On Dollhouse

"I Like My Scars"

Claire Saunders and the Narrative of Flesh

By Ian G. Klein

Does someone look after you?” Echo asks as she reaches out her hand to touch the scarred face of Dr. Claire Saunders in “Ghost” (1-1), the first episode of Dollhouse. Saunders recoils and deflects the question: “Why don’t you wait in the massage area and I’ll call for someone to work on that knee.”

This scene depicted Echo in what was likely her purest Doll state, but even as a wiped Active, she realized the potential the body has to tell a story. The encounter not only incited Echo’s curiosity, but asked the audience to seek out the source of the scars, as well–a search Saunders herself eventually joined us on, as she realized that their origin was more complicated than her memories had led her to believe.

If Dollhouse is a show about characters that lack identity and attempt to regain it, it is easy to see this narrative embodied in Echo, whose special ability allowed her to retain memories and entire personalities from every imprint. However, I wish to make the case that even one without such skills can successfully navigate a path toward self-discovery and psychological wholeness from the position of the oppressed. And Saunders’ scars–scars that drove her to decipher the story written on her skin–make her a compelling candidate for this study. The subject of identity in relation to scars is one that has garnered ample critical theory and literary expression. By applying discourse on the scarred body and relating other popular scar narratives to Saunders’ experience in the Dollhouse, this essay will explore a process of personal growth and the reconstruction of identity that is communicated  …

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