DOLLHOUSE: 1.13 “Epitaph One”
It’s 2019 and we’re following a ragged group of survivors through urban rubble. Gotta say, Dollhouse‘s answer to “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” is one I’ll pass on, personally.
Structurally, we’ve all seen this before: one plot in the present intercut with flashbacks that help to explain how we got here. (I think I’m going to call 2019 “the present” for this post, and all of the memory scenes “flashbacks,” even through most of them are flashforwards from a 2009, Dollhouse season 1 perspective. Otherwise the verbs get weird.) And we all know the horror movie plot where the characters keep dying while we scream at the TV about how you should at least check the shadows before undressing for a very exposed shower. We know that even if the main suspect seems crazy, she’ll ultimately prove to be innocent.
But what I think is neat here is that they’ve written themselves ten years into the future. The 2019 storyline kept just enough tension and paranoia to carry it along while the flashbacks carried the episode. Think of it: this is potentially a sneak preview of where the show might go in the future if it gets the chance, yet also that there’s plenty of room to explain how we get into those situations.
And I loved that they didn’t over-explain. Where was Boyd going, and why, and what was his relationship with Saunders? How did Paul and Caroline make their escape? What exactly was “thanks to Alpha?” How did Adelle wind up running what was apparently a safe house for actives, and what drove Topher around the bend? We can guess enough to go with it, but there are plenty of stories left to tell: the journey is at least as interesting as the destination.
Cleverly, the most important clue to what precipitated this dystopia is tucked into Topher’s mad raving: someone could instantly imprint people through a phone call, just like Alpha wiped Echo over the phone in “Grey Hour.” Topher’s division of people who answered the phone and people who didn’t seems to have become Mag and company’s division of “butchers” and “actuals.”
An odd side effect of introducing the 2019 characters was that it made me all the more excited to recognize the familiar sets and remember how much I like all of the series regulars. How great was it that Mag, Zone, and the others jumped to the assumption that Topher’s office was a daycare? (Reminded me just a bit of Motel of the Mysteries, a hilarious book in which future archaeologists describe a 20th century motel as a temple complex. Sorry, tangent.)
My quibble about the flashbacks was the way they were introduced via The Chair. Were we supposed to assume that Mr. Miller parroted what each person said, or that he narrated and summarized the scenes we saw? Also I wasn’t always clear about whose memories we were getting, and that bothered me too. Often we seemed to be in Adelle’s head, which is interesting because we’ve never seen her in the chair.
[Dominic, Mag, and the big, sunny ending after the jump.]
The episode revolves around the big idea that season 1 was working towards: ultimately the Dollhouse’s technology is bound to fall into unscrupulous hands and it will tear civilization apart. That idea got Dominic sent to the Attic, and here he’s not pleased to find himself vindicated. “Cities don’t burn because people got smarter,” he tells Topher early in the episode. But brilliant ideas are shiny toys to Topher, who ignores ideas like this as hard as he can, but when the nightmares come true, his role in it drives him mad.
Tangent here while I’m talking about Dominic: One of my favorite little moments is Adelle’s reaction when Dominic shoots the decanter she’s just picked up. I love Adelle and I love Olivia Williams’ acting. She doesn’t shriek or even jump — she practically rolls her eyes at him.
Mag gives us the other thesis statement of the episode. “We all love the sound of our own voices,” she says, defending Griff. “That’s why we’re here — to keep our own voices.” She’s the reverse of Dominic, the voice of optimism, possibilities, staying alive and staying yourself. Plus she does it without being shiny, happy, or perky. I love Felicia Day.
The series regulars put in their usual stellar performances, and I was also impressed by Adair Tishler, who plays the little girl. (You may recognize her from Heroes, where she plays Molly Walker, which it took me way too long to figure out.) I loved the reveal of her vengeful persona, and she made a nice go of playing Eliza Dushku.
Obviously it’s hard to say how many seasons Dollhouse is likely to get, but I wonder if we’ll ever revisit 2019 and see Safe Haven or who might be there — because I wasn’t sure what to make of the ending. We see Caroline leading Mag and Zone out the windows of Adele’s office and up a ladder (which is conveniently still there after how many years since Caroline was here last?), presumably to the roof. Even though the Dollhouse itself is apparently eight stories underground, Adele’s windows have always looked out on the city, so I don’t think we’re going up just to reach the street. Is there likely to be a helicopter still waiting up there, too? Where and what do you think Safe Haven is?
Overall, though, I thought this was one of the best stories Dollhouse has done so far, and I’m excited to see what they’ve cooked up for season 2. Last spring we left off with Paul Ballard working for the Dollhouse, November supposedly free, Claire Saunders aware of her own past, and Echo ever more self aware. Will any of them really regain their own voices for long?