It begins with a blurry picture of someone saying “I was just trying to help her”. It’s Topher, but what is he talking about?
One year ago, we see an Australian girl named Priya selling trinkets at Venice Beach with another girl. We learn she’s there without a work visa. . They see a guy named Nolan who is very interested in her. He likes her paintings, and her. So, he arranges a show for her. It’s great, but she doesn’t like who’s there. Then she meets…Echo? What kind of art show is this?
Actually, it’s a seduction arranged by Rossum, makers of Dollhouses. Nolan is an important man in Rossum because of his medical skills. He talks to Harding (Keith Carradine), who’s even more important. Aside from being there to enjoy Echo, he talks about Priya, and mostly about how Nolan wants her all to himself. Meanwhile, Echo tells Priya there may be money in this room, but she says art, like Priya’s, is power because these guys can’t make it. That’s why they like girls like her. “Let them think they have the power,” she says. “Our time will come.”
Nolan then introduces Priya to Luca, who’s really Victor. He and Priya hit it off, a lot more than with Nolan. When Nolan tries to grad Priya back, she leaves. She says there’s no way she’ll ever love Nolan.
One year later, he’s found a way…by making her an Active. Actually, we’ve seen Nolan before in “Needs”. He put her in the Dollhouse because she said “no” to him…and he admits it. He also says he’s certain she’ll come back to him with love and affection because she’ll be programmed that way. In fact, he can make her anything he wants. He’s got money, and a willing accomplice in the company he works for…Rossum.
Back at the Dollhouse, Echo sees Sierra painting a bird, and a big black splotch. She says she uses black because it’s always there. Echo gives the painting to Topher, who’s busy trying to perfect a remote wipe as Alpha did. She says “Sierra hates the bad man”, but he dismisses her. After all, Actives are pets. “You’re not looking hard enough. You never do,” Echo says as she leaves.
This gets Topher thinking. He asks about Nolan, who we learn from Boyd that he’s a big wig at Rossum, and has made advances in investigating mental illnesses. We also find out Sierra was a paranoid schizophrenic when she first came. Checking Dr. Saunders’ files, Topher finds out Sierra has made a lot of paintings with black splotches. Her report says that may be due to her mental state before she came here, or rage aimed towards…Topher. But he says he’s not the bad man.
As Victor and Echo get rid of the bad paints, and she says he’s taking charge, Topher finds out other things. For one, Priya/Sierra’s mental state was really caused by drugs given to her at the mental facility…owned by Nolan. Also, Adelle didn’t pick this up, but she has now.
However, Nolan is not worried. Even if Adelle does call him “a raping scumbag, one tick shy of a murderer” while also asking him if he takes sugar in his tea, he reminds her she works for Rossum. HE outranks her. So, he’ll just take Sierra home with him, thank you. He also thanks her for the tea.
Later, Harding tells Adelle to give Sierra to Nolan. Although the Actives are there to fulfill the needs of clients, she says they are not slave merchants. He says Sierra will have a great life as Nolan’s wife. Besides, he knows about her and Victor from last April, but that’s not the worst of her indiscretions. “If feeling you’re somehow decent and moral helps you get through your day, that’s your business,” he says. “This house, however, is our business.” So, Nolan gets Sierra or Adelle’s going into “early retirement.” The one Dominic got, we’re thinking.
Sierra finds Victor in the shower, getting rid of the evil black paints. She has a better use, painting his face, and then her own. She says he looks like an Indian chief…but it sets off a bad memory of war. It was something that got him to the Dollhouse. He collapses and says he doesn’t want to take charge.
Neither does Adelle, considering the choice she has to make. Topher, now with Ethics ™, also doesn’t want to turn Sierra over to Nolan. He says Dr. Saunders wouldn’t allow it. Which one, Adelle asks? The avuncular doctor that Alpha killed, or the one formerly known as Whiskey? Well, both would say no, but Adelle can’t. The staff is there because their morals have been compromised, except for Topher because he has no morals. “You have always thought of people as playthings,” she says (while looking at him as the son she never had). However, that is changing. Just as Angelus and Spike changed when souls were shoved into them, Topher has more than a soul in him. He has ethics. What will he do with them?
Meanwhile, Boyd has been shadowing Echo ever since the painting. He sees her read a book with big words, and that it’s hidden in her bed. He doesn’t notice the “notes” she’s etched on the cover. He is told by Adelle to take sure Topher does what he’s told, and keep the Dolls in their place.
Flash back again to a year ago, because Adelle’s there with a much better hairdo. This takes place after the previous Sierra had her last engagement. As Topher complains about Hearn (another man who took advantage of the next Sierra), she tells him about a woman who is a paranoid schizophrenic. It’s, of course, Priya, loaded up with drugs thanks to Nolan. She tries to tell Topher but he doesn’t notice. We see scenes of her happily leaving the Dollhouse to be with Nolan, interspersed with scenes of her dragged into the Dollhouse. According to Johnathan Frakes, former Star Fleet Commander and director of this episode, it’s the same thing. How true, Number One.
There is a great exchange when she says she’s in Hell. “You’re in Los Angeles,” Topher says. “I can understand the mix-up.” That may be true in so many levels.
Topher tells Adelle it’s done. She says if he’s developing pangs of conscience, remember that he didn’t have a choice. He agrees, and we soon see why.
Sierra is all set to be whatever Nolan wants to be. She asks if she should be aggressive, or innocent, or a mute. She grabs him by the neck…and angrily asks which one?
Nolan sees he didn’t get Sierra. He got Priya….drug-free.
Topher, you are a man.
Back at the Dollhouse, Boyd confronts Echo over her actions. She plays dumb, but he’s not fooled. He warns her that “some people are not ready to wake up”. Echo disagrees. “Something bad is coming, like a storm,” she says, “and I want everyone to survive it.” He says she may bring the storm upon herself, but maybe she’s looking for a steel-belted umbrella for that.
Priya then confronts Nolan for how she made her his Doll, then says she does love someone who thrills her, and makes her happy. She doesn’t remember meeting him, but she knows she loves him. It’s Victor, of course. This makes Nolan angry, and she beats her up. In fact, he’s getting a thrill out of it. As he’s about to stab her, she grabs the knife and kills him. It’s classic self-defense, but it will ruin Adelle at the next Rossum employee evaluation.
Topher arrives, probably after Priya calls him. He finds her covered in blood, and suggests they leave quickly. Boyd arrives, and he has a plan. In fact, we get the feeling he’s done this before. He gets Topher to cut up Nolan’s body and dunk it in sulphuric acid, while coming up with a story about how Nolan planned to leave the country with Sierra, but left her behind. Topher is shocked by Boyd’s efficiency, and disgusted by the smells of what he has to do. “I was just trying to help her,” Topher says, “Now she’s ruined.”
“You had a moral dilemma, your first,” Boyd says, and it didn’t go well.”
“She does not b
elong in the Dollhouse,” Topher says. Boyd says she does now.
For the record, Adelle seems to believe part of Boyd’s story, but knows Rossum will believe all of it….maybe.
The final scene between Priya and Topher is tragic, but important in the development for both characters. People should see this stuff rather than waste their time with dancing celebrities. Anyway, Priya reflects on what she has done, and wonders why Topher didn’t help her. He says he was fooled. He does offer her a beer. She asks if he and she are happy here. After some stammering, he says, “I have no idea.”
“This secret we have,” she asks. “Can you keep it?’
“I can keep it,” he says, “but I don’t know if I can live with it.”
“I know I can’t,” she says, “but then I don’t have to.” She’s the lucky one.
She then recognize Victor, and says she loves him…right? Topher says her love is real, and so is Victor’s.
One treatment later, and she’s back to normal. She’s forgotten what she has done.
Topher wishes he could also forget. So does Adelle. Boyd is fine, though.
Finally, we see Echo receive something “for the storm”: a get out of Dollhouse free card. Better than a steel-belted umbrella.
We also see Victor and Sierra, together in the same pod.
Is this the best Dollhouse episode, period? It may be, but it is also the most important. The “certainty” of the mission, to help people and give them what they need, expressed by Topher and Adelle so many times, is starting to crumble. They see the dark side of what they are doing, and the company they work for. Adelle knows that what happened to Dominic could happen to her if she doesn’t look out. Topher now sees that people aren’t playthings, and that he could be someone else’s plaything, too. Ironically, he mentioned this possibility at the end of the original pilot: “We live in the Dollhouse, which makes us dolls, and the people playing with us little children. Children break their toys, Boyd.”
Nearly a year later, he understands this even more.
Despite all this, would they be strong enough to rebel, and join Echo’s wish to give Rossum a wake-up call? Probably not, judging from “Epitaph One,” because they can’t handle the consequences. Let’s hope they at least try.
Let’s also notice who wasn’t there…Paul Ballard. Tahmoh Penikett took the night off while Adelle and Topher were having their moral struggles. You have to wonder what Paul would be thinking about all this if he were there. Maybe he’ll suspect he doesn’t have to take down the Dollhouse because it will crumble before he finishes the job. He would certainly be worried about Boyd.
Because Fox wants to win November sweeps thanks to some help from the World Series, and reruns that seem to attract a bigger audience, Dollhouse is taking a five-week break. The show pulled in a 0.9/3 rating, and pulled in 2.1 million viewers. This was well ahead of the CW, and higher than Fox’s Friday night sitcoms, but half of the audience of Ugly Betty. Actually, Friday’s not a popular night for network TV shows. Fox hopes absence, and back-to-back episodes, will make the heart grow fonder. Until then, fans are determined to spread the word, and pick up new fans through Hulu and Fox on Demand, and sites like www.whyIwatch.com and www.activatedollhouse.com. They will be getting ready for a Dollhouse December, especially because it includes Summer Glau and Ray Wise.