“We’re superior people, with a touch of German thrown in. What could possibly go wrong?”
I have to admit, I’m kind of blown away by it all. Though Mr. Whedon really only delivered half a series, and only half of that was any good, the bit that was good totally lived up to the hype, even if that doesn’t completely redeem the slow, boring, uninspired start.
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I’m going to do this in chronological order, rather than follow the fractured narrative structure of the episode, since it’ll make it easier for you, the reader
Quite a while ago, a psychopath kidnapped a woman, took her to an old abandoned power plant, and sliced her up, pursuant to actually killing her. She got away. The police caught the guy, but the victim could never remember where his lair was. He was tried, found guilty, and sent to jail, but he got an easy charge because he didn’t actually kill anyone. Even so, he was facing 20 years to life.
Sometime after this, the Rawson corporation - which owns the dollhouse - was experimenting on criminals, in exchange for reduced sentences and jail time. Even back then Rawson had clout and connections. Our psycho-killer volunteered, and became a doll named “Alpha.”
Several years ago, Alpha and Whiskey were hired by a client with a “Natural Born Killers” fantasy. Unfortunately, Alpha was buggy as hell, and got all spooked and paranoid from the nature of the fantasy, which was perilously similar to his own real-world past. Alpha slips away from his handlers with Whiskey and the client, and goes back to the same abandoned power plant, where they torture the guy for information while Whiskey dances to Roy Orbison (“In Dreams”), shades of Blue Velvet. Dollhouse security manages to track him by his chips, however, and they bust in and save the client while Alpha and Whiskey are evidently planning to rape him to death. It’s not shot explicitly, but it’s still creepy as hell.
Whiskey is the #1 doll, the most popular, the most requested. There’s a kindly elderly man doctor in the Dollhouse at this point. Around this same time, a year or so before the show begins, Caroline/Echo comes to the Dollhouse. She doesn’t seem as resistant as she has in the flashbacks prior to this episode, but she’s clearly scared as hell about it. Alpha is immediately smitten with her.
Caroline becomes Echo, and Alpha - though a typically vacant active - puts the moves on her. His handler doesn’t take this seriously, and let it slide. One day in art class, Alpha hears a couple handlers talking about how popular Whiskey is. Alpha goes over to her and says very politely, “Whiskey, let Echo be the best,” and then slices her up really badly.
Security pulls Alpha off of her and drag him up to Topher’s lab - “Did I do something bad? I just want to be my best!” They’re preping him for The Attic when he starts fighting his handler, and kicks him in to a control panel while trying to get out of the chair. This causes a malfunction that downloads all 48 of Alpha’s previous made-to-order “Doll” personalities in to him at one time. He goes psychotic, kills the handler, grabs his original personality recording from the rack, and smashes it to bits. He then goes on a killing spree, kills the kindly old doctor and a whole peck of other people, but leaves Echo alone, and he escapes.
Whiskey becomes the new Doctor. Around this time the series actually begins, so we’ll just jump over the next eleven episodes, during which time Alpha built a Dollhouse chair of his own (As I’d predicted months ago). He manipulates Dollhouse security, as we saw last week, kills and takes the place of the architect who designed the LA Dollhouse, and infiltrated it with Paul Ballard. While Ballard is caught, he steals Echo and implants her with the psychotic hillbilly personality she had during the “Mickey and Mallory Natural Born Killers” dealie from years before. He also takes all 38 of Echo’s Doll personalities. They kidnap a waitress, and head back to the same damn abandoned power plant as the last two times, which Alpha has been using as his lair.
Ballard reluctantly agrees to help the Dollhouse recover Caroline, and is paired up with Security Chief Boyd Langdon as they go sleuthing around. Topher is no help, mainly for theological reasons - he refuses to believe people have a soul, but Ballard’s whole take on the thing is that you can remove people’s memories, but their essence is hardwired in to them and will find ways to emerge. From a neurological perspective, this makes sense. For instance, I’m OCD as hell, and whether I’d been raised by my parents or adopted and brought up in Japan, I’d *Still* be OCD as hell, just to give an example. Topher prefers the now-mostly-discredited “Tabula Rasa” version of things however, and refuses to believe otherwise. Langdon likes Ballard’s approach, however, and backs him up, so they open Alpha’s *ORIGINAL* file and discover he was a would-be psycho killer who liked to slice people up.
Meanwhile, Alpha downloads Caroline in to the kidnapped waitress and explains how he’s a corporate entity made up of 48 people in one brain, and he wants to turn Echo in to a similar being so she can ‘ascend’ to a higher state of being, and kill Caroline. “Alpha, meet Omega,” he says. Omega, for her part, instantly understands everything, denies her goddesshood, and we get some chop-sockey with Alpha. She wins, and decides to download Caroline back in to her body (thus making 39 people), but Alpha kills the waitress body with Caroline in it, and a chase through the power plant ensues while Ballard and Langdon show up.
To get away, Alpha chucks the Caroline memory chip, which balances precariously on a beam. Echo crawls out to get it, but it falls and Ballard catches it. “You saved me,” she says. Alpha gets away.
Back in the dollhouse, Ballard agrees to work for them if they’ll let Mellie/November go and pay up her full contract. They do. The Doctor Formerly Known As Whiskey confronts Topher, “I get why you’d want to save money by using a broken doll like me, but why did you program me to hate you? That’s what I find strange.” Topher looks shaken. Echo shows compassion for him, and goes to bed. As she drifts off to sleep she says “Caroline.”
Well, it’s not *Quite* the end, there’s a coda that’ll be on the DVD set, but this is the end of the broadcast series, so it’s “The End” enough for our purposes right now.
Alas, I was totally wrong last week when I said that Echo somehow programmed Alpha to go nuts and rescue her. Interestingly, though, her psycho hillbilly character appears to be in some way based on the knife-wielding little girl from last week, as we’re told she was a 13-year-old prostitute, and at least one of Alpha’s personalities - “Billy” - was a john that decided to bust her out.
Alan Tudyk is, again, completely brilliant in this episode, and it’s fun watching him switch back and forth between personalities and accents. He’s got a really good southern accent as “Billy” the psycho hillbilly, which isn’t surprising as Tudyk is from Texas. He either learned to suppress his accent when he came west, or else he’s simply imitating the people he knew growing up. Either way, it works. Beyond works, it’s actually interesting.
Dushku’s southern accent is pretty weak, and comes and goes at random intervals that don’t fit the script, like she just forgot. Again, she’s the weakest thing in the show. The Waitress/Caroline was way better than her, but she is at least within her comfort zone through this episode, so the performance was good enough and not distracting (Unlike the awful pilot).
The conversation between Langdon and Ballard is telling, “Obviously you’re police. How’d they get you working for them?” “How’d they get you?” “There’s this girl…” “There’s always a girl.” So that answers most of that about Boyd, though all the details are wanting.
I love the line “Why is there a tall morally judgmental man in my lab that isn’t [Boyd]?”
The revelation that the Doctor was a doll was pretty amazing, though it tends to confirm my theory that she’s the *other* spy in the house. Dominic, you’ll recall, was working for the NSA, but obviously *he* wasn’t the one who sent that final message to Ballard, since it would have been at crossed purposes to his NSA agenda.
During Echo’s “Conflation” process when all her old personalities are dumped in to her head, we see a bunch of scenes that aren’t in previous episodes. I assume they’re from the unaired pilot.
DeWitt said “We’ll catch them” - plural - in the end. Who was she talking about? Alpha, obviously, but who’s with him?
It was a little odd not to see Dominic in the flashbacks, since we know he was large and in charge during Alphas’ big freakout.
I admit I don’t quite get why The Doctor (Version 2) was being so mean to Victor. I didn’t quite get why Topher made her hate him, unless he’s self-loathing, which seems a bit contrary to what we know of him already.
It looks like if the show continued, Ballard would have gone on another Helo plot, off on his own for 5 minutes in each episode, trying to track down Alpha. Man, has that guy found a niche for himself, or what? “We need a ‘meanwhile, back at the ranch’ actor. We should start auditions. Ah, screw it, let’s just get Tamoh Penikett.” That said, damn, he’s a really good leading man, isn’t he? I love the way he puts aside his misgivings and immediately looks at the file photos when DeWitt brings them in, he’s a detective first, he’s interested. That’s some shiny acting, there, son!
There’s some obvious parallels here with Frankenstein: Both Alpha (Pre-freak out) and The Monster are innocents, and both eventually turn violent. Just as The Monster was created from a bunch of dead bodies, reanimated, Alpha was created from a bunch of personalities. The Monster couldn’t fit in to society, and neither could Alpha. (though to be fair, The Monster was basically a tragic, pitiable figure, and Alpha’s just plain evil) The Monster wanted a mate, and forced Victor to build him one, and Alpha essentially built his own “Bride of Frankenstein.” Victor von F. ultimately destroyed his “Bride” project unfinished, prompting a killing spree from the monster that led to the final showdown, and it’s not too tendentious a reading to say that Alpha’s “Bride” is similarly aborted, in this case by her own decision, a conscious rejection of Alpha’s plan.
There’s also some deliberate Natural Born Killers parallelism, both in the initial Alpha/Whiskey freakout several years ago, and in the fact that his grand plan is basically to go on a much bigger, more ambitious Natural Born Killers killing spree after he’s got his ‘bride’.
* If the show had continued, would Mellie/November have returned, or is her character really gone now?
* What did Caroline do that made her ‘run away’? Her attitude here is much different than previously implied. Whereas up until now we’re led to believe she was manipulated in to a trap by the Dollhouse, this episode implied it was more of a choice on her part, albeit one with no real options, but still something she legitimately agreed to do. She feels some moral obligation to finish her contract, and her waitress dialog kind of implies that she’d do it again if she had to make that choice today. So what the hell did she do that led her to that place?
* What’s Langdon’s story? Who was the girl? How did that get parleyed in to working for the ‘House?
* Who else on the staff is a doll? I say DeWitt is.
* How will Topher react to fairly clear proof that people have what he called a “Soul?”
* Will Ballard catch Alpha?
* In the Coda, set some years in a postapocalyptic future, it appears Dollhouse technology has destroyed civilization. Was that Alpha’s doing, or something else?
* Who is the second spy in the dollhouse, and what’s their agenda? Assuming it’s the doctor, how will she react to Paul’s collaboration with the Dollhouse?
* What will become of poor Victor? Would he continue to be on the show, or would that be the end of him, too?
* How much of “Herself” does Caroline retain at this point?
* We were told early on that the Dollhouse does prostitution and occasional security work, but “That’s not what we’re about.” So what *Is* the dollhouse about? What are they up to? What is Rawson up to? Is *that* what destroys civilization?
* Will there be another season? I say, ‘no.’
That’s all I can really think of now. Well, it’s been fun, folks, and despite my best guess to the contrary, I ended up really enjoying it. We’ll review the ‘Coda’ episode as soon as possible. Thanks for your time. Feedback on the reviews is always appreciated.