Saturday, May 09, 2009

Dollhouse, "Omega": My thoughts to your thoughts

Spoilers for the "Dollhouse" season finale coming up just as soon as I call in a bomb threat...

Barring an unusually altruistic turn from Fox, "Omega" was likely the last episode of "Dollhouse" to ever air (though there's still the self-contained "Epitaph One" for the DVD set). And I can't decide how disappointed I am with that -- both in terms of how I liked the finale, and how much I'd want to see more "Dollhouse."

Most of "Omega" was terrific, a nightmarish meditation on the worst implications of the Dollhouse. We see through the flashbacks that Alpha was "broken" well before the accident with the imprint machine, showing that Ballard was right when he tells Topher that there are parts of these people that can't be erased by the machines. We find out (as many people guessed last week) that Dr. Saunders is really the doll Whiskey(*), imprinted with the skills of the real, male Dr. Saunders after he was one of Alpha's victims. And as Alpha plays his games with swapping around the personalities of Echo, Caroline, and poor Wendy the salesgirl, we see that, awful as the Dollhouse technology seems in the hands of people like Topher and DeWitt, it has the potential to become so much worse.

(*) When Joss Whedon did the conference call to plug "Man on the Street," he deflected some questions about whether Topher, DeWitt or Saunders might turn out to be dolls by saying that it wouldn't be a good idea to make the audience constantly question the reality of every character. Obviously, he had to dissemble a bit to avoid spoiling this twist, but I can't help but agree with what he said. It's an interesting twist, and tells us more about how the Dollhouse views both the dolls and the staff as fungible -- a kinder organization would have released Whiskey from her contract early and hired a new, real doctor -- but it just leads to more "Is he really a doll?" questioning that I think gets in the way of the show as a whole.

"Omega" was also a brilliant showcase for Alan Tudyk, even as it was yet another reminder that Eliza Dushku wasn't the best choice to star in this show, even though it was created with her in mind. Tudyk acted rings around Dushku here, suggesting all the personalities rattling around in Alpha's head in a way that Dushku simply couldn't when Alpha loaded all of Echo's imprints into her head at once. There are some things Dushku does very well, but versatility isn't her strong suit. There weren't any hints of the hostage negotiator or Patton Oswalt's wife or the safecracker; there was just Dushku doing another variation on Faith.

But what really frustrated me were the episode's closing minutes, where we jumped from Ballard catching the wedge with Caroline's personality to Ballard agreeing to work for the Dollhouse in exchange for November's freedom, with Echo back to being a doll, albeit slightly more self-aware than she was before. I just don't see the Paul Ballard we've been watching from the previous 11 episodes agreeing so easily to work for this monstrous organization, nor do I buy him deciding to save Mellie over Caroline (even with his guilt over how he abused Mellie), nor do I necessarily see the super-Echo of this episode agreeing so easily to go back to life as a doll.

It's entirely possible that a hypothetical season two of "Dollhouse" would include flashbacks to what happened at the power plant that led Paul and Echo to agree to this. (There was apparently more shot at that location, some of it involving Sierra and November, as this Fox publicity photo suggests.) But I'm dubious about the chances of a second season. And even if we get it, I still think there should have been more of a hint about how this happened. I recognize that "Omega" had a lot of ground to cover in the past and the present, but this was too important to skip over.

Now, as for "Dollhouse" as a whole, there were enough strong elements, and enough creative growth over the course of the season, that I'd be happy to watch it if it somehow continued. But I also won't be that upset if it's done. I feel like the improvement in the second half was more Joss Whedon and company making lemonade out of the lemons that are this show's premise and leading lady. Could they continue to find interesting takes on this material, with this cast? Sure. Whedon and his team (including Tim Minear, who wrote and directed "Omega") are talented enough to do that. But I'd probably rather see their talents applied elsewhere than to see this show revert back to Echo going on missions with occasional glitches of self-awareness.

What did everybody else think?

65 comments:

Todd said...

Substantial flaws and all, the central mythology of the show and the seething undercurrents only hinted at in this season have got me sufficiently intrigued that I'll be disappointed if it doesn't return. I won't throw chairs or anything, but I'd like to see it go on.

Alyssa said...

I look forward to Joss Whedon's next project.

Myles said...

Agreed overall - thought the episode really worked until the conclusion, which I bought into a bit more than you did but recognized that this was because it worked on a broad thematic level despite the show never actually connecting those particular dots.

I'm really curious about the editing of the final sequence, though: one wonders if Dushku saw the first cut and realized that her role had been cut down dramatically to feature more of Sierra and November, and perhaps made a play for a more Echo-centric finale. Either way, something happened in that editing bay that didn't seem to mesh with Minear's script, and it would seem odd for him to be the one to do it.

As for a second season, I think I'm intrigued enough to want to see how the series situates itself after a summer's worth of tweaking, even if you're quite right that the ol' reboot is lurking in the shadows.

Matt said...

Isn't it generally accepted (even among Whedonites) that his shows take a while to find their footing? "Buffy" had a whole season of setup before moving forward, "Firefly" was pretty incoherent (at least when aired in the network order with the revised pilot) for its first few episodes. I have three unwatched episodes sitting on the DVR, but it seems like the show found its footing.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the ending. I have no idea what led up to “self-aware” Echo once again becoming a doll, esp. when Caroline as Wendy seemed ready to leave the Dollhouse behind for good right before she was shot by Alpha. I think this was something that had to be explained in this episode.

I was also confused by Ballard’s handling of the bomb threat. Did he want the FBI agent (Romo from BSG) to investigate the underground building, or did he mention the Dollhouse knowing that Romo wouldn’t believe him?

In terms of the ick factor of the show’s premise, I have to admit I haven’t been as grossed out as some. But that scene where Alpha and Whiskey torment the “client” was one of the most disturbing images I’ve ever seen on tv.

I’d watch a second season of Dollhouse if for no other reason than to bask in the acting glow of Alan Tudyk.

elrambo said...

Although disappointed that Sierra & November's action scenes seem to have been cut (I re-watched almost immediately thinking I must have missed something), I totally bought Ballard exchanging his "service" for November's freedom. For one thing, I don't believe he's given up his ultimate quest to bring down the Dollhouse. But I could believe he'd made a real connection to "November" as an individual person, rather than as a persona. "Caroline," whom he has "saved" in electronic form, remains a symbol of his ultimate goal.

Now, please, give me a second season so I can see how this all works out!

Todd said...

I don't buy that Ballard would do what he did either, but he also doesn't have a lot of choice in the matter, particularly since his old employers clearly want nothing to do with him. At least he wasn't made a Doll.

Karen said...

Came away feeling that Penikett and Lennix would make a really good team - if not in this show, then elsewhere.

Otherwise, yeah, it felt like a real jolt to see the dolls returning to their pods and everything seemingly back to normal, except with Ballard working inside and Alpha identified, but still out there. But count me in with those wanting a second season to see where it would go. (And planning on Netflixxing the first one if it's the only way to see the extra episode.)

Doug S said...

I find it fascinating that both Tudyk (who I loved in Firefly) and the show get praise here. I thought the finale was a rushed mess, and Tudyk overacted as much as Dushku underacted. This show continued to allow us no one to root for, and the mythology was just boring. When I saw the emt's rush in in that flashback episode I thought, "jeez, how many people actually know about this place? Seems like too many." And how about the scene with dozens of FBI/Swat guys at the building, who all just walk away, questions unasked? Holes such as that were the rule and not the exception.

2009 is becoming the tv season where both Joss Whedon and Rob Thomas lost their mojo, and that makes me sad.

Steve said...

I am left wondering if the Dollhouse betrayed Caroline by making her a doll again.

What bothers me the most about the episode is that there is never any indication as to why Alpha thinks Echo is special. His fascination begins before she is even made a doll, and we have no reason to believe Echo started thinking outside the box until later.

The big reveal for me seems to be that the original Dr. Saunders hated Topher.

Anonymous said...

No, I'm pretty sure it was the opposite.

The original Whiskey was in love with Topher but he imprinted the hate to deal with the years of service but I could be wrong.

Kevin said...

The Sierra/November pairing at the end was actually in some of press copies of the episode.

Briefly, Sierra and November arrive at the power plant. They wack Paul over the head, and go after Alpha. Alpha shoots at them and such, and then... Triggers November against Sierra! With the 'three flowers in a vase' thing.

The reason it (and other stuff) got removed has nothing to do with Eliza being a diva and everything to do with time. The episode was too long.

Also, I believe Paul joined the Dollhouse to take it down from the inside.

DonBoy said...

Wait, the entire key incident in the backstory is someone's violent reaction to the question "Who's hotter, Amy Acker or Eliza Dushku?" Is this a nasty joke about Whedon fans?

jimb said...

Doug S,

Well, Whedon gave us Dr. Horrible this year, so it is mixed. And Thomas, simultaneously with Cupid, is giving us the great great great Party Down. So also a mixed bag.

jimb

radiomd said...

This episode didn't work for me at all. Gave me enough time to ask the question, "Lars paid a ton of money to act out a Natural Born Killers fantasy, casting himself as what? Third party? Victim?" The Dollhouse clearly caters only to the Stupid Rich.

Very static dramatically overall, with a bunch of talking heads in Dewitt's office alternating with a menacing mad scientist scenario at the power plant, which really should have been filmed in black and white and made room for a doll imprinted with Igor. Or at least an Igor imprint as a member of Alpha's internal coterie.

Jennifer said...

I liked it, even if deleting the S/N bounty hunters scene was a glaring hole. I could see Ballard going in and thinking he could take it down from the inside, I could see him trying to save one girl (hey, he technically saved Caroline too). I liked that that's how they went with the "deactivated" spoiler. I would watch this show again in another season, not that that's an option.

Props to Amy Acker in this episode, big time.

I like Alan Tudyk as usual, though after awhile I just felt like I was watching more of a crazy serial killer than the guy with all the personalities. That seemed to fall by the wayside. And while I don't generally object so hard to Dushku's acting (eh, I'm watching her to see Faith, really), yeah, I didn't have any seeing of 38 personalities in there at all. I sort of wonder if that was a directing choice as well though because unlike Alpha, Echo's 38 weren't violent and maybe came together in one person better.

You know, with all the bitching about the bad acting, didn't anyone realize how terrible the chick playing Wendy/Caroline was? Just godawful. Couldn't play Caroline as Dushku at all AND had a Southern accent slipping in here and there. Watching her shittasticness really distracted me from what was going on.

What was the whole "You programmed me with better computer skills and to hate you?" thing? I don't think the hate had anything to do with a "crush". I sort of wonder if Whiskey/Saunders was doing Dominic's programming and maybe Topher knew about it now. Or am I utterly off?

Doug S said...

Jimb,

I appreciate your attempt at comfort, but I count Dr. Horrible as 2008, when I saw it. Party Down is on a pay cable channel I don't get (and barely know of), so I'll hold off on judging that until the dvd comes. But I think both of these guys should have thought better than to agree to produce these two network shows in 2009.

Anthony Foglia said...

Steve said...
What bothers me the most about the episode is that there is never any indication as to why Alpha thinks Echo is special.Because he was a crazy misogynistic serial killer at his core. That part made sense. What's never made sense is why Ballard thinks Caroline, who he only knows from photos and videos, is so special. I think the unbelievability of Ballard's crush on Caroline bled over and made Alpha's crush seem more forced.

The big reveal for me seems to be that the original Dr. Saunders hated Topher.to which Anonymous replied, The original Whiskey was in love with Topher but he imprinted the hate to deal with the years of service but I could be wrong.I think neither is the case. Most likely, part of Topher doesn't want to be reminded of the event. Either part of him knows the imprinting is wrong, or he feels guilty that one of the dolls got hurt. It's easiest to keep Whiskey away if she does it on her own.

As for the renewal possibilities, in an ideal world, the show would get more of a British-style run, with short season of 6 to 8 episodes a year. No time for more than one engagement-of-the-week episodes. (And with long breaks for Eliza Dushku to take acting classes.) But the economics just won't work.

Steve said...

Alpha was dominated by personalities that conflicted with each other. That's very different from Echo who managed to break away from parameters of each engagement and incorporate behaviors into herself. Echo really was special, she was capable of combining and controlling the personalities before Alpha ever got his hands on her.


Saunders certainly proved that she could have been hacking Topher's computers all along, but I don't know if her hate of Topher (which I think goes back to the original Saunders, Topher seemed surprised by the revelation that Whiskey hated him) would compel her to do something that could put a doll in jeopardy.

Anonymous said...

You weren't kidding about Tudyk acting circles around Dushku. It makes me wish that the character of Echo was placed by Tudyk. Maybe if that were the case, the standalone episodes might have been way more interesting, and these big scenes in the mythology episode could be acted better.

And Amy Acker, wow. I did enjoy the reveal of Saunders as Whiskey, though I'm still quite uncertain as to why Alpha was so attracted to Echo to begin with (or are we supposed to take that he just fell in love with Echo?), enough to scar Whiskey's face for Echo to be number one? Seems a bit flimsy, and I have yet to understand why Echo is still considered special by practically everyone in the house. I hate to say this because I do like Dushku as an actress, but again, perhaps with a different actor as Echo, the whole 'Echo is special' premise might come across better.

I'm also not convinced as to why Ballard takes the job at Dollhouse, and why Adele would want hire him. He wasn't that great of a detective - if he wasn't there at the time, I'd like to think Boyd would figure the alpha thing out too. But, I do like the pairing of Boyd and Ballard.

Oh well. I would enjoy another season, but I'm not keeping my hopes up at this point. So, looking forward to the DVD episode (anyone know when the DVD would come out, since it's been talked about so much?)

Ostiose Vagrant said...

Hate to be "The Great Defender", but jeez, stop killing Eliza Dushku. She is adequate on the whole, especially considering the action sequences. She's not going to be Meryl Streep, but when she's not asked to carry the show, it should be alright.

Limited range, I get it - does it have to be in every review of every episode. Mr. Whedon wouldn't even have created the show but for the fox deal with Ms. Dushku.

As for the show, am in the process of accepting the cancellation, but can there at least be a Serenity-like resurrection? It seems Dollhouse could be suited to the movie format. No need for standalone material.

Lastly, even as this may be advocating more Big Brother-ish intrusion on people, can't someone come up with something better than the Nielsen ratings?

toonsterwu said...

There's some interesting ideas that this show has toyed with, but the casting of Dushku wasn't the best option. Ashley Johnson was more intriguing in her guest role than Dushku. It makes sense that there was stuff missing from this episode, as the Ballard/Echo jump made little sense at the end.

I wouldn't mind seeing this show coming back and focusing on the issue of identity and how people fight to break free. Whiskey would be an interesting focal point. That said, I think it's best if it's put to rest. The mesh just isn't there, and I don't think they can wrap it up in 6-8 episodes, as I doubt they could get an order more than that, and I doubt viewership would pick up enough.

McD said...

I am glad to read I wasn't the only one who was confused/concerned about the jump from the powerplant to the Dollhouse at the end of the episode. I thought I had really missed something, with Sierra and November activated but not a part of the action. Hope that deleted scene will be added back for the DVD.

I would have liked to see Amy Acker in the role of Echo. Her change from Fred to Illyeria was so well acted, and I think she could have handled the role of Echo with a little more depth.

Matt said...

Having sat through Acker's performance as Abigail in "The Crucible" in high school, I hope she has gotten better. (Was gorgeous even then, though.)

Pete said...

How weird was it seeing Ashley Johnson in a role that, like her role in The Middleman, involved a special chair that could place someone's personality into someone else's body?

Anonymous said...

Let's clarify this:

There's a Dr.Saunders personality and then there's the Root personality Whiskey.

All characters have a root personality. Echo didn't go insane because her natural self, the root, isn't violent and crazy. Alpha did because his root is violent and crazy.


When Topher programmed Saunders into Whiskey he made Saunders hate him. Saunders as Whiskey discovers Whiskey's original profile and realizes two things:

1. she was programmed with computer skills
2. she was programmed to hate Topher

Why?

Topher basically pleaded with the new self-aware Sauders/Saunders personality by asking her "Don't you want to know why?" He's hurt.

So, while Wiskey might not have been his lover, I can't help to think there is an emotional connection. There's evidence to this in a prior episode when a personality is taken out and entered into Sierra.

In conclusion, Whiskey the root has a connection to Topher be it friendship, lover, or family.

Eliza performed fine in this episode. I bought her as the self-aware Echo.

Poor editing with this episode but I expect the dvd version to be extended and arranged properly.

What's the word on it being renewed? Is it basically canceled? Alan, do you know?

Stef said...

I'll be a little sad if this is cancelled, because I have grown to like and there are still so many questions I feel were unanswered. Why did Caroline join the Dollhouse? What is the real reason for the syndicate of Dollhouses? Is Topher that awful? Who was the spy that programmed Echo and November to talk to Ballard? (Are we to assume that was Whiskey/Saunders? Doesn't make much sense to me.)

I loved Amy Acker in this episode, and I agree she would've been another great choice as the focal point for the show.

I did have a bizarro tv addict moment, watching Wash and Faith fighting in front of / over the Chrissy from Growing Pains. :-)

I was holding out hope that Alpha would turn out to be the ultimate good guy, and that he and Ballard would work together to bring down the Dollhouse. I'm a little disappointed that instead, Alpha was some crazy psychopath who's the Big Bad (when the Dollhouse should be the Big Bad), but I agree that Boyd and Ballard are a cool, though morally-compromised, team.

Word ver: Lablog. :-)

Nancy/mizenkay said...

I would have liked to see Amy Acker in the role of Echo. Now that, I would've loved. I just couldn't get into this show - I abandoned it pretty early into the run because of the weak line that was Eliza's performance. I tuned in last night to see Alan Tudyk, who rocked so hard, only to be revealed to be your standard issue crazy serial killer. Really?

Kinda sad though, that when Dushku had to go toe to toe with him - and she immediately reverts back to Faith. One. Note.

Overall, a meh from me. Both episode and series. Joss has done much better TV. It was called Firefly.

Anonymous said...

They made it pretty clear that Alpha was unusual in that he retained some bit of consciousness after all the wipes. We've seen in past episodes and in the ending of this one that the same is true of Echo. My guess is that Alpha thought Echo was special because he recognized this about her. His grudge against Caroline, though? Not sure where that came from. I wonder if maybe one of the personalities in his brain knew her before she was a doll and hated her for some reason.

As for there being some sort of "core" part of people that can't be wiped away, that's certainly possible. But it's also possible that Alpha has some sort of chemical imbalance. In that case he would be crazy no matter what personality was imprinted on him.

Not sure how Echo ended up staying a doll. It's possible they said they would reimprint Caroline and let her go and then went back on their word. It's also possible that with Alpha still out there that Omega thought the safest place for Echo/Caroline to be was back in the dollhouse.

I'm conflicted on the show continuing. I will definitely watch if it comes back. But I don't know that I'll miss it if it doesn't. There are a lot of loose ends, but I think most of them could be wrapped up in a two hour movie or something. Frankly, I've never thought the premise was enough to sustain an ongoing series. The funny thing is, while the serialized aspects of the show are the best part, I don't think it was originally intended as a serial. Joss's original description really made it sound like Eliza would be playing a new character every week. And after making him scrap the original pilot, my guess is that the network had been expecting more of a procedural.

Steve said...

What one calls "root personality" another calls "soul" and the show certainly made it apparent that you can't take it away from people.


I'm still not convinced that Whiskey Saunders knows that Topher made her hate him, or if it's an assumption on her part. My belief remains that Dr. Saunders hated Topher, but never made that feeling known. Thus, Whiskey is revealing something that may have had a historical context on the show.

Topher didn't say "don't you want to know why." He said "don't you want to know who you are" (or "were") and Whiskey responded that she knows who she is.

Zack Smith said...

The opening flashback made me think two things:

1) Hmm, someone's been watching BLUE VELVET: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CSoWg3nBeU

2) I always thought Amy Acker was pretty, but Amy Acker in leather pants? DAYYUM.

Found it rather amusing Mellie/November's real name was "Madeline." Possibly a hommage to VERTIGO, which is about obsessing over the perfect woman, and trying to shape a real person into a fictional counterpart.

Was given to understand the final montage song was by Beck, from the soundtrack to ENTERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. That is a good choice, though I have a weird fondness for "A Rock N' Roll Fantasy" by the Kinks. Listen to the lyrics of the first few verses.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGBFF2aBr9c

Overall:

-Alpha being a convict sort of disappointed me. It's less interesting than if he'd been genuinely corrupted by the Dollhouse technology.

-And he just...runs away at the end?

-Ashley Johnson was more likable as "Caroline" than Dushku has been in any of the flashbacks.

-"Omega"-Echo was...not that different than any other Echo we've seen. I get it -- Caroline has some independent soul that no amount of brainwashing can overtake. But it still doesn't feel very unique.

-Also, the girl power speeches felt like every other Whedon heroine, the abused woman who turns the table on her abuser through with and kickery of the posterior. Which is a great idea, but loses potency through repitition.

-Ballard's "saving" Caroline and freeing Mellie/November/Madeline were a mite contrived, but it did go a way toward redeeming an often-annoying character. The bit from a few eps back was so creepy that I was glad to see a small moment of redemption for him.

-Also, Topher-the-Irritating, who really would have been better played by Alan Tudyk, also had a nice moment with Whisky/Saunders realizing he'd programmed her to hate him. To hate yourself so much that you'd create your own conscience speaks volumes, and this was oddly followed up on with Echo briefly acknowledging his guilt in the final montage. Still hate the creep, but hate him less.

-Overall, I enjoyed the finale, but I'm not sure how heartbroken I'd be if this was canceled. Unlike FIREFLY, which hit its stride earlier and was darn near unmissable by the end, DOLLHOUSE felt like it was still finding its way. I'd like a second season, though perhaps a limited run to resolve the story.

-Anyone else want a scene of Sierra being sympathetic to Victor as he walks back to his pod all scarred? Darn it, they love each other!

-I assumed Omega-Echo went back to the Dollhouse because "Caroline" was into the idea of honoring her contract. But there might be some plan at work.

-Finally, the bit at the very end with Echo saying "Caroline" was the last moment from...the original pilot script. Which amazes me they took 12 episodes to get back to the beginning.

We'll see what happens with Season Two, but it was terribly fun to over-analyze this each week...

Anonymous said...

In answer to someone's question, I'm pretty sure it was Mr. Dominic who was messing with the imprints to communicate with Ballard.

drake lelane said...

Seeing Tudyk and Acker as actives sure made wish I'd seen that series from the start.

Nice reference to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with the use of "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometimes," the song covered by Beck for the film. The series and film certainly share a bit of science...

Rae said...

His grudge against Caroline, though? Not sure where that came from.His grudge against Caroline was that she turned her body over to the Dollhouse and let them do whatever they wanted to it. It wasn't specific to Caroline, per se, since Topher tells us that the first person he attacked was himself. Later in his convo with Echo it becomes clear that he felt the same way about his original self, that he willingly gave up control of his body (and soul?) to Dollhouse and that was unforgivable in Alpha's eyes. This is the part Echo realizes he's right about, if not his method of dealing with it.

As for why he fell for Echo, I don't think it was because there was anything more special about her than anyone else. She just happened to be the one he felt a connection to/fell in love with as Alpha... much like Victor did with Sierra. The reason that entire storyline was important. They didn't have time to show us the whole thing play out with Alpha and Echo so they gave us an example of it happening in our timeline making it easier to understand when we're shown Alpha's initial reaction to Echo and later his attack on Whiskey. All of which tracks with the other hints we got about him throughout the season, "protecting" Echo from his position outside the Dollhouse.

Jeff Metzner said...

I'm skeptical about Ballard working for the Dollhouse too but Adelle refers to Ballard as a "contractor", so it seems that he's working for them for a specific purpose that we don't know about yet. Maybe to find out who really runs it and for what purpose?

Anonymous said...

Never made it past episode 7. Only the good will Whedon has generated allowed me to make it that far. A super secret organization that everyone on the street seems to know about? Hiring a doll with flaws rather than a true expert? The premise was just so dumb even Whdon couldn't save it.

Karen said...

Well, as far as I'm concerned, this episode sealed the deal in my not missing "Dollhouse" if it gets cancelled.

While elements of the episode were interesting--everything with Alan Tudyk, who is just too much fin to watch on the screen; the Badlands torture of Lars; Whiskey/Saunders realizing that she was not who she thought she was--midway through I said out loud, "Does this series even know what it's about?"

The focus has gone from Ballard searching for Caroline to the worldwide network of Dollhouses with a nefarious ultimate purpose to a suspense thriller with damaged Actives dealing with their condition. It's difficult to get involved with a show that doesn't seem to know its own story.

witchyflickchick said...

I think "Echoes" eliminated the possibility of several of the Dollhouse's staff (Boyd, DeWitt, Topher and, obviously Dominick) from being dolls as they clearly reacted to the released drug as the other non-dolls did. Saunders, you'll note, though, was absent from that episode to play that twist close to the vest. I suppose it's possible that we could have future Dollhouse employees (should the show continue) where we could have the question of whether or not they're actually dolls, but it seems like they've done a pretty good job of securing against that.

BigTed said...

I had fun with this episode, mostly because of Tudyk. And the fact that the ending didn't fit into the context of the show didn't bother me, since I've thought along that the context of the show doesn't work. That essentially allowed me to sit back and enjoy the ride.

I did think that the battle on the metal walkways near the end of the episode seemed strangely like a '70s police drama (especially when our forced-to-work-together buddy cops showed up). Maybe it was the editing-room changes others have mentioned, but that whole sequence seemed like it was from an entirely different program.

Now, let's chalk this whole thing up to an interesting but failed experiment on the part of Whedon and colleagues, and look forward to what they come up with next.

Eldritch said...

When I saw the emt's rush in in that flashback episode I thought, "jeez, how many people actually know about this place? Seems like too many.

I've been struck by that too. Ballard's described the Dollhouse as a self-contained secret sub-basement facility. But there's a constant stream of black vans picking up and delivering dolls every day. Add to that employees going home each night, purchases of new office equipment, coffee for the break room, etc. There's a lot of traffic in and out of that place. Too much to be a complete secret.

Eldritch said...

It doesn't seem as though it should have been all that difficult to capture Alpha or return Echo to being a doll.

By the end of the episode, both Alpha and Echo were filled with every personality that had ever been programmed into them. Alpha had trouble keeping them from popping out and taking control of his body.

Each one of those personalities was programmed to respond to the command "Would you like a treatment?" with passivity and cooperation.

If someone had just asked Alpha if he'd like a treatment, all 38 (or however many) personalities in him would have responded "yes" and passively allowed themselves to be led away.

Surely, that's how Echo went back to the chair for a brain wipe.

--

I think Alpha wanted to kill the original Caroline-in-Wendy's-body because he believed Omega would be a female, self-hating version of himself. He had destroyed the wedge holding his original personality, because he was self-hating, so he assumed Omega would also want her original personality destroyed also.

His reason for slashing Whiskey and fixating on Echo seemed kinda weak/lame, not as grandly menacing as I'd hoped.

If there's a second season, does it look like Alpha will be a recurring menace?

Zack Smith said...

While I agree the reason for Alpha's obsession with Echo was lame, I did think they did a good job of casting his original victim with an actress who looked a lot like Dushku. Th emoment could have been lingered on for another beat, really completing the "a-HA!" between Ballard and Boyd, but it does explain why he was infatuated with her and not Whiskey.

Though that whole infatuation does bring up the "everyone's bringing more than Dushku" argument, because if you DIDN'T have some serial killer in your subconsciousness, why would you obsess over Eliza Dushku when you have a perfectly nice Amy Acker in leather hotpants in front of you?

Anonymous said...

I don't think the original victim looked like Echo. I think the aha moment was supposed to be that Alpha's MO (face slashing) was the same as his pre-wipe personality.

Anonymous said...

"Madeline" is surely a reference to Proust, where I think eating a piece of madeleine cake triggers some memories in "Remembrance of Things Past"

oz

p.s. it's a shame that Whedon didn't have enough pull to make Dollhouse a movie-- it might have worked really well in a time-limited format, but as a serial it has huge structural problems.

Eldritch said...

Of all the dolls to rescue, November/Mellie/Madeline seemed the worst choice. She was the one who chose to volunteer to escape the grief of losing her infant.

Has Ballard's noble impulse condemned her to that pain again?

Derek said...

I would have really liked to see Echo/Caroline walk out at the end. It would have given the series some badly needed closure for this story arc, and would have solved its biggest problem: Dukshu. I'd love to watch a second season that builds the mythology and focuses on Ballard's conflicting desire to take down the Dollhouse while working within it. Plus, the very concept of the show lends itself to guest stars as clients or even visiting Dolls. It's too bad we'll never get any more, but I'm not as sad about it as I was when Firefly was FOXed.

7s Tim said...

My major qualm, along with the already mentioned quick cut to ballard acting like someone else and joining the freaking dollhouse, was Echo on the balance beam. Seriously? She doesn't have ONE agile personality in there, and she knocks herself off the ledge? We had to go with that? Now, since it appears there was a bunch lobbed off this scene, maybe Ballard catching the moronically dropped wedge wasn't supposed to be the last big heroic thing that happened, but to cut it back to that just made all the characters seem amateurish.

I did like that fact that they imprinted sierra and november and had all these super skilled personalities at their disposal, but it was the two regular dudes wearing out shoe leather that actually got to the bottom of everything and figured out what really was going down. That was nice. And having ms. amy be all sexy was cool, and along with sierra and november and victor, i'd watch them as a super squad of imprintable badasses.

still can't get over the knocking the wedge over. just can't. I think square one used to to things like that on mathnet, that's how kiddie teevee it was.

tabernacle said...

The lollipop thing at the end hit me harder than I would have thought. But there was just too much TV-ness, too much cliche:

-No one checks that the bad guy is actually unconscious/dead/no longer a threat before they start a leisurely talk. I don't like this TV/movie convention.

-Whiskey opts not to read her file: "I know who I am." This sets up well the lollipop thing, but it's unlikely and a little cringe-worthy.

-The whole "oh no the wedge might fall off this beam and break" scene. Never mind that Alpha had no way of calculating that it would land just so, the whole thing is a little low-rent as far as suspense goes.

-And no matter how smart the person (38 brains!) or unusual the situation (the show's whole premise), for some reason all roads (in the wider TV-&-movie universe) seem to lead to blood-thirstiness. Was there no other agenda Alpha could have, no other way to Ascend, than killing people? It gets a little boring after a while.

-That line about "Alpha, meet Omega!" was too cheesy and doesn't even track that well: Greek alphabet versus NATO phonetic alphabet (which just happen to both contain an "alpha"). I did appreciate, though, the general idea of a Bride of Frankenstein for Alpha.

And it might be that Tudyk was overacting, as someone mentioned, but at least he *can* overact, you know? His performance was always compelling; there was always something to watch.

Anyway, despite these points, I did enjoy the show, both this last episode and the whole run; anything from Whedon or Minear, or with Alan Tudyk, and I'm there.

Polter-Cow said...

Dollverse has posted the script for "Omega," which includes the missing Sierra/November scenes.

Toby O'B said...

"I think square one used to to things like that on mathnet, that's how kiddie teevee it was."

And of course, that was Joe Howard from 'Mathnet' playing Dr. Saunders, but I guess that's what triggered the connection?

Did they ever say if Topher had been uploaded into a wedge as well? Or did they ever confirm that one of the personalities Alpha had was of Topher? Definitely last week he seemed to be channeling, as was mentioned here, but I'm wondering now if he was just drawing on what he remembered of Topher from his time in the Dollhouse.

I can see Ballard agreeing to work for the Dollhouse - as Echo's handler. That would feed into his fantasy of "saving" her over and over again. In a way, he'd get to be a client without ever paying for it; geez, he'd get paid to be one.

I'm another in the camp who'd like to see a second season, but won't be upset if this is all we get. Who knows? I would probably have drifted away after awhile anyway....

Anonymous said...

Did anyone else think that Ballard was being hired by the Dollhouse to hunt down Alpha? They called him a "contractor" and I can't imagine he'd be willing to become a handler, even Echo's handler.

I mostly concur with what the others have said. Dushku was a poor choice for the lead in the series. And to Ostiose Vagrant, the sole voice of "she wasn't THAT bad" praise, you have to understand that when a shows entire premise is following you taking on various completely different personalities, being a blank slate who can become ANYONE, adequate just doesn't do it. She needed to convincingly play 50 different notes, and she only has two. That's fine for playing one character who is tailored to you, but she was easily the second worst part of this show (after Topher, who was just irritating).

Short version: A show that never lived up to the occasional flashes of potential. Were it not a Whedon show to begin with, I doubt anyone would be talking about even a possibility of a renewal.

Eldritch said...

Anonymous said...
Did anyone else think that Ballard was being hired by the Dollhouse to hunt down Alpha? They called him a "contractor" and I can't imagine he'd be willing to become a handler, even Echo's handler
.

Yes.

At the end of the episode, when Boyd tells Adele that Alpha "still alludes us," she replies she is confident that they will find him now, because their new contractor's skills inspires such confidence. The camera then moves to Ballard, smiling smugly.

FilmFan said...

"The Sierra/November pairing at the end was actually in some of press copies of the episode."Not that I'm condoning this sort of thing, but any chance of the press copies ending up in the usual places? Or at least of the deleted scenes ending up on YouTube? I was really looking forward to seeing the Sierra / November double-act and couldn't believe it when the last we saw of them was them walking out of Topher's room.

Ostiose Vagrant said...

I guess I have some pathetic need to get the last word in. Oh well, it is what it is. This is mostly a response to the comment of "2:22 AM, May 10, 2009" Anonymous

I think I meant the Faith-bashing was not unwarranted but certainly beaten to death. Her shortcomings are kind of obvious and to dwell on it when there was a lot of positive to take from the series is, imo,a slight to the series.

If an NFL coach picks an option QB to run a run-and-shoot offense, I don't know if I blame the QB when he performs inconsistently.

The main gist is this: I think the point is the show had lofty ambitions and more than a few elements didn't rise to that height. But I would rather applaud it for trying to say something about the world even if the execution wasn't all there.

To explain, I like Chuck but I'm going to pick on it for a bit. Chuck is aiming to be a fun action comedy and it achieves that - to the point where the many plotholes become like a wink to the audience: "Just enjoy the ride." It's just not an ambitious show. It's mostly in that light tone and on the occasions when it goes for something emotional it sticks with familiar constructs from the how-to-create-a-touching-moment-Hollywood-style handbook. Throw in pop culture references from the 80s and you've got an episode or two. But what it aims for it does extremely well.

Something like Dollhouse is more authentic, where it's not just good versus evil. Unlike Chuck, every gap in the plot stick out like a sore thumb precisely because it's trying to create this world, this atmosphere. It provokes certain thoughts and questions - something that Chuck does not. The lukewarm feelings speak to a missed opportunity, it could have been something special. I do think maybe Whedon came up with the elements he wanted to present and then tried to weave a plot around those elements.
Like when Chuck fgets the intersect out; you knew it would reset and go back in somehow - the contrivances of tv. Similarly when Echo gets away from Alpha, for the continuance of the series she needed to go back to the Dollhouse. Admittedly, even reading the Sierra/November stuff in, Dollhouse didn't hit that well.

I think another lead would have made things better but I'm not ready to blame the entire downfall on Dushku.In the standalones, Dollhouse played like Tru Calling: an Eliza Dushku vehicle. In the mythology episodes it aspired to be great and landed short, but was still damn entertaining. To me, that's worthy of commendation.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

One more note on Dushku: The show became much more watchable once it focused on its own mythology and not on Echo's missions -- which were the original focus of the series. Has there ever been another series whose ostensible star has been set aside so thoroughly in favor of a supporting cast?

tabernacle said...

One of the difficulties of tackling that question is that we have to make some assumptions about the creators' intent and who the nominal star is, but I'll try nonetheless. [I highly doubt a TV show creator purposefully sets out to pull a "Psycho" and fake out the audience, but I don't really know.]

"Lost" has Jack; by and large, with recent exceptions, he is insufferable. In contrast, see Sawyer; extend the concept of "stealing a scene" so that it encompasses a whole show (kinda; there are too many other actors in the ensemble for that claim to really hold.)

"How I Met Your Mother" has douchey Ted. I'm glad he's in the show, but that first episode with the blue French horn turned me off of the whole thing, and I revisited the show only because people kept raving about it.

I don't watch "Grey's Anatomy" anymore, but when I did, my least favorite character was the one with her last name in the show's title.

And, of course, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." Cameron was more interesting that the character in the title; that's a gimme. But when mopey, emo John, when his uncle, when creepy eel-containing (SPOILER!) CEOs easily outdistance the supposed lead in charisma, well... Easier to change the show's subtitle.

Now your question is more about screen time and focus, right, and I think both "Lost" and "HIMYM" have indeed cannily edged away from their putative protagonist. Dunno about "Grey's." As for "Terminator," I'm not sure, on average, whether we really got less Sarah over time; it certainly doesn't FEEL that way, but that might just be my impression, colored by how welcome the Cameron scenes were and how unwelcome the focus on Sarah was.

Anonymous said...

The stand alone episodes were weak but the idea of them were necessary for they show us what the Dollhouse is and what the Dolls do. Unfortunately, the scripts weren't great; the acting not up to notch; and the general execution poor. They could have easily had Dushku as the main lead for the series but focused on the other dolls during the first 5 episodes. It wasn't necessary seeing the Dolls glitch every episode, it was too redundant.

While I would love to have seen the original episode, the 5 that were aired were a failure. I'm going to have to chalk it on Whedon and crew.

I think if you can develope a stand alone episode it's great for the show because we get to see characters interact and not always be serious. X-Files mastered stand alone episodes.

I know it's easy to talk so here's to Whedon for coming up with the idea. It has a lot of great stuff to build off on.

Anonymous said...

Too bad the show is not Whedon's idea... it was Fox and Dushku's vehicle, they brought Whedon in.

Anonymous said...

Wrong. The show was conceived by Whedon over a lunch with Dushku and then they approached Fox with the idea.

7s Tim said...

having read the previously linked script to this episode, i have to say i'll probably enjoy it a lot more on dvd, the ending especially.

and people can say what they want about Dushku, but whatever limits her acting may have, i don't think that was or can be blamed as the major contributing factor to people getting turned off the show. Poorly executed structure to the entire series-- in the building of suspense across multiple episodes-- as well as a concept that didn't lend itself to engendering emotional connection from the audience: these are the things that really made the show difficult. What factors of that may be studio or network interference or maybe just a (mostly) rare misfire by Joss as exec producer, we may never know. I think if it had two more seasons, this show might become really good. Then again, the chances of that(not the renewal, but the growth) are 50-50 at best, so maybe it is time to just let this one go and hope for better in the future. Maybe Minear or Espenson should get a show of their own, with Joss consulting?

lizriz said...

I really enjoy "Dollhouse," and I'll be really happy if it's renewed somehow. Even if it's not, I loved all the open-ended situations that the final episode left, not the least of which is Ballard. We have no idea what he's agreed to or what he's planning, and his choosing November to save rocked the house.

"Steve said...

Alpha was dominated by personalities that conflicted with each other. That's very different from Echo who managed to break away from parameters of each engagement and incorporate behaviors into herself. Echo really was special, she was capable of combining and controlling the personalities before Alpha ever got his hands on her."

Absolutely. The entire point of Echo's composure in the face of all of her personalities was that she is not like Alpha. She can hold all the personalities in her head without glitching. She is completely not what Alpha expected. Rocked.

The soul facing the body: Rocked.

Ballard catching the girl, but it's a hard drive: Rocked.

Topher definitely added into Whisky's doctor programming that she hated him, but we don't know why. This is one part I'd love to learn more about.

From the beginning I've felt that the show has a bit of a 70s vibe. Love it.

My fav episode to date was the one where Echo has to kill the psycho that took her out hunting. A mix of one-offs and story progression episodes would work fine with me, and I love all the additional characters, of course. I don't think including those storylines takes away from my interest in Echo's storylines at all.

I guess I'm only sad that even seems so sure it won't get renewed. Sigh.

Sarah said...

What is going to happen to Enver Gjokaj's character?

7s Tim said...

He's going to live a happy life with lots of lollies.

Eldritch said...

Sarah said...
What is going to happen to Enver Gjokaj's character
?

A competent plastic surgeon will be brought in and he'll be flawlessly repaired, as Amy Acker should have been. And then he'll be as cute as ever, season after season.

Moreover, Adele's bosses will be so very displeased that her lax security allowed Alpha's intrusion that she'll be demoted to the status of an Active. First she'll be scanned for her skills, of course.

Then Enver will be programmed with her wedge and he will take over as the new Director. He'll tighten up security and run an efficient organization, but find himself oddly attracted to the newest Active, whom he will secretly spirit away after stressful days to his impressive Malibu beach house with the magnificent ocean view. ;-)

Ballard, however, will . . .

David said...

I just watched the final episode and realized that the building that houses the Dollhouse is the building I work in in Century City!

Wait a second......

Does that mean I'm not a astrophysicist/trained assasin?

I wondered why there were all those cater waiter uniforms in my closet.

Dang!