A Face Dancer is a type of human in Frank Herbert's science fiction Dune universe. A servant caste of the Bene Tleilax, Face Dancers are shapeshifters, and their name is derived from their ability to change their physical appearance at will.
Originally, Face Dancers were Tleilaxu trained to mimic others using acting and makeup, enhanced by plastic surgery. As time went on, the Tleilaxu began to use genetic manipulation to enhance natural ability in phenotypic plasticity, so that Face Dancers could change height, increase and decrease apparent mass, change coloring and texture, and change facial features.
Herbert describes Face Dancers in their natural state in Heretics of Dune:
The first Face Dancers Miles Teg ever saw: Two small men as alike as twins. Almost chinless round faces, pug noses, tiny mouths, black button eyes, and short-cropped white hair that stood up from their heads like the bristles on a brush.
In the history of the Dune universe, Face Dancers have been employed for a number of purposes. Initially, their principal use was entertainment — they served as comedians, impersonators, and actors. However, their identity-stealing skills made them highly useful as spies and assassins, and they were hired by the Great Houses in their continual political, financial, and military conflicts.
In time the Face Dancers became genetic eunuchs, sterile creatures with full sentience but no sense of self and a genetically-programmed loyalty to the Tleilaxu Masters. The Tleilaxu control them like all their creations by forcing them into a hypnotic state with some predefined sound (often a specific humming or whistling noise).
Throughout most of the Dune timeline, only the Bene Gesserit-trained can detect a Face Dancer, typically by recognizing signature pheromone scents or other micro-indicators. Face Dancers are liable to give away their identities, though, since they lack the memories of the people they replace. Later in the series, the Tleilaxu give them the ability to acquire these memories as well.
In the Dune series
In Dune Messiah, the second book in the series, the Tleilaxu use a ghola of Duncan Idaho in an attempt to undermine the Emperor Paul Muad'dib and take control of the Imperium. The Face Dancer Scytale uses his talents to facilitate an assassination attempt on the Emperor. Paul can immediately detect the replacement, but lets the plot play out to see where it leads and determine its place in his prescient visions.
Face Dancers also play a role in God Emperor of Dune. They replace nearly everyone in the Ixian embassy on Arrakis, and attempt to assassinate Leto using a force of approximately fifty Face Dancer duplicates of Duncan Idaho. This causes Leto's guards to hesitate in case one is the real Duncan, but the attempt fails as the Face Dancers are defeated by Leto's Fish Speaker army and Duncan himself. Leto employs the Bene Gesserit Anteac to spot the Face Dancer impersonators in his midst so they can be eliminated (although Leto can detect them himself).
At the beginning of Heretics of Dune, the Bene Tleilax feel ready to take control of the Imperium. They have achieved their long-term plan of developing Face Dancers who are perfect mimics, able to take mind prints of the people they imitate and possess all their memories. This leaves an ordinary person with no real way of detecting a replacement; the Tleilaxu believe that the Bene Gesserit cannot detect these new Face Dancers either. The Tleilaxu intend to take control of the other powers in the Imperium by replacing their leaders with Face Dancers. However, the Tleilaxu plan is ultimately ruined by its flaws. The Tleilaxu have never tested the Face Dancers over long periods independent of a master's control. It develops that, after playing their roles for too long, the new Face Dancers come to think of themselves as the people they have printed and forget their Tleilaxu origins. They effectively become the people they are mimicking, passing beyond the control of the Tleilaxu. Nor are the new Face Dancers undetectable to the Bene Gesserit. By the end of the novel, it looks as if the Bene Tleilax will be forced into an alliance with the Bene Gesserit.
In Chapterhouse: Dune, The Reverend Mother Dortujla describes being approached by a group of Futars and "Handlers" wishing to ally with the Bene Gesserit against the Honored Matres. Dortujla is struck with the impression that the Handlers are Face Dancers, but standard Bene Gesserit detection techniques are unable to confirm her suspicions. These Handlers supposedly bred and trained the Futars to hunt Honored Matres. In his vision of the mysterious observers Daniel and Marty, Duncan Idaho notes:
Reassuring faces. That thought aroused Idaho's suspicions because now he recognized the familiarity. They looked somewhat like Face Dancers, even to the pug noses ... And if they were Face Dancers, they were not Scytale's Face Dancers. Those two people behind the shimmering net belonged to no one but themselves.In the last chapter of the book, Marty and Daniel themselves mention independent Face Dancers:
"[Tleilaxu Masters] have such a hard time accepting that Face Dancers can be independent of them." "I don't see why. It's a natural consequence. They gave us the power to absorb the memories and experiences of other people. Gather enough of those and..." "It's personas we take, Marty." "Whatever. The Masters should've known we would gather enough of them one day to make our own decisions about our own future."
In Hunters of Dune, the passengers of the no-ship Ithaca discover that the Handlers are indeed actually Face Dancers from The Scattering, in league with Daniel and Marty (who are not). It is also revealed that these new Face Dancers (apparently undetectable by even Bene Gesserit means) have infiltrated governments and other powers across the Old Empire in their plan to take over the universe. Murbella and the Bene Gesserit stumble upon this when they discover that the leader of the Honored Matres on the planet Tleilax and her inner circle are in fact Face Dancer duplicates.
- ↑ In Dune Messiah, the Tleilaxu dwarf Bijaz hums to activate dormant programming in the Duncan Idaho ghola Hayt to induce him to kill Paul Atreides: "He began to hum, a keening, whining monotonous theme, repeated over and over ... Hayt stiffened, experiencing odd pains that played up and down his spine ... The sound made Hayt think of ancient rituals, folk memories, old words and customs, half-forgotten meanings in lost mutterings."
- ↑ In Heretics of Dune, Master Waff tries to control his Face Dancer duplicate of Tuek: "Humming sounds like the noises of angry insects came from his mouth, a modulated thing that clearly was some kind of language."
- ↑ In Chapterhouse: Dune, Scytale sees an opportunity to control/influence the Duncan Idaho ghola and thus effect his escape from the Bene Gesserit when he thinks: Somehow, I must contrive it that Idaho and I meet intimately. There's always the whistling language we impress on every ghola.