The closer Dollhouse gets to its unjust cancellation, the nearer the end of civilization gets. And once again, the apocalypse just makes everyone, and everything, better. But what was up with that last plot twist? Spoilers ahead...
I despair of writing a full recap of last night's episode, because you had so much insanity going on. You had:
- The return of Whiskey aka Dr. Claire Saunders, who seized her chance to take away Topher's one moment of happiness (and advance her lover's schemes)
- The backstory on why Bennett (Summer Glau) hates Caroline, Echo's former personality — and wow, it actually made sense and wasn't arbitrary
- Our first real glimpse of Caroline since last year, and this time Caroline was actually likable
- Adelle ramping up her rebellion by gunning down a Rossum board member, and then making some seriously bad decisions, like sending away her right-hand man and letting go all her Actives. If it's a war, doesn't she need all her soldiers?
- The explanation for what Paul "lost" when Topher miraculously restored his consciousness. Maybe a bit too cheap, but another neat twist on the show's weird-neuroscience focus
- Echo losing both the men she trusts, and foolishly sends away her two best allies
- The return of November, and more importantly the return of Mellie, which only highlighted quite how much Ballard's jumped the fence lately
- Topher and Bennett rekindling their twisted flirtation, which may be my favorite romantic relationship on television — so of course it ends the Joss Whedon way
- Mr. Dominic gets out of the Attic somehow, but it's only a temporary reprieve
- Ivy finally gets some recognition, and Topher finally treats her like a sorta-equal... before sending her away in a heartbreaking scene
- The relationship between Adelle and Topher lurches much closer to a mother-son dynamic, as Topher begins to fall to pieces
- And then there's Boyd. Where do we even start?
So looking at that ginormous list, I'm reminded of the people who said, early on, that Dollhouse's biggest weakness was its characters. There was nobody to root for, nobody to care about, and no relationships to get sucked into. You definitely would not say that about Dollhouse now. Thanks to a slew of rich episodes — capped off by Tim "can do no wrong" Minear's writing and direction last night — the characters are the main thing we care about on this show.
Topher, especially, has gone from Satan Jr. to one of the richest characters on television. Topher's relationships with almost every character on the show got little moments of revelation and dismay. There's his reunion with Claire, who starts out cleaning Topher's busted lip with something akin to tenderness, and winds up shooting the woman Topher is falling for. Then the scene where Topher, already drowning, has to explain to Echo that yes, he deleted Paul's love for her. Like I mentioned, Topher and Adelle are now miles from the snarky banter and inappropriate flirtation of their earlier relationship. And Topher's scenes with Bennett were so funny and twisted, with the two amoral geniuses bonding over their love of pure mad science, that I got more invested in their relationship, after that short time, than I'll ever be in Skate or Huddy.
And yes, the scenes between Caroline and Bennett made me like both characters way more than I ever thought I would — Caroline as a terrorist who declared war on Rossum is way more interesting than Caroline as a giddy college protestor who broke into Rossum's labs to make a Youtube video. And I utterly loved the scene where Caroline asks Bennett if she's ready for her treatment, puts her in "the chair" and gives her a new personality. So classic. Last night's episode took two of my least favorite aspects of Dollhouse in the past — Caroline, and Bennett's vendetta, and made them shine.
(Also, a random question — I can guess now why poor "Claire Saunders" gets erased, between now and the "Epitaph One" timeline. But when on Earth do they have time to fix her scars? Maybe Boyd does that at some point between now and then. But it might have made more sense if her scars were already fixed since we last saw her, during the time she was Boyd's little secret.)
But everything else in that episode was overshadowed by the huge revelation at the end — that Boyd is the show's Big Bad. Rewatch the clip above, from the start of the episode, and the bits where Boyd keeps harping on the fact that Caroline can identify him suddenly seem much creepier.
And yet, did this revelation make sense? Or was it a "Final Five" kind of deal, where the writers pulled a name from a hat?
The thing that gives me pause is the whole business where Boyd gets shot, and Adelle (in one of a few questionable decisions last night) decides to try and blame the whole business on Boyd to buy herself some time. If Boyd's really the head of Rossum Corp., he knows he doesn't actually have to go on the run from his own company. (If it's his word against Adelle's, she loses.) Of course, the idea of a company being run by someone that nobody's ever met is also a bit silly, but there you go. I'm guessing he runs the company via accounts that only he can access or something. Anyway, Boyd has that scene with Claire Saunders, which we saw in "Epitaph One," where he talks about how he's really going on the run, and he won't tell her where. If Claire's in on Boyd's deception — and she's got to be — then why is he bothering to pretend with her? Is it just an act, for the benefit of anyone who might be listening?
And yet, if you can ignore that scene and a few other things like it, the whole thing does make a fair amount of sense. Boyd is the character whose background we understand the least, and every time he's talked about his past, it's been in such general terms, we gleaned nothing. (I vaguely remember him saying he was an ex-cop once, though.) And he's always been the smartest person on the show, letting little glimpses of his intelligence peep out while Topher condescends to him and Adelle bosses him around.
He's also always been the most brutal in his assessments of what's going on in the Dollhouse — he and his colleagues are "pimps and killers," he says in season one. He seems to have no problem with Ballard's original assessment of the Dollhouse — that these people are still people, and that they can't possibly consent to what's being done with them. When Harding takes over the L.A. Dollhouse, Boyd sees no difference between his old boss and his new boss — except that Adelle cherished some illusions that she was treating her Dolls well, and Harding knows they're just property. Boyd strongly hints that he thinks Harding's right. Boyd always seems faintly guilty and troubled about his role in this human-trafficking scheme, but it doesn't stop him from going along with it. It's fascinating to revisit those scenes, knowing that Boyd is actually the architect of the whole thing.
So why would the co-founder of Rossum Corp., the architect of the apocalypse, go undercover as a handler at one of his company's two dozen Dollhouses? Presumably because of Echo. Boyd "notices" that Echo is becoming special and gaining self-awareness early in season one, and it seems to be the result of Alpha's meddling. But both Boyd and Adelle (probably at Boyd's urging) decide to encourage Echo's "specialness," instead of sending her to the Attic right away. And the longer this goes on, the more in control of herself Echo becomes.
Then in season two, Boyd gives Echo a keycard and warns her to be discreet about her rapidly increasing self-awareness. When Adelle gets removed as head of the L.A. Dollhouse, he encourages her to retake her house — because he needs someone in charge there who can protect Echo's development. And he works with Ballard to bring the newly integrated Echo back to the house.
And now it turns out that Boyd had his eye on Caroline before she even became Echo — somehow he knew she had the potential to be more than the other Dolls. Maybe because she was so fiery? Or maybe he had gotten a chance to scan her brain at some point and noticed something? (Or possibly, he arranged for Echo's initial imprinting and "active architecture" to be different from the start.)
Which only leaves the biggest question unanswered — if Boyd's the guy who's arranged the apocalypse and pushed forward the development of chairless brainwashing technology, so that he and a few of his rich friends can push their personalities and memories into as many bodies as possible, what does he need Echo for? Why is someone who can't be mindwiped so valuable to someone who plans to mindwipe the entire world?
I guess we'll find out next week. But the Boyd revelation, on top of everything else, ensures that whenever you rewatch one of those season-one episodes — yes, even the boring "backup singer" one — you'll have a lot more to think about than just, "Isn't Echo's latest shiny outfit shiny?" I can't say it often enough — this is one of those shows that will become legendary once the whole thing is out on DVD and you can watch all 26 episodes in a week or two. The half a dozen really bad episodes are going to fall into proportion, as part of a greater overall design.
So what did you all think?