Okay Dollhouse lovers, here we chew over the eye-popping developments in the unaired episode "Epitaph One" without spoiling anything for those poor schmucks in the main thread who haven't yet had their minds blown. Have at it!
"Epitaph One" refutes the notion that Whedon is making the mythology of this show up on the fly. He has it worked out, and it leads to a darker and more dystopian future than most of us dreamed he'd go. Science fiction is replete with post-apocalyptic scenarios, of course, and the ol' "technology run amuck" standby is a popular trope.
What's interesting here is that he gives us the endpoint, or perhaps a midpoint, of his story, making the rest of the series from here on out, however long it goes, essentially a flashback showing us how things went so terribly wrong. He also leaves open the possibility of continuing the show on beyond the events of "Epitaph One", mentioning that Caroline is "still out there". (Obviously, that would be an entirely different show.) He shows us how it all shakes out, and it's not pretty. This is what he meant when he kept telling critics and fans alike that the show was about much more than a titillating high-class-hooker fantasy. There's so much information pummeling you, in fact, that repeated viewings of this episode are likely necessary (for me at least) to process them all. I watched it 3 times over the weekend and kept seeing things I had missed. So, let's go over what we now know...
First, Rossum Corp. is really, really evil. Or, perhaps there's a power shift and a really evil faction takes control and takes them in an unintended direction. The Rossum executive who imprints Victor tells Adelle that he can have the active back, apparently unaware of Adelle's "special" history with Victor which may add to her righteous anger at having seen this new development. But she would pay a price, he implies. "Yer either with us or agin' us." Later, we see Victor with Sierra so we know Adelle did just that. What was the price she paid?
Second, we know Topher is behind this, in an unwitting way. The knowledge of what he did eventually drives him insane. She cradles his babbling head in her hands and calls him "sweetheart". What happens in his relationship with Adelle along the way?
Third, we know that the imprinting tech eventually became so advanced that it could be instantly transmitted to a normal person - an actual - by a sound(s) they would hear on the phone, then even transmitted over a radio (couldn't figure out why that dude shot the radio when it happened, which would ordinarily have been a useful tool). So, does that mean that everyone is just genetically susceptible or was there a "virus" that somehow infected the entire population and made them susceptible? Adelle spoke of a vaccine.
Forth, we know from that brief scene with Victor and Sierra that eventually the actives become mentally linked while they're in their pods. That's an interesting development.
We know that Echo/Caroline (at least) reaches a point where she can somehow withstand and fake the imprinting process. How and when does she develop that skill? Is it because of the vaccine? We know that Ballard and she are on the run, may even have become an item. Lots of story possibilities there.
If the Dollhouse was secure in its underground location, why did they abandon it? I guess Adelle and her staff stayed behind. What did Caroline do to her/them? And what eventually happened to them? Why did Whiskey stay behind? Simply to provide a fail-safe in the event of a breach? Did she do it voluntarily? Why was Boyd running for his life in an earlier scene? What happened to Mellie? What did Adelle do with Dominic's body while he was in the attic?
All the various scenes at various times, jumbled in order, never had any precise dates. We don't know how long it takes to get to any of those milestone events, only that by 10 years down the road things have gone completely to hell. All the damaged buildings visible in the final scene indicate a real war had been fought. Between whom?
Those are a few of the questions posed during this tour-de-force episode. They're kind of "locked in" now in terms of where the show is going. That's a really radically different way of doing a television series. As I said over in the main thread, Joss and his merry band of family and comrades have pushed all their chips to the center of the table with this episode, they're "all in". Clearly, there are enough questions raised by virtue of these brief snapshots of the future to indicate a rich and vivid world Joss could explore for years to come. I sure hope he gets the chance.
That's true. In the case of LOST, it was completely unexpected and reinvigorated the show. But it was a midpoint in a larger story. In this case, it feels more like an ending, even though a way forward has been lukewarmly provided. Any subsequent show would be a post-apocalyptic survival tale, completely unlike the original 'Dollhouse'.
I've watched "Epitaph One" only once, but one thing is certain: this is the Joss Whedon I love. There were lots of good things about this show: interesting visuals, intriguing characters, good direction and plenty of surprises along the way. The "innocent" little girl in their midst reminded me of the Anointed One (the little boy who tries to resurrect the Master) from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joss Whedon likes to play against stereotypes.
I think Caroline's emerging resistance to the Dollhouse personality wipes (from the end of the first season) may be the salvation of the show. I'm thinking that this one story development may allow them to pursue more of what makes Epitaph One work so much better than most of the first season episodes.
As you say, though, Epitaph One is "all in." Maybe we'll have a sort of Columbo or Monk-like progression from this point. Now that we know what happens, the on-going job will be to find riveting ways of showing how we get there.
The sheer darkness of Epitaph One appealed to me greatly. Topher's descent into madness was chilling. He was sickened and ultimately lost his sanity as a result of seeing his technology misused and widely applied to innocents via broadcasts and phone calls. Brrr! I thought that Fran Kranz's performance as Topher was brilliant. In fact, because I had figured out what was going on with his character when I saw Dollhouse the first time, I consistently enjoyed all of Kranz's performances when I saw Season 1 on BD. He is a good actor.
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