- This article contains information from the ARG "Dollplay;" its canon status is unknown.
Dollplay is an alternate reality game (ARG) based on the world of Dollhouse. As part of a viral marketing scheme, Fox began asking visitors to its website to "Save Hazel!" starting in early February, 2009. Participants could watch video of a young woman exploring the contents of a shipping capsule as it closed on her, and eventually could upload their own videos in an attempt to help her escape. User participation had a direct impact on the progression of the story, as Hazel responded to personal messages and followed users' suggestions in exploring her surroundings. The game was not produced by Mutant Enemy Productions, but instead by The company P. Although the story's connection to Dollhouse is clear and well-developed, it may not be canon.
Hazel Rose enters a shipping crate in search of information regarding her biological mother. As she begins to explore the crate, the door shuts, trapping Hazel. She screams for help, but nobody responds. Eventually, the crate shifts and begins to rock, leading her to surmise that she is on a ship at sea. In the crate, she finds a computer with internet access via satellite, discarded files, a safe, crackers, various drugs, imprinting equipment, blood stains, and bullet holes.
Participants exchange videos with Hazel, who at first takes them to task for their unrealistic usernames and impersonal messages, forcing the players to treat Hazel as a person instead of a controllable computer game character. Eventually, she follows their suggestions and uploads files she finds on disk and scans of papers she finds in the trash to the the R Prime Lab website. The files include scientific data and an unfinished psychological study, "The Past Recaptured," by Hazel's biological mother, Alexandra Rose. The imprinting technology includes three imprint wedges: Alexandra Rose, Topher Brink, and Mr. Bertucci.
With the help of the game's participants, Hazel learns how to work the imprinting machine and alternately imprints herself with each available personality. From her actions as these characters, Hazel learns about her own past and the creation of the technology employed by the Dollhouse. She is the child known as Foxtrot in "The Past Recaptured," has had her "bad side" wiped, and has been permanently imprinted with Mr. Bertucci's dead daughter Celia's personality along with some of Alexandra's abilities. Alexandra developed the imprinting technology used by Dollhouses worldwide, assisted by Topher. Mr. Bertucci volunteered his dying daughter as a test subject, hoping to be able to keep her "soul" with him on earth in another body.
When Hazel reimprints herself with her own bad side, she remembers the violent end to her backstory and the source of the bullet holes and blood stains in the crate. Mr. Bertucci came to the shipping crate in search of Celia/Hazel, and an R Corp security agent imprinted him with Hazel's bad side. Mr. Bertucci then shot Alexandra and was shot by the security agent, who in turn aimed at Hazel, but didn't have the heart to kill her.
Hazel, now remembering the code that will let her escape the crate, excuses her mother's actions as born of the desire to make her a better person, announces that she is drawing the line of acceptable brainwashing at stealing people's personalities, and leaves.
Also known as the test subject Foxtrot, Hazel was a violent and antisocial child who underwent massive, radical, and successful memory-altering therapy to fix her problematic personality. After her mother's death, she was raised by adoptive parents whom she loves. As a young adult, she is a sweet and talented person. In seeking information about her past, she reintegrates her old bad side and becomes a fervent opponent of the Dollhouse.
Hazel's biological mother was, before her death, a psychologist who worked for MIT's Department of Cognitive Studies. She developed the Dollhouse's mind-altering technology through experiments on her own daughter. Her studies were motivated by a desire to see her "hateful and differentiated" daughter become a "loving and enmeshed" individual, and she did not approve of the creation of dolls.
An Italian with a sick daughter, Mr. Bertucci, like Dr. Rose, sought out a way to save his child. He volunteered her as a research subject to be uploaded into another child's brain, and soon became an early client of the Dollhouse.
The Topher portrayed here as Dr. Rose's assistant is the same eccentric, self-absorbed Topher seen on-screen in Dollhouse. Here, however, he is not the master, but the assistant.
Connections to Dollhouse
Again, whether or not the events and information presented in "Dollplay" are canon is unclear. Nevertheless, the connections warrant mention.
"Dollplay" shows the creation of the technology that forms the premise of Dollhouse: who, how, and one woman's why. LA's Dollhouse's programmer is shown to be the assistant to the technology's developer, and Hazel suggests that there are multiple Dollhouses using it worldwide. The use of NATO phonetic alphabet's Foxtrot as a code name for a test subject in "The Past Recaptured" presages the use of this alphabet for Actives' names.
Science and Technology
"The Past Recaptured" provides extensive background to the origins of the imprint process (or, more accurately, the wiping process). It describes a sensory deprivation tank used in conjunction with electromagnetic stimulation of various sections of the brain to rewrite the brain's memories - a precursor to the chair used in Topher's lab. The process successfully erases Foxtrot's personal memories, much like the Actives' loss of personal identity. She has trouble remembering her name, but retains her ability to use language and apply it to her surroundings, similar to wiped dolls. Additionally, Foxtrot tended to repeat "rule-based" statements, again much as dolls say in conversation with each other in their inactive state. Adelle DeWitt calls this state the tabula rasa, meaning clean slate, and Dr. Rose states that Foxtrot "shows clear signs of regressing to a kind of clean slate." In this state, Foxtrot does not exhibit developmentally appropriate behavior, but, like her future counterparts, lacks the "fine-tuned schemas and abilities of a person at her present age."
The process described in the report is coupled with much more drastic side effects than those experienced by the dolls in Topher's care. Topher's subjects endure mild to moderate pain, which he describes as "pinching a bit," and emerge from his lab fully functional. Foxtrot, however, experiences "severe nausea...metallic taste in the mouth...trouble walking...and bouts of spastic seizures up to 12 hours post treatment."
The report focuses on memory erasure - only one piece of what makes an Active in the Dollhouse. It does, however, discuss the importance of certain drugs in preparing the brain for memory loss and for accepting new memories. In her conclusion, Dr. Rose points to Dr. Benjamin Moore, who has successfully scanned "mind patterns," as a potential collaborator in future applications of her research.
Hazel expresses concern over the state of her identity, at first fearing that she might be and later asserting that she is not "a broken doll." Over the course of her time in the capsule, she finds that she is broken - she is missing pieces of herself taken from her in childhood. Her mother considered those pieces "bad," or broken. In the end, she reimprints her old memories and declares that she is not broken. Similarly, Echo is concerned with whether or not she is broken in "Gray Hour."
Thematically, the storyline of "Dollplay" is tightly linked to Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde. Dr. Rose experiments on her own daughter to help cure her psychological problems and deletes her bad side, much like Dr. Jekyll develops a potion to separate human's good and evil natures. They, and the Alliance in Joss Whedon's Firefly, encounter drastic problems after trying to use science to "make people better" (Serenity). So far, has not been extensively explored in Dollhouse, as the technology is being used to make the dolls into the perfect people for their clients, not to make a higher class of human beings. However, events in "Man on the Street" begin to draw the Jekyll and Hyde connection. Joe Hearn explicitly references the tale, lying when he expresses the fear that Victor might be pulling a "Jekyll and Hyde." More significantly, Echo, under the influence of a spy in the Dollhouse, suggests that dolls are merely the company's business, and not their ultimate purpose. Perhaps this purpose is, like Dr. Rose's experiments, tied to a project to make people better.
Notes & References
- New Fox Dollhouse viral campaign asks us to "Save Hazel!". ActiveDollhouse.com (2009-03-23). Retrieved on 2009-02-11.
- Dollhouse Mystery. fox43.com (2009-02-16). Retrieved on 2009-03-23.