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Dollhouse: Briar Rose

Boyd: "Sorry, Agent Ballard. You don't get the girl."

Holy crap.

I loved the construction of this episode. The captive princess in the tower and the sleeping townspeople rescued by a dashing prince. Agent Paul Ballard climbed the tower, defeated one obstacle after another, and battled the Captain of the Guard, and all with the help of the clever wizard. Who turned out to be the evil prince. And who exactly was his princess?

Alpha has Echo, and Paul was captured by the evil queen. What next? They can't let him go. He's certainly beautiful enough to become a doll. Wouldn't that be horrible? Speaking of which, my poor, poor Victor. After his wonderful Dominic impression, he got his beautiful face horribly slashed by Alpha. (Joss Whedon must have know that would upset us. He loves to hurt us, doesn't he?)

Victor/Dominic called Claire "Whiskey" and she covered for him, saying he wanted a drink. So I was right: Claire is, or was, a doll. But wouldn't Adelle and Topher know that Claire was once a doll named Whiskey? Later, Alpha made Claire admit that she didn't dream of being a doctor her entire life. Is Claire permanently imprinted with a physician because they couldn't send her out on assignment any more? Or is she a former doll from another house, and a mole? Boyd tried to make Paul leave before he got caught, which again makes him feel like the mole. I suppose we'll find out next week. I hope. Especially if the show is canceled. They can't leave us hanging. Can they?

Paul made November suicidal by breaking up with her in a nasty way (on purpose, so he could follow her to the Dollhouse). And then he decided not to save her. Yes, he was right that she could have turned on him at any moment, but it felt outright cruel to just leave her there in favor of a prettier woman that he didn't even know. And that, after what he did to her in last week's episode. I actually don't think I like Paul very much. He's certainly no Prince Charming. Ha ha.

You know, I think it's fabulous that Joss Whedon brings back actors that he loves, that we love, so don't get me wrong. But as everything started to fall apart in the final scenes inside Wolfram and Hart with cast members from Battlestar, Buffy, Angel and Firefly, I started to feel like I was watching a surreal alternate television universe where all of my favorite shows had somehow merged. Not that that's a bad thing.

Bits and pieces:

-- Gold acting stars for Alan Tudyk. He's always wonderful, and they gave him a lot to work with. He was utterly believable as the twitchy, over the top paranoid Kepler, and then he was utterly believable, and chilling, as Alpha.

-- Paul tased Topher. How wonderful. I could watch it over and over. I still despise Topher, even though he apparently has some decent impulses; imprinting Echo with an adult, recovered version of little Susan was actually very cool.

-- Topher used the word "frakked."

-- Paul's FBI friend Loomis referred to Paul as Prince Valiant.

-- I loved the Kepler props. The apartment full of jury-rigged recycling devices, the "Coffee from Hell" mug that Kepler sipped from and then spit into, the 1983 tee shirt. And the "carrots." It's the little things.

-- Alpha's deviation began with signing his art work with the Greek letter alpha, and he was talking about Claire's and Victor's facial cuts as if they were art. He thinks he's an artist. I've heard Picasso was hard to get along with, too.

-- The Paul/Boyd fistfight was long and intense, ended by a hand through the riser. How could Alpha know that Echo was going to do that?

-- Sierra got to be an FBI forensics specialist, and again in awesome heels.

-- The Dollhouse is at 23 Flower. There's a Flower Street in Los Angeles. Bet there's no 23.

-- Dollhouse headquarters is called the Center, just like in La Femme Nikita. Another series that, coincidentally, had a very scary Chair.

-- The point of the fairy tale, according to both Susans, was that Briar Rose should have saved herself. That is what Echo has been doing all along; she just needs to take it one step further.

Quotes: (and there were a lot of them)

Ivy: "How'd you sell DeWitt on it?"
Topher: "Everybody wants to be righteous when they can afford it."

Kepler: "Carrots! Medicinal carrots!"

Kepler: "I'm not comfortable having people in my home that aren't delivering me Thai food."

Paul: "I'm the only person who knows how to find the Dollhouse, and you're the only person who knows how to get in. And as much as it pains me to say it, that makes you my new partner."
Kepler: "Then can I hold the gun?"

Boyd: "Paul Bunyan."
Topher: "Did not anticipate that."

Paul: "Get out of the car. Or I show the DEA your carrot plantation."

Paul: "You showed me this, thinking I'd give up?"
Kepler: "I was nurturing a tender, throbbing hope that you'd give up, yes."

Kepler: "Just because we can move forward, we must? This is the same expansionist thinking that led to the Trail of Tears, man."

Sierra: "This thing hit the system and bells went off all over the FBI, from Quantico to the tiny telephone in Hoover's casket."

Kepler: "Would you look at this place? First of all, feng shui up the ying-yang. Also, I designed parts of it, but I did not design the stone cold foxes in the small clothes, and the ample massage facilities. I mean, don't get me wrong, I heart my porn, but this is cool."

Kepler: "I designed the sleeping compartment that collects the carbon dioxide and methane -- everybody farts -- and cycles it all into the environmental controls."

Can't wait for the finale. Please let this show be renewed,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. It's funny, I had been hearing rumors of Alan Tudyk as Alpha for awhile, so when his name came up I was thinking "Please oh please oh please" through the whole episode. And when he stopped being cowardly (if not hilarious) druggie and started channeling Ledger, I was literally shouting "I knew it! I knew it!"

    My family was watching High School Musical in the next room. I got some odd looks.

  2. Wash is Alpha! Wash! Why do Firefly alumi always play villains on Joss’s other shows? Right, now we know who the big bad is (Wash!) but I’m still not sure who the Buffy/Angel/Mal is. Echo lacks a personality and motivation of her own. Ballard is too much of obsessive and mean creep. Boyed is a good man but also complicit in the ‘consensual slavery’ of the Dollhouse. As is Dr Saunders.

    That’s one of the problems I’ve had with this series from day one, I’m just not sure who to route for. There isn't a clear hero to cheer on. At least we now know who we're supposed to boo at (Wash!). Aside from Adele, that is.

    It will be a shame if the show is cancelled (fingers-crossed) but it has improved greatly since that dodgy (second) pilot and deserves a 2nd season.

  3. You've got me thinking about Dr. Saunders now. I picked up on "Dominic" using the name Whiskey, but I didn't realize he was directing it at Claire. After re-watching some key sequences, I'm now wondering if there was a real Dr. Saunders that Alpha killed during his exodus. It seems he is in the habit of maiming but not killing fellow dolls (see Victor). So perhaps after he assaulted Whiskey, the Dollhouse turned her into the dead Dr. Saunders. The way Alpha was questioning her, it was like he was amused that she seemed to "remember" their first meeting. And there's probably something more to the revelations that Dr. Saunders never leaves the house (from when Echo was questioning suspected moles).

    Very good episode. I love that Alan Tudyk is Alpha! He was totally convincing as Kepler, so I didn't see that reveal coming until it happened. I wonder what program he dumped into Echo. And I can't wait to see what happens next. I doubt it will be resolved to our satisfaction, especially since there is at least one more episode they aren't airing. I've enjoyed the show, but it is too bad it didn't get good until a chunk of the audience had jumped ship. Renewal seems pretty unlikely. At least it was fun while it lasted!

  4. I didn't enjoy this episode as much as you did, Billie, and that's because of one thing: Ballard. He is among the worst developed characters on a Whedon show.

    See, the thing is: Ballard wants to bring down the Dollhouse. Joss Whedon doesn't. If Joss has a five year plan, wouldn't make more sense having a character like Ballard on the fifth season?

    Until this episode, pretty much all we had seen was Ballard getting to dead ends. He was incompetent enough to tell Mellie about the investigations. He also took too long to realize the Dollhouse could be spying on him through surveillance.

    Ballard's obsession with Caroline is my biggest problem with him, though. How taking Echo out of the Dollhouse would help him bring it down? If he had succeeded to escape with Echo, putting a threat against the LA Dollhouse, wouldn't Adelle close it and send the dolls to other houses? Maybe the Dollhouses even have a self-destruction system, like the SD-6. It's just too stupid that all he wanted was to rescue Echo, and leave all the other dolls there, including November and Victor, dolls he got much closer to.

    Also, it was so tiring when he was babbling to Aisha Hinds (don't remember the name of the character) about the Dollhouse being underground. He talked about it as a big discovery, but it wasn't! Wouldn't you think secret organizations are most likely to be underground? Ballard needs to watch some TV!

    See, I don't hate the guy. I just feel that the writers never had a clear direction for him. That will most certainly change giving what happened, and it would be a nice dark twist to have Ballard be made a doll.

    Another thing that bugged me was Paul and Boyd's fight. Where was the Dollhouse security people? Are we suppose to think they were all on vacation given the House was on stand-by? I was hoping Boyd would win the fight, though, and loved when Echo helped him.

    Now, the awesome stuff:

    Kepler, or Alpha as Kepler (or Alan Tudyk as Alpha as Kepler), was a hoot. Jane Espenson got a chance to deliver her awesome fun, didn't she? We all love you, Jane!

    The last ten minutes were great. I had no idea Tudyk was Alpha, but FOX promo was somewhat spoilery. When Saunders entered the room the dolls sleep in, I thought "oh, great, when she comes back to her office, she'll see Kepler and he is Alpha. Thank you, FOX." But the final act was a shocker anyway. Alpha scared the hell out of me. It was a great way to reveal who the famous Alpha is and actually make us care.

    The Briar Rose bit was nice too! Specially considering the Prince and Briar Rose are both evil.

    Now, please, Joss Whedon, if Dollhouse gets renewed, keep Victor as a dool, because Enver Gjokaj is just too good at it.

    And, please, FOX, renew Dollhouse!

  5. Dollhouse hasn't started airing in England yet but i'm i've been reading the reviews to help me decide whether to watch or not. Alan Tudyk in a role that, from the sound of it, is not comic relief in any way, shape or form, has all by itself convinced me to give it a go.

  6. I thought Kepler was too over the top, so I knew that he was Alpha. He should have toned it down a bit. I mean, the lines and concept were funny, but just poorly delivered. I was disappointed.

    I did like how they had Echo flash to parts of her past when Boyd and Ballard were fighting. Really nice, its been a while since she's resurfaced any.

    Good parts: I was squirming when Victor was on the floor after being slashed! And I loved the carrot plantation line. The way they revealed Alpha was well done, even if it was sort of obvious who it was from the beginning.

    Re: Saunders. I wonder if she used to be a doll, but was so traumatized by the attack by Alpha that she refused to leave the Dollhouse. And since they couldn't correct it, they imprinted her as Claire Saunders? Someone asked her in another ep if she's left since the attack. I can't remember who, but it was definitely someone who would have known she was a doll.

    BUT - if she *was* a doll, why would Claire need to cover that up? Of all the people in the room, why would Dominic be the only person who knows? Presumably Adelle and Topher would know. Was it just for Boyd's sake?

  7. Let me guess, Paul Ballard is a Doll too so see how an agent would go about taking down the Dollhouse. Oh and Topher's a doll and Adelle is a doll and everyone's imprinted, wheeeeeee.

  8. Wow...it feels like they rammed all the humour that should have been sparingly strewn throughout the whole season into just one episode. This didn't feel like a regular episode. In fact, it felt like what I imagined Dollhouse would be like, back before I'd even seen it.

    Some good comments about the various characters lack of likeability. That's turning out to be the thorn in this shows side. It was hard to watch November being treated like crap. I thought to myself, she doesn't deserve it. But of course she does really...she's a spy. But it's not her fault. Or maybe it is...who knows?

    Surely a show this confusing deserves another season? And really, who the hell is Echo? It's amazing that we've almost gotten through a full season and still don't really know.

  9. HOOOLY CRAP. This was Not just a regular episode of Dollhouse. Its the first time in a long time that I've shrieked with glee (when Topher met Ballard's needle) and moved closer to the screen to make sure I didn't miss anything in the last 20 minutes. I was literally on the edge of my seat.

    I hate to say it but I'm really starting to not root for Paul. Echo clearly doesn't like him, no one else in the Dollhouse is rooting for him, and the one Doll who he had a 'real' connection with, he brutally fucks then breaks up with cruelly enough to make her contemplate suicide.
    I think Paul needs a new personality sometime soon :-) can that be arranged?

    As for Alan Alpha, HURRAH! I'm surprised no one else has mentioned it but Whoa Wash got buff! Great seeing him as a sinister creep :-)

    I can't believe I'm going to have to wait 2 MONTHS for the finale. I'm going on a conservation trip to Ecuador next wed - am gonna be so desperate to watch it by the time I'm back.

    Enjoy the finale Billie and co :-)

  10. Great episode! My interpretation of the Dr. Saunders doll possibility is that she doesn't know she's a doll; she actually thought he was asking for whiskey, and when Alpha asked her if she always wanted to be a doctor, she was giving him what she thought was the real answer. He was amused because he knew it wasn't true. I don't understand how she came to be Dr. Saunders. If the original Dr. Saunders was killed, did they have an imprint of her to put in Whiskey? Do they have imprints of everyone who works there?

    I'm really starting to hate Ballard. First he's horribly cruel to Mellie, then this. He seems so emotionally driven and doesn't think things through. (Maybe that's why he doesn't close.) He was just going to escape with Echo without getting Caroline's memory back? He didn't think she might need that? Plus he's obsessed with Caroline for no good reason. Why does she need to or deserve to be saved more than any of the other dolls? Boyd doesn't seem to like the Dollhouse either, but he's practical enough to see a stunt like this would do more harm than good.

  11. One other thing: I liked that they had the encounter with Susan at the beginning to show the good things the Dollhouse does. I think Ballard has a simple way of looking at something that is very complex in writing off the Dollhouse as evil. There's no doubt there are moral problems with it, but I don't it's as simple as he seems to think it is. If either he or Alpha gets Echo out of the Dollhouse, Susan will never get the help she needs, but Ballard doesn't think about that part of the equation.

  12. That's an excellent point, Marianna. It might have been even more interesting and morally difficult to parse if they had established that the Dollhouse does this sort of thing with little Susan more often.

  13. Maybe this is the best episode of the season because a lot surely seemed to have happened in it. That's good, right?

    Firstly, Alpha finally made his move. I wish I had not been spoiled but Alan Tudyk convinced me for the longest time that he was the overly paranoid Kepler (yeah and I'm not big on buddy cop movies either).

    Turning it on brilliantly, he was chilling as Alpha. Poor Claire for the psychological torment. Poor Victor for having his face slashed like that. Alpha is damn consistent in that department, isn't he?

    However going after Echo? Okay, is every male on this show bloody obsessed with the woman (minus Victor and Topher of course?). Not sure that's great, especially given Paul's annoying than thou fixation on Echo/Caroline as well.

    I get that by dumping Mellie cruelly, it was a way for him to get a direct lead to the Dollhouse but still damn cold. Not liking you a lot Paul, you're a douchey prince IMO.

    The fight scene with Paul and Boyd should've made me conflicted but it didn't. I wanted Boyd to win and I'm glad that Echo helped him. Adelle will have to deal with Paul. It's unlikely that he's bound for the Attic, right?

    Claire's a Doll. That has to be true, given the way Alpha grilled her and Topher did something sort of nice(ish) with the Susan case. We need more altruistic missions next season. Sierra was fine in her CSI type role this week, 9/10

  14. Awesome. I completely love this episode and I love how they parallel this with the Briar Rose story. Alan is amazing as Kepler, hilarious and awesome and then chilling as Alpha. A winner!

  15. Oh wow, I thought they'd save the Alpha reveal for Epitaph One since that's always the finale I've seen popping up on lists of best Whedon show finales. I'm a little sorry now that I was spoiled on it because I'm curious about whether I would've figured out it was him before the reveal... feels like it should be a little obvious if it's revealed in the same episode he appeared in, but I don't know.

    And that wasn't the only excellent thing, the Paul VS Boyd fight was cool because they were essentially the two closest things to good guys on the show and they're fighting each other. Also Topher feeling righteous about doing a pro-bono-ish case even though he calls it pride.

    Dr Saunders is really interesting to me. I don't conflate her actress with the last role I saw her in which I thought would be a problem when I first saw her on here (as glad as I was to see an Angel alumna, and loved people saying the sets looked like W&H). I like her restrained manner here.

    Face stuff freaks me out almost as much as eye stuff, so the Victor thing genuinely disturbed me. He even slashed his lips too, fuck... didn't need to kick him on the floor on top of that. Boy this Alpha fella's a real jerk!


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