We open Friday (April 24) night's "Dollhouse" with rich d-bags sitting around a patio table on an unbelievably expensive estate, sipping Long Island Ice Teas. There’s no way any of these pretty boys could muster the ambition to actually pay for all this, so there’s got to be a rich older woman around – and there she is. This is Margaret, on her beloved horse, blowing a kiss to Jack, her much younger, ridiculously handsome younger husband. She goes off for her ride, the guys hang out some more... and then Margaret’s horse comes back without her. This is not a good sign.

Echo wakes up in the chair, and DeWitt is there, looking uncharacteristically emotional. She says to Echo, “Margaret, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you – you’re dead.”

Wow. That is probably the best line I’ve heard on “Dollhouse,” but I imagine waking up to that would definitely put a crimp in your day. And cue the opening credits. (Hey, does the probable cancellation of the show mean that we don’t get to see the lesbian geisha scene?)

[Intriguing, right? Full recap after the break...]

Margaret, now imprinted on Echo’s empty brain, was a client of the Dollhouse and good friend of DeWitt. They lunch together like very proper sorority girls, and Margaret says she intends to use this second chance at life to find out who killed her. She’s going undercover as Julia, a young friend of Margaret’s given a small bequest in the will. (For those keeping count, that’s three names for Eliza Dushku tonight.)

Boyd, after the discovery of Dominic as a traitor, is now head of security. He’s seriously freaked out by the fact that the Dollhouse can bring people back after death. So much so that he doesn’t appear to notice that Topher is up to some mad science again. Topher wants a doll so he can run tests of some arcane nature. Boyd asks if there’s a chance the doll could be harmed. “Not if I know what I’m doing,” Topher says, which is a very bad sign for Sierra, the girl chosen to be the guinea pig.

Meanwhile, Margaret and DeWitt go to Margaret’s funeral, where we get a quick, Agatha Christie-style rundown of all the likely suspects. First, of course, is the boy-toy hubby, Jack, who nobody believes actually loved Margaret. Then there’s Uncle Bill – Margaret’s brother William, a drunken loser played by a criminally underused Gregg Henry. Then there are the kids, Jocelyn and Nicholas, who both have their reasons for resenting Mom. Jocelyn was never taken seriously as a photographer by Margaret, and Nicholas was pushed into a career on Wall Street he hated.

Margaret learns just how unloved she really was over cocktails and family angst in the drawing room. As a side note, Dushku is doing the best acting of the whole series tonight, especially when we see Nicholas kiss her and try to feel her up. Faced with her son’s tongue in her throat, she nearly throws up. Not exactly Oedipus clawing his own eyes out, but it feels genuine.

Back at the Dollhouse, Topher does his mad science thing to Sierra, turning her into made her another version of himself – geek and gamer and sci-fi fan – only in the body of a smoking-hot chick. It’s both creepy and adorable as they caper around the Dollhouse nerding out.

Ballard is not having the same amount of fun with his doll. He knows Mellie is an Active now, but he has to keep pretending she’s still the sweet girl he came to love. And naturally, Ballard is not that great at keeping his angst under wraps. (It’s a good thing the FBI has never sent him undercover. I can just see it: “So how much for the drugs?” “DRUGS? I would never use – Oh, I mean, uh, yeah, $10 grand.”) He bags her wineglass and uses it to search for her fingerprints in the FBI database. It comes back with mug shots which disappear into an electronic black hole, which seems a pretty sloppy way of erasing someone’s existence.

Margaret/Julia/Echo tries to snoop out the truth behind her death, but fails pretty miserably in her attempt to seduce her own widower. Jack didn’t get anything from the will except Margaret’s horses, and he seems pretty bummed about that. But Jack is such an obvious suspect, it’s possible they’re doing a head-fake here and making him so obvious that it will turn out to be surprising when he actually did it.

But DeWitt isn’t convinced of Margaret’s sleuthing skills, so she sends in Victor as a breeder to pretend to be interested in buying a horse from Jack.

Margaret is busy discovering how badly she let down her family. Her daughter never felt loved or respected, she and Bill quarreled for years, and Nick has all those gambling debts – wait, what was that last part again?

Yeah. Turns out son Nicky was millions in the hole. And a client of the Dollhouse himself, which isn’t cheap. He figures out who Margaret is – he was always her favorite – and she says she would have helped him out of debt if only she’d known.

But then, in a pretty nifty little bit of exposition, Victor confronts Jack over the state of Margaret’s horse. Turns out the poor animal is doped to the gills with steroids, hidden by a masking agent that has an unfortunate tendency to make the heart explode.

Nick and Margaret, already in the stable, overhear, and Margaret, no dummy, figures out that this was the same drug used to kill her. Jack freaks out, and tries to beat Nick’s head in with a shovel. Nick stabs him with a baling hook, and he and his mom retreat to the mansion.

Nick has his mother write a hasty deathbed note, fingering Jack as the murderer... When she stops, and remembers that while Jack is a yummy man-treat, he doesn’t know much about horses. You see where this is going, right? Yup, Nick killed his own mom. Major dick move, Nicky.

Using a shotgun, Jack blasts his way into the bedroom where they’re hiding just in time to keep Nick from killing Margaret, and Echo, which is where Margaret happens to be parked right now. A knock-down, antique-smashing fight, and Nick is on the floor. The cops are called. Margaret goes back into the chair willingly, after retroactively changing her will to exclude Nicky and apologize to her daughter for all the pain she caused. And  somehow Jack never realizes his wife is back, in a much younger and hotter body. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

At the Dollhouse, Boyd wakes from his existential crisis about life after death long enough to ask DeWitt, “You do know what Topher is doing, right?” Yes, she does. Once a year, she allows him to build his ideal companion, for his birthday, because loneliness makes people do stupid things. Which is again both creepy and touching, especially the Twinkie birthday cake Sierra delivers to him.

Ballard, however, is deep in self-loathing for using Mellie as a sex toy, even though he knows she’s an Active. So it’s not a happy ending for everyone.

Next week – we finally get to meet rogue Active Alpha. And Alan Tudyk (from "Firefly") guest-stars. You do the math.


Glad to have "Dollhouse" back? What'd you think of the episode?

 

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