Previously on “Dollhouse:” you should know the drill by now.

Then we hear a woman moaning in what sounds like orgasm and what turns out to be the final stages of labor. Note to the writers: do not ever suggest to your wives that the final stages of labor are anything like an orgasm. Echo is there, working as a midwife – yet another one of those jobs that could be performed by a regular person, but is being done by Echo, presumably at a very high hourly rate.

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Then it’s back to the Dollhouse, where Echo, between missions, has lunch with Sierra and Victor. Sierra and Echo have saved each other’s lives in their active modes, and Victor is posing as a Russian gangster to lead Ballard away from the Dollhouse. (Or something. Still not exactly clear on why Victor has to hang out with Ballard.) Topher, head geek, sees this and complains to Boyd, Echo’s handler, that the three of them keep having lunch together. “This goes deeper than memory,” he says. “This is deep survival patterns,” like birds flocking and salmon spawning. Boyd gives him a look exactly like you’d expect, since this doesn’t make sense to him, either.

Meanwhile, DeWitt meets with this week’s client, yet another Russian gangster who needs Echo for yet another special job she’s not supposed to do. DeWitt pauses to take a phone call from her boss. She reassures him that they’re going to get Ballard off their backs by using Victor to give him closure. So that’s the strategy. Working great so far. Anyway, she tells Russian mob guy that yes, he can have Echo, but it will cost more. He gladly pays. “It’s not for me,” he insists. “It’s a gift.”

Cut to Echo slutting it up. The “gift” turns out to be her presence at the world’s saddest bachelor party: three guys in a hotel lobby. Since nobody bothers to use names on this show, I’ll call them Dick – the guy getting the lap dance from Echo – Tom, who’s about his same age and frat-boy demo, and No-Harry, a bald guy with glasses. Echo is going by the handle “Taffy” for this job.

They take the party upstairs, where it quickly turns into gang-rape. The hotel’s security guy escorts Echo/Taffy down to his office, where he offers her a big wad of cash to forget the whole thing and sign a release form.

Two things immediately spring to mind:

A) I’ve stayed in some very nice hotels. I was unaware that they had piles of hundred-dollar bills for bribery just sitting in the security office.

B) Apparently this happens so often that this hotel has standard hooker-rape release forms.

But this is actually why Taffy/Echo is here – to knock the security guy unconscious and open the office to the boys. They blow a big hole in the wall, and move into the basement of the adjacent building – a high-security vault currently undergoing a systems upgrade. For one hour, the vault is vulnerable – which is what Taffy/Echo calls “the gray hour.” She and the three guys have been hired to steal a piece of stolen art from the massive collection inside the vault.

Got all that? Good.

Ballard, meanwhile, recovers at home from being shot. (Wuss. Jack Bauer would walk it off.) Victor shows up, begging for help. The Russian mob wants to kill him for talking to Ballard. Why he believes Ballard would care is a good question, since Victor got Ballard shot. But Ballard says he’ll see what he can do, and leaves the supposed Russian mob thug alone in his apartment while he goes out.

Inside the vault, a double-cross. No-Harry grabs the piece of art and locks the others inside. On the way out, he stabs Tom, the guy whose job seems to be to hold the laptop. Tom bleeds. Echo/Taffy calls Boyd to intercept No-Harry when she hears what sounds like a fax tone. And then she collapses, a marionette with her strings cut.

Back at the Dollhouse, Topher is nerding out with Ivy, a girl in a lab-coat – who I’m going to go ahead and assume will be the traitor within, because, Scooby-Doo-style, she’s the only new face aside from the clients in this episode. Topher finally notices that Echo’s life-signs are all redlining.

In DeWitt’s office, Topher reports the big problem with Echo. He hears the modem tone on the phone call, and he says it shouldn’t be possible, but Echo has been wiped by remote control. She’s like a newborn now. So DeWitt programs Sierra with Taffy’s personality. We know because she uses the same annoying catchphrase: “Blue skies.” Sierra/Taffy requires lots of ego-stroking and a suitcase full of cash before she agrees to rescue Echo and the Hardy Boys.

Back in the vault, Taffy has melted. (Ha.) Dick slaps her, because he knows how to deal with women. Tom takes a different approach, discussing art and trying to explain Picasso to her. Neither one gets Taffy back. Each handles it in his own way. Tom rustles up a needle full of suicide drugs, but Dick takes it away before he can use it. Dick uses this moment to espouse his particular brand of frat-boy Nietzschean philosophy: “You either get broken or do the breaking.” He punctuates this by pulling a gun, and says they’re going to shoot their way out. (For a job with a no-kill order, there sure are a lot of lethal implements around.)

Outside the building, Boyd grabs the stolen art piece, and he gets to shoot No-Harry, so he’s mellow for another week.

Sierra/Taffy finally gets Echo on the phone, just as the gray hour ends. The security systems will take a while to get back online – which sort of makes the whole gray hour concept a waste – so Echo still has time to  follow Taffy’s directions to drill the door and get herself and the Dipwad Twins out of the vault.

Except, of course, Echo screws it up and triggers the alarm. Sierra/Taffy is taken back to the chair for a mindwipe. DeWitt and Dominick prepare to kill Echo if she’s arrested. They don’t trust Boyd to do it, which is smart, since he seems to like Echo. On the other hand, violence seems to be the only thing that lightens his mood.

In the vault, Dick gets ready to shoot their way out. And he tells Echo she has to shoot, or he will shoot her. The guards close in. Echo shows unusual initiative for a newborn and stabs Dick in the neck with the kill-syringe. Tom throws a smoke-grenade, and they make their way through the tunnel, back to the security office, where Boyd is waiting to rescue them. “I’m not broken,” Echo says. Of course you’re not, sweetie.

Ballard returns to his apartment and Victor. Turns out he lied. He went to the office and put Victor on every FBI watch list in America. If Victor leaves LA, the FBI will bring him right back. If Victor turns up dead, well, maybe it was the Russians behind it, maybe not. Ballard will learn something either way. Then Ballard kicks Victor to the curb. This is the smartest thing Ballard has done yet in the series. Victor says Ballard will be sorry when he’s dead. Yeah, somehow I doubt that.

Back at the Dollhouse again. Echo is wiped clean. Topher swears it, and he’s never been wrong before. DeWitt believes him for some reason, and tells him to go do the same to Victor, who’s back from Ballard’s place now. Topher says he knows who did the remote wipe – “It was Alpha, wasn’t it? Nobody else could even come close to pulling a remote wipe. He’s alive. He’s out there.” Amazing. This Alpha guy was the only one of the dolls who seems remotely competent at his job. It’s a shame he had to go on that killing spree and escape. Instead of being fired, Topher gets his security clearance raised. He finds out that yes, Alpha is alive, and Topher is scared “like a little girl.”

Echo goes for a nice swim, then into the communal shower. Ah, wondered when we’d see that again. Sierra’s wearing a towel. Total gyp. And in the steamy mirror, Echo does a little rough sketch of that Picasso, before wiping it away.

Wow, Topher really does suck at his job.

Was Episode Four an improvement? Better or worse than what came before?

 

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