Are actives slaves? No
Are people idiots for using actives as hostage negotiators and covert operatives? Yes.
Is the show asinine? Yes.
Agh! I hate it when people steal my answer (word for word pretty much.)
The ratings guarantee that this show will be cancelled soon, so there's no point belaboring things, but just for the record: the way to have done this show right is to have "dolls" who would sign on the dotted line, not because they are naive, manipulated or dumb (any of which will cause the audience to hold them in contempt for being incompetent at running their own lives) but because there is something so awfully wrong with them that doll-hood is actually a preferable choice.
The only people who would want to be dolls are the criminally insane - but who retain enough grip on reality to realize they are thoroughly dysfunctional and have zero chance that their condition will improve. (Their backstory can include thorough and futile medical treatment that would arrive at this conclusion. Maybe the Dollhouse can provide this treatment and extend the offer of doll-hood only to those who legitimately cannot be cured.)
For people like that, negation of the self is the only good option. Doll-hood should be the absolute last resort before suicide.
Also, the lead character should be some scruffy, big hulk of a guy - think Gerard Butler - so that there will be no nauseating tendency to treat the lead character as a poor widdle victimized girl. Nobody's going to shed tears over Gerard Butler who used to be a serial killer who did stuff that would make Quentin Tarantino violently ill, before his identity was wiped clean, but we might find it interesting to see he can maintain doll-hood and hold that other nasty guy at bay.
Plus, if you want someone to go kick butt, you're going to hire a big, buff guy with ninja assassin skills, not a skinny little waif with the same ninja assassin skills. There was an interesting series in here somewhere, but Whedon's icky erotic fixation on victimized females sabotaged it. I don't mind icky, but that's a boring and trite kind of icky.