I’m going to flag straight up that Briar Rose, the eleventh Dollhouse episode, represents exactly why I’ve become frustrated with this show. It is a slow burn story, but the events in it are actually quite gripping towards the end.
So why is that bad? Because if every Dollhouse episode has been as good as this then I’d be the first person in the queue demanding it return, except for each as well crafted as this was we’ve been subjected to three or four like the season opener, or the terrible one about the cultists.
The opening of the story builds a clever little theme about ‘Briar Rose’, or Sleeping Beauty as most people remember her, as we follow Echo as she’s imprinted as an abused child physiologist helping a young victim move beyond her own abuse.
It’s obvious at this point that the parallel between the story and Paul Ballard’s attempts to wake Echo from her 100 years slumber are intentional, and this concept is developed cleverly during the story.
Paul breaks up with Mellie, knowing she’ll run to the Dollhouse, and he can follow her to its actual geographic location. So now he knows where it is, but how to get inside?
Meanwhile Sierra has been imprinted with the mind of an FBI CSI expert and sent to examine a dead homeless man in Tucson, whose injuries look consistent with an encounter with Alpha.
Once Ballard has the address he begins to realise that for the Dollhouse to exist it must be entirely self sufficient in terms of power, water and all services. This level of self reliance leads him to Stephen Kepler, an expert in designing closed loop systems, and the man who conceptualised the Dollhouse infrastructure.
Joss Whedon seems to be cashing in favours for this show, because to play the idiosyncratic Kelper he got Alan Tudyk to guest star! Actually, I wasn’t initially convinced this was such a good idea, because Kelper’s character is really irritating after a really small period of time once Ballard turns up with him. Ballard drags him to the Dollhouse location to help him get inside, which he does, although it takes much longer than it should because Kepler is scared of just about everything.
Getting in, and even opening Echo’s sleep booth, isn’t as difficult as it should have been because the rest of Dollhouse is distracted by a USB memory stick that’s been sent to Lawrence Dominic. Instead of extracting him from the ‘Attic’, they actually imprint Victor with his memories, and try to understand who sent the memory stick.
When they’re interrogating him, he gives away a huge plot point that we’re not supposed to notice. Dr. Claire Saunders moves to inject him with a sedative, and he says ‘whiskey’ which is taken to assume he wants a drink. So Dr. Saunders is a Doll, interesting.
But this isn’t the big reveal of this story, that comes just after Ballard gets to Echo and is about to lead her out. Boyd interrupts this romantic moment, and huge fight between him and Ballard kicks off. Eventually, Ballard is captured, and Adele is just trying to work out what best to do with him when they realise the true identity of the body that Sierra is examining, and it’s Stephen Kepler!
That, unfortunately, means that they’ve all been played, and the man that broke into the Dollhouse is actually ‘Alpha’, which explains why Alan Tudyk would agree to play him…
In the moment of revelation he attacks Victor with a scalpel, leaving his trademark sign of Zorro on him and then he then subjects Dr. Saunders to game of let’s remember. Then he takes Echo and imprints her with a new personality of his lover, and they leave the Dollhouse. She was Briar Rose, but not remotely in the way we’d imagined.
This was all good, and very exciting, but its appearance at this point in proceedings pretty much gives away that this is a single season show and that in next week’s Omega story things will wrap up.
My assertion is that Ballard and the Dollhouse will be forced to work together to get Echo back and stop Alpha, but based on the twists in this one, it might actually be less predictable than that.
Check out our review of episode 10 here.