EPISODE REVIEW: Dollhouse: “Briar Rose” (Episode 11)

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If you’d told me two months ago that a show as crappy as Dollhouse would end up mesmerizing me, I’d have called you a liar, a filthy, Buffy-obsessed Whedonite liar. The show was a turd. I mean, go back and read my early reviews. I stand by ‘em: it stank. And yet a bit over a month back, the show instantly rocketed in to position to claim the “Most Improved Student” award. It really is compelling and occasionally amazing TV, way better than the final season of Galactica. Really, the only thing that prevents it from being the best show on TV - Genre or otherwise - is the unasailable wonderfulness of Lost. But this show is firmly in the number two spot, and I mean that sincerely, and I mean that as high praise.

Tonight was part 1 of the two-part season finale: Ballard follows November/Mellie to the Dollhouse, then tracks down an agoraphobic environmentalist pot-growing architect who designed the place a decade earlier (Played brilliantly by the always-brilliant Alan Tudyk), and forces him to help him break in. Meanwhile, Echo is attempting to coax an underage girl who escaped from a life of child prostitution. She reads her the story of Briar Rose, which the girl hates, but Echo teaches her a different interpretation of the story: that the handsome prince was actually created by the princess to come rescue her. In essence, she created someone to rescue her, so really she rescued herself. Meanwhile, Sierra is sent to Tucson - evidently the home of “The Center,” the Dollhouse World HQ - to investigate a murder which has all the telltales of being Alpha’s work.

While actually *IN* the Dollhouse, guest star Tudyk helps Ballard rescue Echo, which gets busted up by Boyd Langdon. Boyd is surprisingly good in a fight for an older guy - I mean, hell, we already know that Ballard can shake off a bullet - but the fight goes on for a long time. In the confusion, Victor is hurt, so the scarred-faced doctor takes him to the infirmary. The annoying comedy-relief agoraphobic environmentalist pot-growing architect guy steps out of the shadows and slices up Victors face, thereby revealing himself to be…Alpha!

In fact, I saw this coming. There have been spoilers floating around online forever, and though I tried to duck ‘em, frankly it’s my own fault. This show was so crappy in its early stages I didn’t put enough effort in to avoiding them - who knew I’d actually end up caring about this show - and so I knew. I’d like to think that even if I didn’t know, I would have figured it out before the big reveal. I mean, 1) this season is all about the Alpha Threat, 2) It’s obvious Alpha has access to Dollhouse technology, or perhaps a rival dollhouse-like organization itself, 3) it’s all been too easy up to this point, and 4) Tudyk has been way the hell too funny for this show, so it should have been fairly evident that his hyper-Wash-like candy-coating of hilarity covered up the chocolaty nougat of evil. I’d like to think that I could have figured that out, but I honestly don’t know that I would have known.

In any event, Alpha forces the doctor lady to call in Echo and puts her in the chair. Meanwhile, DeWitt and Langdon discuss what to do with the now-captive Paul. Sierra calls and informs them that the dead body in Tucson is in fact the annoying agoraphobic environmentalist pot-growing architect guy who built the Dollhouse ten years prior, and DeWitt suddenly realizes Alpha isn’t in Tucson, he’s right under her nose.

Caught flatfooted and before they can scramble any kind of action, Alpha takes Echo out of the chair and they start making out. She’s very happy to see him, and he says “I told you I’d rescue you!” They get in an elevator - remember, security is completely inoperative at this point - and get away.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

There’s some interesting parallelism between the young ex-child prostitute and Echo herself in this. We’re told that the secret meaning of the Briar Rose story is that the princess rescued *herself* by somehow creating the prince who came and woke her from her sleep. Later on in the episode, Alpha “awakens” echo - who clearly recognizes him - and he says he promised to free her. The obvious implication here - and I have to believe it’s the only correct interpretation - is that *Echo* created Alpha.
Echo created Alpha, programmed him to slice-and-dice everyone in the dollhouse excepting her (Remember, he left her alone untouched, but killed everyone else in the showers), and escaped, and he’s been functioning on the fringes of the story, rattling her cage since then. (The annoying “Deadliest Game” episode was obviously his doing). Furthermore, Alpha fed enough info to Ballard in the pilot (Version 2) to get him interested in tracking down Caroline for him. Ergo: Echo is Briar Rose, and Alpha is her prince.

This means Echo or Caroline or whatever aspect of her you care to choose is ultimately responsible for the everyone who died in Alphas’ massacre a year before, and he’s her tool. Maybe I’m hitting that gong a little too loud here, but I’ve got to say I didn’t see it coming at all. I had begun to suspect Ballard was in some way the created prince, but I ditched that idea early on as it didn’t wash - there’s too many people who knew him, and he really *was* an FBI agent and so on, but I totally completely didn’t see Alpha in that role, even though I *knew* Alpha was gonna’ be in this episode.

I’m stupid like that, I guess.

Performances were all very good, and it was nice to finally see the Helo plot plug in to the over-arching story.

It was interesting and entertainingly creepy when they plugged Dominic’s soul in to Victor’s body. His horrified reaction was, well, horrifying.

The acting was all very good in this episode, above average, really. Could have done without the shoutout where Topher says "Frack," but that's just me. Anyone else may have found it charming.

I realize I’m not being as long-winded and/or insightful as I normally am, but res ipsa loquator : the thing speaks for itself. Anything I could really say about it would detract from the episode itself. It was all very tight, very economical, with no wasted scenes or information (Though the fight is a tad long), it’s a diamond, it’s perfect, there’s really nothing you can do with it but watch it and appreciate it, and be saddened that the show is dead and won’t be coming back next year.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

A lingering plot thread: who’s the new mole in the Dollhouse? They pulled that bait-and-switch a few weeks back, where they showed us Dominic was *a* spy, but clearly he wasn’t the one sending Ballard those messages in the Actives, so who is the *other* spy? Will this play out in the finale next week?

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