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"We're Not Men"
Boyd: Don’t call me that.
Topher: We’re not friends?
Boyd: We’re not men.
—“Echo” (unaired pilot)
When Boyd and Topher argued about the ethics of Rossum in Dollhouse’s unaired pilot, “Echo,” Boyd ended the argument with, “We’re not men.” In context, this line could mean several things, from “We aren’t brave enough to stand up to what we’ve created” (Boyd’s apparent implication) to “The power we’ve gained makes us gods” (Topher’s possible understanding and, in light of Boyd’s position as the true Big Bad, his likely meaning). Yet this conversation stands in for a broader line of discourse than an argument about the ethics of brainwashing. In fact, “We’re not men” suggests the very quandary faced by many male characters in the universes Joss Whedon has created.
While examining gender roles, the writers of Dollhouse could rely not only on conventional cultural expectations regarding those roles, but also on the expectations of Whedon fans, who have plenty of character archetypes they have come to expect. The most obvious of these archetypes is the Supergirl, typified by Buffy Summers, River Tam, and now Echo in Dollhouse, but we also see some of the same male archetypes surfacing in each new world. There’s the lovable, often emasculated, and strangely technically competent friend who’s constantly putting his foot in his mouth (Xander, Wash, Topher), the schizophrenic love interest who gives the standard Prince Charming model an ominous twist (Angel, Alpha), and the protective and usually reliable father figure (Giles, Reverend Book, Boyd).
Whedon is a self-identified feminist writer, and he has examined what it means to be …
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