks her programming because she sees an emergency on the news that resonates with her life as Caroline. She leaves her client tied to the bed, and goes exploring the campus of Rossum, gaining entry through a “rabbithole.” That psychedelic episode showed us yet another glimpse of Echo’s desire to save, but coupled via FlashBack with Caroline’s own judgment of the corporation, which uses knowledge as power, and exercises power without apparent empathy.
So is it time to go down the rabbit-hole again? I hope you think so, because this is just the beginning.