Monday, February 1, 2010

Dollhouse 2.13: "Epitaph Two: Return"

“I think you’ve got a hundred people living inside your head. And you’re the loneliest person I know.”


So, for the second year in a row, my favorite show meets an untimely end. “Dollhouse” certainly went out in style. I still consider “Epitaph One” to be the best episode of the series, but “Epitaph Two: Return” was most definitely a worthy send-off. Despite the fact that I’m still recovering emotionally from re-watching the episode (yeah, it’s just THAT good), I’ve collected some thoughts on “Epitaph Two” and how it relates to the series overall.

First and foremost, I believe that “Epitaph Two” showed just how much storytelling potential was left in the Dollhouse ‘verse. By 2020, when the episode took place, new subcultures had sprung up. I could see a whole television series just about the group of survivors at Safe Haven or Tony/Victor and his band of “tech heads.” I could even see a series about the survivors re-building the world a year after Topher’s magnetic pulse reset the personalities of everyone still above ground. There were just so, so many possibilities. It’s sad to see those doors closed for good.

What I especially loved about Safe Haven in particular was how reminiscent it was of another short-lived Joss Whedon series, “Firefly.” The scene of the survivors all gathered around the table at the house reminded me of Serenity’s crew all gathered around her dining room table. Both have a feel of people working hard to survive and relishing the small things that they have. The camera work even felt similar. My favorite moment at the Safe Haven dining room table was when Paul tells Zone “World still needs heroes, kid” and everybody promptly bursts out laughing at the cheesiness.

By far, the star of the episode was Topher. Topher’s journey throughout “Dollhouse” has really been incredible. For much of the first season, he was the amoral, juvenile annoyance who said things like “man friend” that were so quirky they bordered on ridiculous. We started to see another layer of Topher in “Haunted,” where we learn that his birthday present to himself every year is that he imprints a Doll to be his friend. The tide really began to turn for me personally in “Epitaph One” where we see him completely broken, unable to deal with the consequences of the technology he has created. In season 2, we saw Topher struggle with his first true moral dilemma in “Belonging” and deal with the loss of Bennett, someone he cared for deeply, in “Getting Closer.”

Topher really completes his redemption arc in “Epitaph Two.” Rossum has been holding him captive, forcing him to develop technology that would imprint the entire world all at once. It’s hard to fathom the trauma Topher has gone through. Already twitchy around guns following what happened to Bennett, Rossum keeps Topher working by shooting someone in front of him every day that he doesn’t finish his work. Topher somehow is still determined to undo the damage he caused. He’s working on a device that will reset everyone’s minds, not wipe them. Unable to continue living with all the pain he has caused, Topher ultimately sacrifices himself to save the world. His reset device is started by an explosion, and the explosion must be started manually. Topher’s sacrifice is a truly beautiful scene. He pulls himself back together just long enough to notice the remembrance wall in Adelle’s old office and remark “Huh” before the explosion happens.

On the subject of character death, which is inevitable in the finale of a Joss Whedon series, I overall found Topher’s death to be much more satisfying from a storytelling perspective than the other major death in the episode, that of Paul Ballard. My initial reaction to Paul’s death was pretty much “eh.” It was sudden, like Bennett’s was in “Getting Closer,” but since the crew was still in danger from the advancing Butchers, nobody stopped to mourn. When Echo tells Tony that everybody is under cover, and Tony starts to ask where Paul is, it’s kind of reminiscent of how Zoe reacts to Wash’s death in “Serenity,” but for some reason, the “Dollhouse” version doesn’t have quite the same impact. It’s not that I’m a Paul hater. I liked when he finally got to kick ass in the interrogation room in “Belle Chose,” and I definitely felt it when he “died” in “A Love Supreme,” but his ultimate death just felt shoehorned in.

When Echo did finally have an opportunity to mourn Paul, it was rather spectacular. She gets frustrated with Priya complaining about Tony’s tech use, because Tony is still very much alive and in love with Priya. Clearly, Echo is projecting. Anybody who still complains that Eliza Dushku can’t act seriously needs to watch this scene. My feelings are still conflicted about the ultimate resolution to Echo and Paul’s relationship. Alpha, who has somehow managed to suppress his darker personalities and befriend the Dollhouse crew, leaves Echo a wedge with Paul’s personality, and Echo imprints herself with it. I’m torn between thinking it’s sweet and thinking it’s creepy. Either way, it seems like having your late soulmate kicking around in your head could be awkward.

I was absolutely astounded that several of the characters got a genuine happy ending. Those characters would be Tony, Priya, and their son “T.” Tony and Priya had been estranged for several years at least, mostly due to Tony’s increasing love for tech. He and his band of “tech heads” swap skills in and out of their brains using what looks like a bunch of USB flash drives. By the end of the episode, though, Tony had given up the tech, and Priya had tearfully introduced “T” to his father. It’s a rare occasion that a couple ends up in tact in a Whedon production, so I was very, very pleasantly surprised to see Tony and Priya happy when the episode ended.

As Echo took her final walk from the imprint room down to her sleeping pod, where she’ll wait for at least a year until she can go outside without Topher’s pulse causing her to reset, I have to admit I got a little teary. I’ll miss visiting with these characters on a semi-regular basis. It’s also sad to think that the absolutely gorgeous Dollhouse set is no more. I eagerly await whatever project Whedon has in mind to tackle next. Be it television, internet (come on, Dr. Horrible 2!) or film, I’m fairly certain already that I’ll love it.

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