Here we go. It’s been a long trip and this is probably the last episode we’ll see of “Dollhouse.” Despite the bumps, it’s been an interesting ride. We’ve seen Caroline, a young woman on the run from the law, decide to solve her problems by joining a super-secret organization that rents her body with custom-designed brain-patterns included. We’ve seen FBI Agent Paul Ballard toss his career in the crapper to chase down Caroline and the Dollhouse. We’ve seen a lot of Eliza Dushku in the flesh, as well as selected slices of the other cheese- and beefcake on the show, Sierra and Victor. And now, we’re left with Echo in the hands of Alpha, the rogue doll who went slashy-slashy and stabby-stabby a while ago.
[Recap and spoilers for the "Dollhouse" finale after the break...]
We start with Alan Tudyk doing a great job with the conflict between all the personalities rattling around in Alpha’s head. He’s got Echo with him, and he’s imprinted her with the Mallory to his Mickey in some kind of “Natural Born Killers” fantasy that was designed for a client years ago.
We get to see how that worked out in flashback, and if you hadn’t gotten the homage, there’s a real Tarantino/Lynch vibe as Alpha tortures the client. The real surprise – well, not if you were paying attention to the last episode, or if you were reading spoilers on the Internet, but for everyone else – is that Echo wasn’t on that job with him. It was Dr. Saunders, who was then an Active known as Whiskey. That’s right, Amy Acker was Alpha’s crime-spree lover. This show has all kinds of Whedon-incest going on. Just imagine the babies.
However, Alpha has apparently dumped Whiskey for Echo. And no offense to Amy Acker, but Dushku does have a better rack, as abundantly displayed in the tank-top that he just bought for her. They also grabbed the sales clerk, and threw her in the back of their stolen car.
At the Dollhouse, DeWitt tells Ballard about Alpha. “An unfortunate technological anomaly.” “My God, what have you people done?” Yeah – Tahmoh Penikett’s holier-than-thou muscle must be tired from all his time on “Battlestar Galactica,” because he’s not really lifting that line tonight. Instead, he’s quickly convinced to join the Dollhouse in its efforts to track down Alpha. This is complicated when the FBI and the LAPD show up outside, due to a fake bomb threat placed by Alpha. Still, in his second-smartest move in the whole series, Ballard convinces his former colleague (played by Mark Sheppard) to leave by telling him the truth about everything. (Another side note, there was just not enough Mark Sheppard in this series.)
Topher discovers that Alpha has stolen every one of Echo’s imprints. In other words, he has all her memories – her real and her fake ones.
Victor and Saunders, AKA Whiskey. He’s having what passes for an existential crisis for a doll. He’s scarred, just like she was. But she’s not that sympathetic. Turns out she was the number one active, back before Echo. Then Caroline came into the Dollhouse. That’s when Alpha saw her, too. And suddenly, Whiskey wasn’t the number-one gal in his heart anymore.
Alpha started stalking Echo, in sort of the same neutered and yet still creepy way that Victor stalked Sierra. Then, one day, he just snapped – slashed Whiskey across the face so Echo could be the top Active, attacked his handler while in the chair, and had 48 different personalities downloaded into his head. We get to see the entire Frankenstein moment where Alpha was created from bits of fake personalities. Then the whole mad killing spree happened.
But Ballard uncovers one important fact: before he started his rampage, Alpha destroyed the hard-drive with his original personality on it.
And, back at the Alpha Cave, he’s going to do the same thing to Caroline. He straps the hapless clerk into the Aeron Chair from Hell that’s he’s built, and implants Caroline in her brain. (Nice moment with the clerk’s nametag: “We won’t be needing this.”)
He tells Echo he’s going to make her like him – by putting every imprint she’s had into her brain. An Omega to his Alpha. And then she’ll kill Caroline, trapped in the clerk’s body.
Caroline does her best to talk Crime Spree Echo out of this idea. “You’re in an evil lair, sitting in some kind of evil dentist's chair, letting a guy who talks to himself attach wires to your head.” But Alpha pulls the switch, and it’s done.
Ballard and Boyd start working together – I see a cop movie waiting to happen here, guys – and they learn Alpha wasn’t the most integrated personality even before Topher started mucking about in his skull. He was in prison for keeping a woman prisoner for three days after slashing her face – a serial killer waiting to happen.
It’s the underlying psychosis that’s really in charge of Alpha – which might explain why Echo doesn’t turn into Omega. Instead, as soon as she’s out of the chair, she hits Alpha with a big metal pipe. They fight. Alpha calls her weak, and undeserving of the gift he tried to give her. Then she knocks him on his ass. (Ah, irony.)
Right here, I can’t help thinking how much fun this series could have been if it had been all about super-science and kick-ass throwdowns between hot chicks without all the moralizing. If we’d had Alan Tudyk around from Episode One.
But you hit the airwaves with the show you have, not the show you want. Or something.
Anyway. Caroline has a moment to talk to Echo. She decides it’s time to get back in her own body. Unfortunately, neither gal was watching Alpha. He shoots the retail clerk in the neck. Then he holds a gun to Caroline’s memories on hard-drive. He tries to force her back in the chair, so he can reboot Caroline and kill her. He promises he’s going to do the same thing, over and over, to every gal he can kidnap and put into the chair. A whole army of little Caroline copies, killed one by one.
Wow, that’s creepy.
But Echo doesn’t go along. She tells him to shoot the hard drive. She still exists, and she’s going to come after him.
Stymied, Alpha falls back on shooting Echo as Plan B. He grazes her arm, and runs.
Ballard and Boyd show up, having figured out that the Alpha-Cave is the same abandoned warehouse where Alpha took his previous victim. He shoots at them, then throws the hard drive away. Echo goes after it – rescuing her other self. She knocks it off a ledge, but Ballard catches it.
Guess he got the girl after all. Sort of.
Meanwhile, Saunders realizes she used to be Whiskey. It would have been more cool if she already knew, and set this whole thing up, but this has already been a complex episode.
Then we get what passes for a happy ending at the Dollhouse. (Not that kind. Pervert.) Ballard comes to work for the Dollhouse to track down the still-missing Alpha. His payment is Mellie/November being released early. Saunders makes peace with her role as a fixer of dolls.
And Echo goes back to her dreamlike existence, but she says one word before she goes to sleep: “Caroline.”
It’s a pretty good exit line.
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