March 29th, 2009 by | Tags: ,

I think most of the people reading this have heard of Dollhouse.  It’s a series about a super-secret underground organization that rents out ‘Dolls’ out to the rich and powerful.  Dolls are men and women who have had their memories wiped, and have been mentally implanted with memories that allow them to complete a specific task asked for by the client.

A good enough premise, but a few things keep hitting me while watching.

The agency that rents out the dolls is incredibly connected and rich.  They use a lot of their connections keeping law-enforcement off their back while making Dolls common knowledge among the rich.  They use a lot of their money keeping the dolls wandering in a blank state around a huge, high-security facility.  Each Doll has a personal ‘handler,’ who tracks them on missions.  They also have doctors, masseuses, and all the people who have to provide services for their day-to-day needs.  All of those people, presumably, have to be both compensated and monitored in order to ensure their silence.

It seems to me that it would be way more practical to make the necessary adjustments and make the Dollhouse public.  The main moral and legal sticking point seems to be the Dolls lack of consent.  Most of the Dolls are blackmailed into the job, and once in the Dollhouse, and in their blank-slate state, can’t give consent over what jobs they take.  Although the specific charge for these services is never mentioned, I estimate that would be in the hundred-thousand dollar range.  Give each prospective doll a look at the job.  Give them ten percent of the proceeds.  You’d get a ton of willing candidates.  And no one would need to house them, to cover up their past life, or to spend so much time and effort hiding all trace of the organization from law-enforcement.

What makes me really wonder, though, is if this process could give a person any skill at all, why more people aren’t clamoring to be treated with the process itself.  Imagine a process that could make a person into a neurosurgeon in three months, with some prep-time and conditioning.  It would cost around the same amount of money.  The subject could go through a testing process and get a loan from a bank.  Think of the advantages.  The bank could get a loan re-payed starting immediately – not having to wait the better part of a decade while a student goes through medical school and residency.  The subject would get into the area while demand is high, not go through a long training period only to find out that other people did the same thing and the market is glutted.  There would be no possibility of burn-out.  The program could make sure that the subject liked pressure.  And paperwork.  And practice.  And patients.

Also, the possibilities are there for the super-rich.  If someone had enough money, they could make it so they know every language.  (This might be a good idea for army personnel, too.  God knows the military has the money.)  They could make themselves the ultimate fighter.  The ultimate lawyer.  The perfect strategist or negotiator.

All right, this idea changes the premise from Dollhouse to Gattaca, but what do you think would happen in a world where any skill could be yours for a fee?

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14 comments to “Dollhouse”

  1. I think it would be a god-damn sight more interesting than the episodes I saw of Dollhouse is what I think. I didn’t even go in for Whedon’s name, just the premise, and he killed that goodwill in two weeks time.

    (more serious answer: I think people would try and hyper-train themselves to be Batman.)

  2. First of all, from what I understand of the show to date, it’s not simply a matter of gaining any skill you want. You actually become the person (or amalgam of personalities) who’s brain they copied the information from. That was the point of the first episode, iirc. Their experiences drove them to become the people they are.

    So if I wanted the Diagnostic skills of Gregory House, I’d end up a crotchety bastard with chronic (although probably psychosomatic) pain in my thigh. If I wanted Dick Grayson’s athletic skills , I’d be convinced that my circus acrobat parents died when I was eight and I was taken in by a millionaire vigilante control freak.

    In both these cases whilst I’d still be in Paul Wilson’s body (which might hamper the effectiveness of the acrobatics training), I’d believe I was whatever person they copied the skills from. I don’t quite hate myself enough to effectively “kill” myself for an exciting new career.

  3. The one interesting (and likely) aspect you touched on though was Military use. you could get a team of soldiers, wipe their memories and load them with specialist skills as an ultimate black-ops team. Send them on top secret missions, and once they’ve served their term, load up their old personalities. No danger of dirty little secrets leaking out or any of that nasty PTSD.

  4. @Paul Wilson: Well, there is the personality thing. However, imagine if they took your personality. Took some of that down-time when you were sleeping, and added in a medical career.

    Or think specifically of the surgeon example. You go in at 22, having graduated from college. They take you, the twenty-two year old, and add in years 22-30-something of someone else’s life. You’d still have everything you came in with. You’d just also have a decade of life in your mind without going through it with your body.

    @Syrg: I watched episodes 3 and 4 pretty much out of boredom. However, the last two have been pretty good and the last one in particular was excellent. Funny. Well-paced. Surprising twists. Not to talk you into it, but if you were interested in the premise of dolls being in the house and then waking up? Those were the ones that got it all going.

  5. @Paul Wilson: Actually, they did make use of that idea for about two minutes in the first episode. Despite a trained negotiator being one of the other “dolls”, when she took too long they sent in 3 or 4 black-ops girls who just shot anyone that wasn’t the negotiator, and hustled her out.

  6. I liked the slow construct of plot, but the fact that all the character but the bad guys and the cop are characterless sure is a drastic change for a Whedon.

  7. @Esther Inglis-Arkell: “Or think specifically of the surgeon example. You go in at 22, having graduated from college. They take you, the twenty-two year old, and add in years 22-30-something of someone else’s life. You’d still have everything you came in with. You’d just also have a decade of life in your mind without going through it with your body.”

    I think the technology you’re describing is a few iterations beyond what they have in the show. I think at the moment they need to graft the personality on with the skills, which necessitates the subject be a tabula rasa. What you’re talking about actually reminds me a little of the Matrix: “can you fly that thing?” “not yet!”.

    The technology you describe actually scares the crap out of me. Education as we know it will cease to be, since skills are just another commodity to be traded on a whim.

    But it opens another can of worms; Do we get the skills apropos of nothing? Without the drive or context that took us into that field of study?

    Or do we have memories of attending classes? If so, who’s memories were they originally? Will the sum of human knowledge in the field of neuroscience be one day based around the experiences of a few people who agreed to have their brains copied? If someone with copied memories makes new breakthroughs do we copy their brains (along with the originally copied knowledge) for future people to use?

  8. @Esther Inglis-Arkell: I will give the show approximately one DVD on Netflix down the line, then.

  9. The only thing Wheadon ever did that even came close to impressing me was almost saving the Alien franchise, and he even screwed that up. Stealing ideas from Dick and Gibson doesn’t impress me, and neither did the first episode of this series.

  10. How about you take that technology, go to the government, and say “I can fix the entire prison system forever if you give me a hugeass sack of money every year.”

    BAM! You’re rich, the government doesn’t have to worry about the Aryan Brotherhood, and New Orleans has a bunch of dudes who truly care about everyone still affected by Katrina.

    Then you combine that with the soldier thing and you can sell not only skills & training, but actual ideologies and beliefs to the highest bidder. And when the government gets wind of this, reveal that you secretly control them too. MUAHAHAHA!

  11. It would be really interesting fiction if death-row inmates were reimprinted with an upstanding, motivated, civic-minded mind. And being as a healthy helpful personality can be hard to find, what if they just reused the same guy: Bob. All these Bobs, walking around, helping everybody out. Sooooo creepy.

    Too bad there’s nowhere to go with the story. Obvious idea #1: Bob was secretly a serial killer/pedophile/etc. That’s good for a zombie movie spin, sort of. The next obvious idea is to have the protagonist think that Bob was of such ilk, but leave it dubious throughout the movie. More of a tense suspense thing. Unfortunately those plots inevitably end with “Our hero was wrong” shortly followed by “Whoops, our hero’s dead, but he was right and now no one knows”.

    Still though, it’s a good canvas for a Blade Runner style plot. Lots of questioning the quality of your humanity

  12. @Ben: I wouldn’t go for the twist, but otherwise *win.* A whole legion of helpful Bobs who used to be criminals. And how society treats them. Maybe a falsely convicted Bob starts getting his personality back and goes after the actual killer. Neat.

  13. JMS played around with the “reprogram convicts to be helpful” idea a couple times in his Babylon 5 days.

  14. *I* think they should’ve just saved all the heartache and just aired repeats of Joe 90.