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Dollhouse: Epitaph One

[This is the unaired thirteenth episode of the first season of Dollhouse, which is now available streaming and on DVD.]

Dominic: "How does it feel to end the world, Ms. DeWitt?"

Brief synopsis

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: I was wrong. Actually, it is part of the series narrative. The series finale was entitled "Epitaph Two."]

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


  1. Awesome episode, great review, Billie.

    I don't see Adelle and Topher as a couple. Her feelings for him seemed to be of the mother-type, not the lover-type.

    The Apocalypse plot actually reminded me of the final episodes of ALIAS Season 4.

    On ALIAS, we had people turned to zombies due to Rambaldi's read ball plus contaminated water. On Dollhouse, remote wipe turned people into butchers.

    The idea was much better executed on Epitath One, though.

    Also, Amy Acker rules.

  2. Whedon seemed to suggest at the San Diego Comic-Con that some of the characters from this episode would feature in season two (presumably in flash forwards). Which makes me wonder whether this episode counts as canon, or not. If it does, that's awkward for the casual viewer who may not have seen the box-set... especially if some of the ideas touched upon in "Epitaph One" are elaborated on in season two.

    I was pondering too whether releasing an unaired episode was a good idea or not. I actually think it was. It's a pretty cool reward for shelling out your hard earned cash. It's kind of the next step up from an extended episode, or a re-cut movie length version.

  3. Felicia Day is in right now. She deffinitly has a following and is on the right track.

    To me, Zack Ward was at his best in Titus (Great show, canceled too soon, episodes were out of order, wanna guess which network carried it? :-) )

  4. I saw this when it premiered at Comic Con, and my jaw was on the floor through most of the second half. Very much anticipating the second season.

    In other news, Joss has said that he's going to try to bring back more alumni in the form of Alexis Denisof and possibly Summer Glau. Interested in seeing what parts he has in mind for them.

  5. Just a couple of points:

    I didn't get a remotely coupley vibe from Adelle and Topher. It seemed like a pretty clear mother-son type relationship to me.

    I also feel pretty confident that the photos on the wall weren't of people who had died. If that were the case it wouldn't have made much sense for Caroline (in the little girl's body) to pick up her picture and say 'I hope we find me alive'

  6. Simply brilliant. Love Felicia Day. And Amy Acker. Just about generally loved the whole thing. I liked that this future seems to be defiantly set. No reset buttons, no quantum leaping to set right what once went seriously wrong, this is it, this is the future of the human race. At least in the gospel according to Joss.

    It’s amazing how when this series started the general feeling going around was one of disappointment and ‘meh’. Now, a dozen or so episodes later and apathy has been substituted for wild excitement. But I still have this nagging sense that no matter what happens (besides a massive leap in the ratings) season two will be the show’s last. It was a miracle that it got renewed once I sadly doubt that will happen again.

    Or am I just being too pessimistic?

  7. I think getting the second season was the biggest hurdle and if I had to bet I'd bet we will be getting a season 3. The renewal suggests to me that the networks were happy enough with the ratings they were getting (or at least that they weren't expecting huge ratings increases in season 2). Kevin Reilly and Peter Rice (the two important suits in charge of all this) said as much very recently (if you're interested this is on the front page of Whedonesque at the moment).

  8. Fantastic episode! Has anyone read Cell from Stephen King? This episode reminded me of it (the first half, at least) even before we learned people got imprinted by answering a phone.

    But I didn't fully understand what happened. Apparently, people who picked the phone or were using technology became programmed to kill anyone who was not programmed to kill anyone (which explains the butchers). But how did some people get their personalities swapped (like the little girl) or erased (like her father and the mentioned former member of the group)?

    Regarding people who haven't seen this episode, I read in an interwiew with Joss Whedon that the 'future characters' will appear in season 2 (this episode is canon) and that the first scenes with them will summarize what happened in Epitaph One.

    Btw, in the same interwiew he said that, while the episode counts as canon, the events in the flashbacks might not occur exactly as seen (people remember different things in different ways)

  9. Hi,
    Epitaph One counts as canon and what happened in it will be part of S2. See here: http://www.nj.com/entertainment/tv/index.ssf/2009/08/tca_dollhouse_creator_joss_whe.html

  10. Ah... thanks for the information guys :o)

  11. I agree with Daniel that Zack Ward was awesome in 'Titus.' I always really liked that show. It was kind of crazy, but it consistently made me laugh. It also featured Cynthia Watros of 'Lost' fame.

    As for 'Epitaph One,' I felt confused through a lot of it, trying to sort out what exactly was going on in the future, but I still really liked the episode. I can't wait to see how the tidbits they teased about our characters' pasts play out.

    I'm absolutely devastated by Claire/Whiskey's fate. Darn Joss Whedon killing off Amy Acker again! At least we'll still get to see her in the past on occasion.

    I also did not get the "lover" vibe from Topher/Adelle. Adelle's concern felt very motherly to me. I wonder what happened to her in the end. Did Caroline kill her or take her to the safe haven? I lean towards the latter, but think the former is entirely possible.

    I really enjoyed seeing Dominic again, especially post-Attic. Reed Diamond was awesome. I'm kind of sorry we likely won't get to see more of his character.

    Looking forward to Season 2!

  12. I read somewhere that Eliza Dushku made a multi-year deal with Fox. Fox probably paid a lot of money in the faith (:)) that Eliza would be a huge hit on their channel. Then Eliza called Joss Whedon and they had lunch or something to discuss a possible series.
    I'm thinking that Fox (already invested in Eliza) is desperately wanting Dollhouse to go on, they can't have their girl flopping, can they??
    Do I make any sense at all??
    What I mean is, the fact that they gave it a second season wasn't such a miracle after all, and...let's hope that this Eliza's deal holds for a possible 3rd season,
    I'm just speculating here...of course.

  13. Oh, I forgot to say...how good was Amy Acker in this episode! I just loved her. I sooo hope that she will be in season 2.

  14. TJ: Unfortunately they can only get her for 3 episodes. She's in another show for another network and although she would have time to do more Dollhouse the rival network wouldn't agree to her doing more episodes.

    But I think they can come up with some excuse (eg. she went to work at another Dollhouse) and then hopefully bring her back in season 3

  15. Cesar, good call on the Stephen King/Cell link! I hadn't noticed that until you mentioned it, but once you did...

    I really enjoyed this episode. The little girl blew me away. Amy Acker should be in everything, ever.

    I do have a question, though. It's not a very good question, but it's been irking me since I watched the episode: where are they going at the end? How could access to "safe haven" be from the roof? Do they have a helicopter? A portal to Cortath? A flying submarine? I get that "up and into the light" is symbolism, but still.

  16. It's probably just a symbolism, but if I had to come up with something, maybe that conveniently planted stair didn't go all the way to the ground, and the Dollhouse elevator only connects that office with the underground facility (full with zombies and gas), so they just went to another floor (or maybe the roof) and took the stairway down :p

    Very sad that Amy Acker will appear in only three episodes. She was very good in this episode. Maybe she will go away to have plastic surgery to get rid of the scars (we know she will eventually) and return next season (or whenever she leaves the other show).

  17. All I can say is that while I was watching this, I kept thinking that if this was a pilot, I'd be itching to see this show! "This is the show I want to be seeing!" I kept thinking that over and over. And even watching it a second time, it didn't change my opinion.

    It didn't hurt that Dushku had a relatively small part in this episode. She's just not that good of an actress, and I prefer watching, well, anyone else in this cast.

    It's telling that I think that the girl playing Iris did a better job of playing Caroline than Eliza did/does...

  18. I'm with E221b. This is the show that I wanted to see. I think that it was wise of Whedon to put together a potential series finale, to give a middle finger to the network, a 'This is what you missed out on' type of thing. However, now, having seen it, this is what we will know we're missing out on, having to endure a slow evolution of each character.

    I would like to see the progression of the Sierra/Victor couple but I thought everyone else's character had evolved into something better. And so had the premise. I can do with a little less zombie-thriller moments but I would take more Felicia Day anytime. Eliza's great but as a scene-stealer, not a main focus.

  19. @ E221b:

    The little girl playing Iris is also on Heroes, and she is better than most of the cast there too. I don't think anyone can compete with her. :D

  20. Brilliant episode and I don't care what's said but FOX are running out of plausible reasons not to air this episode. Come on, it's getting international boradcasts for crying out loud.

    2019 is a typical dystopian time, huh? There's no way the Dollhouse would benefit those in the long term. The destruction it's caused might be cliched but at least it's truthful.

    Great selection of new characters. I really took to both Mag and Zone and Iris made for an interesting Caroline. The idea of having to be a kid isn't a comforting thought.

    The flashbacks were fantastic. People trying to retain themselves amidst involuntary imprints, Caroline seemed to keep herself along with the imprints. Her and Paul work surprisingly well together too.

    Adelle comforting Topher was a surprisingly tender moment. Who would've thought that I would've felt for Topher?

    Dominic had every right to do 'I told you so' stance with Adelle. See what technology really can do in the end?

    Victor and Sierra were/are no longer a couple, November's dead and what the hell is up with Alpha? Did he become a goodie or did Caroline pinch his tech?

    Poor Whiskey/Claire. She wouldn't leave the Dollhouse because she believed that Boyd would come back for her. At least she got rid of those butchers.

    Mind bending but definitely a strong point for the series, hype much deserved, 9/10.

  21. Finally got the DVD. I loved this episode.

    I bet that Victor and Whiskey were "healed" of their scars because it was a lot cheaper than putting them through makeup again. Half Price, after all.

    Why didn't Whiskey's original get put back? Did they decide to sacrifice that person because they needed a doctor? Would it really have been good if Boyd ran off with a doll?

  22. Awesome episode and it would have worked great for a series finale. All the flashbacks are great, tense and all deserve acting stars. Love the relationship between Topher/Adelle and poor Topher seems to have gone insane.

  23. Watching this episode was such an "OH!" moment for me. THIS is where Joss is going with everything. If only he had been allowed to do incredibly complex/depressing stuff like this from the beginning, the show might have not been DOOMED.

    I really liked the incomprehensible slang. It immediately confused me and put me on my guard which is (I assume) where Joss wanted me. Things are weird and confusing post-apocalypse. I only wish he had managed to introduce this story earlier in the season. Or that this show had been on another network that wasn't evil.


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