A while back, Smart Pop Books announced a Dollhouse essay contest. This is my submission, which failed to make the minimum requirement of 3,000 words. The following is a half-joking comparison between Spy in the House of Love, and the 1992 crime film, Reservoir Dogs. Contains spoilers for both properties, of course.
Reservoir Dolls: An Analysis on Spy in the House of Love.
by John Pavlich
In the ninth episode from Dollhouse’s first season, a mole is suspected amidst the big boss’s codenamed crew. While said boss is away, the employees point fingers and accuse each other. Meanwhile, and undercover agent reveals their disguise to someone they care about, a character dies (sort of) and someone gets shot in the stomach. This story is told from the alternating perspectives of a few different characters, complete with title cards announcing their given names.
Sound familiar? It should. It’s more or less the synopsis behind Quentin Tarantino’s cult-classic debut film, Reservoir Dogs. In that independent crime-thriller from 1992, a group of color-titled men hideout in a warehouse after an attempted diamond heist goes awry. While awaiting the return of their employer, the surviving “Dogs” turn on each other in an effort to figure out the identity of the one that tripped them up, someone who they believe walks among them. The narrative back tracks to show us the lives of a few separate characters leading up to the event in question, each with their own namesake chapter heading.
What does one have to do with the other? Why compare Reservoir Dogs with Dollhouse? Why not the Wizard of Oz with Dollhouse? What’s that smell? Why am I still single? Some of these questions will be answered below, as we dig a little deeper into this Dollhouse episode, and take a look at just how far the similarities go, character to character.
Essentially the Joe Cabot of the piece. Adelle calls the shots. She refers to the Dolls/Dogs by their pre-selected codenames and sends them out on different assignments, which can sometimes include an actual heist or two. She’s even known to have a number of Actives spread out over separate engagements, concurrently. Just like Joe, Adelle keeps Whiskey near by, ready to hand out to anyone in need. This is not only a reference to Amy Acker’s “Doctor” character, but to the actual alcohol she has in her office. Also, she can be on the mannish side at times, but I’m stretching at this point. We didn’t see Joe’s side-story during his absence in Reservoir Dogs, but unless he too was on a secret play date with a prostitute, the similarities end there. Adelle could also be seen as Mr. Orange, since she operates under her own secret agenda and gets a bullet in the abdomen, but I digress.
This character only mildly fits into this equation, in the Freddy Newandyke/Mr. Orange role, when he reluctantly informs his friend Mr. White that he is not who he claimed to be, upsetting him. Similarly, Mellie reveals herself to be a Doll, a product of the Dollhouse, which is the very institution Special Agent Paul Ballard is fighting against. This news does not go over well.
Which brings us to Paul, naturally. He assumes the Larry Dimmick/Mr. White part. Paul has utter disdain for and fear of Dolls. So, when the woman he’s been caring for and confiding in all this time turns out to be one, he is mortified and upset, feeling the utmost betrayed and manipulated. In Quentin’s film, the fan base likes to hypothesize about potential homosexuality between Freddy and Larry. However, while we do know for a fact that Paul and Mellie have had sex, even after her revelation (albeit rough, angry hate sex), it’s probably safe to assume that the two friends in “Dogs” just shared a cigarette, at most.
Sadly, he’s not in this episode, but Alpha is clearly Mr. Blonde/Vic Vega. Actor, Alan Tudyk even has Blonde hair. Moving on.
For all intents and purposes, Topher is not much more here than “Nice Guy” Eddie Cabot. It could be simply argued that Adelle regards him within a similar, Parent-Child relationship but there’s more. In the vein of Nice Guy Eddie, Topher spends much of his time on the phone to his boss, trying to accommodate his associates and assess problems as they occur. Perhaps it would be more fitting (read: funny) to just say he’s the obnoxious, selfish weasel Mr. Pink and be done with it.
In Reservoir Dogs, after Mr. White pleads for Mr. Orange to receive medical care, Nice Guy Eddie finally barks, “Alright, Mr. F***ing Compassion! I will call somebody!”. By the end of the film, he shows back up with a Doctor’s bag, presumably ready to perform any necessary surgery himself. In that rough, thin way, Claire Saunders is totally Nice Guy Eddie. All he needs is a lab coat. And facial scars. And breasts. And a Uterus.
Nope. I got nothin’. Crap, and things were going well, too.
See above. Although, Boyd could be seen as a combination of Mr. White and Mr. Orange. On the one hand, he has a friendship with Echo, and Topher (arguably). On the other hand, both he and Freddy have ties to the police force. On the other hand (yes, this freak has multiple appendages and I thank you for not making a thing of it! Okay?!), similar to Mr. White, Boyd also has a shady past that’s less than wholesome.
This Active is mostly regulated to a kind of side plot, what’s known as a “B Story”. However, she does provide valuable information and tools that help the Hero to better complete their task and save the day. In that sense, Sierra is Officer Holdaway from Reservoir Dogs. He coaches Freddy on how to be a more convincing mole (or “rat”, to coin the film), and even provides Freddy with a phony story about a drug deal gone bad. This allows the young cop to endear himself to his fellow criminals, earning their trust and respect.
Though the character is a lot like Mr. Orange, in that he is essentially an Officer of the law who is revealed to be a spy, infiltrating the operation he’s in bed with, Dominic is also quite like Marvin Nash. That unfortunate soul was beaten up and killed. The same thing more or less happens to Adelle’s Head of Security here. He gets in a fight with Echo, is interrogated for information and is essentially “killed” by way of a trip to The Attic.
Given the very nature of her character and her condition, Echo is harder to pin down in this little exercise. At any given moment, she is all of these characters, and none of them. I suppose she could also be seen as Mr. Orange, but that’s mostly from an obvious, surface-level Protagonist/Main Character standpoint, which doesn’t hold much weight, if any. Basically, this one doesn’t really fit. Skip to the end.
Outside of character-specific parallels, both properties share some of the same themes. The characters in Dollhouse are consistently assuming identities and roles that are not of their original selves. So does Reservoir Dogs. Though we spend roughly 90 minutes with these theiving criminals, we only get to know so much about them, most of it completely fabricated. At least in Dollhouse, we learn some of the Actives’ birth names. Only three of the “Dogs” provide us with such privledged information. Both titles also raise questions of trust and loyalty, some characters unsure of where their allegences may lay.
There are many contrasts to debunk this wild idea, of course. In Reservoir Dogs, save for a couple of extras and day players, the entire cast is comprised of men. While the Dolls do walk around in virtually the same outfits, Tarantino’s story would be hard to take seriously if his cast were all wearing pajamas, not suits and ties. Dollhouse is a television series dealing in mind wipes and brain-mapping. Reservoir Dogs? Not so much. It’s more concerned with vulgar language, Mexican Standoffs, tough guy machismo and paying tribute to Vincent Van Gogh. Not to mention, the film has a great soundtrack album, featuring several classic tracks from the 1970s’ and the great, monotone voice of Comedian, Steven Wright. The day an official soundtrack album is released for Dollhouse, I’ll eat… something edible and made of food.
It’s not a perfect metaphor, but there is enough here, especially within the aesthetics of the piece to suggest that Writer, Andrew Chambliss and Director, David Solomon knew what they were doing. Some of the similarities are too strong for this Dollhouse episode to be just a coincidence, written off as a passing resemblance to what is considered by Empire Magazine to be the “Greatest Independent Film of all Time”.*
I mean, come on! The song “Little Green Bag” is so obviously a reference to the tea packages from Adelle’s mysterious, “Green Tea Pot of Doom!” It practically writes itself, except that it didn’t. I wrote it. Unless it sucked. Maybe if Dollhouse had more Steven Wright and more cow bell, it might still be on the air today.