This week's episode, "Needs" (aka Dollhouse: The Awakening), put the Dolls front and center in an amalgamation of Lost, The Great Escape and Buffy's "Tabula Rasa." Up until now we've seen Dolls break engagements, develop feelings for one another and, increasingly, glitch like mad. But what if they emerged from their sleep pods as the person they were before the Dollhouse? But, you know, without all those pesky memories.
Despite being short on Agent Ballard, the episode both began and ended with him. In a dream sequence, Paul worked out his feelings for both Caroline and Mellie. If only he knew that they both answered to Adelle DeWitt.
As the Dolls awoke for another day of swimming, banana pancakes and catering to the whims of millionaires, the Dollhouse staff had an all-hands meeting in Adelle's office. The topic of discussion? Avoiding the first step towards another Alpha. If only they had started episodes ago, they might actually be ahead of the game. As is, the staff knows the tide is rising. "This house is out of balance," Adelle puts it.
Two things we learned from this scene:
- Adelle clearly has no idea about the science she's selling.
- There is a sedative cocktail pumped into the sleep pods.
As Echo prepared for bed, her interaction with Ballard from "Man on the Street" echoes in her mind. Once in the pods and fast asleep, another voice pushes through. "Caroline... Caroline... Wake up!"
Now, about that voice. Whose was it? It didn't sound like Caroline herself and it certainly wasn't DeWitt.
But the phantom voice succeeds in its goal as Caroline is roused from sleep and immediately panics, realizing she's encased. After getting out of her pod, she starts to notice voices coming from four other pods in the room. One by one, the Dolls we know and love (including everyone's favorite, Mike) come out of their pods with no memory of who they are or how they got there.
November (aka Mellie) hyperventilates (she says it's a defense mechanism) and Sierra's guess is that they're all being held by a "deranged millionaire serial killer."
Victor wonders why he feels like he knows Sierra, November can only remember that she's lost something, Echo remembers the mountains, and Mike? Well, he thinks they've been abducted by aliens.
The doors open and the Dolls make their way towards them. No sign of aliens yet but there's plenty of other humans and they seem to be fine. The Dolls decide it's best to take their cues from the docile humans and act like everything's fine in order to gather more info. After being called by their code names, Victor theorizes that they must be part of a military experiment.
At Ballard's apartment, his paranoia has finally gotten the better of him. Too bad he didn't let that happen sooner. He finds the bug The House planted in his home weeks ago and immediately rushes off to one of his contacts, who marvels at the technology and states that the bug shouldn't even technologically exist yet.
Echo's hand was cut when emerging from her pod and she is sent to Dr. Saunders for medical attention. Ah, Dr. Saunders. Arguably, she's looking out for the Dolls more than anyone. However, she also works for the beast and is presumably taking a paycheck for manipulating the minds of these people. Still, she has a lot of good in her heart. I think.
After being bandaged, Echo notices her roommate Mike being forced upstairs to Topher's lab. It's more imperative than ever that the remaining four blend in.
How great was it that November was the only one not taken aback by the coed showers?
Victor, who's already had "issues" in the shower, attempted to avoid another by naming the line-up of the 1986 Mets, providing a clue as to where he lived before "volunteering."
After showering, they bump into Mike who has returned all Doll-ified. After seeing what he's become, it's decided that if they're going to break out, now's the time.
Man, if only Adelle knew about this. Oh, Laurence just told her there are four actives about to escape? Yeah, and how did she react? She said what? "Right on schedule"? You mean? Wow....
While making their way towards the exit, Sierra begins to remember pieces of how she got there. She was taken away by men with guns and she remembers the man who put her there. His name? Nolan.
After stumbling upon the Dollhouse's costume room, Victor peruses his wardrobe and finds a pair of chaps with a heart on the back and a matching pink thong. November remembers something worse than that. After seeing a stroller, she remembers her daughter Katie, but she doesn't know where she is.
Just before reaching the outside, Caroline stops. She knows that whatever is going on isn't right. Based on what she's seen, the Dolls have just escaped from a People Factory. Somehow I don't see Fox putting People Factory on their schedule. Although, isn't that American Idol?
The other three leave in a Dollhouse-issued vehicle while Caroline stays behind. Why? This is Caroline. Why else? "To try and make a difference."
While Caroline formulates a plan, she's interrupted by Handler Sophie. The two proceed to have a patented Whedon sparring session. I think it's great that the Handler isn't just a Watcher with a different name. These Handlers can definitely watch out for themselves.
The trio of Dolls drive around L.A. while Dollhouse security watches their every move. Sierra tries to remember where Nolan lives, as she is driven to confront the man who put her in The House. That's when November asks to be let out of the car. She remembers her life, her daughter ... and where to find her.
After besting Sophie, Caroline cuts the power to the Dollhouse. Not good for management. Why? "No power, no chair, no wipey."
Well, that's not so much of a problem, really. I mean, how would Topher get Echo in the chair anyway when she's the one with a gun pointed at his head?
Sierra remembers where Nolan lives and she and Victor pay him a visit. Upon answering the door, Nolan welcomes Sierra by calling her Bria. So, number one, did he say Bria? Number two, was this her name before becoming a Doll or is this the name he pays for her to have on engagements? Potentially, it's both. If what we learned in this scene is to be believed, Nolan used every connection he had and wrote a number of checks to have Sierra taken to the Dollhouse. Unfortunately security's on the way and there's not much time to learn more. Sierra flees but not before vowing to return.
November continues to follow her gut towards her daughter. Walking past a school and into a cemetery, she comes to a stop at her daughter's headstone and collapses in front of it.
Back at the Dollhouse, Caroline gets a tutorial in Memory Wiping/Imprinting 101. What did we learn? You can't imprint on a fully functional brain; it will implode. In exchange for not shooting or imploding Topher's brain, Caroline demands that all the Dolls be set free.
Victor and Sierra hide from security and discuss their memories of one another back in the Dollhouse. Sierra remembers that Victor waits in his pod every night to be sure Sierra's OK. They kiss and fall asleep leaning against one another.
November falls asleep next to Katie's grave.
And that leaves Echo. She marches the Dollhouse staff and Dolls out into the sunlight and collapses the second she officially leaves the facility.
Suddenly, we're back in the staff meeting from the beginning of the episode. Dr. Saunders suggests that in order to quell the unresolved feelings these Dolls are experiencing, they should just be given what they need. Let them take a self-guided journey. "Let the tide come in. It's the only way to wash it back out," she proclaims. Once the Doll experiences closure, their brain releases a sedative, they collapse and are brought back to the Dollhouse to have their memories wiped once again.
As stated, we returned to Agent Ballard for the last scene of the episode. After his search for the source of the bug goes cold, he returns home and checks his messages. As he listens, he hears a very familiar voice. But it ain't Mellie looking to patch things up.
"Paul Ballard, you don't know me but I have a file and your name's in it. And I think we've met. And I know it sounds crazy but we're here, somewhere underground. I'm trying to get everyone out but if I can't please, please find us."
So, Echo believes Paul doesn't know her but she also thinks they've met? Hmmmm...
I've got another question. If the Dollhouse, or at least the legend of it, has been around since the late '80s and there are more than twenty of them, why are they just now experiencing anomalies like Alpha and Echo?
Adelle has made it clear in a number of episodes that very often it's guilt which drives people to volunteer for her program. While some would say her recruitment methods are more akin to blackmail, most of these volunteers have in fact been responsible for something they can no longer live with. Could November be responsible for Katie's death? If not, how'd she die? And who's Katie's father?
So, the comparisons I made in the opening paragraph... Why those?
Well, I think The Great Escape is obvious.
Lost? Maybe I'm just taking any opportunity to discuss the Gilligan's Island rip-off but the idea of getting closure and resolving events from your past is certainly a running theme of the show.
Buffy's "Tabula Rasa"? I know there are some readers who don't appreciate my allusions to past Whedon work. They want Dollhouse to stand on its own. And it absolutely should however, whether it's on purpose or not "Needs" and "Tabula Rasa" are terrific companion pieces.
Also, these references to other shows from the Whedonverse are what's to be expected when following the projects of an auteur in cult television. By no means, do I want to throw in a reference for the sake of having one, but Joss Whedon has built a family. There is a stable of actors, producers and writers he loves that travel with him from project to project. The history between them will inevitably shine through on screen.
Great Lines & Moments
Paul: I'm sorry. I have a thing she needs.
Laurence: If your child starts speaking for the first time, you feel proud. If your dog does, you freak the hell out.
Victor: Hey, noise? Not helping.
Victor: Come on! Who doesn't want to put Alien Guy back in the box?
Dollhouse Staffer: Good morning! We're having banana pancakes for breakfast today.
Tango: I like pancakes.
Victor: We're all gonna die.
Victor, after choking his handler unconscious: He's very tired.
What did you think about "Needs"? Which Doll's past piqued your interest the most? And how much torture at the hands of men does Joss plan to add to Sierra's life?
Next week's episode, "A Spy in the House of Love," will air, as usual, at 9 pm on Fox. After that, I want to give you a heads-up that Echo and Co. will be taking off Friday, April 17, so that week is your chance to go out and have some fun. (Well, unless you watch the two-hour Prison Break.)