DOLLHOUSE: “Epitaph One”
Here is my super spoilery recap & review of the unaired season finale of Dollhouse (the infamous 13th or 14th episode, depending on your count):
This episode was amazing, and I can’t get enough of it. I’ve watched it three times now: twice on its own, and once with the commentary (Update: 7 times!). What is most powerful about the ep is that it really shows the full scope and impact of the Dollhouse technology. All of the musings, predictions, and fears about the evils of the tech are fully realized in 2019. It also gives us a real sense of the import of Caroline and her journey, and a look into the futures of all our characters. Oh, and it also gives us Felicia Day, more Amy Acker as Whiskey, an apocalyptic future of Terminator proportions, and a tear-inducing ending scene, complete with beautiful and haunting music. Not bad.
The episode begins with Felicia Day, in apocalypse-era clothing. It’s 2019, and things are not good. She is wielding a gun, and gets on her walkie talkie to talk to some guy. They banter about how much everything sucks, using future lingo like “Wielders,” Butchers,” and “Dumb-shows.” We learn that Felicia’s character’s name is Mag, and she is told to dump the tech, i.e. get rid of her walkie talkie. Clearly in this future, like most apocalyptic ones, technology is evil. After obliging this request, Mag sits down and cries, in a very touching scene. She is clearly a good person, who is a bit overwhelmed with the ugliness around her. As well she should be, because this future is frakked up. She hardens up, however, and moves out.
Mag meets up with her group, which now includes Lynn (a brunette woman), Griff (played by Felicity’s ex-boyfriend, who was in charge of the clinic), Zone, Mr. Miller (a “Dumb-show” as in he’s been wiped), and his daughter Iris (played by that Heroes girl who could find people with abilities). Mag realizes that Laura is missing, and finds out that she got imprinted and had to get killed. She is visibly upset about this, and one of the guys, Zone, mocks her saying “What’s wrong with your face?” Mag: “It’s my face, get out of it.” I can relate. The group wants to go underground. Zone distracts the crazies with his big gun, while the others head out. Did I mention that this future sucks? Fire and crazy people and depression. Joss is always so optimistic. The group finds some kind of entrance way, and make their way in the dark. Mag and Zone and Felicity’s boyfriend discuss what to do about Iris’ dad, who is acting pretty zombie like–more so than the actives in the DH. The other woman, Lynn, spies a hole of sorts, and they climb down using rope. They’re very prepared. They set up traps to trip up any “butchers” who may be following them.
When they reach the bottom, they are clearly in the DH. They make some conversation about how it looks like a spa (hee), and how it looks empty, but they need to check it out. Zone complains about Felicity’s ex-boyfriend liking the sound of his own voice. Mag: “We all love the sound of our own voices. That’s why we’re here–to keep the sound of our own voices.” They find Topher’s lab with all his toys and Zone thinks it’s a romper room. Hee. Mag says that it must have been a daycare, so that the kids could be seen while playing. Hee hee. Mag is still upset about her friend’s death, and asks Zone about her last words. Zone responds by being cold and practical about it. Clearly he’s seen a lot of death, and this is just one more. They find THE CHAIR. They think it may look familiar, perhaps it was on the news? “Teleplay by Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon” comes across the screen, followed by “Story by Joss Whedon,” and “Directed by David Solomon.” Felicity’s ex-boyfriend sees that the computer imprints, but that it is “different” from whatever they’re used to. He proposes imprinting Mr. Miller to find out more about the place. Zone objects, saying no tech ever. They overrule him and decide to imprint Mr. Miller with just one memory to test it.
Here we flashback to a scene from the unaired pilot (perhaps in another episode?). Adelle is talking to a client about how when he engages an active she will fall in total utter chemical love with him. “This is not just about what you want. It’s about what you need.” Cut back to 2019, Zone laughs at this. “A brothel! You mean to tell me that the tech that punk-kicked the ass of mankind was originally designed to make more believable hookers?!” He continues laughing. “Money man! It’s like the main ingredient in crazy.” Lynn takes Iris to go to the bathroom … oh, I’m sure that will go well. Another memory is imprinted in Mr. Miller. We get to see Topher’s first entry in the DH. He requests throw pillows and a fridge. Dominic and Topher (DON’T) hit it off right away. Adelle shows Topher all the tech. Topher makes fun of the suckiness of it all. It takes too long, and he can do it much better. He also asks for a trampoline. Adelle warns Topher to show Dominic some respect, and then tells Dominic to get him a fridge. Hee.
Meanwhile, Lynn and Iris find the bathroom, mistakenly triggering the showers. Iris is afraid of being alone, but Lynn foolishly insists that she take a shower right that instant. In the creepy dark. Hmmm. I guess people get dumber in the future. Scary music ensues, and then someone kills the poor lady with flashlight. Eeek.
Cut to another memory. It’s the one from that Fox April Fool’s Day video. Echo is imprinted as a naive Russian girl, and Paul is her frakin’ handler! Where’s Boyd? When the two get into the elevator she reveals that she’s faking being wiped. She’s still Caroline. She has the Russian girl’s memories but also her own. She references that the headaches are getting worse (something which will be referenced again).
Meanwhile, Iris finds the dead body and screams. The group takes her away and references that it is time to birthmark the girl. Flashback to Boyd and Claire. They are definitely having a moment. She cries, and helps him get ready to escape the DH. He promises to come back for her. Romantic love or friendship? You decide.
Mag explains the birth-marking procedure, in which her name, Iris Miller, is tattooed on her back. This will enable them to know her real identity, in case of any wiping or imprinting, etc. Mag: “This makes you one of us.” Iris: “I wanna be like Zone.” Mag: “Why on Earth?” Iris: “Because he’s funny and mean.” Hee. Clearly an evil child (and I’m not wrong, but more on that later). Iris says that they don’t need to tattoo her dad because he doesn’t know who he is anymore. Griff and Mag discuss fortifying the place when they see Whiskey down below. Zone calls her a “Dumb-show.” Whiskey says that she found their friend, she was sleeping. She asks them if they’re looking for Safe Haven. The crew is visibly affected by this. Whiskey goes on: “Where no one can be changed. You die as you were born. Heart in concert with the mind.” The “actuals” are hopeful despite themselves. Whiskey says that she knows the way. She leads them up to the imprint room, and points to the chair as the way to find Safe Haven. Zone is pissed, as he was looking for more concrete directions. Whiskey also tells them that they can find food in the kitchen in a rather hilarious interchange.
Cue Victor eating lobster in the kitchen, imprinted with Mr. Ambrose’s personality. Mr. Ambrose is allergic to shellfish, so this is a real treat. “I’m here to inform you that THIS is a service we now provide: upgrades.” As in full anatomy upgrades, as in selling the body of the actives to clients who want to be stronger and hotter. Oooh, this is just what was hinted at in “Haunted,” when Adelle’s murdered friend was imprinted in Echo. Adelle is disturbed by this and strongly protests. Mr. Ambrose explains that this will all be legal in a year, as everyone who matters is a client, or works for them. Adelle continues to protest, but Mr. Ambrose says that it doesn’t matter because he’s in ten other bodies, and that if they reclaim the body they’ll “have made a choice, a defining choice.” Back in 2019, Griff is disturbed by learning this truth. Iris asks him about the machine, and after getting the info that it can remove personalities and put them in other bodies, she shoots Griff. Oh, so many evil children on television. Aren’t there any nice ones? She then puts the gun in the old man’s hand, and begins to scream. The others come in and assume that they know what happened. Zone drags the man out to shoot him, wanting to spare the girl.
Whiskey says that she will show them the way to Safe Haven and puts herself in the chair. We get another flash. Dominic is paying Adelle a little visit. He is pissed. The world has already gone to crap, and it’s Adelle’s fault (and Topher’s). She asks him if he’s been briefed, and he replies: “I saw Topher’s face … almost worth the price of admission.” He tells the story of meeting a middle-aged man on the street, who was imprinted with the personality of a little girl. Adelle is not doing so well, and Dominic continues taunting her. She goes to get a drink and he shoots the glass. “Did I miss anything?” Adelle: “Only the vodka, thank God.” Hee. Adelle says that there’s a defense against being imprinted, but Caroline has it (Caroline is said in a supremely irritated tone).
Zone shoots poor Mr. Miller in the back of the head. Meanwhile, Mag is looking for Caroline’s imprint, but can’t find her. She hilariously calls Whiskey “Ma’am.” I just find that so odd. Cut to Victor and Sierra in a flashback. Sierra complains about the intensity of the headaches, but she doesn’t want to take any drugs. She’s having a hard time being shut down with the other dolls and talks about going above ground. Victor seems less than enamored with her, and tells her that that’s a bad idea. He says that people are stealing bodies left and right. Victor: “You don’t want to end up like November?” Sierra: “Which one?” Hmmm. The plot thickens. Sierra moves in closely and there’s some romantic tension. Clearly they had a relationship, but it ended… badly, I’m sure, as this is the Whedonverse. At least neither one is dead … yet. Victor shows her the hiding place in the wall with all their back up imprints, including Caroline.
Back in 2019, Zone gives the evil child a gun. Mag punches a hole in the wall and finds the imprints. Iris pulls a gun on them. She wants Mag’s body; she doesn’t know how she ended up in “the little bitch’s body.” Zone manages to overpower her (she IS a child), and knocks her into the chair where she is imprinted. Flashback to the dolls below having a prayer circle of sorts, taking turns saying what they’re grateful for. Saunders approaches Adelle, letting her know that “he” won’t take his meds without her. “He” is revealed to be Topher, and he’s NOT in good shape. He blabbers on a bit and in the course of doing so manages to explain what happened to make the world the desolate wasteland that it is. As he explains, a single call to a city was all it took to turn them all into soldiers. The war has two sides: those who answered the phone, and those who didn’t. Basically a remote imprint made soldiers (the “Butchers” perhaps?) out of an entire city in a single instant. He then says “That’s brilliant. That’s so brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that?” Long pause. Lo-o-ong pause. “Did I think of that?” is said in a much more subdued tone. “Did I?” He starts moaning: “Oh my god, oh my god!” Adelle is very maternal and comforts him.
They hear a pounding and Adelle leaves to stand ready with her people. Adelle gets to hold a gun! When the wall is broken, Caroline and Paul walk in, looking pretty bad ass. Dr. Saunders stitches up Caroline’s leg. Caroline comments on them fixing the doc’s face, and asks how it happened. Dr. Saunders replies that it’s a long story. Caroline: “It’s gonna be tough getting everyone to the compound. The tech they need doesn’t travel.” Dr. Saunders: “It works, then?” Caroline: “No one’s been printed there. We have Alpha to thank for that.” Interesting. Oh, so many questions! Claire expresses surprise that Caroline and Paul are together. Caroline: “The jury’s still out on together, but he’s got my back.” Adelle and Caroline have an exchange that leaves Caroline possibly killing Adelle in question. How did others read that scene? Caroline is bitter to say the least, with good reason.
Cut to Caroline waking up in the little girl’s body. “Great, puberty all over again.” She learns that it’s 2019. She sees Whiskey and is effusive in greeting Dr. Saunders. She soon realizes that Saunders is gone. It’s a sadly sweet moment. Caroline confirms that they discovered a cure. Zone asks where Safe Haven is, and after giggling at their name for it, she says “far.” Right then, they hear some intruders crash, and get ready to flee. They try to convince Whiskey to come with them but she says that she needs to wait. And she does. The others go to the elevator shaft, and escape up a ladder. As they are escaping, Whiskey does some stuff with something that makes some kind of gas knock out and presumably kill the invaders. “Remains” begins to play. Love this song. The song was actually written and performed by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (I think they both wrote it, and Maurissa performs the vocals), the writers of this episode. In the commentary they explain that they made the song themselves to save money, but I think it works perfectly. Much better than playing some cheesy pop song. “Buuurn down my home …” While the song is playing, Whiskey gets a very sad death scene, in her gorgeous white dress. Or IS she dead?
Anyways, our small group of refugees reaches Adelle’s office, which looks out onto a pretty destroyed city. Mag: “They really thought they were helping, huh? Giving people what they needed? Is this what we needed?” Caroline: “No. Kids playing with matches and they burned the house down.” There is a display of pictures on the wall, with “To Remember” written above. We see pics of November, Sierra, Victor, and Caroline. It’s all very sad and makes me well up. There’s a rope ladder by the window that they begin climbing up to get out. I’m confused, because now they’re way above ground. Where is that ladder taking them? Plus, scary, as it is the wimpiest thing to climb from a building on. Fade out on Caroline’s picture. Tear.