Deeper Into ‘Dollhouse’

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The Joss Whedon-helmed television series, Dollhouse may have only lasted two series but the fact that I am here announcing the second published volume of essays on the series over four years after its last episode aired is testament to its status as a rich, provocative narrative worthy of serious discourse beyond the living room.

81yyuky1LEL._SL1500_This week, Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse: Confounding Purpose, Confusing Identity published by Rowman & Littlefield hits shelves. While it is the second Dollhouse book published—the first being the Jane Espenson-edited, Inside Joss’ Dollhouse: From Alpha to Rossumthis one distinguishes itself by being a collection of purely academic writings.

When my essay on the character of Claire Saunders was chosen to be in the Smart Pop Books collection just before the show ended, I must admit I thought that it would likely be the first and last Dollhouse book. Then along came Sherry Ginn, Alyson R. Buckman, and Heather M.Porter with an opportunity to contribute to the world of Dollhouse and Joss Whedon scholarship once more.

This time, I wrote about the evolution of Echo from a code name to a unique, newly-formed individual. Of my chapter, “Ritual, Rebirth, and the Rising Tide: Water and the Transcendent Self,” Buckman writes in the book’s intro:

Klein traces the many ways in which water functions in the series as a transformative agent, especially in Echo’s journey. Greek mythology, Japanese design elements, and psychology all come together in Klein’s essay to illustrate how important water is to Dollhouse.

My fellow authors delve into the show’s considerations of law, race, gender, ethics, and psychology. A full list of the book’s chapters can be found on the publisher’s site.

Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse: Confounding Purpose, Confusing Identity is available on Amazon. If you read it, let me know! I look forward to discussing with you. Perhaps a rewatch is in order as well.

For more information, download the press release or contact me at ian@ianklein.me.

Spartacus: A “Finer Vintage” of Television

“Come. Let us sample a finer vintage.”
-Gaia, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena
Episode 2, “Missio”

One might watch any trailer or any handful of scenes from the Starz series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand or its follow-up prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arenanow two episodes into its six episode run-and perceive it as a little more than an exploitative, testosterone-mongering show with no real substance other than blood soaked combat and well-oiled bodies. It would be in error to judge the two shows based on visuals alone for what is seen is merely the course, earthen vessel by which feeling and truth are carried to the viewer.

As I return to the franchise with Gods of the Arena, I am once again struck by the sheer humanity that these two volumes of Spartacus possess. I can think of no other series currently airing which I watch on a regular basis that move me to laugh, cry, cringe and sometimes curse as consistently as this one. Yes, the series thrives on the illustration of man’s primal nature. It is sensual. It is violent. Lust for power, flesh and blood are part of the series’ DNA, but have these motivations not been with man since first he walked this earth? In this way is Spartacus one of the more honest portrayals of what drives us to do the things we do. Being on a premium cable channel allows the show to do this in a manner most uncompromising.

Yesterday, show creator Steven DeKnight tweeted in the affirmative responding to an individual who asked whether the dialogue in the show was inspired by Shakespeare. I believe the connection to Shakespeare comprises a great deal more than just dialogue. Shakespeare, of course, was exploring many similar questions of morality and psychology more than 400 years ago. Indeed, Shakespeare is credited with bringing psychology not only to the stage but an entire people. We are witness to the dark reaches of the human mind when King Lear says to his foul daughters:

I will have such revenges on you both,
That all the world shall-I will do such things-
What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
The terrors of the earth!

In Shakespeare, terrible actions beget terrible outcomes for their doers. Notions concerning the source of the cause of actions sometimes most joyous and often most dire were at the forefront of his work. When those actions are faithfully staged or filmed, they are just as likely to be as seemingly base from an outside perspective as any filmed script of Spartacus. It is a natural consequence of letting women be women and men be men. They “will do such things.”

Spartacus taps into an often ignored well of thought within the-mature-viewer. Week to week, the show proves that the intellect and emotions of an audience can be challenged through the depiction of gore and sexuality. The writers of this series are able to induce surprising reactions that defy common social interaction. I have more than once become an enthused spectator at the gladiatorial games while watching this series, cheering audibly when a combatant makes a mortal blow, but neither these fights nor their effect on the viewer are without purpose. Every battle is connected to a compelling, character driven drama outside the arena.

Strangely, we see ourselves in Spartacus more often than we see an ancient society and this can be incredibly frightening. Over the last handful of centuries, we merely have developed new and different arenas in which to deal with our love, hate, greed and pain. Spartacus seizes the modern edifices that preserves these deep-rooted passions in a socially acceptable form and strips them away. As Spartacus is anything but coy, to strip modernity away is more often than not taken quite literally.

Did You Know?
• Steven S. DeKnight, the creator and executive producer of Spartacus: Blood and Sand and Spartacus: Gods of the Arena held the titles of co-producer, supervising producer, producer, director and writer on Angel over the course of its five season run.

•Maurissa Tancharoen and husband Jed Whedon (Joss Whedon’s brother) took on writing roles on the Spartacus series following their contributions (both writerly and actorly on the part of Maurissa) to Joss Whedon’s show Dollhouse. On Dollhouse, they wrote the episodes, “Stage Fright,” “Haunted” (with Jane Espenson), “Epitaph One,” “Belonging,” “Meet Jane Doe” (with Andrew Chambliss), “The Attic” (directed by John Cassaday) and “Epitaph Two: Return.” In addition to continuing their work on Spartacus, both Gods of the Arena and Season 2 of Blood and Sand, Maurissa and Jed will be writing a Dollhouse comic miniseries called “Dollhouse: Epitaphs” to be released this year.

•John Hannah’s work as Batiatus, head of a ludus (gladiator training school) in Capua and Dominus (master) to the gladiators, is much more nuanced and enjoyable than his work in The Mummy films.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena came about as a result of the delay in production of Season 2 of Blood and Sand due to Spartacus‘ titular star Andy Whitfield‘s diagnosis with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. When it was announced that Whitfield’s cancer had gone into remission, pre-production on Season 2 began, but the cancer returned. Less than two weeks ago, Starz officially replaced Whitfield with Australian actor Liam McIntyre. Whitfield will appear briefly in Gods of the Arena sometime during the season’s six episodes.

•Both Spartacus: Blood and Sand and Spartacus: Gods of the Arena are available to stream instantly on Netflix.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand will return with Season 2 in 2012 on Starz.

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who showed up for the book release party Wednesday night for Smart Pop BooksInside Joss’ Dollhouse: From Alpha to Rossum. It was a great turnout and the staff at Vig 27 was so accommodating. I met a lot of new Whedon fans in the city which I was really hoping to get the chance to do! Let’s not wait until the next Whedon-related title comes out to get together again!

Pictures from the event are now up on Flickr! A few are below.






If you didn’t make it to the event and still want to purchase a copy of the book, click hereor on the link to the right side of the blog.

Inside Joss’ Dollhouse Book Release Party


In just over two weeks, I will be hosting a release party for the first book to be published on Joss Whedon’s latest television series, Dollhouse, in New York City!

Inside Joss’ Dollhouse: From Alpha to Rossum is an anthology of 18 reflective and critical essays from Smart Pop Books and edited by Jane Espenson (@JaneEspenson), who has written for all of Whedon’s shows as well as for Battlestar Galactica and Caprica.

On April 1st I found out that an essay I had written about the character of Claire Saunders in Dollhouse had been accepted into the book as a chapter. Yes, it was on April Fool’s Day, but the publisher assured me that it was no joke and now I have the book in hand to prove it! My chapter is called “‘I Like My Scars’: Claire Saunders and the Narrative of Flesh” and speaks to the way in which Claire’s identity is shaped and ultimately redeemed by the physical scars she endures within the television show. It sits amongst some really insightful works including one by Susan Quilty (@SusanQuilty) that uses the concept of negative space to trace the relationship between Caroline and Echo and Tami Anderson’s (@witnessaria) chapter about various roles in the Dollhouse and how they fit into a larger, real-world context.

Event Details
The event will be held at Vig 27 at 119 East 27th Street (between Park Ave S & Lexington) in New York on Wednesday, October 13th between 7-10PM. Join us for free giveaways and a chance to socialize with other pop culture and Whedon enthusiasts. A limited quantity of books will be for sale (with cash) at the event. Event entry is FREE. Tweeting about the event? Use #SmartPopDollhouse. RSVP here.

Book Description
In only two short seasons Dollhouse captured the imaginations and of audiences all over the world, rewarding viewer loyalty with mind-blowing plot twists and an extended meditation on the forces that guide our actions and make us who we are.

Inside Joss’ Dollhouse covers Dollhouse from anticipated start to explosive finish-from the complexities of identity to the triumph of the human spirit.

Smart Pop Books
Smart Pop is a line of smart, fresh, funny essays on the best of pop culture tv, books, and film, with a particular focus on science fiction and fantasy television and literature.

Our writers are New York Times bestselling authors, television writers, psychologists, philosophers…anyone with a love of pop culture and something worth sharing about it.

I hope you’ll join us to celebrate!

Dollhouse 2.1 "Vows"

“Vows”, was everything I wanted from the first episode of Dollhouse’s second season. It delved right into the mythology of the show and didn’t spend any time playing catch up. Speaking of catch up, if you haven’t seen the first season or need a refresher, this is a great video to watch:

The episode was rich in plot, in fact both A and B plots were given equal screen time. I ended up caring more about the inner happenings of the Dollhouse than what was going on with Echo’s engagement and I attribute that to Whedon’s excellent use of Amy Acker in the episode. Acker is beginning production on ABC’s Happy Town and is therefore unable to appear in more than three episodes this season. She was arguably given the best dialogue of the episode and I was with her every beat. She was definitely at her “best”, bringing an intensity and unsettling nuance to the character we had not yet seen. I can’t wait to see what else is done with her character.

I thought the episode had more in common tonally and structurally with the unaired pilot, “Echoes” (available on the Season One DVD) than the rest of the first season, which is absolutely a good thing. It is darker, more serious in nature and most importantly more intriguing. Each character interaction offered the audience more tangible reasons for following their stories. We care. The preview for next week’s episode, “Instincts” seems to uphold these notions. Whedon has upped the stakes for this season and I expect great(er) things from the rest of season and series as a whole.

I appreciate the use of non-diegetic music in this episode, more so than in previous episodes. On the levels of lyrics and tone, I thought the following two songs worked particularly well. “Hazy” was played in the scene crosscutting Echo’s wedding night with Jamie Bamber’s character and Paul Ballard’s cool and eery contemplation of Echo’s actions. The latter, “The World” played as Topher sat alone on his bed pondering his creation, Sierra and Victor shared a moment and Dr. Saunders/Whiskey drove away-“running out” and having “[run] out of excuses.”

“Hazy” (feat. William Fitzsimmons) by Rosi Golan on The Drifter and the Gypsy
Rosi Golan - The Drifter and the Gypsy - Hazy (feat. William Fitzsimmons)

What if I fall and hurt myself?
Would you know how to fix me
What if I went and lost myself?
Would you know where to find me
If I forgot who I am,
Would you please remind me oh?
Cause without you things go hazy

“The World” by Earlimart on Mentor Tormentor
Earlimart - Mentor Tormentor - The World

Oh, the world is all around us,
Have you noticed me?
Yeah, the world is all around us,
Now it’s plain to see
That the world has overshadowed me.

Here is the preview for Dollhouse 2.2, “Instincts”: