Dollhouse Episode 12 Review
Monday, May 11, 2009 | Author: Mad Typist
Well, it's finally upon us: the season (and possibly series) finale of Dollhouse. How did it go? If I'm being honest, it felt a little flat to me. Those of us who have stuck around probably got our money's worth (it was a solid B/B+ for me), but the finale wasn't quite explosive enough or shocking enough to win any new converts. And that's a problem for a show that's struggling to survive. This just wasn't the kind of finale that is going to get people talking, building a buzz into next season that might attract new viewers. Also, I'm not sure what genius decided to air the finale on the same night as the new Star Trek film, but great job there - this episode did not do well in the ratings at all.

Nonetheless, there was plenty of goodness here for loyal fans, so let's get right to it, shall we? There were two big switch-a-roos that probably shocked a lot of people. I think most of us figured out that Dr. Claire Saunders was in fact Whiskey, a Doll. However, I was still surprised at the beginning of the episode, when we join a client on a "Natural Born Killers" adventure gone terribly wrong, and find out that the Mallory personality to Alpha's Mickey is not implanted in Echo, but in Whiskey. I assumed that Alpha's fixation on Echo was due to actual time spent together as various personas, but this episode suggests that his connection to her was due to the fact that every male on this show instantly senses Echo's specialness (and by "specialness" we apparently mean "hot bod/pretty face"). We got some fantastic back story on Whiskey, as well as a sense of who she might be moving forward, and if we get a second season, I hope that they choose to explore Dr. Claire a lot more.

The second big switch-a-roo (and one that I suspect will be hotly debated by fans) was the end of the show, where we see Paul Ballard agreeing to serve as a "contractor" for the Dollhouse, in exchange for the Dollhouse releasing one of their Dolls early. While we all thought that Doll would be Caroline, we find that in fact he has chosen November/Mellie for release. I hate to say it, but I'm going to cry "foul" on this one, because this moment was totally unearned.

Problem #1: we never really got a sense that Paul was that invested in Mellie. He only submitted to her advances after Patton Oswald correctly identified Paul's less than pure motivation to rescue Caroline/Echo. So it always felt more like a pity hookup/convenience thing than anything resembling true love. Even when he was with Mellie, it always seemed like he was really interested in Caroline. And after it was revealed to Paul that Mellie was a Doll, he never gave any indication of guilt or sadness over losing his girlfriend - just anger that he had been duped.

Problem #2: again, Paul (and we the audience) know NOTHING about Mellie, so who cares if she's set free? It's clear from this episode that Caroline 1) regrets signing her life away 2) desperately wants to be back in her own body, and 3) has certainly earned that right. It's also clear, as I stated above, that Paul really cares about Caroline, so I'm not sure why he wouldn't choose to free her. Had they had the balls to destory the Caroline imprint, perhaps this would have made more sense - there'd be no more "Caroline" to go back to.

However, let me offer a possible explanation that might soothe your rabid anger at this unearned twist: since Alpha is still on the loose, and since he clearly would love nothing more than to slowly torture Caroline to death, perhaps Ballard feels that the safest place for Caroline right now is in the Dollhouse. There, at least, she can be programmed with ninja skills that give her a fighting chance, and she has 24/7 supervision (for all the good that that did the last time). I'll also allow that perhaps Ballard senses Boyd's genuine affection for Echo, and realizes that having Boyd (a fellow "Tall, morally judgmental man") around to help guard her is a Very Good Thing.

Anyway, we find out that Alpha isn't so much the calculuating evil genius we thought, so much as
a serial killer "soul" - as Ballard labels the ghost of their original personality that persists even after wipe - utilizing the memories and skills of all the imprints he's currently hosting. To be honest, that was sort of a let down. Are you telling me that this whole time, he's just been jonesing to go on a killing spree? If so, I'm not sure that I buy that he's wasted all this time just trying to collect Echo, when he could have been murdering his way across the country side. I guess we're suppose to believe that his original personality has been hungering for a playmate, and so to that end, Alpha's evil plan consists of cramming all of Echo's imprints into her at once, which he hopes will enlighten her to his world view. Of course, all he accomplishes is creating a fully realized super person like himself that retains Caroline's innate sense of goodness and now has the kung fu skills to rival his own.

This leads to a showdown where Alpha leads Echo on a chase through the power plant where his lair is located. The whole point of this is that Alpha escapes by distracting Echo by tossing the wedge containing the only copy left of Original Recipe Caroline off a ledge. Here's where the show really misses a golden opportunity, because instead of the wedge being destroyed, it instead lands on a ledge and totters there just long enough for Paul to swoop in and catch it before it shatters.

This enrages me to no end and here's why: as Boyd observed earlier in the season, everyone at the Dollhouse, including the people who work there, are broken in some way. But Whiskey and Victor are broken in ways that can never be fixed. Whiskey NEVER gets to wake up like Sleeping Beauty from a dream. Even if her original personality is restored, she can't go back to being who she was before the Dollhouse. That's why her statement to Topher at the end of the show is so powerful. She knows who she is - who she was is irrelevant, thus she has no need to know who she was before she came to his place. The Dollhouse has made her into something new, and there's no going back.

By failing to allow Caroline, as we knew her, to be "killed", the show robs the Echo character of that fascinating and compelling storyline. Caroline CAN be fully restored, it's just a matter of her serving out the rest of her contract, apparently. Imagine if, instead, we had the Echo character who hypothesized that without the Caroline imprint, she's just an empty vessel playing host to alien minds. Then the show could have truly explored the notion of soul - without her memories, could she ever truly become Caroline again, and feel whole? But no, Caroline still gets to wake up from her dream and go back to her life. Lame!

Speaking of lame, I was disappointed that the composite event that Alpha experienced was a technological mistake, versus some true specialness about Alpha that allowed him to retain all his personalities. Allow me to just quote the Couch Baron from Television Without Pity here, because he pretty much sums it up:
So... after all that, his composite event was just an accident? That's pretty lame, I have to say, given that they built it up to be so much more. I mean, I can understand everyone having been so concerned about Echo and the others' growing ability to remember things, because that is part of what made it possible for Alpha to commit such horrific violence, but the show strongly suggested all season that the composite event would be the final consequence of that development, when in fact it's completely unrelated. Like I said: Lame.
Word. Let's face it - Caroline sucks. We would NOT have missed her that much if she "died". I'm only interested in Caroline in that I hope her Dollhouse experience has changed her enough that she'd be a different person. Now we have the constant threat of original, annoying Caroline returning at any moment.

It may seem like I'm complaining a lot here, but it's just because I HAVE enjoyed this show a lot, and it just pains me to see it failing to live up to all the potential it's got. I mean, I still am glad I took the time to stick it out through the first season, and there were some genuinely great moments in this often uneven show. Here's where this episode, and this whole season, leaves me: Would I watch a second season of this show enthusiastically and without reservation. Absolutely. Would I wail and gnash my teeth, cursing the universe and invoking the names of Firefly, Freaks and Geeks, My So-Called Life and so forth if FOX cancelled this show tomorrow? No, not really. I'd be happy with the way things concluded, and I'd move on to another show.

Some final thoughts to wrap this all up.

Things we learned this episode:
  • Adelle thinks Paul is stupid, just like the rest of us. There's a reason I like this lady. Her retort to Paul, when he suggests that he'll escape just like Alpha, of "Alpha's a genius" was just awesome. Olivia Williams really sold the silent "And you are so NOT one" with her delivery and expression.
  • Interesting detail revealed during the final scene between Whiskey/Claire and Topher: he intentionally programmed her to hate him. That adds another layer to Topher that I'd love to see explored more next season. I also hope that next season Amy Acker gets to be a series regular, because I'm completely fascinated by her decision to essentially embrace who she is now, instead of demanding to be restored (or to even ask who she was before she came there).
  • I had long wondered why Alpha didn't kill Claire during his spree on the way out of the Dollhouse. Now we know why - he gave her the scars prior to that incident, and was interrupted before he could finish. He killed the original Dr. Saunders, who apparently was a kindly older gentleman who liked to give the Dolls lollipops.
  • Boyd and Ballard fall into a buddy-cop vibe almost immediately. I'd like to see this explored more next season. Boyd could star in his own mini-version of Marley and Me, except that it'd be "Ballard and Me", and instead of an over-enthusiastic puppy ruining everything, it'd be.... an over-enthusiastic puppy ruining everything. Hmmm.
Things I still want to know:
  • Is this show coming back, or what?
  • Why, oh why, didn't they stick with the original script for this show?! The script posted here details a MUCH more exciting final confrontation, adding Sierra and November to the mix, and also inserting a few pretty funny moments. It also shows Alpha taking advantage of November's hidden activation code "There are three flowers in a vase..." which also would have explained why Paul would have wanted November freed.
  • Who, exactly, is aware that Dr. Claire used to be Whiskey? Does Boyd know? As far as we've seen, he was introduced to her when she was already Dr. Saunders.
  • Since a lot of people DO clearly know about Whiskey, why haven't we seen more characters contemplate their own identity? io9.com has a fun post up speculating on who else could secretly be Dolls.
  • Ballard spoke for all of us when he wondered why someone like Boyd would choose to work for the Dollhouse. Boyd's later response to Ballard that "There's always a girl" could be seen as a clue to Boyd's motivation.
Anyway, it's been swell. Thanks to everyone who commented on this reviews this season.
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