We didn't just watch the unaired season finale of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse — we heard from Whedon himself what it actually means. Post-apocalyptic mayhem, Felicia Day and hints for the Dollhouse's future below. Plus — oh yeah — spoilers.
So Dollhouse's now-legendary episode "Epitaph One" takes place in the dark future world of 2019, where something has gone horribly wrong. There are "butchers" killing everyone and people are being randomly imprinted with new personalities. Eventually, we learn that somehow the Dollhouse's mind-wiping tech became mobile, so that now if you go near any piece of technology, you risk being imprinted with a new personality and losing yourself forever.
We follow a team of scruffy survivalists, as they search for a haven underground away from the signals that steal your brain. The cynical guy, Zone, says the young idealistic leader "loves the sound of his own voice." "We all love the sound of our own voices," says Felicia Day. "That's why we're here. To keep our own voices." The survivalists stumble onto the Dollhouse, still intact deep underground, and manage to turn the power back on.
They find Topher's mind-imprinting chair, and put a zombified old guy (whose mind has been wiped) into it, and start loading memories into him, in the hopes that they'll find the secret of a cure for the plague of random imprinting. The memories loaded into the empty guy, Mr. Miller, give us a set of flashbacks showing how the world went to hell — and how the Dollhouse made it happen.
As Zone the cynical guy says, "You mean to tell me the tech that punk-kicked the ass of mankind was originally designed to make more believable hookers?"
It turns out it all started long before the show began — until Topher came to work at the Dollhouse, it took two hours to load a personality into a mind-blanked "Active," making the process of imprinting cumbersome and slow. But Topher says he can do it in five mintues, by loading the persona and all the memories "teleologically." And he wants a fridge, throw pillows, and a whole bunch of other dorm-room goodies, annoying Mr. Dominic no end.
"Cities don't burn because people got smarter," says Dominic in a bit of unfortunate foreshadowing (or past-shadowing, since we've already seen the city burning). "They burn because somebody lost control over them."
And we finally get an answer to where the personalities that go into people's heads come from — the Rossum Corp. is secretly scanning people's brains whenever they go into a medical scanner (like an MRI, I guess.) The Dollhouse already has 100,000 brain scans on file, and in a few years, it'll have a million.
While we're plumbing the mysteries of the Dollhouse, meanwhile our post-apocalyptic heroes encounter the only remaining active — who, as you've already seen, is Whiskey aka Dr. Claire Saunders. And some mysterious person is killing our survivalists one by one.
So we get more of a glimpse of what caused the end of civilization — the head of the Rossum Corp. tells Adelle that the Dollhouse is going into a new business model, one hinted at in the horsey murder mystery episode. "Complete anatomy upgrades." Rich people are going to be able to download their minds into Dolls permanently — for a nine figure sum. In fact, you can be in as many bodies as you want. Adelle says this isn't what the Dollhouse is for — and the Rossum guy, occupying Victor's body, says she has a choice between getting with the program or being run over by the wheels of history. And she and Topher have a chance to be among the select few who will live forever and stride through the future like giants.And then someone weaponized the mind-imprinting technology, to turn tons of people into crazed killers, not unlike Reavers.
So what's the deal with that cure for the random imprinting? There's a place called Safe Haven, where your mind can't be changed. And it's to do with Echo — we get a glimpse of her future, where she can take on an imprint and fully become whoever she's programmed to be — but she also keeps her own mind and stays Echo. The only problem? It causes horrible headaches.
You can watch the episode for yourself when it comes out on DVD on Tuesday — but it's well worth waiting for, taking all the themes of the show so far, all the stuff about human evolution and the nature of personhood. And yes, Felicia Day is as brilliant as you'd expect, and the early scenes of fires and dehumanized urban violence are fantastic, and the flashbacks — which are really flash-forwards for the Dollhouse — completely blow open your perception of where this show is heading. You'll want to watch the whole first season again after watching this episode, and then you'll be dying to see season two.
So what's the deal with Echo and her unique destiny? We got a few precious moments with Joss Whedon, and we asked him about Echo. Throughout season one, people are projecting their visions onto her glitchy head. She's going to save the Dollhouse, she's going to destroy the Dollhouse, she's going to evolve into a new type of Active, she's going to turn into another Alpha, etc. etc. So how does that play out in season two?
People are projecting a lot onto her life, not just because she's a doll. People are somewhat obsessive about her, and we're going to learn that they're not wrong, and there is something special about her. And she is going to become more important [in season two.]
And Whedon said that "Epitaph One," the unaired episode we just saw, was not a second pilot for the show, but it does make us see the story and the characters in a whole new way, which will resonate throughout the show for the next year.
But Joss told the panel that even though the future is fixed, and the stuff we see in "Epitaph One" is definitely real, we haven't seen the whole picture. For one thing, the "flash backs" we saw featuring our main characters were memories and may have been unreliable, plus some of those events may not have played out the way we thought they did. And also, the very first episode of season two will feature another glimpse of Felicia Day and the other survivors in the future. But the show won't turn into "post-apocalyptic sometimes," Whedon promises — we'll only see the post-apocalyptic future when it's really important.
Also, Whedon told the panel that we'll be seeing more of the Dolls dealing with issues disfigurement. Claire Saunders is going to be dealing with the realization that she's not who she thought she was all along. Meanwhile, Victor is going to be getting better from his own disfigurement "rather quickly." He also says we'll definitely be seeing a few episodes featuring Angel's Alexis Denisof, which is welcome news. Plus possibly a bit of Summer Glau. Meanwhile, comics god John Cassaday is going to direct one episode of the show.
Joss said it's thanks to the fans that Dollhouse came back from oblivion, and added, "Thank you guys for ruining my summer vacation." The new season just started filming, "and we're already done," he joked. "It's a very, short, sweet season."