Friday, January 29, 2010

Dollhouse, "Epitaph Two": End at the beginning

And so we've come to an end of "Dollhouse." A review of the finale - or, really, some thoughts about the series as a whole - coming up just as soon as I tell you that I used to be a landscape architect...

What an odd little show was "Dollhouse." The premise seemed like a silly idea - or, at least, the early execution made it seem so - Eliza Dushku seemed miscast in a role that called for more versatility than she could muster, and the best and most important episode by far is one that never actually aired on television. (And if you didn't watch it in its many non-TV iterations, I hope you were able to make some sense of "Epitaph Two," because the finale assumed you'd seen it and didn't bother with hand-holding.)

And yet somehow, Joss Whedon and company made me care enough about the show and, especially, about its characters, that I... Well, I'm not exactly sad it's over, because I still believe the concept was too limited, and what made the last run of episodes so good was that Joss and company knew the end was coming and they didn't have to hold back. But I'm happy that Joss got to mostly end the show on his own terms, to give characters like Victor and Sierra and Topher(*) some closure, and to finish the story he started - even if he had to do it in a rushed, shoestring budget way.

(*) Ultimately, the degree to which I was invested in Topher's fate - Topher! - may be the most incredible thing about "Dollhouse" from "Epitaph One" on. This was a character I viewed as symbolic of most of what wasn't working about the show in the early days, but once Topher began developing a conscience, Fran Kranz and the writers consistently knocked it out of the park. I have no idea if this was a course correction or the plan all along - show us an amoral man, then show him discovering morality with the highest stakes possible - but damn, did it work.

Because here's the thing about Joss Whedon: he makes me care about the kinds of shows I shouldn't (and usually don't) care about. Vampires hold no intrinsic appeal to me, yet I never missed an episode of "Buffy." The premise of "Firefly" is fundamentally silly, yet I love that show and have watched it and the "Serenity" movie many times over. And, again, here was a show that had no business working, yet I found episodes like "Man on the Street," "A Spy in the House of Love" and "Belonging" to be terribly engrossing. And he does that because he's great at creating and casting characters(**), and at making them seem real and vital and sympathetic no matter what the show is about. I think space cowboys are silly, but I cared about Mal Reynolds. And, ultimately, I wanted things to work out okay for Victor and Sierra - or, at least, for them and the other characters to get some kind of ending.

(**) He's particularly good with supporting characters. Buffy and Angel were interesting to a point, but "Firefly" is the only Whedon show where I found myself liking and being entertained by the star as much as I cared about the second bananas.

And "Epitaph Two" offered plenty of closure, as well as just enough in the way of happy endings to feel satisfying without completely undermining what we saw in "Epitaph One."

Priya and Tony wind up together with their son, albeit after a lot of bumpy years and a lot of USB uploads for Tony/Victor. Topher gets to undo all the personality wipes his tech called, even if he can't undo all the collateral damage that came with it, and he has to sacrifice his life to do it. (Though after his knowledge of all the pain he caused, death was an obvious blessing for him.) Paul dies, but Alpha (returned, reformed and mostly sane) finds a kind application for the dollhouse tech, and for Echo's ability to absorb and control multiple personalities at once, by arranging for her to imprint herself with Paul - to let him into herself(***), when she couldn't do it metaphorically when he was still alive.

(***) And because that moment comes so late in an incredibly busy finale, we don't have to spend much time dwelling on how the logistics of this would work. If Paul is now a part of Echo, and she can love him, does that mean her other various personalities can have relationships with each other?

There's not enough time (or money in the budget or days on the schedule) to provide closure for everyone (Dominic, Whiskey), but an imperfect but often moving finale feels right for this show, you know?

We can argue about whether Fox meddled too much with the early episodes of the show, or if the concept itself was going to make "Dollhouse" a non-starter for a broadcast network-sized audience. But Fox did renew it, and they gave Joss enough warning to wrap things up, and they kept to their promise to air all the episodes in a relatively timely fashion (give or take a telethon). The show ultimately didn't work commercially, but the treatment was vastly better than a different Fox administration gave "Firefly."

Still, my ears couldn't help but perk up when FX president John Landgraf said at press tour that he had an upcoming lunch scheduled with Joss. Joss has sounded reluctant in the past to leave the familiarity (and, of course, the bigger budgets/paychecks) of network TV for cable, but I'm guessing/hoping this experience has finally convinced him it's worth sacrificing some dollars for more creative freedom and reduced viewer expectations. I think an unfettered Joss Whedon could make an absolutely kick-ass show for FX, or HBO, or whoever's smart enough to hire him and mostly leave him alone. And if the "Dollhouse" experience, while ultimately not a success, leads to that, then this will all have been worth it.

What did everybody else think?

56 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know. I found that a pretty unsatisfying finale. I guess some of it had to do with the fact that we already knew how things would turn out (the good guys win. shock!) and this episode was just showing us the pieces falling into place, but I also thought it introduced a lot of new elements (Victor and the tech freaks, safe haven, Neuropolis) that weren't very well developed and didn't always make a ton of sense. Also, while I enjoyed Dr. Horrible, Felicia Day is really not a very good actress.

Billiam said...

I agree that we got the right number of happy endings (though really ever ending was at least bittersweet, except for the fact that they did succeed in undoing the "thoughpocalypse".) We also got the right number of deaths: Topher's was moving, and Ballard's was quick and surprising (although the post-apocalyptic nature of the episode made me naturally expect a death or two).
And Echo stayed Echo at the end, rather than reverting back to Caroline.

Joey Germ, MNIS said...

I just absolutely loved it. About as close to perfect as it could've gotten. Topher made me tear up, and it was all just amazing.

I'll miss you Dollhouse, but I think the cancellation was good for your quality.

Lisa said...

I totally agree with this statement you made: "Because here's the thing about Joss Whedon: he makes me care about the kinds of shows I shouldn't (and usually don't) care about." I don't normally like vampire stuff (forget Twilight) but I discovered that I loved Buffy. I don't like cowboy anything, but Firefly was good (loved Wash). Not a big superhero/comic book fan, but I adored Dr. Horrible. Joss is terrific at writing and fleshing out characters. He's also been very good at finding incredibly talented actors in all his projects.

Mahaloth said...

Very cool episode and a great end to a show that could have been great over a 7 year run(or a 5 year run).

Anyone remember what Alpha's original personality was?

medrawt said...

I thought it was a fine ending for the show in terms of wrapping up what I wanted it to, but I didn't think it was one of the show's strongest episodes. I am fascinated by how in the last few episodes, and especially this one, they just started shedding off new and potentially cool ideas; I really want to see what Whedon would do over 13 episodes with characters who keep their personality elements on USB drives.

When Paul bit it, in totally classic Whedon fashion, my first thought was "oh shit!" and my second that was that he's slowly trying to even the score between major female characters and major male characters who've gotten abruptly killed onscreen, though by my count he's still only got two for the guys.

Also, did anybody else experience the show getting cut off abruptly? Echo lay down in her pod, there was an overhead shot, and then all of a sudden there was the Mutant Enemy logo, the Fox music, and the intro for the Gordon Ramsay show. I assume there was no more content anyway, just a cut to credits, but I was curious whether, now that the tech is destroyed and everyone's "themself" (other than Echo), they would've ended the show with the imprinting/wiping sequence they used for ever other episode.

Joseph Thomson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SoundBitesNYC said...

song over final montage was "everywhere i go" by lissie, if you were wondering.

http://www.myspace.com/lissiemusic

Billiam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jen said...

Overall I'd say it was adequate. Unsurprisingly it felt a bit rushed; they really had to throw things at us. I wish I had watched Epitaph One more recently so that the jump into the future was less abrupt. But for the most part, I'm glad we got answers and, at the same time, surprises.

I think I'm a bit skeeved out by the idea of Paul and Echo inhabiting the same brain, though. Something about it is a bit icky and not as sweet as I think may have been intended.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Yeah, guys, no talking about Lost spoilers (or spoilers for any shows, or other shows) here. Please.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the warning about Lost. I'm going to have a media blackout for the next 95 hours.
You are so right about Topher, I HATED him at first and yet when they turned his character around it didnt seem forced .Good job show.
I hope Joss will go to FX, why are people so afraid of cable? I would be very happy if Joss and a certain red head left the cancel happy networks, and took a pay cut in exchange for more creative freedom.
-Stacy

Hyde said...

I thought this was a very entertaining season of Dollhouse (in large part due to the need to rush so much plot), and what we saw (particularly this week) provided a glimpse of how the series might have been able to last for several years under different circumstances.

But I thought the last two episodes were almost too rushed (Victor's techie pals were an entirely new subculture introduced in a series finale!), and while I don't consider myself a stickler for consistency, there were way too many deus ex machina-y things going on towards the end (examples: Dominic physically leaving the attic to warn Echo, November resisting her imprint in order to keep from killing Mr. Ball-ard, the head of Rossum deciding there was nothing more important for him to do for several years than babysit one active). And I couldn't figure out why Alpha even needed to be in the finale (let alone with a completely unexplained reformation) except that he's played by Alan Tudyk, so people would be expecting it.

But I still looked forward to it every week, and now with both Dollhouse and BSG gone, my Fridays will open up somewhat. I look forward to seeing Dichen Lachman and Enver Gjokaj in more successful projects, perhaps even with Whedon.

Anonymous said...

Whedon & crew don't have too many happy ending so I particularly enjoyed this one.

Bix said...

medrawt-

As far as major male characters killed onscreen, you're forgetting Doyle, Wesley, and arguably Gunn (he didn't die onscreen, but they made a point of saying he was going to die) on top of Boyd and Ballard.

Bix said...

Oh and BTW...

Alan-

Any chance that you and/or Mo will be able to do a postmortem interview with Jed/Joss/Maurissa? The dangling threads (what exactly happened between "Hollow Men" and the Epitaph 1/2 future in terms of the tech, the last couple flashbacks in E1, Alpha turning good, and Tony's new tech) being left alone the way they were is weird and annoying.

Plus I'm curious of Maurissa Tancharoen's character in this ep was supposed to be Kilo.

Tausif Khan said...

Alan,

I believe that Joss Whedon's shows have benefited from having most of his main lead actors possess the abilities of character actors. This was crucial in Dollhouse but suffered from focusing on the blandest characters.

Also, his actors can generally effortlessly switch between comedy and drama. I have often said that Tahmoh Penikett needs to attend the Nathan Fillion school of Joss Whedon humor (I would now replace Fillion with Enver Gjokaj).

Whedon has often said that Topher is the character most like himself. What does it mean that Topher sacrificed himself for the sake of humanity and to allow Echo (played by Dushku) to continue her work. Is this similar to the mission of the Dr. Horrible Project?

I feel Whedon has been reluctant to go back to television because he is looking for a way to make sure that artists are able to retain a bulk of the profits from televised enterprises. That was the mission of Dr. Horrible. The power needs to be put into different hands.

Whedon has said that he wants to find a way to monetize internet productions that don't look like they are shot in someone's basement. This is important for the future of writers in this modern media age. It is crucial project of actors and television writer/directors.

WWWeaves said...

I was pissed by Paul's death only because, come on, Joss, enough with the sudden death just when they're about to be happy, already. I would have seriously loved 4-5 more episodes, but no more. There was so much incredible character in the brief sketches we saw. I am now crushing Zack Ward. It totally didn't suck. I am looking forward to watching it on DVD.

BigTed said...

I found the conclusion satisfying enough, given the time constraints and the fact that this entire season was a huge step above the first. (I'm really glad I watched "Epitaph One" on the kind of website I ordinarily wouldn't even know how to find on the Internet.)

It was a little annoying that Topher was able to create a device that turns all the dolls back to normal, given that it goes against everything we know about the tech. (I'll offer an explanation, even though the show never bothered to: The earlier dolls had their real personalities "wiped," so there's no way you could put them back to normal without having a copy of that original mind to put back. But the chairless "wipe everybody" tech that Topher invented didn't actually have to remove the original personality, it just overlaid another one on top of it. And Topher's brain-reset bomb just removed the new personality so the old one was left. Well, that's as good a solution as any.)

The only really disappointing aspect of the plot was Alpha's mysterious return to sanity -- he was far less interesting without the crazies, and it seemed as if maybe the writers didn't one one more big obstacle to deal with. But a happy, huggy Alpha is a lot less interesting than a nutso one.

As for Ballard being installed in Echo's brain, I'd like to think that leaves her/him open to falling for Felicia Day's character, since (like a certain other Whedon character we know) she's been suddenly revealed as a cute redheaded gay lady. If they could just use the chair one more time and install Mellie into her head, then everyone would be happy.

Rick said...

medrawt, I would count a male death from each of the Whedon finales: Spike, Wesley, Wash, and Paul.

Good finale, though I missed the Whedon "Car blows out the match" twist right before everything worked out. Not one I need on DVD, now that I know how it all wraps.

Anonymous said...

Joss has not been interested in cable because it means a much lower paycheck. He is considering it now because the truth is no network wants him. His shows never get strong ratings (Buffy only stayed so long because it was UPN). Also, he dumps on networks that give him multiple chances. Even though FOX gave Dollhouse a million chances and stuck through the low ratings to renew it, he blames FOX (again) for his failure. Admittedly, with Firefly FOX is partially to blame. But when you consider that despite that he went back to FOX for Dollhouse, and they renewed his low rated show, he continues to blame them for the show's failure. Enough is enough. He should take some responsibility. The premise had flaws, the original pilot was incomprehensible, and his lead actress could not act. Even in the finale I was struck by just how awful an actress Eliza Dushku is. His ego needs to take a rest. Criticizing FOX in private and in public to Mo Ryan comes off as childish and immature. It is time to man up.

Number Five said...

Given the situation they were in, that was an excellent overall way to go out.

Of course it's frustrating too, seeing elements that would have gotten whole episodes or sub-plots dealt with in the blink of an eye. Even if they hadn't gone five seasons, think about what could have been done with 26 episodes if there had been no filler.

Yeah, it looked like there was supposed to be more of a trailing away in the very last shot, but it ended abruptly. Hopefully it'll be normal on the DVD, and Fox just cut off a couple seconds because they completely maxed out their airtime.

That child actress did a great job reflecting many of Dushku's mannerisms as Caroline/Echo. It would have been interesting to see two versions of the same person interact more, but I can see why there wasn't time.

I agree about Topher and would add that it was even more devastating when he interacted with Adelle. I was most affected by scenes of the two major characters with the most culpability/blood on their hands - amazing!

The one thing I wish they'd delved into a little more was the ethics of the endgame. The Big Brain Bang actually works out really well: 1) normal people are unaffected, 2) randomly wiped people (90% of the surviving population) are restored but with no memory since the wipe (so everyone except the first wave of wipees has some knowledge of the thoughtpocalypse), and 3) Actives (who can't number more than, say, 10,000 people?) return to their original self, with no memory since the very first wipe. So the vast majority of Actives who had re-entered society and gotten randomly wiped or stayed Dolls get themselves back, while the LA Dollhouse actives who had regained themselves and live in Safe Haven are protected from losing memories in the reverse wipe. Priya, Anthony, and Echo avoid it by staying underground during the explosion.

But there are still some key ethical issues, mostly surrounding Echo. Is it ok that Echo is alive and in control of Eliza Dushku, while Caroline, who was a real person, is now sharing space with 30 other subordinate personalities? Isn't the Ballard in her head the one whose last memory was being killed by Alpha 10 years ago? You could make an entire show just out of those questions and the life in general after saving the world angle.

Oh, and did anything ever come of the Echo spinal fluid vaccine from the previous episode?

Anyways, despite the frustration of some missed potential, the show was always fascinating and especially brilliant when it grappled with the darkest implications of the technology in its premise and how it affected both individual people and the world at large. I'm really glad I watched!

medrawt said...

I don't think Alan's spoiler rules really apply to anything I'm about to say, but just in case, I'm about to reference plot developments from Buffy TV show and comic, Angel, Firefly, and Dr. Horrible.

Sorry for being unclear re: male death; I was referring specifically to the sudden death that comes without warning (no narrative sense that a person is going to die), as a surprise. Both Wesley and Doyle, IIRC, got death scenes in a more traditional dramatic sense. Wesley was getting his ass magically kicked and was clearly in a bad spot, plus he had a moment with Fred before he went. Wash's death is the only male equivalent I can recall with certainty (contrast his w/Book's); Summer Glau's character here had one just the other week, and Felicity Day's character had one in Dr. Horrible, plus Tara and arguably (been a few years now) Anya from Buffy. I feel like I'm missing others. Hell's, Xander's girlfriend from the Dracula arc of the BtVS Season 8 comics gets a comics-y equivalent.

I think what really strikes me as distinctive is that the narrative convention of shows with action is that main characters go through dangerous circumstances all the time and we're conditioned to expect that; usually, when such a character is going to die, we get some preparation - a fight that clearly isn't going well, a lingering shot of the gunman or the perilous booby trap or whatever. And when we don't it's a Big Deal. Whedon seems to like throwing these things up with no warning and then in effect shrugging them off. I like the effect, but I didn't think he'd done it with his male characters nearly as much. Also it's often though maybe not always the case that the death comes from offscreen - Wash gets impaled from out of nowhere, we don't see the source of the shot that killed Paul tonight, Tara and Willow are in what we consider to be a safe space, on the second floor of a house, and Warren is in the yard outside. I feel like there's something that groups these deaths together, a particular aesthetic, that separates them from the deaths of Boyd, Book, Doyle, Wesley, Fred, Cordelia, implied Gunn, Anya, Tara, Spike, Buffy, and (again) Buffy.

belinda said...

It was a satisfying ending to what is ultimately, albeit flawed, series.

I liked the ending, but Paul and Echo/Caroline's "relationship" still bugs me:-
- In the beginning, Paul is obsessed with Caroline, we don't really know why other than because of the mystery of Dollhouse and, hey, maybe she looks great in a picture.
- Paul and Mellie have a relationship. They both do genuinely love each other.
- Mellie is a doll, Paul takes Dollhouse job to get November out (so presumably loves that imprint enough to do so).
- Paul is Echo's handler. Echo trusts Paul with her zillion personalities. Paul treats her like he's her handler.
- During training Echo gets all in love with Paul, but Paul doesn't or doesn't want to reciprocate.
- Echo is imprinted with Caroline, I guess both Echo and Caroline still loves Paul
- Paul dies and becomes a Paul doll, and his 'love'/connection with Echo was supposedly taken out for motor skills.
- Paul, devoid of his Echo feelings, still cares for Mellie while they take down Tuscon, Mellie dies.
- Then we assume in the last 10 years that Paul is after all in love with Echo, but Echo this time doesn't want to reciprocate fully, - Paul dies (for a second time), and Echo now does love him.
- And now we get the end that Paul is living inside Echo's brain, which is sweet yet creepy at the same time.

I guess maybe that's why that particular ending wasn't so satisfying even though it was a cool idea - the actual Paul/Echo (where possible genuine bonding moments were mostly off screen) moments we never saw, and I'm left wondering still exactly why Paul loves Echo (or is it Caroline) and why Echo loves Paul.

I have a dumb question of sorts:

So the Scooby gang hikes from Neuropolis (or Tuscon) back to the Dollhouse headquarters in LA, and there's like butchers everywhere along the way. They make their way through to the Dollhouse tunnel, yet at the end when Adele and co are outside waiting for Topher's 'actual' bomb to set off, how come they weren't ravaged by the butchers (since the bomb hasn't set off yet, they're still butchers wandering around looking for food) outside?

Mark S. said...

I think Whedon gave Dollhouse the happy ending it deserved. It was a bit rushed in places, but overall interesting. As we watch the finale, it's interesting to look back at the whole series (as I did on my review) and wonder what could have been with more support from Fox. Or without the client of the week episodes (which were always the worst episodes). And also to wonder about lingering questions, such as was Alpha part of Boyd's plan?

I'm looking forward to whatever Whedon does next. But it most likely won't be on Fox again.

Anonymous said...

The ending did not make much sense to me. I stuck through this far and was pretty dissapointed...

Anonymous said...

I don't know about anyone else, but when I saw Adelle for the first time with the strawberries, all I could think about was Gaius Baltar and his lovely little farm.

tony libido said...

Bleh.
Good riddance to a very flawed show.

Tausif Khan said...

Questions and response to Anonymous @ 12:55

Can you site the assertion that Joss will not go to cable because it pays less? Why does he want to work on the internet (which pays nothing)?

According to the Maureen Ryan interview:

Whedon: "But for me, the Internet is slightly more interesting right now just because I feel like we have to get in there and start figuring out how to create entertainment without the networks and the studios, because they’re basically trying to figure out how to create and entertain without us." To illustrate his point, he noted that residual payments for "Dollhouse" were "pennies, because they're not re-running it, they're just putting it on Hulu." "That whole system is crumbling and with the advent of the new technology, crews are going to get smaller and when things move to the Internet, there is no format where people make the kind of money they’ve made in television," he said. "The artistic community is more and more left out of the equation, so the trick is going to be finding out how to make the Internet work in such a way that people [can get by] because it’s not going to pay TV money. It’s not."

This shows that he is trying to create a business model for his fellow writer/directors and actors. He wants to make sure that people can make money from what they love to do.

Agreed none of his shows ever had strong ratings. Is the popularity of a piece of art the sole criteria for its evaluation? What about raising important philosophical questions? Getting viewers to think? What will make people want to watch these shows in the future?

What has Whedon blamed Fox for doing to Dollhouse? It’s Friday night deathslot? It’s lack of promotion? Are these not correct accusations?

How is Joss Whedon or any of the creative people involved with Firefly responsible for its demise?

Tausif Khan said...

Questions and response to Anonymous @ 12:55

Whedon has noted that the first five episodes (before “Man on the Street”) were not good. He has stated openly that in the episode where Echo goes blind he was not happy with it because they did not say enough with the piece. Moreover, he has objectively stated that Fox wanted him to do standalone episodes and at the same time admits readily that he is not good at writing those type of episodes. By this understanding it seems that Fox wanted him to make House or CSI: Des Moines (Maureen Ryan’s catch-all term for bland procedurals). Which he admits he is not good at. The shows mission was to broach questions of identity and consciousness. See specifically episodes “Briar Rose” and “Omega”.

his lead actress could not act: Joss Whedon does not own Eliza Dushku. In fact Eliza Dushku had a development deal with Fox meaning that had to create a series for her. She was the one who brought Joss Whedon to Fox. Dushku was also a producer on the show.

Eliza Dushku is a good actress. See her work as Faith on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It became evident that she does not have the ability to display multiple personalities at once like Alan Tudyk can. This season they understood this and when it came time for her to showcase a couple personalities she simply said that Eleanor Penn and Roma Klar are fighting over who gets to solve the mystery. I felt she did a good job playing the character Terry Mary Karrens earlier in the season. I think critics have been too hard on her and need to take a look back on her body of work.

Tausif KHan said...

Questions and response to Anonymous @ 12:55

In terms of Whedon discussing his specific interactions with and decisions by a broadcast network, it is important for people with rabid fan bases to discuss the working process of creating art. By discussing problems out in the open other creators will know what they have to face in the future. It also exposes unfair practices and gives greater agency to artists over corporate decision makers. Because in the end television is about a communication between writers, directors, authors and their viewers (no matter how small in size they maybe).

That being said, while certain episodes had problems with writing or acting others where phenomenal. Enver Gjokaj’s impression of Reed Dominic and Topher Brink. Dichen Lachman’s pain in Belonging. The Attic broached the importance of individual consciousness and critical thinking. The images represented in this episode were not only visually stunning but intellectually stimulating. Therefore many of the important elements of the show worked. For this Whedon and company need to be given credit.

Tausif Khan said...

ETA: In fact Eliza Dushku had a development deal with Fox meaning that Fox had to create a series for her.

tribalism said...

There was a lot of ground that this episode had to cover in such a short period of time, but I am thankful that we had a few scenes of Echo Classic with the Wee Lil’ Echo Active (WLEA). I think, however, that the creators missed a great opportunity here to touch upon one particular issue related to Dollhouse’s persistent theme of identity.

Echo Classic and the WLEA only shared the same personality up to the point when Topher downloaded that identity onto a hard drive (the ‘Previously on Dollhouse’ segment showed that Echo Classic wasn’t sporting any gray locks at that time). The WLEA wasn’t privy to any of the experiences that Echo Classic had been through since then, so their personalities would have diverged to a certain degree since their experiences help define who they are. When that divergence occurs, they become different individuals. With the mass reversal of imprints, the separate Echo personality that developed in the young girl’s body also ceased to exist. Echo Classic didn’t want to lose the impact that the imprinting had on her as it had become part of what defined her—dolls Romeo and Kilo certainly felt the same way. As immoral as the imprinting tech was, one could argue that the personalities that resulted from such technology were still distinct identities—artificially created, perhaps, but still real.

I go into more details about my thoughts regarding this matter in my blog. If you want to read more, click on my username for the link.

LoopyChew said...

@Mahaloth: Alpha was once a career criminal (kidnapping/attempted murder) called Carl William Craft (Paul: "Three names. Always ominous.")

@Belinda: I don't think Paul was "suddenly in love with Echo again"--spend ten years even with a total stranger, things can reopen again, perhaps somewhere else. That's why they specifically namecheck the underlying Victor(Tony)/Sierra(Priya) relationship despite all the brain reprogramming.

I can't say I wasn't moved by this ending, and I'm happy I got to watch this series in its entirety now. I like the fact that, despite the feeling of closure, you can see the threads they would have continued had there been third, fourth, and fifth seasons (in current-day, they haven't explained how Boyd's death caused the thought-pocalypse; in Epitaph, Echo hasn't destroyed the chair, and they'd have to deal with the ramifications of hiding underground for the year while everyone else outside was recovering from said thought-pocalypse--and if Epitaph Two was a precedent, they'd start it as they were emerging from the Dollhouse). I felt moved by Topher's death and by Caroline's eventual reaction to Paul's death. I liked what I'm assuming was Alpha's parting gift to Echo on the chair. I liked seeing Big Mama Adelle and Zone being the new shepherds of a bunch of awakened people. I love that they managed to cram Bennett Halverson into a brief, post-mortem role, and Topher's touching her image on the screen on the lips. Alpha's reference to the multiple schizophrenics in his head (which I'm aware isn't as funny if you're actually referring to schizophrenia as opposed to actual MPD) cracked me up.

Paul's death was the one thing that left me a little "enh." I think The Sarah Connor Chronicles has me spoiled for underplayed death scenes (sure, they had the camera linger on him and the whomping sound, but it wasn't a giant, played-out affair as the Death of a Major Character[tm] would have had in most cases).

Overall, it was an interesting experiment, and the sophomore streak certainly makes up for the freshman fumbles. I would've liked to see how the series would continue, but I guess it'll have to do so in my head. Kinda appropriately.

crackblind said...

Still processing a lot of it. Found it very interesting and looking forward to a rewatch.

One thing was bothering me - why didn't Echo download Topher so she could help out? They already showed this was a possibility.

Liz said...

I watched the first six episodes, never liked the premise of the show but tuned into the finale. Needless to say, I was totally lost. It had moved from stand alone episodes to something that looked like a Terminator world. A lot I will have catch up on when the DVDs come out.

Alyson said...

Regarding Whiskey: It's been awhile since I've seen Epitaph One. Do we know what happened to her after they left for the Safehouse? I seem to recall an explosion of some kind, but maybe I'm confusing that with someone else. Anyone remember?

Chip said...

Great finale, least fave Whedon show but in comparison to other TV that's a good list to be on. But man I hope Joss gets his day. Watching the scene btwn Echo and fat Harding, it dawned on me that if this concept had been fully realized/better executed it could've been the next Matrix. No joke

Michael said...

@Alyson: I watched Epitaph I right before Ep II. At the end of the first episode, the butchers had come down into the Dollhouse and Whiskey flipped some switches to make some knockout gas come on. The last we saw of her, she was on the upper balcony looking down at the unconscious people.

After watching Ep I and reading the comments here about it at the time (after it had premiered at San Diego), it was interesting to see which threads and scenes from it were picked up over season 2 and which weren't. We saw Paul as Echo's handler and Boyd leaving Saunders, for example, but nothing about how Whiskey ends up staying in the Dollhouse. The comments here also implied (or said) that we would not only see the things that led up to EpII, but we'd be checking in on Zone, Maggie, and Mini-Me during the series. Obviously things changed once the season got started.

Anonymous said...

" She's a techhead, Mag! "
...
" She's a girl, Mag! "

Anonymous said...

There's one outstanding scene filmed. It was movie caliber material. It's when everyone was at the dinner table and Paul says "the world still needs heros." It then flows and shows everyone reactions to his corny comment. Reminded me of the greatness of firefly and what was not revealed in this show (at least not often enough). Everyone became their role, they weren't playing one.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I've watched the episode twice now. Mostly because I found it so confusing the first time that I barely understood it. I think I'm pretty clear on everything now, but I think there were a lot of elements that were introduced and not fully explained and a lot of elements that were totally glossed over. Among these:

How did Adelle, Priya, etc. get from the dollhouse to safe haven?

How did Topher get kidnapped?

How did everyone in the world get wiped? Last thing we saw was Rossum and the mass-printing technology getting blown up.

Why were some people made butchers and some people dumbheads?

What was the end game for the Rossum people? I inititally assumed it was some sort of military plan. Or to use Echo to create a vaccine which they could sell to the general population. Here it seemed like their big plan was to...eat themselves silly? And shouldn't most of their plans have died with Boyd?

Whatever came of the vaccine? It gets a minor reference, but that's it. It seemed to be a major plot point earlier.

Who were the techheads? Where did that technology come from and why did these people want anything to do with it given what was going on?

Why exactly did Anthony decide to abandon his wife and son to join the techheads?

Was the pulse at the end permanent? Sure it turned everyone back, but was there anything to stop them from getting imprinted again?

Why exactly did Mag have to stay underground? Why exactly did Alpha go back above ground? What was the point of Alpha's earlier plans for Echo? And at what point did he become an ally?

Finally, the lesbian subplot seemed juvenile and the Summer Glau cameo seemed random. I realize that a lot of these questions were things they couldn't address in such a short time and a lot had to be inferred about what happened between episodes, but I think there were too many inferences and too many lingering questions for this to really be considered a good finale.

ripvanruben said...

In response to anonymous directly above me, answers to most of these questions will be answered in the inevitable comic book follow up series that I'm guessing will start coming out in late 2011.

barefootjim said...

I liked it overall, though I felt that a "happy" ending felt inevitable from the start.

That said, I really thought it was amazing that all of the previouslies were from an episode that never actually aired.

That, right there, may be Network Television History.

Anonymous said...

None of that is essential to enjoying the episode. Most of it's self-explanatory. It's given, you go with the flow, and watch how it ends.

At some point certain events happen, it's been what 10 years for events to change?

While it would be nice to see it executed, not necessary.

No way one episode could do that.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

It's not that I didn't think the show acquired some storytelling momentum toward the end so much as that I think the fact of an impending end is the only reason it built that momentum up in the first place. From the start of the season's episodes, all indications were that the show was content to stick with the trick-of-the-week storylines that were so deadly and tedious at the outset of the series. I really think that until the end was nigh for the show we were going to keep getting occasional oblique hints about bad things looming in the future that would never actually come to pass, buried in between tedious tales of Echo the Backup Singer and Echo the Nursing Mother and Echo the Blind Penguin.

The same applies to what character development we saw in the second season - the only reason it was possible for Topher to develop a conscience was because the show needed him to because it was moving toward a final confrontation, not spinning its wheels. The only reason it finally dealt with the implications of the Doll technology was because it was a better and more satisfying approach than tricks-of-the-week.

That's not to say that there weren't formally interesting or daring episodes along the way to the back half or so of season 2, but they were the episodic equivalent of party tricks -- fun but inconsequential.

Ultimately the series was fatally flawed on a conceptual level. Cancellation enabled it to use those flaws as storytelling engines, instead of trying to ignore them. I suppose that's ironic, isn't it?

Alf said...

Anon with all the questions:
Mag's legs were injured, so staying in the dollhouse makes sense to me.
At the end of the penultimate episode I think we learned that not all of the tech was destroyed.
If you have faith in Topher (and Bennett), then the wiping pulse was permanent.

To the other poster who asked about Whiskey, she died in the gas she released. It would be interesting to know how that mission of hers came about. It would also have been interesting to see Alpha discovering her body.

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debbie said...

I agree that Joss has a way of paying off his loyal viewers, but I don't know if a network "leaving him alone" to make a show would really work.
Everyone I know who has watched "Firefly" had trouble getting into it at first. To be frank, those first episodes were really boring and to me, it felt more like a chore to sit down and watch it. I had the same feeling with "Dollhouse." And with both shows, as it went on, yes, I really cared about the characters and the show itself.
The question is whether Joss needs some help in kickstarting his arcs or whether his ideas are really that complex that it's impossible to do. But I'd like to think that a good story editor could help his shows do a better job presenting the core ideas at the start to get everyone hooked as soon as possible, then string 'em along.

Anonymous said...

*To be frank, those first episodes were really boring and to me, it felt more like a chore to sit down and watch it.*

Which may have had something to do with not being allowed to air the full pilot at the start and instead start off with Train Job (one of the weaker ones) and do catch up later.

Yeah there's a lot of rushing and gotta have faith to make this episode work, but I agree that in the beginning I used to shout at someone every episode to just punch/kill Topher, ultimately he was one of the best and honest characters of the show.

And I loved Alpha cuz Alan rocks and because it seemed like you could tell he was just BARELY sane still. That throwaway line about Viktors face was awesome.

-EmeraldLiz

Jennifer said...

Since Joss has said no comic book for this one, I'll take a shot at Anonymous's questions:

How did Adelle, Priya, etc. get from the dollhouse to safe haven?

We'll never know, but I guess they had ten years to figure that out.

How did Topher get kidnapped?

Uh...Topher got kidnapped?

How did everyone in the world get wiped? Last thing we saw was Rossum and the mass-printing technology getting blown up.

We'll never know. I am guessing that we were supposed to infer that the blow-up, rather than destroying the tech, set off some massive pulse that unleashed the random wiping.

Well, either that or Rossum had some backups and still continued on their merry way with the remote wiping and things went horribly wrong anyway.

Why were some people made butchers and some people dumbheads?

We'll never know, but it sounded like some people picked up (at random, on the street like an STD) killer imprints, and some did not.

What was the end game for the Rossum people? I inititally assumed it was some sort of military plan. Or to use Echo to create a vaccine which they could sell to the general population. Here it seemed like their big plan was to...eat themselves silly? And shouldn't most of their plans have died with Boyd?

I am guessing that the end game was offering body-swapping for a gajillion dollars apiece, as indicated in Epitaph 1. And who's to say that those who were in on the plan with Boyd wouldn't have wanted to continue the cash cow?

Whatever came of the vaccine? It gets a minor reference, but that's it. It seemed to be a major plot point earlier.

We'll never know. That annoyed me too.

Who were the techheads? Where did that technology come from and why did these people want anything to do with it given what was going on?

The techheads were Actives. (Note that the ones named with Victor were Romeo and Kilo, so L.A. dolls.) They held on to the technology that they had been using and adapted it so they could upload themselves on the run, apparently. They wanted to keep it so they could continue to mentally soup themselves up as needed in order to fight.

Why exactly did Anthony decide to abandon his wife and son to join the techheads?

He said he wanted to protect them. And that was the way he knew how to do it: as a (super) soldier. Remember that that was his profession pre-Dollhouse anyway.

Was the pulse at the end permanent? Sure it turned everyone back, but was there anything to stop them from getting imprinted again?

We'll never know. But if most tech is destroyed, Topher's not around and nobody uploaded him before destroying the tech, etc., it could be permanent by virtue of nobody knowing how to imprint any more.

Why exactly did Mag have to stay underground?

She wasn't in the shape to climb back out.

Why exactly did Alpha go back above ground?

Beats me. If you're genuinely afraid that your original serial killer persona is going to come back, why on earth would you deliberately go out and let yourself get pulse-corrected? That made no sense. Honestly, it just smacked of "we need to move him off screen for the Paul/Echo thing."

What was the point of Alpha's earlier plans for Echo?

Frankenbrain wanted a bride.

And at what point did he become an ally?

We'll never know, but sometime between 2010 and 2020 he seems to have reformed himself. I saw someone positing on TWoP that Paul might have been an influence in that direction, but who knows.

Finally, the lesbian subplot seemed juvenile and the Summer Glau cameo seemed random.

Well, yeah, but the first was a one-off joke and the second might have been around to fuel Topher's need to self-kaboom.

Anonymous said...

Take it like this, Echo is the ideal doll. She's perfect in many ways. She can retain an original personality while absorbing others. It took some time to learn how to control them but never was she mentally threatened by them.

Alpha on the other hand was. As his root insane consciousness became in being he was corrupted by all the personalities. He couldn't control them. He was broken. Some time in the ten years he learned how (via Echo) or someone changed his chemistry so he would be in control of the dolls. Echo says it's okay he can go outside and not be wiped because he is like her now. He could even be a composite identity of his old self. If Boyd created Echo, there's no reason Alhpa couldn't be rewired.

The Tech heads, being dolls, have to use that technology so they can access skills they can't normally use. It's like a imprint chair on the go. They can't have all the personalities uploaded at once or they would break like Alpha did.

Anonymous said...

Or maybe they injected all the vaccine into Alpha to cure him. Either way most of your questions don't limit you from enjoying the episode. The fact it shit happened and this is where they are at now.

Kujo said...

This explains why "Epitaph Two" felt so disjointed, and confusing. I kept saying I must have missed an episode, and it explained the weird 15 sec recap at the beginning. I kinda stopped caring about Dollhouse once the cancellation was announced, so I hadn't heard about Epitaph One. I'll have to find it online.
Shame on Fox for not airing. it

Jared said...

Seriously, shows get canceled because of a lack of viewing? The mass population have DVR's for a reason. Maybe a vast majority of viewers work evenings and nights and can't see the show(s) that they fell in love with. Give the shows more time. Maybe they should start accessing DVR recordings....then they'll see that they've let a lot of people down.

Rebecca said...

What did Topher find that caught his attention on the wall of the To Remember Photos??
It had to be more than noticing the photos themself because he was walking towards them. Was there someone he didn't expect to see up there ?