Dollhouse season 2 episode 13 review: the final episode

Billy mourns for Dollhouse, or rather, what it might have been. Beware, this review of the show's very last episode is spoiler-packed...

Dollhouse: Epitaph 2: Return

2.13: Epitaph 2: Return

I want to say from the outset that I genuinely enjoyed the final Dollhouse, and not just because it frees me to write about other shows. I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed such a frustrating production, because when this show was good, it could be great. Though from the outset it had that Fox-mark-of-TV-death plastered all over it, with an entirely botched series of launch stories and masochistically bad schedule choices.

It was as if Fox liked the idea of employing Joss Whedon, but not the show he’d created for them. Frankly, the way Joss got treated with Firefly, which I think was a far superior product to Dollhouse, should have prepared him for a second shafting, but it happened all the same.

The final story was written by Joss’s brother Jed and his wife, Maurissa. It forms a sequel of sorts to the Epitaph One episode you might have seen if you’d bought the DVD collection. If you didn’t, then you’ll spend the first few minutes of this one wondering why you don’t recognise any of the characters, and why a young girl appears to be leading two adults around a destroyed future.

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As we all knew last week, blowing up Rossum didn’t actually stop the remote imprint technology getting out, and descending civilisation into utter desolation by 2020.

The three people we meet at the start are looking for ‘safe haven’, led there by a young girl who happens to be imprinted with the mind of Caroline (Echo’s original personality).

They’re not very bright and get caught by Rossum. That would be the end of their story, but also inside Rossum are Echo and Ballard, who are there to spring the now entirely crazy Topher. He tells them he’s worked out a way to reverse all the damage the imprint waves have done, and return people to who they originally were. So, he’s rambling mad, but they like the tone of his rambles.

They all go back to ‘safe haven’ where Adelle has now become a deeply sensitive person who tends vegetables (insert your own joke there…), and also there is Priya and her son.

Topher’s plan has some slight problems, not least that some people (like Echo) want to remain who they’ve become and not get ‘reset’ to their prior personalities. The convenient solution is for them to go into a location underground, the LA Dollhouse being the obvious choice. But that means battling their way through an army of crazy people, to get there.

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That sounds a tough option, until Victor (not Anthony) drives up, having watched Mad Max far too many times. His ‘tech’ people have USB keys hanging around their necks, which they use to selectively upload skills using handheld imprint devices. They’re got a really cool truck, which I assume was built for some other movie as it looks far too nice to have been made just for this episode.

They agree to take them to the Dollhouse, which is useful, as they have plenty of big guns. When they get near the Dollhouse they’re attacked by numerous ‘butchers’, some of whom have firearms. In the skirmish both new character ‘Mag’ and Ballard are shot, the latter fatally in the head. They make it inside the Dollhouse, but Echo is understandably upset that the man she loves didn’t survive. Topher then goes to set the world straight using Adelle’s old office as the high altitude detonation location.

This was probably the most annoying part of the episode, because they constructed one of those ‘it can only be operated manually’ BS plot points that made no sense, although it enabled him to sacrifice himself. He’s so smart that he can work out all this, but he can’t work out a simple timed delay so he doesn’t have to die? Just to underline how junk this actually is, when he activates the device it doesn’t blow immediately. I counted approximately 25 seconds from the point he throws the switch to detonation, which suggests that, had he wanted to get clear, he could have. Dumb.

Once the device blows, all the people outside are ‘reset’, and wonder why they’re living in a trashed city. The problem – and one of the characters even mentions this – is that the whole of society is now broken, so everyone being who they were originally isn’t a huge help. Hey, no solution is perfect!

There was, however, one interesting twist on which to end. Topher has left a present for Echo, one last imprint. This is Ballard’s, so they can be together in her head if not in reality. Which did make me curious how many of the 100+ people in Echo’s head had been having sex with each other since they got there? Dozens is my guess.

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It was a nice upbeat ending, along with Victor being introduced to his son, and Echo going to sleep in her Dollhouse chamber, presumably having nice dreams. I’m not sure how much sense this would make to those Dollhouse viewers who didn’t punt for the DVD boxset, but I don’t think Fox cared a dot.

I was left wondering how this ending might have played had Dollhouse run like Joss originally intended, instead of being horribly shortened and mucked about with. My problem is that I just didn’t buy the flip where Boyd became the nemesis. I’ve seen plenty of discussion where lots of people have defended this as plausible but ‘rushed’. Sorry, even if it had been delivered with more style than a drive-by shooting, I just didn’t accept the whole notion. Boyd acts entirely believably as a sane person for most of two seasons, but he’s actually utterly mad? A longer build-up to that revelation wouldn’t have convinced me more, possibly less so. In retrospect, I think this was the long term plot flaw that Joss assumed he’d have time to work out a way to make it work, but he never had that time and it landed with a resounding thud.

I just hope when the season 2 boxset comes out that Joss does an interview where he explains how the show was supposed to develop and how that got bent in the rush to provide some form of closure. I’d really like to hear that.

On the final scorecard, Dollhouse had six to seven exceptionally good episodes and about ten utterly abysmal ones between those that didn’t really fall either way. Season one had such a high dross density that it probably should have ended there. Season two was much better, but Fox wanted this show to end before the season opener had screened, so, in the end, it was almost irrelevant that the show developmentally progressed.

The other thing I took from Dollhouse was that the people running the show ignored the better actors for the ones with known names. Enver Gjokaj and Dichen Lachman, along with Amy Acker, really did some excellent work on the show, but were continually overshadowed by the screen time given to the higher profiled Eliza Dushku and Tahmoh Penikett. This is the second show that Eliza Dushku has headlined to oblivion, and, I for one, don’t want to see a third, thanks.

In the end, for this reviewer, Dollhouse had some amazing potential, the majority of which was never realised. Wherever Joss takes his next show (and I hear Showtime is lovely this time of year), I hope it’s not one with the same infanticide tendencies as the Fox Network, where even the strongest ideas have little or no real chance.

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Read our review of episode 12 here.