Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Dollhouse" series finale recap: "Epitaph Two"

This week, Fox aired the final episode of Joss Whedon's bizarre, complex, frustrating gem, "Dollhouse," and, frankly, I couldn't think of a more appropriate way for it to end.
This final episode, titled "Epitaph Two," crystallized everything that was right with the show -- and everything that ensured that it would never be a mainstream success. First, it likely made little to no sense to those who haven't seen the episode "Epitaph One," which never aired on television and was available only on DVD. I guess at this point, Whedon and co. figured that, if you've stuck with the show this long, you're hardcore enough to have sought out "One" on your own.
The episode also had the rush-rush-rush feel typical of this final set of episodes, in which the show's creative team had to cram everything it wanted to accomplish into just a few hours. Just as we suddenly learned a few weeks ago that Boyd was evil, "Epitaph Two" revealed that Alpha was actually a good guy now. Huh. Really? It's an interesting idea (and I embrace anything that gives us one last glimpse of Alan Tudyk), but I would have liked a greater explanation beyond "he's evolved."
Yet, I loved the episode both in spite of its flaws and because of them. I love all its weird plot twists and impenatrability. Much like Echo, its main character, "Dollhouse" can't totally be known and, anything it does unveil is like a gift to the patient admirer. This is a show that rewards commitment and hard work.
It's also damn entertaining. From the gorgeous, sun-bleached landscapes to the always well-done action sequences, "Epitaph Two" felt like a well-mounted dystopian thriller -- with great one-liners and a lot of heart.
When "Dollhouse" aired its first few weak-but-promising episodes, who would have known we'd eventually connect so strongly with Adele and Topher? I for one never would have guessed that I'd actually shed tears at a scene in which a grieving Echo downloaded an imprint of her late, departed Paul into her brain so that he would always be with her.
Also, a year ago, would anyone have guessed that Fran Kranz's bratty Topher would be the savior of humanity? Yet, due to the way the show has developed the character over the last season, it made perfect sense.
At any rate, here are some more thoughts on "Epitaph Two."
* From the "things I'd like to know more about" file, what the hell happened to Whiskey? We never found out how she came back to the Dollhouse fold after killing Bennett or how her face got fixed. And did she survive the events of "Epitaph One"? Where is she? Also, why did Tony become Victor? I guess we got some explanation of that, but I wanted more. How did he recruit his followers? What happened to him?
* For once, the best one-liner of the night went not to Topher, but to Alpha: "It speaks to the scizophrenic in me. Well, both of them, actually."
* Loved Adele as a weathered but ferocious Earth mother, growing crops and tending to her human flock. The maturation of that Adele/Topher relationship is one of the things I really enjoyed about the show's later episodes, and one of the reasons I'm glad the show got a second season.
* Nice job making the futuristic survivors guild we first glimpsed in "Epitaph One" into actual characters with only a little bit of screen time. They could have just been a catalyst; a device to get our main characters where they needed to be. Instead, I actually cared when Mag got shot. They felt real.
* People bust on Eliza Dushku's performance as Echo and, admittedly, I don't feel she has the range of Enver Gjokaj (Victor) or Dichen Lachman (Sierra). But her breakdown over Paul's death was heart-breaking.Well done.
* So who left the "Paul" imprint for Echo? My money is on Alpha. So what is up with Alpha? I know we've been promised that there won't be a follow-up book or movie or anything, but I'm kind of hoping that someone eventually writes "The Alpha Chronicles." Because I'd dig that.
* What a perfect final shot -- Echo, reunited with Paul and instrumental in saving humanity, crawls right back into her little Dollhouse bed. Poignant, sweet and devastating.

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