After a self contained outing last week, Dollhouse returned to its grand arc with "Briar Rose." It brought Whedon vet Alan Tudyk into the fold, paying off on a long standing mystery and finally allowing actor Tahmoh Penikett onto the shows' main set.
Dollhouse, above all other Whedon projects, has used the mysteries of his characters' pasts to drive the action. The secrets of the Dollhouse and its occupants have delivered the shows greatest revelations. With so many questions still up in the air (the most burning of which being: Will Dollhouse have a second season?), the writing staff delivered its most Alpha-centric episode yet.
Before I go any further, I highly suggest that if you haven't seen this episode or read any other spoilers about it, you turn back now. Whedon and Co. can pull off a reveal far better than I can, and I'd imagine part of the joy of seeing this episode is seeing it as in-the-dark as the characters are.
The teaser began with a seemingly homeless man sifting through a dumpster, and spying a human arm for a moment before it grabs hold of him. You know what this scene brought to mind? Dogma. No, I'm not going to get all religious subtext on you. Though, dealing with a Whedon show I shouldn't rule it out. I'm talking about Kevin Smith's satirical (or blasphemous) look at religion from 1999. That film also begins with the attack of a seemingly inconsequential homeless man, only to reveal later how this affects our main characters.
This is crap!
We rejoin Echo with Echo on a mini-engagement. She's been imprinted as Susan and brought to a foster home for troubled kids. She reads the Brothers Grimm's Briar Rose to the children until one child speaks up. The child, also named Susan, has a problem with celebrating Prince Valiant for rescuing her from the castle so late in the game. And why feel sorry for the sleeping beauty? She brought the curse on herself.
You'll get over it.
Across town, Ballard is packing up his stuff; it's his turn to leave Mellie. Okay, actually he's dumping Mellie to put the whole mess behind him. He knows her love for him is programmed and that with the flip of a switch, she could kill him. Not only that, but after leaving, he covertly follows a distraught Mellie to a highway overpass where she enters a black van and returns to the Dollhouse. Paul has followed her to the spot he's been searching for the entire season.
Oh, I see. So the Dollhouse is the castle and Ballard is the Prince, yes?
Again, I suggest you recall Adelle's warning in the pilot's teaser: "Nothing is as it seems."
Back at the Dollhouse, a thumb-drive has arrived in the mail addressed to former head of security, and now resident of The Attic, Laurence Dominic. Boyd brings the drive to Adelle's office with no knowledge of what information the device contains, or how to access it. Well, luckily they have the complete works of Laurence Dominic on backup. Looks like they'll be needing Topher.
End of the pride parade. Tell them to bring up Victor.
After reading last weeks boards, it doesn't seem as though most people had as much of a problem with Topher using Sierra as his birthday buddy as I did. It wasn't the actual story arc I took issue with. After all, we've seen far more offensive uses of this technology. Also, it let us into Topher's mind a little and showed him off the job. My issues, is with the Dollhouse employee taking the easy way out every time. Why find a real friend when you can just make one? But, the lightening of Topher continued this week. That engagement Echo's on? Yeah, Topher's idea. Echo's Susan is the same Susan, plus a few years, complaining about "Briar Rose" and spending her teen years in a home for troubled kids. She's the Susan who dealt with the soup of her life and is there to pay it forward (or would it be backward?) to herself. But right now, its time for Topher to get back to work. Victor is imprinted with the mind of Laurence Dominic. I've got to say, Enver Gjokaj knocked it out of the park doing his best impersonation of Reed Diamond. For a few seconds, I almost thought the performance was dubbed.
Ballard has used the address he followed Mellie to, 23 Flower, to track down any information on those who had a hand in its construction. Paul's search has led him to Stephen Kepler, an eco-designer who was hired as an Environmental System Consultant in the construction of 23 Flower. With the knowledge that Dollhouse is underground (provided by Caroline in Needs), Paul considers Stephen to be the one-stop-shop for information on the Dollhouse. He's an expert in the design of covert compounds which need to produce and recycle their own air, power and water.
The choice of Alan Tudyk, who fans of Firefly or Serenity will remember as Wash, is an example of perfect casting for the part of Stephen Kepler. Or maybe that should be "perfect writing" since I'm willing to bet he was cast first. Ah, hell, they're both perfect. Joss has stumbled upon a number of actors whose mouths give his words a good home. Tudyk is one of the stand-outs. Don't miss the Great Lines & Moments section to see what he brought to this episode.
After getting in Kepler's apartment, Ballard forces the seemingly agoraphobic, pot growing, Dollhouse designer to go on a little field trip to the place he designed.
Back at the Dollhouse, the staff continues to press Laurence Dominic to help unlock the thumb-drive. He suggests using Alpha as the password, but not the name, the Greek symbol. It's how he used to sign his work in art class. It works and the thumb-drive opens to reveal the picture of a Paul Bunyan statue. Adelle recognizes it from her trips to The Center in Tucson. While Adelle admonishes Topher's curiosity with a curt, never you mind, he theorizes out loud that it's Dollhouse HQ. Season 2 in Arizona, maybe? I guess that's more last-season territory. Hey! No jokes about how they better get to Tucson next week then.
So Alphas gone to the Southwest, huh? It's a lot to assume that just because he sent them this picture then that's where he is. Oh, they found a body with precision cuts in an alley? Yeah, he's probably there.
Sierra wakes up in the chair, as an FBI trained forensics specialist who needs a chopper to Arizona ASAP.
After finally, and surprisingly quite easily, gaining access to the Dollhouse, Ballard calmly escorts a male Doll into a side room so Stephen can get out of his environmentally friendly (AKA stoner) wear and slip into something more inconspicuous. After knocking Topher unconscious with a joy buzzer stun-gun, the two make like any partners in a buddy cop story and try to take down the security from the inside. While Stephen messes with the alarms and the carbon dioxide levels, Ballard makes his way to the sleeping pods. The first pod Stephen deactivates is Novembers. Despite caring for her, this mission has always been freeing Caroline and he finds her in the next pod. Too bad another man has a mission to protect Caroline. Even worse is that that man, Boyd, stands behind Ballard with a gun to his head.
Sorry Agent Ballard, you don't get the girl.
An all-out fight for Caroline/Echo ensues. Boyd offers to let Ballard go back the way he came rather than bring down the whole house on him. Sorry, Boyd, don't think Ballard's turning back. The two men crash through Victors pod disturbing his slumber. Ballard manages to climb out and bring Echo with him. Suddenly she remembers flashes of her fight with Paul from Man on the Street, and doesn't want to go any further with him. Echo hit Paul and sends him flying off the main room's staircase just in time for Boyd to show up and finish the fight for good. While looking on, Echo sees flashes of Boyd saving her in The Target and tells him about the trust she has in him, something that shouldn't be after her bonding procedure with her new handler. Dr. Saunders finds Victor surrounded by the glass from his pod and covered in scratches. As she leads him to her office, Stephen Kepler comes from around the corner blade in hand and with precision cuts gives Victor the same gift he gave Dr. Saunders.
That's right! The guy who's been providing the best jokes in the episode is also the deadliest villain in the show. What did you think of this twist? Is Alan Tudyk at all who you pictured would be playing Alpha? After gathering some info on their first meeting, Alpha then uses Dr. Saunders to get Echo's attention. Upstairs, Ballard comes face to face with Adelle DeWitt. They debate what is right and wrong with the technology used by the Dollhouse before Sierra calls in with her findings on the body. The victim's name is Stephen Kepler, it is the work of Alpha, and the murder was not committed in Arizona. Just then, Adelle notices movement on the security monitor of the lab. Alpha's in there and he's playing Topher.
Oh, I know you.
Echo wakes up from an imprinting recognizing the face of our villain. She's suddenly very happy to see Alpha and kisses him.
I told you Id come and rescue you.
The two have a past. Whether this past involved their real personalities or imprinted is yet to be determined. But still, whoever Echo is, she's leaving the Dollhouse with her Prince Valiant.
Well, I guess we know why her life was spared during Alpha's show attack.
Great Lines & Moments
I think I cribbed at least half of Jane Espensen's script for this week's Great Lines section. Alan Tudyk wears Whedon dialogue as well as anyone so it's no surprise his dialogue stood out head and shoulders above the rest.
Echo: Every time someone calls me a victim, I feel like the biggest hypocrite in the world.
After hearing this I had the image of Caroline'[s entire personality being restored. Her memories, her personality, everything Then Paul explaining what the Dollhouse does to her and Caroline's only response being I know.
Ballard: Are you Stephen Kepler?
Alpha: Okay. Hi. What was that name again?
And how telling that Alphas real answer to Ballard's question was, "There's a lot of aspects to that question."
Alpha: Carrots! Medicinal carrots that were here when I moved in and I am holding for a friend.
Ballard: You're my new partner.
Alpha: Then can I have a gun?
Alpha: Rope is always good.
Cut to: Paul about to begin his decent into the Dollhouse.
Ballard: Wish we had rope.
Alpha: This is the same expansionist thinking that led to the trail of tears, man!
Alpha: They told me this place was going to be Eden.
Ballard: Eden wasn't a prison.
Alpha: Are you kidding? The apples were monitored!
Alpha: You know, this cotton? Its organic, I'm pretty sure. That's a plus.
Topher: Hey, person I don't know
Alpha: It's a small world, right? I went to grade school with Jenna Elfman.
Dr. Saunders: Victor, what happened?
Victor: People were fighting on me.
Adelle (talking of Ballard): You know so many things. Facts, names, what do you think? Should we put him the chair?
Next week brings the last Dollhouse of the season, Omega. Fox is still referring to the episode as the Season Finale. I doubt this will change and well have to wait until the networks upfront on May 18 for word of the show's fate. Remember though, the DVD and Blu-Ray of the first season will include not only the abandoned original pilot, but also the thirteenth episode, "Epitaph One", which will not air on the Fox network. Fear not, word is Omega resolves all the main storylines and "Epitaph One" is more along the lines of a standalone coda to the series. Still confused? Think of Buffy's season 4 finale "Restless." Until then, it's life as usual on the Dollhouse boards. Were you satisfied with this week's reveal? What burning question do you want answered by the end of the next episode?