by Billie Doux
[This is the unaired thirteenth episode of the first season of Dollhouse, available on the fourth disk of the DVD set.]
Dominic: "How does it feel to end the world, Ms. DeWitt?"
The imprinting technology used by the Dollhouse has caused an apocalypse. In Los Angeles, 2019, a small group of "actuals" -- people still free from imprinting -- find the deserted Dollhouse and use it to learn how to help people resist involuntary imprinting.
Impressive. This wasn't just a throwaway; it was a possible series finale, and it was intense. It made sense that they'd do the end of the world. Being imprinted is the end of personality, after all.
The scenes with Mag, Zone, Griff and Iris were all good, and I really liked Iris's role in particular. But of course, I was more interested in the flashbacks to what happened to the cast, nearly all of which took place sometime after season one. I liked that they mostly showed the cast as couples, with an interesting variety of past, present and future romantic vibes.
Caroline and Paul had partnered to bring down the Dollhouse; she had continued as a doll but was able to absorb imprints while retaining her own personality. Boyd and Claire were apparently working with them, no surprise; Boyd was leaving, and told Claire he'd come back for her. I actually liked the idea of Boyd and Claire as a romantic couple more than Caroline and Paul. How about that.
One wouldn't think of Adelle and Topher as a couple, in spite of their implied liaison in "Echoes," but it worked. One flashback had Adelle showing new employee Topher his office, with a hilarious Topher/Dominic exchange about trampolines and fridges. A second flashback was (for me) the heaviest scene in the episode; it showed Adelle caring for Topher, who had lost his mind when he realized that his advances in imprinting technology had caused the apocalypse.
Adelle and the former dolls had clearly banded together after the End and used the Dollhouse as a base. People desperate to retain their own personalities had tattoed their own names on their backs. (Sierra's said "I am Priya Tsetsang.") One flashback showed Victor imprinted with a higher up called Ambrose, who told Adelle that it was a "permanent upgrade." Adelle was very upset and didn't want to accept it. It was hard to tell what made her more upset: losing Victor forever, or the perversion of technology she had once truly believed in. Probably both.
The saddest story was Claire's. She stayed in the Dollhouse until she died to guard Caroline's all-important wedge (important because Caroline knew how to block imprints). Claire had been wiped; she was Whiskey again, and died still in tabula rasa. What was saddest was that Boyd never came back for her.
At least the ending was hopeful, with Iris/Caroline's little band of "actuals" climbing (literally and symbolically) out of the Dollhouse and into the light, toward salvation and individuality. The remembrance wall that they passed (like the memorial hall in Battlestar) had photos of pretty much everyone in the cast. I can only assume that meant they were all dead. Or maybe that they were all "lost," i.e., imprinted. Hard to tell.
As cool as it was, and it was quite cool, I can't see them ever running "Epitaph One" as a series finale. It would have made for interesting closure to the first season if that was all we were going to get, though. And it made me wonder about the direction Joss Whedon will take with the series, now that he has more time to tell (and hopefully, finish) his story.
Bits and pieces:
-- Good casting. Mag was played by Felicia Day, of Buffy and Dr. Horrible. Zone was played by veteran character actor Zack Ward, who is probably most famous for playing Scut Farkas in A Christmas Story. (I talked with him for ten minutes at a Lost event once; he's an interesting guy.) Iris, arguably the toughest part, was played by talented child actress Adair Tishler (Mollie from Heroes).
-- In the flashbacks, both Victor and Claire had had the scarring on their faces fixed.
-- There was a flashback with Victor and Sierra. Unfortunately, it seemed as if their star-crossed love affair was over. Now that's unfair. We haven't even seen it yet.
-- The shower murder scene was a sideways tribute to Psycho.
-- Dominic survived the Attic, and wasn't happy about it.
-- Futuristic slang occasionally made it impossible to tell what the characters were talking about. Sort of like Firefly gone a bit too far, but without the Chinese. I'm not one to dislike newly created and creative slang, but moderation is good, people.
Zone: "A brothel? You mean to tell me that the tech that punk-kicked the ass of mankind was originally designed to create more believable hookers?"
Topher: "I'm sorry, but whence this clown? Did Idi Amin turn down the job?"
Adelle: "Mr. Dominic is my eyes and ears."
Topher: "Can I be your nose and throat?"
Caroline: "No one's been printed there. We have Alpha to thank for that."
Alpha? This was a tantalizing little tidbit.
I probably would have more analysis and detail if I had watched the episode twice. Although it was very good, I really didn't want to watch it twice because I'm trying to break myself of the habit. It's too much like Willow recopying her notes in a series of different colored pens.
This episode is definitely worth catching. Plotwise, it exists outside of the series narrative, so if you don't catch it, it won't affect your enjoyment of season one (and I assume, season two). [Note from later: actually, it is part of the series narrative; the series finale was entitled "Epitaph Two." I was wrong.]