Pleasant, Arizona. Church bus arrives, much to the disgust of the locals, and a group of hippies – who might as well have WEIRDO CULT MEMBER tattooed above their blank, smiling eyes – get out to do grocery shopping, singing a religious hymn the whole time. The church kids keep singing, no matter what, even when Redneck #1 starts pushing one around. In the confusion, one of the cultists leaves a message on the grocery list: “SAVE ME.”

[More on Friday (March 13) night's "Dollhouse" after the break...]

At the Dollhouse, DeWitt meets with a Senator who’s asking for a favor. He wants an active to infiltrate the singing church kids’ compound. It’s an election year for him, and he needs to avoid another Waco in his backyard. The Senator needs someone who can go undercover without faking it. For all of DeWitt’s carping about never putting an active at risk, this actually makes a lot more sense than high-priced call-girl assignments. Actives would make great spies – sort of like the Cylon sleeper agents on “Battlestar Galactica.”

And speaking of “Battlestar,” there’s Helo – Agent Ballard, begging for a favor from another agent, Loomis. He wants her to run a photo of Echo through a facial recognition database. It’s a little sad that this is what passes for action for Ballard, but he’s funny in his charmless attempts to charm Loomis.

Dominic warns DeWitt again: he says Echo is behaving just like Alpha did before that guy went Jason Voorhees. The guy really does not like her, but he suspects that DeWitt does. It’s almost like Smithers’ hate for anyone else who competes for Mr. Burns’ affections. DeWitt basically tells him to cram it.

Echo, meanwhile, has been decked out with yet more unproven human-lab-rat technology by Topher and Dr. Saunders. They’re going to turn Echo’s eyes into cameras that will beam pictures from inside the Happy Jesus Land compound, even though she’ll be blind herself. The downside is, this could kill Echo. DeWitt says the risk is acceptable, which is big of her, since it’s not her brain that could explode.

Boyd joins the ATF as a private contractor who can get them access to the cult compound through Echo. She’s become a smiling, blissed-out believer named Esther, who’s simply overjoyed to be blind.

Boyd drops her at the gate of the compound. Echo/Esther waves around like a spastic mime – so you know she’s really blind – and we finally meet the head of this amalgam of the Partridge and the Manson families, Jonas Sparrow. Ex-con who had a conversion experience in prison, and now has his own private enclave of brainwashed cult members. As always with these guys, you wonder how much of his own crap he believes.  Echo/Esther feels up Sparrow’s face. He’s skeptical but lets her join.

And here’s the communal shower scene. Whew. Worried for a second there. Victor and Sierra in the water. Victor suddenly reacts to a naked Sierra exactly the way a healthy young heterosexual male ought to react to Sierra. He stiffens up. Rises to the occasion. Swings some pipe. Packs some wood. Pitches a tent. You get the idea.

Topher notices this on the cameras – not that he was staring or anything. He goes to Dr. Saunders and explains – not that he was looking – what just happened. “He had an erection?” Saunders asks. Well, yeah. If you want to be clinical about it.

The trouble is, like pretty much everything at the Dollhouse, this isn’t supposed to be possible. 

Now, Dr. Saunders says, she and Topher will have to check the last six months of shower video, to see how far back the problem goes. Yes, that’s right: Topher is going to have to watch hours and hours of Victor’s morning glory. His trouser snake. His family jewels. His... Oh, let’s move on.

Back at Happy Jesus Land, Echo/Esther meets the other cultists while the ATF watches. Jonas questions Echo in a dark room, testing her blindness, and her righteousness – by putting a gun to her head. She can’t see it, so she passes. But Echo’s eye-cameras pick up images of Jonas’ whole arsenal of weaponry, which ought to come in handy for turning the other cheek.

Ballard, gets a visit his lovelorn neighbor, Melanie, who brings him his drugs and manicotti – and another package from Alpha. This time it’s a video of Echo, pre-computer-assisted electro-lobotomy. Melanie figures that Ballard’s obsession with her has to be motivated by the groin area. And that’s not a bad theory, since it makes more sense than any reason the show has given.

More fun with video, now at the Dollhouse. Topher and Saunders are cataloging Victor’s “instances of tumescence.” They discover Victor only hoists his petard around Sierra. He likes her.

Back in LA, Agent Ballard wanders by a TV just in time to see a live report from the compound – and notices Echo as the cultists move from one building to another.  So far this episode, Ballard’s asked to use a computer, gotten lunch, and watched TV. This is not a take-charge night for him.

The ATF goes on the march, with all the subtlety and stealth it’s famous for, and trip an alarm. Jonas is pissed, and he turns on the only new element. He smacks Echo around – and dislodges the cameras. Echo’s vision returns, as does her martial-arts know-how. She stops his hand, but the ATF can’t see inside anymore.

Boyd wants to get Echo out, but the lead ATF guy has a grudge against Sparrow and won’t allow Echo to be extracted. Dominic refuses to allow Boyd to pull her out anyway. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Dominic hopes Echo will get kakked, and he won’t have to worry about any more glitches from her.

Boyd discovers the ATF guy created the whole incident, that he planted the request for help on the note, using the fight in the grocery as cover. (Apparently he’s the only member of the entire agency who missed what happened after Waco and Ruby Ridge.) Meanwhile, Jonas does remember Waco, so he orders his disciple to set the building on fire. Yes, apparently Jonas really does believe his own bullshit.

Echo, meanwhile, finally gets to do something. She knocks Jonas out and inspires the others to run for their lives, even cold-cocking one of the true believers when he resists.

But when Jonas wakes up and points his gun at Echo – he’s shot by Dominic, out of nowhere. Dominic clocks her in the head with his rifle butt. He looks all proud of himself. Perfect solution: Echo dies in the blaze, no more glitches.

And this is where what was a fairly decent episode falls apart.

Despite holding his trump card, Boyd disappears from the action. If Dominic really wanted Echo dead, he could have let Jonas drill her with the machine gun, or shot her himself.  Instead, he leaves her in an easily escapable burning building, where Boyd finds her, when he’s back from his coffee break. After all the bluster from the ATF guy, he just lets the cultists walk out of the compound. And Ballard makes another fruitless trip someplace to find someone who refuses to talk to him. Again. (Maybe that’s harsh, but I have high expectations of Tim Minear, who wrote this ep, as well as some of the brilliant episodes of “Angel” and “Firefly.”)

Still, Minear does leave us on a sharp note. In the Dollhouse, Saunders asks Echo, her eyeballs re-installed, if her vision is OK. She notices Dominic and gives him a truly creepy look. “I see perfectly,” she says.

Next week, Victor does some naughty touching, and Ballard and Echo finally – finally – throw down.

 

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