Sunday, May 10, 2009

"Dollhouse" finale recap: "We're not Gods"

Just got done watching the first season finale of "Dollhouse," titled "Omega," and I've gotta say that I'll be pretty upset if Fox doesn't end up ordering a second season.
Though the show was a bit underwhelming in its early episodes, it's shaped up into a mighty promising series. Not only does it raise thought provoking questions about the nature of identity, the role of technology in our lives and the horrors of exploitation, it's also incredibly entertaining.
This last episode in particular was a fast-paced, action-packed hour, as Alpha (Alan Tudyk) fled the Dollhouse with a newly altered Echo (Eliza Dushku). The attempt to retrieve Echo made for strange bedfellows, as Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) joined forces with the Dollhouse staff. Meanwhile, we got a lot of Alpha background, a brief reunion between Echo and Caroline and the answer to a major question raised last week.
In fact, in recapping this episode, I'd like to start with that answer to that big question, raised in many "Dollhouse" fans' heads after last week's episode: Is Dr. Saunders (Amy Acker) really a doll? The answer was yes. She was a doll named Whiskey, and was the house's No. 1 active, until Alpha took a shine to Echo. The flashback scene in which we learned why and how Alpha slashed up poor Whiskey was absolutely heartbreaking, as was the scene where we met the original Dr. Saunders -- a man! In an interesting twist, Dollhouse tech Topher (Fran Kranz) made the Whiskey version of Saunders a little too smart. After her encounter with Alpha, Saunders slowly starts to realize that she's really a doll. Eventually, she hacks Topher's system and finds proof of her past as Whiskey. She confronts Topher, and he, surprisingly, doesn't have some snarky comeback. He's quiet. Until she asks him an important question: If he's responsible for building her personality, why did he make her hate him so much? Topher responds by asking her why she didn't read her original history. "Don't you want to know who you are?" he asks. "I know who I am," she responds.
But who is she, really? Why did Topher make her hate him so much? And, more important, why did he imprint her with excellent computer skills -- skills, as Saunders pointed out, beyond those that a doctor would typically have? Do Topher and Whiskey/Saunders have a past? Were they related? Was he in love with her? Did her want her to eventually learn her real identity? Is that why he made her so tech savvy?
In the final scene with Echo, Topher is noticeably shaken from his encounter with Whiskey. Why? I don't know, but it does help lend a little depth to Topher -- a character I'd previously found pretty unlikable.
Incidentally, the episode was a real showcase for Acker, who nailed every second of Saunders' awakening to the realization that her whole life was a lie. Perhaps the saddest moment was her vicious verbal attack on poor Victor (Enver Gjokaj), Alpha's most recent victim. When she berated him, saying that he'd never again be his best, that all he could hope for was to inspire pity, it was devastating. And, once again, great work by Gjokaj, a real find who continues to lend soul to this blank slate of a character. His wide-eyed, wounded puppy expression in this scene broke my heart.
But, while the "Whiskey" reveal was a great twist, the heart of this episode was the Alpha/Echo confrontation. Through flashbacks, we learn that Alpha, even in his doll state, was obsessed with Echo. The obsession leads him to kiss her in the hallway, risking the wrath of DeWitt (Olivia Williams). It leads to the assault on Whiskey, and, of course, to Alpha's eventually psychotic break. Here's my question -- when Alpha has that break, what was Topher trying to do? I get that the machine malfunctioned, but it did look that Topher was intending to download a bunch of Alpha's imprints. Why? What was he trying to accomplish? I don't get it.At any rate, we saw the start of Alpha's killing spree, which included destroying his original identity, Carl William Craft, an attempted murderer.
We also learned which personality Alpha downloaded into Echo. It was a previous Whiskey imprint, that of a trashy criminal. He chose the imprint because she was familiar with San Pedro, where Alpha's original persona, Carl William Craft, had a hideout. After their escape, Alpha and Echo kidnap a girl named Wendy (yes, that was Ashley Johnson, who played young Chrissie on "Growing Pains), and Alpha imprints her with Caroline. He then downloads all of Echo's imprints into her brain. Surprisingly, she doesn't snap. And she doesn't kill "Carolyn," as Alpha instructs her to. She turns on Alpha, and chastises him for his arrogance. "We're not Gods," she tells him.
She attempts to reunite her body with Caroline's personality, but Alpha shoots Wendy before that can happen. Alpha then decides that he's going to download Caroline into Echo, then shoot her. Then he's going to do it again and again, using different girls all over the country.
Anyway, Echo escapes and Alpha chases her outside, holding the Caroline imprint. Eventually, he tosses it onto a beam. Echo tries to retrieve it, but it falls...into Ballard's waiting hands below. Huh. Cool.
Anyway, here are a few more thoughts on "Omega."
* Loved the scene where Echo is trying to convince Caroline to "come home" to her body. Caroline says she signed a contract with the Dollhouse. Echo poo poos that reasoning, saying that not one of the many personalities in her brain believes that someone can sign a contract to be a slave "especially now that we have a black president." Tee hee.
* Once again, great work by Tudyk as Alpha. He's great at balancing Alpha's scary, violent moments with comical, goofy crazy-guy moments, as when Alpha's handler tells him to watch his step. Alpha immediately looks down at his feet. Hilarious, yet unsettling given what we know about this guy and who he's going to become.
* Fascinating twist at the end, when Ballard agrees to work with the Dollhouse if they agree to free one of the actives...November. Why? Why her and not Caroline/Echo? Did Ballard feel so guilty about sleeping with her when she was Mellie that he decided he had to do something to make it right? And what about Caroline? Why did he return her? Was he using her as leverage so he could get inside the Dollhouse, bring it down and free Caroline at a later date?
Well, at any rate, we learned November's real name. It's Madeleine. I can only assume that her "real" home is an old house in Paris covered in vines.
* By the way, can I say how much I loved the crime-fighting team of Ballard and Langton (Harry Lennix)? I loved how their cynical yet decent personalities fit together like a lock and key. More of them together, please!
* OK, one last time -- PLEAAAAASE bring back "Dollhouse," Fox! Please!

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