Tonight, we get the great escape. All the promos have promised Echo and the other Actives will remember who they are, and try to break out. We can safely assume this will not actually happen, because the show is called “Dollhouse,” and it wouldn’t make much sense without the Dollhouse. But we can watch them try, can’t we?

[Recap, with spoilers, for Friday (April 3) night's "Dollhouse" after the break...]

We open with Agent Ballard, our dogged FBI man, having a sex dream about Echo. So apparently there’s more than just duty driving him to find Echo. He wakes up before the good parts.

Because this is not Ballard’s night. We cut to the Dollhouse, which is undergoing a systems upgrade, or, to put it another way, a fecal integration initiative. Ms. DeWitt is annoyed – no, annoyed is her default state, make that peeved – about all the glitches, and the Dollhouse is going to be run ship-shape from now on. Cheerio, pip, pip. The whole speech is very British. And oddly arousing.

As is typical for the Dollhouse, things start to go wrong right away. Echo wakes up in her sleep coffin, followed by four other Actives – Victor, Sierra, and November, who was most recently deployed as Ballard’s fake girlfriend Mellie, and some guy who’s so obviously cannon fodder that it’s not worth naming him. (Echo screeches, “Help me somebody please.” Remember, this show is about female empowerment.) They quickly realize they have large gaps in their memories, and they decide they need to get out of this place. Fast.

They wander around the Dollhouse for a while, sampling the banana pancakes and Tai Chi classes. Echo keeps saying she has to get to the mountains, which is a flashback to that memory she has of being a midwife in the middle of a snowstorm. The day-player guy gets discovered very quickly and brainwashed again. Echo goes to Saunders, who warns her that they’re being watched through the cameras, so the four Actives try to tone down their obvious freaking out. But something about the whole set-up stinks. I mean, they noticed Victor getting wood in the shower, but no one notices four Actives suddenly acting like real people?

Because, as it turns out, it is a set-up. DeWitt has arranged for the four of them to gain parts of their memories back to test the Dollhouse’s internal security procedures. And, they’re failing. Badly. The four actives make it out of the yoga spa/brainwashing facility, and find their clothes from all their adventures as sex dolls and hostage negotiators. Victor has a funny moment with buttless chaps, and Mellie realizes she was a mom when she sees a stroller. Then they make it to the motor pool and into a car with almost no problem.

But Echo decides to go back into the Dollhouse. She’s sure she can do something to help. What leads her to this conclusion is not clear. But her brain is damaged, remember.

The other three leave to pursue their own agendas. Victor and Sierra go after the man who put Sierra into the Dollhouse, while Mellie wants to find her daughter, Katie.

Ballard, meanwhile, realizes from his dream that the Dollhouse must have a bug in his apartment. He finds it, takes it to some criminal technology genius, engages in a little therapeutic violence, and learns what he already knew: the Dollhouse has access to sci-fi level toys.

Echo beats down a female handler, and gets access to the gun cabinet. She finds her file, and then somehow cuts power to the entire facility. DeWitt does not appear amused by this. Echo uses her new gun to threaten Topher, to get him to fill in the blank spots of her memory. Like what the Dollhouse does to people. She’s even less amused than DeWitt seemed. In fact, she’s downright pissed. Topher’s life expectancy does not look good at this moment.

Victor and Sierra confront the sleaze who pimped her out to the Dollhouse in his high-rent apartment. He says he did it to punish her for saying “no” – a long-term, super-science version of date-rape. (Again, empowering.) Security comes after them before they can give him enough of a beating, and they have to run.

Mellie finds her daughter – or actually, her daughter’s grave. Raise your hand if you didn’t see that one coming.

Just before Echo can fry his brain, DeWitt shows up to save Topher. Even as Echo points a gun at her, she doesn’t back down. She tamps down Echo’s self-righteous fury by telling her that everyone is at the Dollhouse because they chose to be there. (With the obvious exception of Sierra, apparently.) “You couldn’t live with the consequences of your own actions,” she says, “And now you don’t have to.” (And speaking of empowerment, she may be evil, but at least DeWitt isn’t weak.)

Echo doesn’t buy it, or doesn’t want to. She walks DeWitt – and every active in the place – out of the parking garage, gun in her hand. The sun shines on all of them, and they are free.

For about ten seconds. Then Echo passes out. At the same time, Victor and Sierra kiss, and then immediately fall asleep. Mellie cries as she realizes her daughter is dead, and then goes night-night as well.

The whole thing was a set-up, yes, but it was being run on the Actives themselves. Saunders came up with it – a way to resolve their ongoing conflicts, the ones that kept making them glitch. Victor got to show his love for Sierra. Sierra got to confront the man who victimized her. Mellie got to mourn her daughter. And Echo got to lead her people to the promised land.

So what happened here? Well, not much. There’s a useful term in TV lingo: it’s called an “up-and-back.” It’s where there’s a lot of stuff happening, but no actual forward motion in the plot. The show ends up right where it started. We found out that Echo’s memory of midwifery actually belonged to Caroline – that it was real. Aside from that, we didn’t gain any ground. Ballard is right where he was last week, all the dolls are still mindless drones, and the Dollhouse itself is still just your average shadowy, deeply weird, highly illegal, secret operation. In other words, tonight’s “Dollhouse” was a big up-and-back.

But in theory, things should run much more smoothly at the Dollhouse in the future, now that each of the problem children have been given closure.

Yeah. Like that’s going to happen.

 

What'd y'all think of  "Needs"?

 

Keep following your favorite TV Shows, sign up now for HitFix Blog Alerts and get the recaps for for television's hottest shows in your inbox every day.

Is Google, Yahoo or MSN your second home?  Click here to add Monkeys As Critics' recaps to your homepage today.

Not part of the HitFix Nation yet? Take 90 seconds and sign up today.