DOLLHOUSE: “Epitaph 2: The Return”
Read on for my take on the series finale of Dollhouse, “Epitaph Two: The Return,” aired January 29th, 2010.
So, Dollhouse has ended. I have loved this little show for almost two years, and will remember it with a lot of fondness and very little regret. I had only just begun blogging, and had no real idea what I was doing (not that I do now), when I first read the news that Joss Whedon was in talks to create a new show for Fox, starring Eliza Dushku. I was over the moon at this news, and I remember my excitement when the show was finally given a premiere date: Friday, February 13th, 2009. Yes, Dollhouse premiered on Friday the 13th, perhaps not the best of signs. It marked the first time that I watched a Whedon show live, as I had fallen in love with Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel all after the shows had been long off the air. The live-viewing experience was not exactly what I dreamed though. The critical buzz was negative, and even the Whedon fans were extremely divided over the show. The ratings were also abysmal. I loved it from day one, however, and was determined to shut out all the negative energy, and enjoy this new piece of art. And I did. A lot. There were a few moments in early season two in which the show let me down, and angered me, but overall it has been one of the most rewarding television viewing experiences of my life. Yes, I know that I am corny, but you know you love that about me, so shut up. I tried to blog about each episode, though I missed a few here and there due to grad school and scheduling constraints. It has been a mind-bending journey, throughout which I laughed, cried, screamed, and occasionally rolled my eyes. These characters have grown and changed as much as, or more than, any on television. Just compare Topher when we first met him, to the Topher at the end of “Epitaph Two.” Or Adelle. Or Echo. Dramatic character arcs all around, indeed. So, Dollhouse has ended. Here are my thoughts on the final episode, and the show as a whole. For this landmark episode, I am eschewing my usual recap format for something a bit more spontaneous, but it is sure to be spoiler filled for the entire series, so be warned.
In order to understand the finale, you definitely had to have seen “Epitaph One.” If you watched the finale and it made no sense, I suggest that you check out that unaired 13th episode of season one, ASAP. First, however, comment below and detail how confused you were, and under what rock you’ve been hiding that you have not seen “Epitaph One.” Overall, I thought that “Epitaph Two: The Return” did a good job picking up the threads laid down by “Epitaph One,” and providing a fitting conclusion to a twenty-six episode run. It wasn’t perfect, and it didn’t answer everything, but for a series of such epic scale, with such timing constraints, it was pretty goram shiny. Surprisingly, the conclusion to this generally depressing series about human trafficking and apocalyptic technology, which featured a very hefty body count, was pretty optimistic and inspirational as well. No, not everybody made it to the end, but Topher sacrificed himself to make the world a better place; Victor and Sierra were left alive and together, along with their beautiful little boy; Adelle was engaged in helping people, and fixing the mess she helped cause; Alpha was redeemed; and Echo and Paul were somewhat reunited through the Dollhouse tech. Of course by the time the end came around, I was dissolved in a puddle of my own tears, but still, it was uplifting, I tell you. So let’s delve into some of the details.
My Thoughts & Reactions
- The Butchers reminded me a lot of Reavers, though not as scary looking. In case you were confused in “Epitaph One,” about who the Butchers are, it seems that they were the ones imprinted to kill, i.e. “the ones who picked up the phone.”
- Echo is so cool. I have complained a bit that this show was a little too much of “The Eliza Show” at times, but ultimately, Eliza’s character, Echo, was pretty bad-ass. She could take Faith in a heartbeat. It was pretty awesome to see her character grow throughout the series, from the first moments of self-awareness, to a big damn hero. Kudos to Eliza Dushku and the writers for bringing this character to life.
- Sierra and Victor Priya and Anthony have a son! After all the hurdles that these soul-mates had to endure, it was wonderful to see that they were restored to their actual selves, and had a child together. When Priya was revealed to be T’s mom, but Anthony was nowhere to be found, I was scared that he had been killed. Then when Anthony shows up, as the tech head Victor, I was confused and then saddened. However, by the end, when Victor became Anthony again, and renounced the tech, it was just a beautiful reunion for their little family. I’m so glad that these characters were able to share a happy ending, reunited.
- Paul and Echo, however, were not given the same chance. I have to say that I was not surprised by Paul’s death, though it was rather sudden. I never thought he’d make it to the very end. What did surprise me, however, was how sad I felt about his death. The relationship between him and Echo was what did it. Echo’s reaction to his death was simply heartbreaking.
- Alpha’s redemption was a fascinating trick of storytelling, and left me wanting more. We weren’t told how Alpha was redeemed, or when it happened, but clearly it did. There was a hint to this in “Epitaph One,” in which Echo referenced getting help from Alpha. He was clearly an ally by 2019, but we were given no details, other than his help with the tech. In “Epitaph Two,” Alpha was much more than the reluctant ally I had imagined. He was a trusted friend. How things change. It was only a few episodes ago, in “A Love Supreme,” that Alpha was killing everyone who loved Echo, including Paul (or at least his brain). I want to know more! Still, what we did get was very good. Every word that Alan Tudyk uttered in the finale was gold. The struggle that he must have gone through to evolve is fascinating, and I am curious whether he will become what he was, or continue to evolve. And then, there was his last act: he left the imprint of Paul for Echo (copied from his own brain, I would imagine). What a beautiful gift.
- And on the subject of Paul’s imprint, what did you all make of that? The way that I read the scene was that Echo imprinted herself with Paul, thus finally letting Paul in. In this way, we get a pay-off for Paul’s heartbreaking comment about knocking for ten years, but never being let in. Yes, Echo was never able to tell Paul how she felt before he died, but this way she can, finally, and she will not be alone.
- Adelle really had an amazing journey throughout the series. Despite her ice-queen persona, she proved herself to be incredibly compassionate and caring, and in the end, she was out on the street helping people. I think of all the Dollhouse characters, she is my favorite, and has been the most fun to watch. I always suspected that there was more to her than meets the eye, and I was right.
- Topher, oh poor, sweet Topher. Remember how much we all used to hate him in season one? Sigh. Now he will be remembered as the hero of the story, in a lot of ways. He really became human, and learned to think outside of his own interests. The fact that Rossum ensured his cooperation through killing prisoners in front of him every day only solidifies his empathetic turn. He could not be motivated with harm to his own person, but by the harm of the innocent. When he figured out how to “bring back the world,” it was beautiful, and it was only fitting that he would be the one to sacrifice himself in the blast that would restore humanity. Also, in the series as a whole, he really had the best lines. RIP, Topher.
I had a few favorite moments. First, I really loved the conversation between Paul and Echo in the van, on the way to L.A. I included it in the list of quotes below, but I will discuss it here too. Paul was probably one of the least compelling characters, in my opinion, and for the first season and a half, I really did not feel invested in him, or his obsession with Echo. However, once the spent those months together, alone, outside the Dollhouse, in “Meet Jane Doe,” their connection finally seemed real, and not creepy, and I began to root for them. Really, it was Eliza’s performance that sold me—she really showed that Echo had fallen in love with Paul. In “Epitaph One,” we saw that Paul and Echo were working together, but Echo made a comment that “the verdict is still out on the together part,” or something to that effect. In “Epitaph Two,” we saw how close they really were. During the dinner table scene at Safe Haven, Paul massages Echo’s shoulders without even thinking. Clearly, he is now looking out for her, and it just showed their closeness. In the van, this closeness, but also the continued separation, was emphasized. Echo was restless, and Paul jokes, “Man, you’re gonna be hilarious stuck in the ground for a year.” Echo notes, “We’re not there yet.” Paul assures her, however: “We’ll get there. If this thing works, Rossum is really going down. Ambrose, Harding, they’ll just be hard drives on a shelf.” Echo still doesn’t want to give up the fight: “Someone’s going to have to smash those drives.” Paul: “Which is why we’re staying down ‘til we know we’re safe.” Echo: “You keep bringing that up.” Paul: “Because you keep pushing it down.” Echo: “You think after the pulse, the world’s just going to be hunky dory?” Paul: “I think it’s not your fight. I think that for a good long while you’re gonna have to be where you are, and I think that scares you.” Echo: “I hate when you pretend to know me.” I love that line, and Paul’s response even more. Paul: “It’s not a claim I make. I’ve been knocking 10 years, you still won’t let me in.” Wow. That really gives their relationship some depth and scale. Echo: “I’ve let you in a few times.” We can just imagine what she means there. Paul: “When you were sure we were gonna die. What happens when you’re sure we’re gonna live?” Echo is not willing to answer that question, so turns it around: “What do you think happens?” Paul: “I think you’ve got a hundred people living inside your head, and you’re the loneliest person I know.” So sad. Echo: “That’s kind of sweet.” Paul: “Not for the person who’s with you.” Bam. Best line of the episode. We can really sense how lonely Paul and Echo have both been, despite being together for ten years. It’s both sweet and heartbreaking.
Another favorite moment was Echo’s breakdown, after Paul’s death. At first, Echo was very Zoe Washburne, continuing to fight the good fight despite her lover’s death; pretending that nothing had changed. Finally, she breaks down, however, and conveys how lost and alone she feels, and how angry she is at herself for not telling Paul what he meant to her. Priya was really upset about the tech heads, and smashing imprints. Echo tells her that Victor gave it up, trying to assuage her. Priya is still upset though, saying that he knew he couldn’t take Echo, and would be back for these. She wonders if she’s in there somewhere, a memory that Victor can take out at random. Echo yells at Sierra, but it soon becomes clear that she is yelling at herself, for being so blind. Echo: “He’s in love you. Are you really that thick? This isn’t something that comes on a drive. They tried to pull it out of him. They wiped his mind for years, and he never stopped loving you.” She continues, as she gets more and more upset, and more and more personal: “You could string him along for years. And what did you do? Waste it. Never tell him that you love him, never tell him that you’re grateful for him. He’s dead. He’s just dead. I never told him. Paul’s dead and I’m alone. I’m all alone. I’m always alone.” It was an amazing scene, and had me welling up. Eliza really sold it with her performance, and it is probably her best performance of the series to date. Added bonus: it sparked Priya to give Anthony another chance.
On that note, another favorite scene was Priya and Anthony’s reconciliation, and T’s introduction to his father. It was just beautiful, and simple, and we understood all the subtext with very little dialogue. Priya’s face was so sad and so happy at the same time—just beautiful. When T asks, “Can I help you burn stuff?” and Anthony just hands him a piece of tech, and there is no more talking, it was just perfection. Needless to say, I was sobbing throughout the entire scene.
I also really loved Adelle and Echo’s goodbye. These two women have hated each other for so long, but in this episode we see that the hatred is long gone. Adelle: “I’ll lead them out. Make sure they all come through the pulse alright. I’m really the only one who can.” Echo: “Ever the shepherd, huh?” Adelle: “Leading them into the light, for good. Funny that the last fantasy that the Dollhouse should fulfill would be yours.” Such a good line! And so true, if you recall the season one episode “Needs.” Echo: “I don’t have any fantasies, Adelle.” Oh, poor broken Echo. Adelle: “More’s the pity.” And then they hug. Who would have thought? Just beautiful, and sad, and touching, and a million other adjectives.
- Zone: “A true world? Look around, tiny Messiah, it’s over. Half the world has been wiped. The rest have turned into crazies trying to kill the other half. There’s only a handful of actuals left, which you ain’t.”
- Iris/Caroline: “We are lost. We are not gone.”
- Zone: “And you just didn’t happen to mention that Safe Haven was parked right next door to the frakking death star?”
- Harding: “You’d be just as fat, Ambrose, if we hadn’t run out of shell fish.”
- Echo: “So close to what? Wiping everyone?” Topher: “The opposite. Reflection. Like an echo. Put things back the way they were, minds back where they were. I can bring back the world.”
- Paul: “The world still needs heroes, kid.” [Everyone pauses and then laughs.] Echo: “Did you really just say that?” Paul: “What, I was being inspirational.” Echo: “You are so corny.” Paul: “You’re fat.”
- Mag: “The little asian’s kind of cute.” Zone: “She’s a tech head, Mag. [Pause.] She’s a girl, Mag.”
- Paul: “Man, you’re gonna be hilarious stuck in the ground for a year.” Echo: “We’re not there yet.” Paul: “We’ll get there. If this thing works, Rossum is really going down. Ambrose, Harding, they’ll just be hard drives on a shelf.” Echo: “Someone’s going to have to smash those drives.” Paul: “Which is why we’re staying down til we know we’re safe.” Echo: “You keep bringing that up.” Paul: “Because you keep pushing it down.” Echo: “You think after the pulse, the world’s just going to be hunky dory?” Paul: “I think it’s not your fight. I think that for a good long while you’re gonna have to be where you are, and I think that scares you.” Echo: “I hate when you pretend to know me.” Paul: “It’s not a claim I make. I’ve been knocking 10 years, you still won’t let me in.” Echo: “I’ve let you in a few times.” Paul: “When you were sure we were gonna die. What happens when you’re sure we’re gonna live.” Echo: “What do you think happens?” Paul: “I think you’ve got a hundred people living inside your head, and you’re the loneliest person I know.” Echo: “That’s kind of sweet.” Paul: “Not for the person who’s with you.”
- Zone: “Super butchers. Grand.”
- Victor: “We were born ready. Well, not technically.”
- Echo: “Aw, hell!” Alpha: “No, you’ll have to keep digging if that’s where you want to end up.”
- Echo: “Thought we lost you in Reno.” Alpha: “I kind of let you think that. I lost my stomach for the fight. Thought I’d help out some people who could use it, cleared this place out …” Victor: “No wonder there’s so many butchers up there. They know about the dumb show buffet.” Alpha: “Victor, why would someone do something so horrible to your face?” Victor: “Psycho.” Alpha: “Lapsed.”
- Alpha: “Where’s big bad Ballard?” Echo: “We lost him.” Alpha to Victor: “Man, I’m sorry. When did that happen?” Victor: “10 minutes ago.”
- Topher: “Some things aren’t on the Cartesian plane.”
- Alpha: “Because we’re not freak shows. Well, maybe I am, and Echo. Topher’s a little off, but Adelle, she’s a class act all the way.”
- Victor: “[…] But if we’re gonna rebuild the world, I want to do it myself.”
- Alpha: “I’m sorry, did he just call me a Luddite?”
- Kilo: “Oh god, she’s so cool.”
- Topher: “I’m tired. Bed time!”
- Alpha, in regard to leaving Topher’s pod as it was: “Well, it spoke to the schizophrenic in me. Well, both of them, actually.”
- Echo to Sierra: “He’s in love you. Are you really that thick? This isn’t something that comes on a drive. They tried to pull it out of him. They wiped his mind for years, and he never stopped loving you.”
- Echo: “You could string him along for years. And what did you do? Waste it. Never tell him that you love him, never tell him that you’re grateful for him. He’s dead. He’s just dead. I never told him. Paul’s dead and I’m alone. I’m all alone. I’m always alone.”
- Topher: “I’ll fix what we did to their heads. You’ll fix what we did to the rest of the world. [Leans in and whispers.] You’re job is way harder.”
- Adelle: “Leading them into the light, for good. Funny that the last fantasy that the Dollhouse should fulfill would be yours.” Echo: “I don’t have any fantasies, Adelle.” Adelle: “More’s the pity.”
So, what did you think of the finale? I would love to read your comments below.