EPISODE REVIEW: Dollhouse: “The Attic” (Season 2, Episode 10)

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Last time - like an hour ago - as you’ll recall, Dollhouse more-or-less concluded that true love has a kind of eternal heft, regardless of the memories or circumstances surrounding it, it is a direct connection between souls (Even though Topher doesn’t believe in the soul). The show also concluded that the sum of what we are is greater than the total of the part, though in Echo’s case, you know, she’s got a lot of extra parts in her head, so she’s kind of greater still, way greater than average, kinda’ blowing the bell curve for the rest of us.

I say they concluded this, but really they’d been laying the tracks for these ideas for quite a while, but both threads finally reached their conclusions tonight as their respective arcs reached their climaxes, and Echo, Victor, and Sierra became fully actualized human beings, and not just sex toys for the rich and even more rich.

So what’s a fully actualized human being to do, once they reach this kind of catharsis? Go to the attic, of course.

PLAY BY PLAY

Echo is wheeled into the attic, restrained, and plugged into a machine with big, pointy, cringe-inducing needles. She flatlines, to the surprise of her technicians who remover her from the machine, but she comes back to life and chokes one, and stabs the other with the big pointy needles, then frees Victor and Sierra. As they try to escape, she’s separated from them, and watches them die.

Of course it’s all a fakeout - she’s living out her worst nightmare over and over and over again: watching her friends die, and being betrayed by the only people she trusts: Paul and Boyd. Sierra, meanwhile, is having sex with Victor, who turns into that guy who raped her a few episodes back, now a zombie. Victor is re-living a mission in Afghanistan over and over, with himself as both the attacker and the victim.

I gotta’ tell you, coming off the amazing “Stop Loss,” I was initially pretty disappointed. I mean, come on, we’ve seen this how many times? Stargate SG1 alone did it *twice.* Before I could get too under whelmed, however, things took a decidedly Philip K. Dickian turn.

Echo gets attacked by a big scary monster named “Arcane,” but Mr. Dominic - last seen being sent to the attic in Season 1’s “Spy in the House of Love” - turns up and saves her life. They get into an argument as to who’s dream they’re in, and eventually she convinces him that it’s hers. He explains that he was trapped in the NSA headquarters, but Arcane came after him. He was able to chase Arcane off, and discovered he could follow the monster from illusion to illusion, from brain to brain in the attic. Arcane wanders from mind to mind killing people, sensing fear and homing in on it. Dominic tracks Arcane, and fights him off, saving people’s hallucinatory lives when possible He’s trying to show her how to do it when they get separated and she falls into a Japanese man’s creepy private dining room fantasy.

Our Japanese friend - who’s got his legs cut off so he can’t leave - was hired by Rawson to find any flaws in the corporate mainframe, any vulnerabilities. He found them, but that knowledge made them even more vulnerable, so they stuck him in the attic, in what amounts to, I guess, one of the nicer rooms in hell. Dominic shows up, and Echo tells him that ALL the attics in all the dollhouses are networked. Arcane shows up and offs the guy, the illusion starts to break down, and the only way out before his mind completely shuts off and kills them in the process is to engage in the stiff’s worst fear. They engage in some cannibalism, eating his legs, mercifully offscreen.

They pop up in Victor’s nightmare, bringing him to his senses, and set a trap for Arcane. He follows Sierra’s fear, and is trapped. When they attack him, they all fall through to Arcane’s own nightmare, and discover that Arcane is actually a small, harmless Englishman.

“Why did you call yourself Arcane?”
“I thought it sounded badass.”

Arcane’s own nightmare is the world in total bedlam, with roving hordes of people attacking everything that moves. They find a relatively safe place to hole up, and there he tells them that he’s one of the two guys who started Rawsom Corp. He, himself, came up with the Neural Architecture and Brain-transfer codes, then was betrayed by his partner and stuck in the Attic. He was the first one, back in 1993. He explains something I did not see coming - and believe you me, kiddly diddly, I’ve watched a lot of TV and read a lot of books, I can generally see most things coming - the brains in the attic *ARE* the mainframe!

Each person’s nightmare is effectively a subjectively encoded version of a problem that they relive over and over and over again, trying to solve it. This is actually their computerized brain attempting to resolve problems, crunch numbers, resolve security flaws, etc. Our scientist boy explains that he was killing people in an attempt to bring down the company by removing their computational power. He explains that his own looped problem to solve is projecting how Rawson’s brain tech will affect society. In 97$ of the projections, it always ends up with the end of civilization. He tells them to look for his 2.0 doll doppleganger out in the real world, though he has no clue who or where it is, nor what he looks like.

Echo gets herself shot deliberately, so she can flatline, be disconnected from the machine, and kill her attendants to escape. Sierra and Victor insist on coming with her, but the scientist and Dominic - being gueststars - elect to stay behind and fight the good fight on the inside, trying to “Awaken” people within their halucinations, just as has happened to themselves. He tells them a woman named “Caroline” managed to breech security once before.

Echo flatlines, then kills her attendants. In the fake world, Sierra and Victor kiss, and then he stabs her, wanders out into the street and lets an angry mob kill him.

Interspersed with all this, Adel is being more evil than is her new usual, threatening the hell out of Topher and Boyd. Topher, meanwhile, figures out a way to re-activate Paul by circumventing the damaged parts of his brain, though to make it work they need to clear out a portion of his noggin, they need to remove something, and they debate what to take out. Paul is revived, and is aphasic and jerky, almost - but not quite - like siezures. Eventually this settles down, and they fill him in on what’s been going on since Alpha killed him. He immediately grabs Boyd’s gun and goes off to kill Adel, and Boyd doesn’t make a move to stop him. Adel talks him down, however.

Once Echo comes back from the fake world, she reports that she found out “What you wanted” to someone we can’t see. The camera whips around, and it’s Adel, who is suddenly surprisingly no longer evil. We get an extended dance remix flashback to last week’s episode where she was telling Echo the Attic is said to be hell, with the added lines “But I think it’s more. I think it’s where Rawsom keeps their secrets. I need you to go there, get them, and come back to report to me. It’s the only edge we’ll have.”

“But no one else has ever returned from there”

“No one else was you.

All our regulars are in Adel’s office, all involved in a cabal or war council to bring down Rawsom. Echo says she needs to be uploaded with Caroline.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

I’m a little fuzzy on how this whole “Attic” thing works. We’re told that they completely wipe your mind - like they do with the dolls, but moreso - but when they get to the attic, everyone has a full set of their own memories more-or-less. So what’s with the wiping if no one gets wiped? And why is it so painful, when normal wiping and programming don’t hurt that much? (“You may feel a pinch”)

Our scientist isn’t clear on who’s running Rawson these days, if I understood his dialog correctly. If so, that means it isn’t his old college buddy, but I might have misunderstood this. If I *didn’t* then it likely means either Rawson’s Grand Poobah, or more likely the scientist’s own 2.0 iteration is someone we know already, so as to maximize our shock when they reveal it. So who do you think it is? Hell, really, who else can it be? Nearly everyone is on the side of the angels thus far, excepting perhaps Tophers’ assistant and the DC Dollhouse. Maybe Mellie? Doctor Saunders? Surely not cute little Kilo. Mellie or Bennett are my odds-on favorites at the moment, and I’m leaning towards Mellie.

It’s never really explained how Dominic and pals can jump between people’s minds, nor how they located Victor and Sierra. Nor how Arcane just happened to go to Sierra’s nightmare, rather than the thousands of other simultaneous ones.

I don’t really understand why Adel needed to be super-evil in this episode, other than to set up the reveal that she wasn’t super evil in the end, it had all just been a ruse. Yeah, I get putting on an act, but why be such a wad? Why be advanced evil when she could have just been Mid-Eval? (To paraphrase Echo herself) That felt a bit false to me.

The visions of the devastated future was super-cool looking. The other visions, not so much. I did like Echo’s tree, however.

I was expecting Dominic to turn up again, but I was totally unprepared for him being so funny, and such a strong presence. He was kind of a shlub in the first season. I did *not* expect the guy who raped Sierra to turn up again.

Interestingly, Adel knew that Topher dismembered Sierra’s rapist. Interestingly, we’re told Boyd had “No place else to go” when he signed on to the Dollhouse. Interestingly, we’re told that Caroline somehow breached Rawson security, presumably immediately prior to her attack on the DC Dollhouse in which she crippled Bennett. Rather than kill her, they dolled her, interestingly.

So what did Boyd do? How did Adel find out about Tophers’ knife-wielding indiscretion? What did Caroline know? What did they take from Paul’s mind?

In any event, though it’s probably coincidental, the scene with all the regulars in Adels’ office reminded me a LOT of the scene in Babylon 5 where Sheridan assembles a cabal with a very similar purpose. That was in “All Alone in the Night,” by the way. Similar feel, similar point.

Likewise, the scene where Victor killed Sierra seemed very reminiscent of the scene from Battlestar Galactica where Helo killed Sharon so she could resurrect on a Cylon Base Ship and rescue their daughter. Again, similar feel, similar point, even a bit of similar blocking. This, I think, was deliberate since Helo was played by Tahmoh Penikett, the same guy who plays Paul Ballard in this show, so there’s just no way they weren’t aware of that scene. An homage.

So will we see Alpha again? When Echo said they needed “One more soldier,” my immediate impression was that they needed Alpha. I was wrong, but obviously they’ve only got three episodes left, and his arc has to be tied up with the whole “Rawson” thing in some fashion. Can’t just leave the guy as a dangling thread, now can we?

Two lingering questions that I doubt they’ll answer: 1) Early on in the series, Adel was emphatic that the pimping and whoring and sex slavery that Rawson did was all in the service of a much larger, greater good. The scales have fallen away from her eyes since then, but honestly, what did she think they were up to? Clearly, she really believed it. 2) Who was the second spy in the house of love?

And that’s it, kids, a very good, very trippy episode that was a bit derivative of a lot of things, but managed to put a new spin on them, and was curiously completely free of the show’s normal “what is Identity?” themes, presumably since the previous episode resolved all that and turned our three dolls into fully actualized people, so there’s no need to muck about with that anymore. We have three episodes left, starting in three weeks. I’m hoping to see “Epitaph One” before that time if at all possible, but I’ve had bizarre problems trying to arrange that for months now. Whenever I try, something turns up to kibosh it.

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