On Dollhouse

Joss Whedon's Dollhouse: 21st Century Neo-Gothic

By Peter Tupper

An innocent young woman walks through a house without
clocks or windows. She climbs the hardwood stairs, where
she is not supposed to go, and opens the door to a darkened
room. Another young woman is strapped down, nearly naked,
moaning and writhing in pain as wires and needles pierce her
body. The first woman’s instinctive response to seeing another
person suffer is to say, “She hurts,” and try to help, but her keeper
shoos her away, saying that this is nothing to be worried about.

You could hardly ask for a more Gothic moment than this
early scene from the premiere episode of Dollhouse, “Ghost.”
From a historical perspective, even the most modern entertainments
are descendants of ancient stories and ideas. Dollhouse,
though marketed as a science fiction/spy/action series, is
at heart a Gothic tale—a genre that dates back to the eighteenth
century—that has been updated to the twenty-first century, the
era of corporate power and mind-control technology.

 

Virtue in Distress

“Gothic” in literature can be a very vague term. The term comes
from setting the stories in the medieval past and emphasizing
buildings with Gothic architecture, such as abbeys and castles.
As Lisa Hopkins describes in Screening the Gothic, the stories
themselves share certain characteristic elements and themes:

Often set in ancient, partially ruined castles or mansions
haunted by the real or apparent threat of a supernatural

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