Friday, January 8, 2010

Dollhouse 2.10: "The Attic"

“I don’t buckle. Occasionally I swashbuckle.”


“The Attic” was by far the most artistic, abstract episode of Dollhouse to date. It was very much in the same style as “Restless,” the fourth season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Much of both episodes take place in a dream-like state. This lends itself to a story told more through visuals than dialogue, so my usual play-by-play recap style doesn’t nearly do it justice. I’ve wondered about the Attic since the concept was first introduced in Season 1, and it didn’t disappoint. Something that has been teased for so long could end up disappointing, but with a Joss show, there really isn’t need to worry. His shows are at their best with this sort of material- concepts that allow for very surreal visuals. I take issue with some of the character motivations (or lack of motivation) in the episode, but the visuals are so stunning that I rank this episode pretty highly in the Dollhouse lexicon anyway.

When we last saw our favorite Dolls, they were being placed in the Attic on Adelle’s order. As Topher helpfully explains to Boyd, the Attic is even worse than we thought. I for one thought the Attic was simply where the bodies of people whose minds had been completely wiped were stored. It’s actually much more complex than that. People in the Attic are kept in a state of fear so their brains will be under the influence of adrenaline. Topher thinks Rossum is trying to test the limits of the human brain, but it turns out to be more sinister. For the moment, though, Topher has bigger fish to fry. He’s still trying to figure out how to make Paul functional again after Alpha rendered Paul brain dead. He needs to install Active architecture in Paul’s brain if he wants to have any chance at success.

The Attic is quite a trippy place. Echo, Priya, and Tony’s “nightmares” all start sort of normal (and in Priya’s case, nice), only to change into something completely horrifying and strange. Echo’s is kind of horrifying the whole way through, although it most definitely takes a turn towards the strange. Echo sees herself awakening in her Attic pod, on a ventilator with probes in her head, and killing the Rossum employees who are checking on her. She sees herself free Tony and Priya (Rossum calls people by their “real” names, not their Active designations, in the Attic, but Echo insists she’s Echo, not Caroline), killing more Rossum employees along the way. Tony and Priya join in the fighting, and Tony’s soldier training comes in handy. Until things go wonky. Echo, by some sort of force field, is separated from Tony and Priya as Tony and Priya are brutally gunned down. When the scenario starts to repeat itself again, Echo realizes that whatever is going on is in her head. When the force field pops up for the second time, Echo turns her back on the soon-to-be-dead Tony and Priya and continues trying to escape, finding herself in an even stranger place- the main room of the Dollhouse with a big, white tree in the center.

Tony’s nightmare involves his time as a soldier. He is commanding a small group of troops in a Middle Eastern town. There is gunfire, and Tony wants to go on the offensive. Take “the high ground,” as he puts it. Tony makes his way into an abandoned building and realizes that the terrorist he’s fighting is himself. Played by Enver Gjokaj’s twin brother Demir, naturally. This isn’t the first time Joss Whedon has used an actor’s twin in one of his shows. In the fifth season Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “The Replacement,” Xander is split into two people, each possessing half of his personality. The suave, assertive half of Xander is played by Nick Brendan’s twin brother Kelly Donovan. I think that this tendency to give a nod towards his actors’ real lives shows Whedon’s respect and fondness for his actors.

One of the coolest things about this episode is that Reed Diamond is back for a reprise as the shady Lawrence Domenic, ex Dollhouse Head of Security. He was sent to the Attic himself back in late Season 1, specifically the episode “A Spy in the House of Love,” and he has the fairly unique ability to travel from mind to mind. He’s been tracking a creature he calls Arcane, a being who also travels from mind to mind, killing those whose mind he enters. He becomes a sort of guide for Echo, which is ironic considering Domenic was bent on killing Echo before Adelle sent him to the Attic for being an NSA spy.

There’s one more nightmare to be revealed, and I think Priya explains it better when talking to Tony than I could ever hope to. “In mine I was constantly making love to you. And then you’d turn into the rotting corpse of a rapist I killed.” That rotting corpse would be Nolan, the super creepy guy who put Priya in the Dollhouse in the first place. Tony has the brilliant idea to use Priya as a trap to catch Arcane. Apparently Arcane likes to feed of the fears of the newly Atticked. The plan is a success, and Arcane turns into a late middle-aged man as everyone is transported to the world of 2019 from “Epitaph One.”

Arcane is actually Clyde, co-founder of Rossum. He tells the others that the other co-founder betrayed him and put him in the Attic. Conveniently, the version of Clyde that was placed in the Attic is missing certain very important memories. He doesn’t remember who the other co-founder was, just that such a person existed. Clyde does have some more useful information, too. He knows the purpose of the Attic. The brains of the people hooked up to it are actually Rossum’s computer mainframe. They’re a human computer network. This jives with what Echo experienced earlier when she jumped into the mind of a Rossum employee from Tokyo who was Atticked for figuring out that Rossum’s mainframe was vulnerable. They’re all in the post-apocalyptic world because Clyde’s nightmare has been to run scenarios on where the Dollhouse technology he invented could go in the future. Only a minuscule percentage of scenarios don’t result in the apocalypse. Clyde says there’s only one person he knows of who might be able to unravel the mystery. Rossum brought a young woman in once who saw too much before her mind was wiped. Her name? Caroline. Too bad that the one person whose memories Echo doesn’t possess is the original inhabitant of her own body.

Meanwhile, things back at the Dollhouse are falling apart. Adelle is still being ruthless in her quest to regain control of the House, and everybody is pissed at her. Boyd has been spending more and more time at home instead of the Dollhouse, and Topher is in danger of losing his job to Ivy because Adelle found out about what he did to Nolan. Topher does make progress on his quest to bring Paul back from brain death, though. With a little help from Ivy, he routes the functions usually controlled by damaged parts of Paul’s brain through undamaged parts instead. Paul is eventually revived, and when his brain sorts itself out, he’s not happy. He first wants to attack Topher, but after Boyd restrains him and explains what happened to Echo, he grabs Boyd’s gun and head straight for Adelle’s office.

Echo has a plan to free herself from the Attic so she can continue the fight against Rossum on the outside. She’s going to reenact her nightmare. In other words, she’s going to make herself flatline so the computer can disengage and she can escape. She gets herself shot by a 2019 Butcher, and the plan goes into effect. She’s not alone, though. Tony and Priya are coming with her. Tony stabs Priya and holds her in his arms as she flatlines- it’s an absolutely devastating scene. Tony then goes out into the street, willing the Butchers to finish him off so he can flatline too.

At the end of the episode, Adelle briefs a revived Echo. It turns out that Adelle sent Echo to the Attic not to punish Echo, but in hopes that Echo could uncover whatever secrets Rossum was hiding there. The rest of the gang is there, too- Tony, Priya, Topher, Ivy, Boyd…and Paul. Who isn’t anywhere near Echo. Topher said he had to take something away from Paul to reroute other parts of his brain, and I’m wondering if what Topher took was Paul’s feelings for Echo. Echo is too preoccupied with something else to really notice. She says they need one more soldier for their mission to take down Rossum. It’s time she meets Caroline.

Early in this post, I mentioned unclear character motivations. I was specifically talking about Adelle, and I think I had a similar complaint in my post about “Stop Loss.” I can’t figure out what specifically made Adelle change her mind, if she ever really changed her mind in the first place (could she have been playing Rossum the whole time?). One thing is certain though, the reveal of the co-founder of Rossum is sure to be explosive, and I am most definitely excited to see where this ride goes in the final three episodes.

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