Well, we know one thing now: the writers of “Dollhouse” sure like their “Natural Born Killers,” don’t they? Actually, we know two things: in a show in which the central character’s mind is continually erased, it’s damn hard to achieve any sort of epiphany, even in a season/series finale. The jury’s still out on exactly which of those tonight’s episode actually was, but once again the show’s high concept prevented it from truly achieving greatness in what may have been its swan song.
We learned tonight that one Carl William Craft, in jail for kidnapping and attempted murder, volunteered for the Dollhouse to avoid a lengthy sentence and turned into the active known as Alpha. While he went on many missions with an active named Whiskey (now imprinted as Dr. Saunders, in a twist predicted last week), he only had childlike eyes for Echo. His desire for her provoked his old tendency to slash his victims, rendering Whiskey as unfit to serve as an active as Victor.
As a result of his attack on Whiskey, Topher tried to wipe him clean before insertion into the Attic. However, a “stream overlap error” occurred, and every good fan of “Ghostbusters” knows that you don’t…cross…the…streams! Everything done since by Alpha has been in service of aiding Echo’s “ascension” into a Nietzschean superman; and when villains start referencing Nietzsche, you know they are both evil AND pretentious. A dangerous combo indeed.
The ascension works by 1) stealing every imprint Echo every received, and 2) kidnapping an innocent woman in order to download Caroline’s personality into it so Echo’s composite personality can literally kill off her older self. Whew, I need some water after typing all that out. And trust me, it played out just as confusingly as I laid it out. Didn’t help that Alpha constantly battled the 48 personalities juggling around in his head, the 30+ in Omega Echo, and Caroline-in-Wendy watching the whole thing with befuddled eyes. I’m right there with ya, sister.
While Alpha conducts business in his makeshift wipe room, Ballard and Langton team up to find them both. I’ll give the show credit: they didn’t waste time setting up an artificial antagonism between these two. They pretty much size each other up as likeminded individuals, with a respect that overcomes what should be an awkward arrangement. They use Craft’s personality profile to locate his kidnapping victim, herself with a slashed face to boot. From there, they scope out the facility in which he kept her: an abandoned power station where Alpha and Whiskey also took a client after Alpha’s synapses started to snap.
By the time Ballard and Langton get on the scene, Echo’s composite (dubbed “Omega” by Alpha…get it? Get it?) had already delivered a Mutant Enemy GRRL Power speech and sent Alpha and his Amazing Technicolor Brain Wedge scrambling for the rooftop. What followed was an insanely lame sequence that was poorly designed, lousily edited, and featured at least six moments were I yelled at the TV like Statler and Waldorf from “The Muppet Show.” Ballard managed to catch Echo’s falling wedge, thereby honoring his promise to “save the girl,” and Echo escaped to schitzo another day.
So, um, cool, right? We have Omega, a composite that’s not completely crazy. She’s gonna spend her life taking down the Dollhouse without all the slashiness of Alpha. But no! She’s instantly wiped again! Unbelievable. It’s one thing to feature a climatic battle with a Big Bad that’s essentially a draw, leaving them as well as us to see the payoff down the road. But Omega has no memory of this confrontation. There’s no catharsis without memory. There’s only the innate knowledge of her original name as the pod closes above her post-treatment to give us any indication that any evolution has occurred at all.
And what’s it say that I found Caroline more compelling inside Wendy than inside Caroline herself? I don’t mean this as a condemnation of Eliza Dushku, but the Caroline inside Wendy was night and day different than the one insider her pre-Dollhouse, save the puppies incarnation. The Caroline inside Wendy? That’s a girl I can root for! But she only showed up tonight. Kind of a problem to root for a girl to regain her true self if that self isn’t all that interesting.
While all this activity circles around Echo, Saunders/Whiskey spends the hour slowly coming to grips with her true nature: the former #1 Doll reduced to in-house treatment due to her shattered looks. Her interactions with Topher finally break through his snark as the weight of his work finally, finally dawns on the boy. I’m not sure the show wanted me more interested and invested in this storyline that the Alpha/Omega one, but personally, I find the search for self more compelling that two false personalities bickering with each other. If the show does come back for a second season, I vote for a Whiskey/Victor combo taking on the Dollhouse from the inside. Scarred twins, activate!
While I dreaded the inevitable “Ballard starts working for the organization he vowed to bring down,” they at least gave a decent reason for doing so: to give the teenaged son that had recently returned from hell and nearly ended the world a chance at a normal childhood. Whoops, wrong show. Got confused there for a second. No, Ballard agreed to contract with the Dollhouse in exchange for the release of Mellie (née Madeline). Last week, I fumed at him not saving her over a woman he barely knew, but he honored their interactions this season by setting her, rather than Caroline, free. To hear him describe himself as “nobody” to a person who finally gets her self back was a little heartbreaking.
The last news and notes of Season 1…
- Many of you noted that week that you got a Spike/Drusilla vibe from Alpha/Echo. And that definitely carried through this week, along with the “Natural Born Killers” vibe. But here’s the problem: people in the “Dollhouse” world don’t talk in Whedonese. It took us a few weeks to get used to the more naturalistic language of this world, and I learned to appreciate its absence. So tonight’s quippy lines flying hither and thither just threw me.
- One topic the finale studiously avoided: the topic of the Dollhouse’s “purpose.” They’ve teased us with this all season, but I guess it was set up for later seasons. Which may or may not actually come. Sigh. I just have to wonder if the repetition of actives saying variations of “I want to be my best!” comes into it at all.
- I prefer my Amy Acker scarless. Just throwing that out there.
- God bless Alan Tudyk for saying lines like, “I will blast the wedge!” and not fall into instant fits of laughter over the stupidity of that line. (Semi-related: If any of you played a “Dollhouse” drinking game and got “wedge” as your word, well, chances are you’re reading this recap from a hospital.)
- Sierra might have been a super sexy, semi-horny Boba Fett this week, but she also got like eight seconds of screen time. Same for Victor.
- Things I want in a Season 2, if a Season 2 occurs: the revenge of Whiskey/Saunders, the meltdown of Victor, the breakdown of Topher, more Rossum Corporation tidbits, and Ballard/Langton uncovering the purpose of the Dollhouse. I’d offer up hopes for Echo, but after tonight’s wipe I’m not expecting much.
So what to take away from this series? Ambitious? Yes. Flawed? Absolutely. But lack of information/hints about the Dollhouse’s purpose has me questioning the purpose of “Dollhouse” itself. Is it about human trafficking? Sort of. Identity politics and psychology? Kinda. Technology replacing human interaction? On occasion. But with a cipher of a character at its core, its meaning is currently as hollowed out as Caroline’s brain.
But do I want to learn that purpose? Indeed I do. An imperfect season with flashes of brilliance, “Dollhouse” deserves a second shot to find not only the purpose of its titular structure, but the structure of the show itself.
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Ryan writes about television and popular culture over at Boob Tube Dude.