So the big TV event of the day at Comic-Con was the screening of "Epitaph One," the 13th episode of "Dollhouse" season one, which Fox the TV studio produced to help the foreign/DVD sales, but which Fox the network hasn't bought because they already paid for 13 episodes (counting the original, scrapped pilot).
Now, I suspect many of you who care enough about "Dollhouse" to be reading this entry have already illegally downloaded the episode since it leaked last week, or perhaps you were in Ballroom 20 to watch it with me and 4500 of my closest friends. If not, and you intend to watch "Dollhouse" season two in the fall, I strongly recommend at least renting the DVD after it comes out on Tuesday, both because "Epitaph One" is easily the strongest episode to date, and because it's going to be crucial to how season two plays out. Really, it's one of the most important DVD extras ever.
After the jump, I'm going to discuss the episode -- and the weird implications it will have on the series -- in abstract, relatively spoiler-free terms, including some quotes from Joss from the panel. Because the episode has now been screened via legal means, I'm going to say that it's okay to spoil the episode in the comments, so read anything after the initial post at your own risk. Thoughts coming up just as soon as I enjoy some shellfish...
So, "Epitaph One" begins in 2019, in a nightmarish future where a small band of would-be heroes (including Whedon favorite Felicia Day, plus Sepinwall favorite Zach Ward) stumble across the abandoned Dollhouse. Using the imprint chair, they figure out how the larger Dollhouse organization is responsible for the state of the world, while at the same time we get to see some major developments in the future for all the series' regular characters as the larger global scenario played out.
Written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen and directed by David Solomon, "Epitaph One" takes the moral implications of the Dollhouse to their horrific extreme, and its vignette-laden narrative plays to every actors' strengths: Eliza Dushku doesn't have to do too much heavy lifting, Enver Gjokaj gets to show off several very different personas, etc. I'm really glad I got to see it, and on a big screen in a room full of so many enthusiastic fans.
What concerns me, though, is that "Epitaph One" is such a game-changer for the series -- revealing so much about what the show is really about, and what the future has in store for all the regulars -- that it's somewhat alarming to think it's only going to be on the DVD, especially since Joss said they fully intend to follow up on it over the course of season two. We'll check in on some of the 2019 characters, Whedon intends to explore the parameters (logistically and morally) of what can be done with the imprinting tech, along similar lines to what's discussed in "Epitaph One," and the new season is even going to be shot in the same more immediate (and inexpensive) visual style as this episode.
But while I expect a lot of the show's fans to care enough to seek out the DVD, my guess is that less than half of regular "Dollhouse" viewers who will have seen "Epitaph One" by the time season two begins. Whatever the percentages, we're heading for a scenario where some of the audience will be awash in this huge bath of new information, while others will have no idea who the 2019 people are, or about what we glimpsed of, say, Echo's future. I talked briefly with Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen after the panel, and they said there will likely be some repetition of information from "Epitaph One" to explain things to the viewers who didn't see it, but I can't imagine that explanation being nearly as powerful as simply watching "Epitaph One" itself.
Joss also said that those of us who watched "Epitaph" shouldn't automatically take all the flashbacks as gospel, as they're presented as memories, and memories aren't always what actually happened.
"What we intend to do is honor what you've seen here today," he said, "but also to question the veracity of what you've seen here today." He also said that "The future will inform where we go with the show," but, "it's not going to inform the show so much that it becomes a post-apocalyptic-sometimes show... We're going to use it to take the show slightly on a new tack, but it's still what we wanted to do had we not done the future -- which was twist the knife."
Again, I think "Epitaph One" is an incredible hour of television -- and, more than "Man on the Street," or "A Spy in the House of Love," or any of the episodes from the stronger second half of "Dollhouse" season one, makes me think Joss actually did know what he was doing with this premise, even if the execution of the early episodes was disappointing -- but I don't think it was a good idea to do such a monumental, series-altering episode as one that everyone involved had to suspect might never air on Fox. (At the time it was produced, "Epitaph One" was being made only for the DVD.) Of course, the counter-argument would be that Joss and company couldn't have known that they'd be renewed, and "Epitaph One" would have functioned as a brilliant series finale had Fox not ordered more. Better to have it, and the complications it now creates with renewal, then for Joss to have commissioned another standalone episode where one of Echo's assignments goes awry.
As Joss joked when a fan asked about how the show would deal with all the issues raised in "Epitaph One" during season two, "We talked about a lot of things, when we accidentally forgot to get canceled."
What did everybody else think? Do you think the show can easily bring non-viewers of the episode up to speed early next season?