Saturday, 6 February 2010

Spotlight: Dollhouse - “Epitaph Two – The Return”

So, we arrive at the second and final instalment of the Epitaph series. Last time I used ten posts to break down the Epitaph and really look at it in detail and speculate where the show was going. This time, however, the Epitaph has nowhere else to go. This is the Dollhouse tombstone, it’s final, blood thirsty hurrah! Lets take a look at it.

So, the episode opens with Mag, Zone and young Caroline being attacked by “Butchers” which are imprinted people who have gone crazy in the wake of the apocalypse. Interesting the date reads 2020, a year after we first meet Mag and Zone. Was this to allow for further Epitaphs to be slotted in before we reached this final one?

Zone has no qualms with shooting the “Butchers”, I guess it is a kill or be killed kind of world. The girls jump in the jeep and the trio drive away. Quickly Caroline and Zone perform a small recap for those of us who didn’t buy season 1 on dvd, which closes out with Caroline saying “We are lost, we are not gone.” a hint to how Jed, Maurissa and Andrew plan to end this episode.

As they get close to Safe Haven they ditch the jeep and that is when a group of soldiers from Neuropolis ambush them, throwing bags over their heads and taking them captive. Neuropolis is Tuscon, the base of operations for the old Rossum corporation. Mag, Zone and Caroline are escorted to a cell below the main building. This is effectively a wardrobe, the people in the cell are meat suits waiting for Harding or Ambrose to decide to put them on.

“Where are we?” Mag asks. “Neuropolis, city of minds.” Caroline explains. “And you didn’t think to mention that Safe Haven was parked right next door to the frikkin’ Death Star?!” Zone bellows. “It had to be, this is where we got the vaccine.” Caroline explains.

Upstairs a very large Mr. Harding is guzzling his way through a huge feast, while smoking a large cigar. Ambrose (played by Eliza’s big brother) enters, bringing with him a selection of suits for Mr. Harding to try on.

“What is it? I’m eating.” Harding snaps. “Of course you are.” Ambrose smiles sarcastically. “You’d be just as fat if we hadn’t run out of shellfish”  What I find interesting here is that Harding and Ambrose are clearly just out for themselves, fulfilling their own wishes, but, despite having the technology to imprint people to do whatever they want, they did not plan for a sustainable future to fulfil their desires.

“We’re having a hard time finding acceptable replacement bodies in all the chaos out there. We have to start taking better care of ourselves.” Harding inspects the suits, interestingly they are all naked, clearly the size of your junk still matters in the post-apocalyptic world. “Where did this body come from?” Harding says, fear in his eyes as he comes face to face with Paul Ballard. “Was he with anyone?” Harding asks. “Just some girl.” Ambrose replies.

Quickly Echo and Ballard kick some ass. Echo comes up against Harding. “Still living the dream?” She asks. “It is a little bit tarnished.” He replies. “You ever think, if you didn’t cut Rossum off at the head, the tech might have never gotten out of control?” Echo points her gun at Harding. “Ah, you know I’m backed up, why do you bother any more?” “Ask me again sometime.” Echo replies, splattering his brains all over the wall.

While Echo oversees the release of the Actuals Ballard goes in search of Topher, who has at some point, presumably, been captured by Harding. Interestingly, Topher seems less damaged than he did in Epitaph One, despite the fact that he’s been being tortured on a daily basis while under Harding’s care.

“I’ve been working.” Topher declares. “One bullet a day, don't want to waste. One person down a day until I solve the problem. Erase the world all at once.” It seems Harding wanted to wipe the whole world, start from scratch. Interestingly in Topher’s babble he utters the words “Chain reaction, new problem.” I wonder if this is relevant to the way the episode ends, I guess we’ll never know. (I’ll explain this comment at the end.)

“So close to solving both problems, they would have no idea.” Topher babbles. “Close to what? Wiping everyone?” Echo asks. ”The opposite.” It seems Topher believes he can reverse the wipes. He believes he can “Bring back the world” I have to say I hate that as a conclusion to the show. After all, the second season was all about attempting to prevent the inevitable and I understand why the Whedons want to end the show in this way, because it gives the fans a conclusion but it doesn’t feel like we had to work for it. I know, I know, that is the way it had to be but I still don’t like it.

Back in Safe Haven we finally learn who has survived the apocalypse. Adelle DeWitt is in the garden digging up strawberries for T, Priya’s son. So Priya did survive, despite not being present in the final flashback of Epitaph One. And Caroline didn’t shoot Adelle, but there is no sign of Antony. When the others arrive back, Adelle is overjoyed to know that they have Topher.

Once dinner is over the main cast sit down and explain to us what the plan is. “Butchers, Dumbshows, anybody who has been wiped or imprinted will go back to their original identities.” Unfortunately this includes the Actives like Echo who would need to remain as she is to prevent a reoccurrence of the Tech.

“What Topher needs to make the pulse work…” Ballard explains. “… is in the Dollhouse.” DeWitt finishes.

“Awwwww Come on!” Zone complains. “We just left that party, that party was on fire.” However the gang needs someone to lead them back to the Dollhouse and Zone and Mag are their first choice.  

The perimeter alarm sounds and everyone grabs a gun and heads outside. A giant armoured truck pulls up filled with “Tech Heads” lead by non-other than Anthony/Victor. “I got your message, how can we help?”

Priya however, is less than happy that Echo invited them. She doesn’t want to go back to the Dollhouse, she wants to take care of her son, to keep him away from the Tech, which means keeping him away from his father too.

And so they all jump aboard Victor’s truck and head back to L.A. Victor and his band of Tech Heads have a portable device that allows them to imprint themselves with new skill sets from usb hard drives, however, they must remove one set to imprint another, unlike Echo. It is interesting that Anthony and Priya would become separated, divided by their views on Technology. It is a shame that we don't get to see how that happens, only the aftermath of Anthony’s decision to leave Priya and his son.

“The garden, looks like it came a long way since I last saw it.” Anthony says as a kind of peace offering. “Three summers ago, we’ve had some time to get it right.” So, it’s been three years since the two last saw each other and there is clearly some resentment in Priya’s voice. “I wanted him brought up away from all the crap in the back of this truck!” Priya snaps. “We both did, that’s why we agreed to keep him away from me.” Anthony replies. “We agreed to keep him away from the Tech.” Priya retorts.

In the back of the truck Paul and Echo discuss the future. How that after the pulse they will have to remain underground for a year and then after that they will need to go after Harding and Ambrose. Paul however, keeps trying to steer the conversation around to Echo’s attitude of keeping him at arms length. “I’ve been knocking ten years, you still wont let me in.” He remarks. “I’ve let you in a few times.” Echo replies cheekily. “You’ve got a hundred people living inside your head and you’re the loneliest person I know.”

I like the idea that the show still has somewhere to go after this Epitaph, the destruction of Harding and Ambrose, that feeling that the story still goes on. This whole sequence in the truck reminds me a lot of the camper van trip in Buffy as the gang flee the city, hoping to escape the hell god Glory.

So it doesn’t take long before the Actives, Tech Heads and Actuals arrive in L.A. As soon as they pull up outside the entrance to the House they are set upon by Butchers and a massive firefight ensues. Unfortunately the rock underscore the fight is set to is completely wrong for the sequence and it distracted me a lot from the action. Normally I don't notice the music that much, but this felt all out of place.

As they run for the service tunnels Mag’s legs get shot out from under her and Paul comes to her aid. “Hey, hey, it’s ok you’re going to be…” He stops talking as one of the Butchers puts a bullet through his skull. I’m not sure how I feel about Paul’s death, I like the fact that it is kind of senseless, but it also leads us to a rather soppy ending (which I’ll get to later). However, we don't have time to dwell on it. Zone drags Mag onto his shoulders and he and Echo head into the tunnel.

“That’s all of us.” Echo snaps at Anthony. “What about..?” He starts. “THAT’s ALL OF US.” she repeats.  But the surprises aren’t over, as Echo and Anthony repel into the House, they discover that someone has restored it to it’s original splendour, even complete with a whole new batch of Dolls.

“Aw, hell!” Echo snaps. “No, you’ll have to keep digging if that’s where you want to end up.” A sinister voice replies from behind her. “Alpha…” Echo responds, before hugging the deranged lunatic. So now I guess we know what “We have Alpha to thank for that.” means. Alpha turned good guy and helped secure the vaccine and now he has restored the Dollhouse. “Where’s big bad Ballard?” Alpha asks. “We lost him.” Echo replies simply.

Even as Topher sets to work on designing the pulse, Victor’s Tech Heads turn on the group. Seems they are power mad, they want the full upgrade package the chair can offer and they are willing to kill for it.

“What’s going on Rome?” Anthony asks, walking in on the collection of kidnappers and hostages. “Upgrades Vic.” The chief Tech Head responds. “We tweaked ourselves to fight the war. It’s ending.” Victor explains. “With all the prints on this computer, we’ll rule the wasteland, why wouldn’t you want that?” “Because, we’re not freakshows.” Alpha replies, wandering in from the hall. “If we’re going to rebuild the world, I want to do it myself.” Anthony replies, tearing his chain of usb drives from about his neck and dropping it to the ground.

However the Tech Heads aren’t about to give up. Unfortunately they never stood a chance against Alpha, Echo and Anthony. With them disarmed and locked up the attention is back on Topher.

“He’s tired.” Adelle explains to Alpha. “He’s much worse when he’s tired.” Topher’s eyes light up at this. “Bed time.” He smiles and runs off to his pod that he had taken to living in in flashback 8. “He didn’t come back for the Tech.” Adelle smiles, looking at the man she loves as sits amongst his possessions. “He came back for an idea.” I don’t know if it was how the character was written but Topher, although no more coherent, than in Epitaph One, seems to be fully aware of what is going on around him. Maybe it’s just Fran’s interpretation, but he certainly seems less broken.

Meanwhile Priya sets about destroying the usb drives to stop Anthony taking them back. However Echo launches a full on emotional assault and tells Priya to get her head out of her ass and realise that Anthony loves her. Then she breaks down as she realises that she shut out her chance at love and now Paul is gone for good.

Back in the office Alpha is helping Topher prepare the pulse. Topher explains that the device can only be activated manually and that the resultant explosion will kill the person doing so. Him. “You’re not coming back.” Adelle states simply “Small price to pay.” Topher replies. 

Downstairs Anthony is burning the Tech when Priya brings T, her son, over and introduces him to his father and three are finally united as one.

“You don't have to do it you know.” Adelle says to Toper. “At least, not alone.” “I do.” Topher replies. “I’ll fix what we did to their heads, you fix what we did to the rest of the world.” He smiles and leans in close. “Your job is waaaaay harder.”

Downstairs in Dr Saunders old room, Mag and Zone have a short goodbye. “What did you do, you know, before?” Zone asks. “I was at Brookley, sociology. You?” “Landscape architect.” And with that they go their separate ways. I felt sure that eventually Mag would offers to set off the pulse, her being wounded and Topher being a genius but that was just wishful thinking, Topher was fated to die. Or was he…?

So Adelle lets Echo know that Alpha’s gone, it seems he wanted to be alone in case he turned back to his old self. “And you?” Echo asks. “I’ll lead them out, make sure they come through the pulse alright.” Adelle answers. “Ever the shepherd huh?” Echo replies. “Leading them into the light. Funny that the last fantasy that the Dollhouse should fulfil would be yours.” And with that the two are reconciled and Adelle is finally revealed as a force for good.

Up in Adelle’s old office Topher sets up the gear for the pulse. And as he triggers the device, something occurs to him and he turns to look at the wall of remembrance. “Huh?” He smiles as if finally realising something, then Boom! The pulse goes off and that is the last time we see Topher Brink. With Dollhouse off the air, the argument seems mute, but I don’t think  Joss would kill Topher, if Epitaph Two sees a sequel in comic book form, Topher will be back, I guarantee it. With regards to what Topher saw when he looked at the wall, I have no idea and I would have thought it is something we’ll never know.

And so the world is given a second chance to start afresh. Up in the chair room, Echo discovers the present Alpha left for her… Paul’s wedge. The last personality Echo would ever add to her head. I would have been happy to just leave it there, but Jed and Maurissa couldn’t help but have a mushy, inner head reunion. “Am I…?” Paul asks. “You wanted me to let you in.” Echo smiles. Ok, it’s kinda sweet… but we already knew who was on the wedge… you old romantics.

And so, predictably, the episode closes out with Echo climbing into her pod.

On Sunday I said that this was unashamed of what it was, that Epitaph Two is final chapter of the story, a conclusion for the fans. That said, it makes me sad to know that we’ll never see how the characters got to this point. That we’ll never know so many things. Like what happened to Whiskey, Ivy, Lawrence. Epitaph Two leaves so much of the Dollhouse story untold because it focuses solely on concluding the series and to me, that is a tragedy. I understand why it had to be this way, I just don’t want it to be.

As I pointed out above the story still has places to go and things to resolve. The destruction of Harding and Ambrose for a start. But also Topher’s comment earlier “Chain reaction, new problem” suggests that even if the pulse worked it would cause another effect. I suspect that, like Firefly and Buffy and Angel, that Dollhouse will see further addition in the form of graphic novels, but for now, this is the end.

This has been My Final Dollhouse Two Cents… tune in Sunday for another Weekly Round-Up.

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