Thursday, 14 May 2009

Kill Thy Self

Ok, so I know I promised a Heroes: Fugitives post but I think I should really re-watch it through to really do it any justice, but fret not, here’s the 411 on the finale of Dollhouse instead.

Now, after Jane Espenson’s jovial take on the character of Alpha last week, Tim Minear takes the reins and leads us down a very dark road indeed. Omega opens with Dr. Saunders calling out for help for poor mutilated Victor and in the ensuing chaos the doc stays very calm as if recalling a memory and then states simply “He came for Echo.” A statement that we will come to realise the true meaning  of later on.

snapshotDewitt storms into Topher’s office demanding to know what Alpha imprinted Echo with. Topher doesn’t know and he can’t track her because Alpha has removed her gps tracking device. DeWitt leaves but Dr. Saunders remains. “He asked me if I always wanted  to be a doctor.” She says. “Who can fathom the mind of crazy person?” Topher jests. “The one made him crazy.”

And at last it clicked for me and realised what it was about the character of Dr. Saunders that was out of place, she’s a doll!

Cut to Alpha and Echo imprinted with trailer trash imprints driving a stolen car with a store clerk trussed up in the back seat. Alpha begins tsnapshot(0)o flash, taking to himself in different voice and carrying on an argument in his head, a clue to what a “composite event” actually is.

Flashback time… Now I’m not a fan of flashbacks unless they are  specifically part of the style of the show i.e. Lost. Two actives are missing, one is Alpha and we assume the other is Echo. Alpha has kidnapped the client and is demanding to know who is in the van, the black vans the handler’s drive. Clearly Alpha, a paranoid thief, realised he was being followed and assumed it was a government agency. However the whole thing is a game, a fantasy dreamed up by the client. In the background a girl dances seductively, her features masked by smoke and headlights, still we assume it is Echo. Alpha continues to torture the man and eventually he cracks, telling Alpha that he snapshot(1) isn’t real, neither him nor his girlfriend. Not a wise move me thinks…

“She’s real, she’s the last real thing you’re ever gonna see!” Then she comes, walking out of the smoke, Whiskey a.k.a Dr. Saunders. Boom! The doors come flying off their hinges and armed men rush in and take down Alpha and Whiskey and then we’re back to the present.

DeWitt sits down with Paul Ballard and explains the situation to him. Interesting as last week she wanted his brain pulled out and his body dumped in the attic. She explains the man he believed to be Kepler was in fact a broken Doll called Alpha who experienced an unfortunate technical anomaly. Agent Ballard replies with “My God, what have you people done?” to which Angela turns the tables back on him with playground logic. “What have you done!? You brought this thing bacsnapshot(2)k into my house!” Interesting how she thinks, no? I mean, they created Alpha but somehow once he was  out of the House he was no longer their problem. Also, considering the fact that DeWitt had been bonking Victor for who-knows how many years, you’d think she might show some concern that he’d just been cut up.

Anyway DeWitt knows that she can use Ballard to help track down Alpha, but she also knows she can’t just ask for his help, so she plays the guilt card instead. “And now, he’s got Echo, Caroline.” And it’s your fault Paul. Boyd gets a call that a bomb threat has been called in and the building is locked down, meaning no one can be dispatched to follow Alpha. Ballard thinks he can help and offers his services.

Badger is back, (yey) or to give him his Dollhouse character name Tanaka. Mark Sheppard played the recurring  pretty criminal snapshot(3) Badger in Firefly and now he plays FBI Agent Tanaka and while the two characters are polar opposites with regards to their legal standing they both share that “pain in my ass” trait. Ballard comes strolling out the front door and tells Tanaka that this is the location of the Dollhouse and that the bomb threat is a hoax. To be honest it’s hard to tell if Paul is actually asking for help because he knows that Tanaka thinks he’s off his trolley but at the same time Ballard’s compunction to bring down the House is so strong that maybe he believes if he keeps trying someone will eventually believe him. That person, however, will never be Tanaka, who on hearing what Paul has to say quickly calls off the bomb squad and heads home. However Ballard has in effect saved his own life. Even if Tanaka doesn’t believe him Dewitt can’t exactly bump him off now because no FBI agent, not even one as clearly prejudiced as Tanaka can ignore evidence in a missing person’s case.

After the FBI leave Ballard turns and smiles for the camera and DeWitt smiles back, in the same way she might look at a small obedient child. Seconds later in comes Topher with news, all of Echo’s imprints, primary and back ups, all gone.

Down in sick bay Dr. Saunders is seeing to Victor. “I’m not my best anymore. I want to be my best.” It’s interesting that the Dolls are somehow imprinted with the desire to please, even in their dormant state. Its eerie, they are too pliable, too ready to serve, slave-like (Caroline calls them Zombies!) and it doesn’t sit well with my conception of right and snapshot(5) wrong. In fact, I think its part of the show’s intention, to mess with your moral sense of what is right and wrong, who is good and who is bad. Certainly DeWitt is easy enough to pick out as a bad guy, but what about Topher or Boyd? And if they are the villains then who are the heroes? Certainly not the Dolls themselves, if anything they are the victims. What about Ballard, is he the good guy? Or is it Alpha? Or is there no black and white, merely different shades of grey…

“How can I be my best now?” Victor asks, eye’s wide and innocent, his face cut to ribbons, held together with threads. Dr. Saunders looks away, but subtle hints are not easy for a Doll to grasp and Victor persists. “How can i be my best?” “You can’t Victor.” She snaps her mind trying to recall who she was before she was slashed, trying to reconcile what she knows about her past and how she feels now. “Your best is past… your past you  can’t even remember… you’re ugly now, disgustingsnapshot(6), all you can hope for now is pity and for that, you’re gonna have to look somewhere else!!” Harsh words Doc.

Flashback time… Finally the real Dr. Saunders is revealed as old man with a stack of lollypops and to be honest the name suits him better than it does Whiskey. Zoom out to Alpha as he watches Echo being brought in. You can see in his eyes that he is attracted to her, the same way that Victor looks at Sierra, which makes you wonder about the suitability of men as Dolls. An issue which is a minefield of potential sexist comparisons and examples which I shall let someone other than me examine.  

Back to real time and Ballard is trying to be holier-than-thou with the wise cracking Topher. “So, this is where you steal their souls.” “Yes, and then we put them in little glass jars with our fireflies.” (Is Firefly code for something, dreams, hopes, aspirations maybe? :P) “Why is there a tall, morally judgemental man in my imprint room, besides him?” Indicating Boyd. I don’t think Topher much cares for people with morals, he doesn’t have them, or if he does his scientific curiosity overpowers them. Remember back around episode 6 I suggested that an event would occur when Topher’s over confidence would bite him in the ass (I seem to recall a Jurassic Park parallel being used.) Well now I believe that event has already happened, the creation of Alpha.

Cut to evil laboratory, Alpha has the nice, shop assistant lady, Wendy, strapped into the chair ready to isnapshot(7)mprint her. The lab itself is reminiscent of Mr. Universe’s lair in Serenity. It is this rough and experimental look that I love about Joss’ trips into sci-fi- land. Even inside the Dollhouse which is so pristine and clean, Topher’s lab is still messy, still real. Echo asks what Alpha has planned and he explains. “Wendy is going away, she wont be here in a minute.” and then we’re back in a flashback.

Alpha is stalking Echo, waiting for her to come by so he can surprise her with a kiss. It’s scary just how infantile Alan comes across in this sequence. Around the corner comes Alpha’s handler and catches them in the act. Unfortunately his attachment to his active causes him not to report the incident, not wanting Alpha to be sent to the attic. A failure that would prove fatal. “Just… watch your step.” His handler warns, a warning Alpha takes literally, although ysnapshot(8)ou get the impression from Alan’s eyes and gestures that Alpha is a lot more aware than he is supposed to be.

Back in the present Ballard is looking for answers. Topher finally explains the meaning of a “composite event.” It seems that Alpha got 48 complete personalities dumped into his brain simultaneously, which would explain the talking to himself. Paul asks who it was that Alpha went for first, not who got in his way, but the person he went after as soon as he had the choice. Topher slowly realises that Ballard may be on to something. “Himself.” Alpha killed himself, by destroying all the copies of his personality. Ballard takes the next logical step and asks Topher for Caroline’s original self. The self proclaimed genius comes back with a smashed harddrive. “Where’s the backup?” Topher looks guilty. “This was the backup!”

Wendy is gone but Caroline is back. Alpha has imprinted the kidnapped shop assistant with Caroline’s self and Caroline is more than a little shocked to be looking at her own body. “Whose body is this?” Caroline asks. “It’s just a body, there all pretty much the same.” And there it is, Alpha’s take on life, the explanation behind his own self destruction. He is a collection of personalities that need a flesh and blood body in order to operate. It is merely snapshot(9) necessary to have a body, it doesn’t matter what that body is.

“I want back in my brain!” Caroline cries out. “You should have thought of that before you vacated the premises.” Again Alpha recognises the truth, that their own selves cared so little about themselves that they abandoned their bodies and from that Alpha surmises they do not deserve to be allowed back. And the problem is that a part of me agree with Alpha and yet he is so twisted that he just cannot be the ‘hero’.

And so we return to flashback and the actives are clipping their bonsai trees. Interesting Alpha’s is more erratic and one sided than the others. Further indication that he is not following the same programming, that he is “evolving”? “Whiskey, let Echo be number one.” Alpha calls in his child-like way that is so very very creepy, before he slashes her face apart with his pruning shears. Security grab Alpha and dump him in the chair. DeWitt wants answers but Topher has none. He is running a full diagnostic, bringing up every imprint to see if something matches… oh dear… Alpha’s handler gets knocked into the computer and the  composite event occurs. Alpha’s handler is the first to go, his eyes squished out, followed closely by a rather foolish Dr. Saunders. But Alpha didn’t go for Topher… why? Aftesnapshot(10)r all it was Topher who enslaved him? But it was also Topher who created him…

Back in the secret lab Echo is in the chair and Alpha is about to help her “ascend”. And so, with the immortal words “Alpha, meet Omega.” the composite begins and Echo is reborn. “I get it.” She whispers, ironic really as it’s actually Alpha who gets it, where it is a pipe to the head. “Now I understand everything.”

Ballard comes before DeWitt demanding to know “Who is Alpha?” After some debate DeWitt hands over a file. Carl William Craft and DeWitt reveals that Alpha, along with other Dolls, presumably, were volunteer prisoners and they wonder why Alpha went slasher happy! How thick are these people, I mean, honestly! So Ballard and Boyd set out to find the girl Craft almost killed. When she answers the door and they see her face, it becomsnapshot(12)es apparent that Topher is wrong, that whoever the actives were before still  exists below the imprint.

In the evil den Alpha and Echo debate philosophy. Alpha believe they are Gods, “Perfected, objective, something new.” Objective? I think not, Mr. Alpha. “I get it, I understand it, I’m experiencing 38 of them right now but i somehow understand that not one of them is me… There is no me, I’m just a container.” Caroline pipes up. “There is a you, she’s sitting right here.” When will people learn to keep stum around crazy god-like beings? “He may be crazy, but he’s right, you left me alone.” Cue Alpha with snapshot(11)pipe. The two of them slug it out. Alpha has given up on Echo now, realising she is not the person he thought she was. Echo knocks him down and proceeds to untie Caroline, who requests to be put back in the wedge. Echo asks “Why don’t you come home?”  and after a little ummming and arrrring Caroline agrees to go get back in her own body and is promptly shot! “Now… Do as I say, or I will blow your brain out.” Alpha sneers, pointing his gun at the wedge with Caroline’s personality inside.

Meanwhile Topher realises that Alpha was using an old Whiskey imprint on Echo, but way too late to be of any use, except to confirm the address for Ballard and Boyd. However Dr. Saunders is becoming self aware too and she wants answers.

Alpha, spurned by Echo, explains his evil plan for revenge. To imprint as many girls as possible with her personality and keep killing her over and over. See what I mean about him being too unhinged to be the hero? But Echo wont lie back and take it. Alpha warns her “I’m not fooling, he’s not kidding, we’re not bluffing! I’m bluffing… But the rest of us, we mean business.” (brilliant!) Alpha shoots Echo in the shoulder and makes a dash for it. After a brief chase Alpha throws the Wedge asnapshot(13)way and Echo goes after it, but it falls, straight into Paul Ballard’s well placed hands. So, he  did save Caroline after all… awwww.

Topher catches Whiskey on his computer, she turns to him knowing now that she was once a doll too. “I think you gave me more computer skills than would be required by a medical doctor. I understand, why hire a new physician when you can just imprint the broken doll.” and without a pause “But why did you decide it was so important for me to hate you?” And why did he? Is it that Topher feels responsible for what happened? Whatever the case you definitely get the feeling that he goes deeper than what we see on the surface. 

So Alpha escaped and now Ballard is working for the Dollhouse on the agreement that November is released from her contract. An interesting but not entirely unpredictable change of heart. Echo is returned to herself but we can’t assume she has come out of the whole ordeal without some kind of damage, in fact as her glass lid snapshot(15) over her bed slides into place, she breathes a single  word… “Caroline!”!

So that’s it, the first season is done and dusted and it seems I had a lot more to say about this episode than i first realised. However the series is in a position where it could easily stop without too much of a problem, no cliff hanger or major unsolved issues to be dealt with. Ballard found the Dollhouse and saved the girl. Topher and DeWitt were humanised. We discovered the spy in the House was Mr. Dominic and we know who and what Alpha is, even the quirkiness of Dr. Saunders has been resolved. However there is certainly room for the show to grow should it find itself renewed. Echo will have to deal with her ever growing sense of self. Ballard will have to work out where he fits in the grand scheme of things and then there’s Alpha…

So Favourite Episode: This award has to go to Briar Rose or Man on the Street, the former purely for Alan Tudyk’s perfsnapshot(16)ormance and the latter because, it was, for me, the turning point when the series went from good to great.

Favourite Moment: This award goes to Topher in Haunted, when you realise that he had no one in his life and that once a year on  his birthday he is allowed to make himself a friend. *wipes tear* Beautiful, brilliant and yet so incredible sad all at the same time.

Right, well I’ve gone on long enough, this has been My Two Cents and hopefully I’ll be writing about Dollhouse again soon…

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