Fans can now see the original pilot as part of the season one DVD box set. They’ll notice the plot is very different and Echo, herself, is treated differently. If you remember in “Ghost”, we find out her real first name as Adelle DeWitt tries to convince her to become an Active. After that, we see her in action as a “negotiator” trying to save a kidnapped girl.
In “Echo”, we see her in different roles right off the bat, then the plot tackles three issues that were supposed to be the main themes: how the Actives should be used, how the Dollhouse tries to prevent FBI Agent Paul Ballard from finding them, and whether Echo is “evolving” beyond the imprints and developing her own personality. Many posters on Whedonesque have said that they liked “Echo” better than “Ghost”.
Was Joss right in deciding that a pilot that looked at Echo as an Active was better than a pilot where we see her many faces, but threw in three plot lines at once… and had some great lines, too?
“Echo” starts with the title character underwater, while we hear this from the head of the LA Dollhouse, Adelle DeWitt: “The world is a very simple place, at first. Then as we grow up, it grows around us, a dense thicket of complication and disappointment.” Then we see her, complete with tea, make her pitch on why a man should use an Active. She insists that an Active is the “truest soul among us”, and will do whatever the client wants, within reason. Then, we see Echo in many roles: a woman who tries to lead a girl away from drugs and prostitution, a date for a man who wants to make his ex-girlfriend jealous at her wedding, and a tough cookie negotiating with Mexican gangsters. This is the job of an Active, to fulfill the needs of the client. Adelle calls this “a treasure, one I guarantee you will never, never forget.”
Now, could this segment replace the one in “Ghost”, where we see Caroline/Echo recruited, then as someone’s date, and then back to the Dollhouse for her treatment? It would be a tough fit, but it would be possible. The scene in “Ghost” would be used again in “Echoes”, while the start of “Echo” would be used in “Epitaph 13”.
In fact, some of the scenes in “Echo” would be recycled in future shows. The scene were Paul Ballard meets with Lubov (Victor) is in “Stage Fright”. A later scene where he gets Caroline’s picture at the FBI is in “The Target.” Topher’s “little bit bison” speech is in “Grey Hour”. Except for Paul getting the picture, the other two scenes were different than the ones we remember. When Paul talks to Lubov/Victor about the Dollhouse, Paul says he’s “seen the reports” that show such a place is possible. When Topher notes Sierra, Victor and Echo are meeting at the same lunch table more than once (being a little bit bison), he thinks it proves that Echo is evolving beyond the wipes, which is bad news for her. He also gives a great argument about how everyone is programmed in some way. “This is cutting-edge science,” he tells Boyd, “in a house full of hot chicks. Morality is programming, too.” In fact, Topher seems to be smarter and a little less arrogant in the original pilot.
We also see Sierra for the first time. It;’s clear she had been with the Dollhouse for sometime. She’s dressed like she’s in Mad Men, except she has a cut above her left eye. She is treated by Dr. Saunders, who we see in shadow for most of the episode.
The “A” story looks at how DeWitt and then-Security Chief Laurence Dominic try to stop Ballard from finding the Dollhouse. They even have a direct link to his FBI office. They decide to use Echo to find out what he knows and, as a last resort, kill him. She poses as a woman who is looking for her sister. She gets to his house, where he talks about his file, and how his search for the Dollhouse cost him his marriage. She also sees her picture on the ground. He then gives a speech on how the case has affected his life:
Nobody thinks it’ll make, which is a pattern with me. Everybody tells me “no, give it up, back off”…Is it real? Am I anyone? And then you show up, and I remember. I remember yes, I remember connection
Then he surprises Echo by pulling a gun at her, and says “Who tells me exactly what I want to hear? Who gives me just what I need? Nobody. So I think maybe that’s who you are, nobody.”
Echo says, as she grabs the gun, “I’m not nobody.” But are you Caroline, he asks? She answers by shooting him twice.
So, the Dollhouse has eliminated Paul as a threat, right? Well, Adelle suddenly gets a phone call from her boss, saying that killing Paul isn’t a good idea. She sends Boyd to pull Echo off the case.
Meanwhile, Topher is trying to sneak into Dr. Saunders’ office to get Echo’s file, which he can do anyway. We also see the doc’s face, which is scarred because of what happened with an Active named Alpha. We later learn she doesn’t fix the scars because she wants to remember what happened. She also mentions that Actives are healthier when they’re doing good deeds. “There is a physical need for something other than fulfilling the whims of the rich,” she says. Topher responds: “I program them so that it feels good…So, I’m a monster, right?”. Maybe, Topher, but maybe you’re a selfish Henry Higgins. However, it does create an interesting issue: what is more important, the needs of the clients or the needs of the Actives. The quick answer is maybe the clients because they have the cash, but what good are Actives if their roles are killing them? Too bad this wasn’t part of season one, but it may be considered this season, especially since Dr. Saunders now knows she was an Active.
The episode ends with Boyd stunned that Topher actually programmed Echo to kill Paul. “We live in the Dollhouse, which makes us dolls,” Topher says, “and the people playing with us little children. Children break their toys, Boyd.” Adelle is surprised, too. She wonders how Echo could shoot Paul and not kill him…unless that was her decision. That’s what Actives don’t do, but Echo may be doing. “We’re all in this together,” she says. “The day we forget that will be our last.”
But Echo has the last word…”Caroline.” That was her last word in “Omega”, too.
It’s interesting to note that in “Spy in the House of Love”, Echo volunteers to be imprinted to find the mole…and she does this while in her Active state. When Adelle is told about this, she’s actually intrigued rather than worried. What a difference a pilot makes.
If “Echo” did become the aired pilot. We’d have a much different show. The story would center more on the Dollhouse, and how it’s trying to battle Actives slowly becoming real people, a doctor who thinks they are people, and an FBI agent threatening to find it. That would have taken some of the spotlight away from Echo’s story. Thus, it’s just as well we got the season that Fox aired. It created a very interesting story that continues on two tracks, the present and the possible future in 2019.
The fans can decide for themselves when they get a copy of the DVD set, now available everywhere.