We go back two years, just before the story of Echo began. Boyd is talking to her old self, Caroline Farrell. He says Rossum knows all about her, even the fact she had her bone marrow tested to see if she could help her cousin who has leukemia. Rossum is a big company, and she can’t escape from it. She has two choices: face life in prison for her terrorist acts, or become an Active. He’s doing this because she’s special, and he promises he will protect her. She tries to turn down this offer, but we know she can’t. Adelle DeWitt waits for her, with her tea and “sympathy.”
Advance to “present day”, where Sierra and Victor, or actually Priya and Anthony, decide to postpone their life together to help the rest of Team Echo in its battle against Rossum. They come back, and find the place a shambles. “Looks like the war started without us,” Tony says.
Above ground, Paul breaks the cell phones to keep Rossum from finding them. Mellie complains about the bleeding on her neck, due to removing her GPS chip. Adelle is there, too. Mellie loves Paul, but she knows that’s just software, not passion. Paul thinks their love is real to him, even if he’s an Active, too.
Topher drives up, and Echo comes out. She says her body is on fire, and she has to be sedated. They suspect she’s been imprinted one time too many, especially after they put Caroline in her so she could identify the men who run Rossum. However, Adelle points out they can just go to headquarters in Tucson, and walk right in. Just show them Echo.
At the Dollhouse, Priya finds the security tapes of what happened are gone. She also sees a note that says “press enter” on the imprint chair. She figures out one of them has to be imprinted again. They had sworn never to be imprinted again, but in this case, they have no choice. Tony volunteers, and he becomes VicTopher (Topher in Victor’s body) again. He is surprised to see Sierra as Priya, and the Dollhouse in shambles.
That’s nothing compared to what Team Echo finds in Tucson: Clyde Randolph, version 2010, in Whisky/Claire Saunders’ body. She’s the corporate version of Illyria, in a fine tailored suit and tie and twice as scary. She says she’s looking for people who can evolve, specifically Echo.
VicTopher is still trying to get a handle on things, but remembers he had a hidden camera in the imprint room. He was hoping to catch a thief. What he finds is Boyd drugging Echo just as Caroline’s memories were put into her.
Meanwhile, Clyde/Claire share whisky (of course) with Adelle, and compliments her on how she’s helped Echo evolve. Clyde/Claire sees Echo as the savior of “the deserving few”. If Adelle cooperates, she may be included. She says Echo may not be in any shape to help anyone, but Clyde/Claire says it’s Echo’s body that she wants.
As a few Twitter fans have pointed out, there’s a lot of exposition by both sides in this episode. It’s possible Joss Whedon and the Dollhouse staff had hoped to have 22 episodes to finish the second season. Once they knew it would be 13, they had to speed up the storyline. The episode, in fact, was made just as Fox decided to cancel the show.
Back to the recap: the rest of the team is locked away, but Boyd gets them out by pretending to rewire the lock. Actually, he has his all access card. He tells Paul and Mellie to find weapons, while Topher goes with him. He tells Boyd that he suspects someone in the Dollhouse may have drugged Echo, as Nolan drugged Priya before making her into Sierra. He also tells Boyd about his plan to get Tony re-imprinted so he could be VicTopher again. Too bad Topher told the wrong guy about this.
VicTopher, though, is upset his “man-friend” betrayed him. Still, he’s not sure if he should kill Boyd or get his autograph. Priya wants to help Echo and the staff. So, she brings back Tony, with additional skills to make him SuperVictor. They leave for Tucson.
In Tucson, Echo’s on a table. All the memories of what she has been though,and who she has been, come flooding back in. She wakes up and says “Boyd.”
Meanwhile, Boyd and Topher see that Rossum has made several prototypes of the Imprint Gun that can turn anyone into a Doll. Topher breaks one of them, because he is sick that his technology is being made into weapons. He’s also upset he invented them. Boyd argues they should have one working gun to protect themselves. Of course, there’s a darker reason.
Paul and Mellie are able to find guns. She wonders why she’s here, in this situation. Paul says he couldn’t let her go. She reminds him that their love…and themselves…are all programmed. They’re not even real anymore. Paul says what they are and what they feel are real…to him, at least.
Topher’s able to make one of the prototypes into a working Imprint Gun. Boyd says he’s very impressed. It’s why he “chose” him. As Topher asks for what, Echo enters the room and clobbers Boyd. However, Clyde/Claire is there, too, with a gun at Echo’s head. Topher is stunned by this, even after Echo explains who Boyd really is. Boyd says he wasn’t going to kill Topher because he’s “family”..as are Echo, Clyde/Claire and Adelle.
He’s also impressed how Topher has developed ethics while Adelle has developed conviction. Topher says it best: “I’m the Tin Man, she’s the lion, and you’re the head of the Lollipop Guild who’s a traitor.” He’s also upset he got Claire to kill Bennett last week, but he says sacrifice is necessary. After all, he says it’s all part of evolution. When new technology is made, it can be abused. So, once Topher’s imprint gun is released upon the world, certain people have to protect themselves. It’s a matter, he says, of being the destroyed or the destroyers.
Yet, it all comes back to Echo. Boyd tells her that her spinal fluid is very special. It can be used as a “vaccine” against being imprinted, and that she literally has to be harvested to protect the deserving few. She balks at this, but Boyd has the Doll Disrupter that quickly disables her.
Paul and Mellie start destroying the mainframe, but Boyd knows about this. He orders Adelle to tell Mellie that there are three flowers in a vase. This, of course, is the code to turn her into a killer. While Adelle refuses, Mellie hears that phrase. Since Adelle won’t cooperate, Boyd plays back the video recording of Mellie being activated in Paul’s apartment, and Mellie starts shooting at Paul and the mainframe. As he tries to get her to stop. she says she can’t kill him, but has to stop herself. She shoots herself, and the blood falls on Paul’s face. Another love story ends in tragedy.
Echo is laid out on a table, just as how Sierra was prepared to become a Doll. This time, she is not a Doll or a person. She is a vaccine. However, Tony and Priya arrive to get her out.
Topher is stunned over what has happened, and the fact he has created the “thought-pocalypse”. “I figure if I’m responsible for the end of the world,” he says, ” I get to name it.” Priya pretends to be captured…until Tony/SuperVictor can burst in to get everyone out. As for Echo, she’s confronted by Clyde/Claire, who is all Clyde. They get in a big fight, and it looks even.
Boyd is told of Echo’s escape, then meets Paul, who tells him about Mellie. Paul doesn’t know yet that Boyd was behind everything. Boyd pretends it’s really Adelle’s fault, and says they should both confront her.
Echo says she may wind up killing Clyde/Claire and herself, but Clyde/Claire says he’s got plenty of spare bodies to use. Come to think of it, who says this Clyde is the only one right now? Still, Echo is able to knock this Clyde/Claire out. She’s about to blow up the mainframe, when Paul comes in with Boyd. Before she can explain, Boyd pulls a gun at a stunned Paul.
Paul tells Echo to shoot him, but Boyd thinks she won’t because she loves Paul.
inally, Boyd is wrong. Echo does shoot Paul in the leg as a distraction. They both try to overtake Boyd, but he pins Echo down, ready to kill her. After all, all they need is the spinal fluid. They don’t need her alive.
Then a shot is fired…from Topher’s Imprint Gun. Despite the fact that he said his invention would cause evil, Topher had to use it to save Echo. Boyd, the toymaker, the destroyer…is now a toy. He asks Echo, “did I fall asleep?”
She turns Boyd into a suicide bomber, and he destroys the Rossum mainframe. Everyone is able to get out alive.
Finally, Echo asks Paul if she really did save the world.
It looks that way, but anyone who has seen “Epitaph One” knows the mission didn’t succeed after all. Imprinting the masses still happened. The world still spiralled into a thoughtpocalypse. The last thing we see is “ten years later”, with Echo and Paul with guns, trying to keep moving.
So, how did the thought-pocalypse happen?
Well, in E-1, Clyde/Claire apparently was turned back into Whisky. This may mean Clyde/Claire got out, but was defeated later on. Also, Harding’s still around. Maybe he made copies of Topher’s plans, and that at least one other Dollhouse may have been working on the Imprint Gun. A lot can happen in ten years. Boyd was right, though, about how technology can change the world, and sometimes destroy it.
“The Hollow Men” is more like a bridge between the present day and the series finale, “Epitaph Two: Return”, set in 2020. That’s why the plot was a bit rushed, and there was a lot of backstory and exposition to be explained. It’s to be expected, since this was filmed just after Fox decided to cancel the show after 13 episodes. Joss Whedon had a lot to say about technology and moral choices, but not enough time to say it.
The final episode on January 29th will see if the destroyed can defeat the destroyers, and if Echo winds up as a savior after all.
One last thing: check out this page from Aint It Cool News, and how “Rossum” is connected to the creation of the word, “robot.” As Clyde Randolph the second said on the show last week, it’s from a play.