In Every Way Superior
Both of them evoke the classic noir baby-doll-with-a-deadly-weapon trope, the crazy little girl with a gun that Joss with Jack Green nicely evoked-and-subverted with the cockeyed angle shot of River standing over Simon with a gun after knocking him out in Serenity.
It can be a completely sexist trope, the beautiful-but-crazy girl who’s too dangerous to be left to her own devices and who must be tamed/controlled/subdued for her own good.
JLV subverts it by making the objectification of Echo-the-Doll all too undeniable. She is a doll being put in a box by a giant, godlike male hand that is kind of groping her as he puts her in her place. (The box is a perfect — brilliant red, a color that screams sex and bloody mayhem, but the fabric looks soft and seductive as satin. Yet it also evokes a padded cell.)
The image of Eliza Dushku conveys a lot of erotic energy — even more than usual for her — but the process he used to make her face look plastic and doll-like robs that energy of volition. It also makes her a little repellant as well as alluring — kind of inhuman and dead — like she’s suffocating under a mask that her own face has become.
The weapon — what looks like a kitchen knife — is also ambivalent, since such knives can be used for nurture (food prep) and for violence, and we don’t know, looking at this picture, whether Echo is going to seize it to do the bidding of the giant hand or to defend herself against it — or to attack whoever she’s looking at, a person who seems to be located in the viewer’s chair. It’s left to the viewer to decide what he or she wants Echo to do. Dollhouse viewers, clearly, will be tuning in at least in part to see her carry out the exciting, fantasy-tinged assignments she’s programmed to, so we are in part the giant god-hand (or at least the clients), although we will also be watching to see her develop her own independent will against that of her handlers. And then presumably to see what combination of her own free will and fate led her to submit to the Dollhouse’s rules in return for the Dollhouse’s rewards.
The wittiest touch is the door on the Dollhouse logo. Do you want to come in and play?
I think the official poster may be trying to get at these themes, but most people just don’t like it. Eliza doesn’t look all that threatening or all that threatened. I don’t feel the tension. Nuff said about that.