The Apocalypse of Belle Chose
“I have loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile.”
I have to wonder why Professor Gossen has this quote on his blackboard for a lecture about medieval literature. The Canterbury Tales, for example, occur three hundred years after Gregory’s death. His stor y (link) doesn’t seem particularly remarkable. He and the Catholic Church were in a power struggle with King Henry IV – Gregory excommunicated Henry twice. Much of their conflict was about money and authority, not so different from Bradley Karrens, the man with the money to have the Dollhouse at his beckoning.
Both kings and clerics represent instances of institutional power and domination. Today we try not to be ruled by kings or clerics, though we struggle and muddle our way through figuring out other forms of power and hierarchy. Gossen tells us that back then, people didn’t have as much a sense of self as we do today. What does it take to develop that sense? Is that a key to reclaiming power?
The pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales were on their way to a shrine of Thomas Beckett, the murdered Archibishop of Canterbury, who was also involved in a power struggle with a king. The Canterbury Tales, however, are not about Beckett, but about the pilgrims. They each have their own stories to tell, and they are on this journey together.
I would argue that Dollhouse is based on the Heroic Journey. Hearing a Call to Adventure, the Heroes are led from the Ordinary World into the Special Place; through the help of a Mentor or some other supernatural aid, they face their Threshold Guardians and cross over into the metaphorical Belly of the Whale, where they experience death and rebirth. A road of trials awaits, meeting the Goddess and atoning with the Father, and in some Inner Sanctum an Apotheosis is realized. This confers upon the Hero a “boon”, some sort of prize to take back which will heal their land. Some kind of Rescue or Magic Flight is needed to Return. The Return is not easy, for the Hero would often prefer to stay in the Special Place, and upon returning they often find that they are misunderstood. They have to become Masters of Two Worlds in order to release the boon, upon which they are finally Free to Live.
So, with that in mind, let us take a closer look at the Heroic Journey of Echo.
To really understand Echo’s journey, we may have to start by looking more closely at Terry. Look closer. Yes, Adelle is watching the split screen interrogation. She leans in, because she wants to get into not just Terry’s head, but Paul’s head.
Look closer. You are watching me as you read, as I am watching Adelle as I write, who is watching not just Terry but also Paul, and Paul is watching Terry, and Terry (through Victor) finally sees his own body from the outside, even sees his uncle watching his body. When Terry finally sees himself in Paul’s tablet, he mutters “goodness gracious.” Indeed. Like driving a ball through a tunnel of croquet wickets. Terry is finally aware that he’s having an out-of-body experience, and having had his entire ground negated by Paul (this is not where you’re at, not who you’re talking to) it must be pretty alienating for the young man. He is not in his own head. Not in his right mind, we could say.
How did he get this way? He got hit by a car, to start with. Well, more of an ending than a beginning, really. But before that, how did he get this way? We know so very little of Terry Marion Karrens. We know he has two sisters, a mother and an aunt. We know he has a very powerful uncle. What about his father, though? We hear boo about the father. No father for Terry.
When Paul first starts interrogating him, he challenges Terry’s gender, and in a sense this is a challenge to Terry’s identity. It may always have been his challenge. No father, an uncle who owns part of a Dollhouse… and a feminine name. Terry’s surrounded by women his whole life. How does he figure out who he is? How does he form his identity? Not having a male role model, Terry goes negative. He doesn’t strive to be male, but rather “not female.” I wonder if this is why Terry has no empathy: he’s figured out that empathy is “female”, and he’s not female, so he has no empathy. Is that how it went?
By having no empathy, Terry comes to see people not as people, but as objects. Dolls. I wonder where he got *that* idea. So he sets up this ritual with “dolls” as replacements for the women in his life. Now “they” are… toys? I don’t think so. Why doesn’t Terry use mannequins? Why does he need “real people?” His confession to Paul may give us an answer: No one pays him any attention, he says. No time for Terry. He feels… invisible. He believes that he hasn’t been seen. What Terry wants, desperately, is to be seen.
And yet, he can’t bear to be seen. He certainly can’t bear to see himself. And when he finally does get a look in the mirror, he realizes that he’s no longer the Terry he used to be: now he’s a woman, an incredible woman. And because Terry hates women, he writes “Whore” on the mirror. It’s like the snake of his hatred, which had been directed outwards, has finally come back around and curved into himself.
Kiki: Okay, so I probably never shoulda taken this course to begin with. But I figured, it’s Mid-Evil lit. Not Advanced Evil. How hard could it be? So I skipped Intro To Evil, or whatever.
So what is the cause of human evil? Evil is a tricky concept. Usually when we talk of evil, we talk of people suffering and dying at the hands of another. How does this happen? How does this not happen? Through empathy, which gives us the feelings of another (gets us into someone else’s head) we can predict the consequences of our actions and recognize our impact on other people. We take them into consideration. To hurt another is to inflict pain upon ourselves, when we’re empathic. So empathy is the source of Good, and the lack of empathy is the source of Evil. Hypothetically.
Echo is the opposite of Terry. Terry has no empathy, while Echo is all empathy. Echo remembers everone – she saves everyone she’s ever been. Echo isn’t just able to slip into someone’s head, she’s able to slip someone’s head inside of her.
Up until now, this has been the very identity of Echo. She’s a Savior, and as a Savior she wants to save everyone. But when Terry enters her head, she has a problem. How does she empathize with someone who has no empathy?
And yet, she’s able to do so. See, Terry never uses the parts of the brain where empathy is engaged. This “empty space” isn’t empty for Echo, though – if anything, she fills it completely. Maybe this is where she resides, for that matter. Anyways, in the battle between Empathy and NoEmpathy, Echo temporarily emerges victorious. Yes, Terry is in charge at first, though perhaps not as completely as we thought. Professor Gossen got exactly what he *needed*, mythically speaking. He thought he was stepping into a myth of his own choosing, his own Canterbury Tale, but as we saw from the Briar Rose fable, those who would take up the role of a Fate – those who would write themselves into myth, or weave their own threads from spindle and wheel – begin that journey by losing consciousness, through a Fall. So really, Echo uses Terry to accomplish what Kiki could not, namely delivering to Gossen what the myth requires.
When Terry!Echo gets back to the cages where the women have just escaped, another blow is dealt – a croquet mallet knocks out Meghan. And then Terry is ready to bludgeon another woman when Echo’s empathy finally triumphs: she wakes up, confused, “Did I fall asleep?”
However, Terry isn’t gone, and Echo knows it. Through her empathy, she realizes that Terry will hurt and kill these other women, and that he’ll keep doing it again and again. And she says that he “can’t” stop. We can believe this, for Terry has had a “second chance,” and he’s used it to do exactly what he did before.
So, Echo can see Terry’s memories, and feel his thoughts, and in so doing she comes to a solution: she must sacrifice herself. Robin, the mother, prevents the other woman from carrying out the deed, and this too is an example of empathy. To convince Robin, Echo uses her own empathy to select and speak the memories that will touch Robin, that will give her the courage and knowing to bash Echo’s brains in before Terry returns. Echo speaks of Robin’s son, and says that it’s because of him that she was chosen… and this makes me appreciate the switch between this episode and the last one, for in Instinct Echo learned what it means to have the feelings of a Mother.
In her moment of self-sacrifice, Echo has a Deus Ex Machina encounter: she is suddenly saved by Men In Black, who rush in to stop any further violence. However, this has a longer-term implication for Echo. Her “perfect empathy” and desire to save everyone are now in conflict, because how can she save someone who is her antithesis? The MiB don’t allow her to bow out. She is wiped, and in the process she is forced to assimilate that which is not her.
A lot of our characters have been compromised by the day’s events. Adelle finally stops glossing over what she means: she passes judgment, without ambiguity. And yet she does so in exactly the way she needs to to keep her hands clean, for she’s been watching Paul and she’s learned something about Paul: Paul has no problem exercising power over someone else when he finds himself in a situation that is not ambiguous. Paul, the shining white knight, ends up ending Terry’s life. Echo wanders in, and says that she thinks he dreams; Paul says “not anymore.”
So Echo watches Terry die, and finally we get our moment of Grace. Echo, who is all empathy, has empathized with Terry, who has no empathy, and she has intergrated him into herself. As a messenger of Myth, Echo has given Terry exactly what he needed: He needed to be witnessed by his mother. He needed to be seen by the Divine Feminine. He also needed to understand what it means to not have empathy – for to not have empathy is to have no connections to people. It is to be alienated, alone, and sooner or later (usually sooner) it means being dead. So Terry finally comes to see himself, through the Empty One, who must now acknowledge a new emptiness – that of not having empathy. To really have empathy for Terry, to really understand him, Echo must use her newly acquired “not-empathy-ness”. The double-negative yields a double positive: Goodness Gracious. And so Mercy and Justice kiss, for Terry has received both. He’s been judged, and he’s been saved.
She retains her ability to save and redeem. She is not “tainted” by Terry, she is not robbed of her ability to empathize. Rather, her empathy is enhanced and elevated, for now that she understands “not empathy”, she has a Choice that surely eluded Terry Karrens.
Echo’s Heroic Journey
Echo is our hero, and for her the Ordinary World is not our world, but the world of the Dollhouse. She begins as if she were Eve, wholly embodying the Divine Feminine. She is innocent when she says, “I’m wet,” though we and Paul recognize the double meaning. Echo hears a Call to Adventure, which in this case is an engagement with Professor Gossen. Gossen is her Mentor, who instructs her (or reminds her) to claim her own Power, which is the power of the Divine Feminine. In the “belly” of his Office, Echo experiences death and rebirth: Kiki dies, and Terry is reborn. This happens because of a “crossover” event, and as such represents a Crossing of the Threshold.
Echo now enters the Special Place, which in this inverted journey is *our* world. Her road of trials is short and quick, a car ride to the Cages, which are the Inner Sanctum of the journey. She has her moment of Apotheosis: the Doll overrides her imprint, and steps into willing self-sacrifice. Her Rescue is effected as divine intervention, giving her the freedom to Live. She returns to the Dollhouse with a Boon: an understanding of Justice, which requires “not empathy” as well as “empathy” regarding the interactions between two other parties. Echo demonstrates that she is a Master of Two Worlds, through her use of irony: Goodness Gracious.
All this comes at a price, though. The likes of Bradley Karrens are now more keenly aware of the possibility of “immortality,” and they have the power and money to make this happen for themselves. More importantly, Topher has learned how to perform remote wipes and imprints. These two things surely lead to the Apocalypse witnessed at the end of Epitaph One. It’s inevitable, though. Much like entropy – oh, didn’t you see the posters for a band called Entropy in the disco? Might have to watch it again…