On Dollhouse

What Echo's Journey to Self-Awareness Tells Us About the Human Soul

By Oluwafemi Morohunfola
“Forty-eight personalities, each with its own rich
history, and none of it tells me anything . . . I know
you’re all very invested in your vaunted technology,
and it is very impressive, but I still don’t believe you
can wipe away a person’s soul.”
–Paul Ballard (“Omega,” 1-12)

Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse calls into question the common
conception of self and forces us to ask difficult questions
regarding philosophy, psychology, and human existence. In the
Dollhouse universe, what defines people as individuals? What
makes them anything other than bodies waiting for identities?
How much are they capable of changing? Are they the sum of
memories and experiences, or is there more to them than just
the electrical signals moving around in their brains?

Dollhouse created a world where technology could be used
to remove a person’s personality and memories and store them
on a piece of computer equipment. This allowed for the possibility
of people being erased, copied, upgraded, and saved over
and over again, creating the appearance of eternal life. The self,
in this universe, appeared to have no more substance than files
saved on a computer, our entire existence just the result of technological
and societal programming.

As usual, the moment it starts to seem like we understand
the mythology of a new Joss Whedon universe, the vampires
start having souls. As the first season came to a close, the show
finally began to explore the mystery of an Active  …

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