So. We’re looking at a downwardly mobile member of society dumpster-diving, when he finds a human hand in the trash. And that hand is attached to a muscular arm that immediately clutches our scavenging buddy around the throat. The moral of this story, kids: never be poor.

[A full recap of Friday (May 1) night's "Dollhouse," with spoilers, after the break...]

Next we see Echo in another one of those roles that doesn’t really seem to call for a gazillion-dollar mind-wiped sex toy: reading to a bunch of kids. She’s telling the children the story of Sleeping Beauty when one of the adorable moppets interrupts with insults followed by a full-blown screaming fit. This is Echo’s assignment, it turns out – she’s there to help the girl, who suffered horrible abuse. As Topher explains, back at the Dollhouse, to his assistant Ivy, Echo’s imprint is an older version of the child, named Susan. Only Echo’s had all her kinks ironed out by super-science, so she’s going to show Susan what it’s like to be healed and healthy. Apparently this was Topher’s idea, and his way of doing a good deed for the day, to alleviate some of his bad karma.

Our dogged FBI agent Ballard, however, is racking up all kinds of spiritual demerits. He’s packed his apartment and he’s leaving Mellie without any explanation. We know and Ballard knows that Mellie a doll, and a spy, besides – but it still feels like a pretty dick move.

Mellie, having failed to get any useful info out of Ballard, goes back to the Dollhouse, and Ballard trails her. Maybe no one notices because they’re dealing with their own crisis inside the House of Doll. A flash drive has been sent to Dominic, who’s currently residing on a hard drive in Topher’s lab, thanks to his earlier betrayal. Topher, Boyd and DeWitt download Dominic into Victor’s body, and question him about the drive.

So while Echo counsels Susan on how to get over being victimized, the Dollhouse keeps on victimizing people. Alanis, if you’re listening, that’s what it means to be ironic.

Ballard decides he needs help to get inside the Dollhouse – why, I’m not exactly sure – so he finds the guy who designed the place’s environmental systems. Now, I’m also not sure why the Dollhouse, which has been expert at covering its tracks so far, and has wiped any number of people from every governmental and private database in existence, has left this Stephen Kepler guy on the record as its contractor, but we’re clearly not slowing down for plot holes tonight.

Ballard goes to Kepler’s apartment and finds Alan Tudyk, who makes pretty much everything he’s in better, even that commercial where he’s on the floor of the bank. Kepler, caught with a roomful of “medicinal carrots,” is bullied and blackmailed into helping with the raid on the Dollhouse.

Echo solves years of Susan’s mind-wrenching trauma and abuse by reading “Sleeping Beauty” to her again, and is back at the Dollhouse in time for lights out. Dominic, trapped in Victor’s body, identifies the message on the flash drive as coming from Alpha. It mentions a corpse found in Utah, so they imprint Sierra with Clarice Starling traits, and send her out the door.

At the same time, Ballard and Kepler are breaking into the Dollhouse. Ballard tazes Topher, while Kepler shuts down the security systems. Ballard searches through the coffins of the Actives. He finds Mellie. Sorry, babe. You’re on your own. And then he finds Echo, AKA Caroline, the object of his quest and subsequent career spiral.

Right after that, Boyd finds him.

And now, the main event – Boyd vs. Ballard! Two violence junkies face off amid the yoga mats and pilates machines of the Dollhouse. While they’re busy beating the crap out of one another, they also argue over the ethical morass of questions behind the Dollhouse. Can a human being sign away his or her rights to freedom? What is free will? Who’s really protecting Caroline’s best interests? Is Echo a person in her own right?

Well, no, they don’t really say all that. But it’s implied. And frankly, more thorny questions of existence should be decided by bare-fisted deathmatches.

Ballard is put down when Echo trips him, which either says something about the victim identifying with her victimizer, or that Ballard can’t take a fall down the stairs after being hit in the head repeatedly.

Ballard is taken to DeWitt by Boyd, where they argue those ethical questions a little more, until she gets a call from Sierra, still doing her imitation of that chick from the other Fox show, “Bones.” Turns out the corpse in Tucson was named – wait for it – Stephen Kepler.

Which explains why Kepler has jumped out and slashed Victor across the face in Dr. Saunders’ lab, and is now threatening Saunders with a scalpel. He’s actually Alpha, and he’s back inside the Dollhouse for Echo.

(Wait. Why would he need to wait for Ballard to go into the Dollhouse, if he knew Kepler had the way inside? Why would he need Ballard at all? Why didn’t he do this back at the start of the season – ah, screw it. Moving on.)

Alpha gets Saunders to call Echo into the lab – which he could have done himself, now that I think of it, and stop it, stop it, quit pulling at these threads, dammit – and puts her in the chair. One mind-wipe and reprogramming later, and Echo bounces out of the chair and into Alpha’s arms, into a deep lip-lock. Just like Prince Charming, he promised to get her out. And now, they skip merrily to the exit.

Next week: Alpha and Echo apparently do their Natural Born Killers imitation. We learn what made Alpha so twisted – I mean, aside from the mind-wipes and the slavery. And Echo gets to meet Caroline. As for the other big cliffhanger – whether or not Fox will renew "Dollhouse" – your guess is as good as mine. 

What'd you think of Friday's "Dollhouse"?

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