Thursday, 11 January 2018

Heroine Fix: Who Do You Want Me To Be? Echo from Dollhouse

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature looking at characters that I admire and who influence my own writing.  (Warning: this article will contain spoilers.)

Joss Whedon's Dollhouse was controversial right from the start.  The idea of being able to "purchase" a custom-designed personality, installed into the body of your choice, and then wiped of all memories of the encounter afterward, it strikes a hard chord of moral outrage.  So how can anyone take an inherently horrid concept and turn it into something that audiences can enjoy?

The usual answer is to make us care about the characters, but in this case, the characters are artificial, here for one episode and then wiped completely from existence.  In this case, Whedon drew us in by creating a world where no one and nothing is what it first appears to be.

First of all, he doesn't only have the "dolls" performing romantic or sexual engagements.  Need an incorruptible hostage negotiator?  Or someone absolutely trustworthy to care for your children?  If you have all the money in the world, you can hire a doll to fulfill any need.

S&M Barbie to Stay At Home Mom: Echo really can do it all
Offering a mystery is a great way to get people engaged, even if the characters would be considered traditionally unlikable.   We see glimpses of Echo's pre-doll life as Caroline but are left to wonder how she ended up making a Faustian agreement to leave her body for five years.  We are put in the position of asking ourselves, what would be worth five years of our lives?  We learn that the dolls enter into these contracts because they dealing with horrible traumas, like PTSD or the death of a child.

As intriguing as those questions are, that's not why I decide to choose Echo for this month's Heroine Fix.  I did it because she represents the ultimate silenced victim.  She is forced to become whomever the client wants, and she isn't pretending, it's forcibly laid into her brain.  Then, when the client is done with her, her memories are wiped and she is discarded.

Undercover agent, thief, psychopath, genius, devout... it doesn't matter.  She covers the entire gamut, none of it by her own choice.  But ultimately, she isn't helpless.  There is a core of strength and compassion that cannot be erased, no matter how many times she is rewritten.  And with that core, she slowly begins to defy expectations and the roles expected for her.

We all have our struggles.  We all have roles that we have to play that aren't particularly comfortable.  We all have to face other people who seek to impose their expectations on us.  And we're not always in a position to strike back or even defy those expectations.

But there is a core that we can rely on, that others cannot touch.  It defines who we are at our deepest levels.

That unbreakable core was something I wanted to incorporate into my own heroines, particularly in my latest one.  I wanted to explore the concept of someone having been stripped down to almost nothing and then bringing themselves back by remaining true to who they are at the core rather than trying to be something they're not.

Echo is inspiring because of how she holds tight to herself in the face of overwhelming power.  And she's an interesting example of how to create a powerful character without using any of the traditional tools.  By the traditional "rules" of writing, we shouldn't connect with her.  But we do, because of who she is at her core.

Are you addicted to strong heroines like I am?  You can sign up for my Heroine Fix newsletter and then you'll never miss your next Heroine Fix.

Last month's Heroine Fix: The Circle of Sisters in Practical Magic

Next month, I'm looking at another fighter, Sarah Connor, from the Terminator movies and The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

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