Tropes: The Instant Expert

While working at home (on various home improvement projects), I’ve been half-heartedly watching Dollhouse.  I’ve never watched it before, and it’s free on Netflix…

Well, it’s thought provoking. There are a lot of things not to like about the setup. A lot.  That’s not necessarily bad, but I think that the results are far rosier than the setup allows. I would expect to see a lot more dead Actives than we’re shown, and a lot more permanently damaged physically.

All that said, I’m pretty much determined to watch through the end of the series.  I’m about halfway through Season 2 now, and have a fair idea where all of this is going.

But what bothers me most about the series is the heavy use of the Instant Expert Trope. 

The Instant Expert is where someone is made, instantly, into an expert in some field via a device (often alien in nature). Suddenly, they know astrophysics. Suddenly, they speak French. Suddenly they can fly a helicopter.

Oddly, I’m pretty much okay with all of those.  Those are skills and knowledge.  It’s this one that bothers me:



Now, I will say that Chuck (the TV series) handles this better than Dollhouse does. Chuck makes an effort to acknowledge that he needs physical training to go along with his knowledge. (They do show him training from time to time.)

Here’s a simple example: If I have the knowledge of Olympic Weight Lifting uploaded into my mind, I might even be able to lift 500 lbs. Once. But I will hurt my body terribly in the effort. I have a bad elbow, arthritic shoulders, and questionable wrists.  Plus a lot of the skin will come off my hands.  My body is not conditioned to do that sort of activity.

In the same way, the Dollhouse dolls–who seem to do yoga a lot, but not much else–should be coming back from assignments where they use martial arts with torn muscles, strained and ruptured tendons, and broken bones. (Also, facial injuries should bleed a lot more.)

And while this won’t stop me from watching, it’s annoying enough to keep the series out of my list of ones to rewatch (such as the eminently realistic Stargate and Farscape.)

It’s one of those things.





4 thoughts on “Tropes: The Instant Expert

  1. I wrestled a bit with this concept in my 1992 title Amy Amaryllis. Amy (a modern Australian kid) and her double Amaryllis (who lives in a land called Ankoor) are identical. In effect, they may have invented one another. However, when they swap bodies, we have the scenario where Amy, an expert swimmer, is stuck in the body of a girl who has never learned to swim (Ankoor is cold and cliff-ridden) whereas Amaryllis is nearly drowned when Amy’s brother ducks her in the pool on the belief she is his sister acting stuck-up. I had to think a lot to come up with whether a brain that knew/did not know would override a body that knew/did not know. Each girl had the same physical potential. One would be far fitter. I thought Amy, whose brain knew how to swim well, would probably force her new and unfit body to obey whereas Amaryllis just might find her conditioned body swimming despite her brain not knowing how. Sally O 

  2. I have a similar problem with some erotic fiction. Consensual it may be but with all the descriptions of pounding etc all I can think is Ouch! UTI! Ouch! Bruises! UTI and kidney infection. OUCH!

  3. So much of physical prowess is muscle memory, it makes it hard to suspend disbelief with even simple “skills” downloaded into the brain. Picking locks, for instance, is something you develop a feel for, less of an intellectual exercise. Knowing how locks work, even how they’re made, only helps you know what in there, not how it feels when a tumbler slips into the right position.

    Dollhouse had it’s moments and I was glad to see Eliza Dushku in a lead role, but damn, it gets darker and darker. The premise, on its face, is pretty dark, but the rabbit hole just goes on and on. I hope that nothing like this tech is possible, because if it is, we are freaking doomed.

    Joe L. Singleton h ttp://

    1. Yep, that’s exactly my quibble as well. I know from experience that knowledge is now the same as experience!

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