“Epitaph Two: Return” makes history as the first sequel to a lost episode. Of course, it’s “Epitaph One”, available only on DVD or iTunes. Fox decided to start the final episode with a quick review of what happened there. Still, some fans may wonder how Dr. Saunders wasn’t Clyde Randolph anymore, and how she turned into Whisky…and who are Mag, Zone and a little girl who also calls herself Caroline. That may be the only problem with this episode. Even loyal fans may have missed E-1, and wished they had seen it before the “sequel”.
The story starts somewhere in the Sierra Nevada in the year 2020. A man in a suit wanders around, looking lost. He’s met by a pack of well-dressed Butchers out to clobber him. Someone wakes from a Jeep after hearing the commotion, It’s cynical Zone, while his friends Mag and Ivy/MiniEcho are nearby looking for get water. When they see the Butchers, they leave quickly. Mag wonders if MiniEcho knows the way to SaveHaven. She says she does, and that it’s possible to make a true world. Zone doesn’t believe that, since half the world’s been wiped, and MiniEcho isn’t an Actual like he and Mag are. MiniEcho says “We are lost. We are not gone.”
It looks like they could be gone. As soon as they return to camp, they are kidnapped and sent to Neuropolis, the City of Minds. It used to be called Tucson, Rossum’s home base. It’s also next to SaveHaven, but that was out of necessity.
We also see Rossum has turned from a company to a dictatorship, but it’s also suffered. Matthew Harding is more interested in committing the Seven Deadly Sins, then change bodies after using it up. That’s why people are called “suits”, and that Harding looks like Oliver Platt, not Keith Carradine. His assistant is a slimy looking guy who used to be Clive Ambrose. FatHarding looks over several guys who could become him, but looks at a familiar-looking “DumbShow.” It’s Paul Ballard. As FatHarding leaves the room, SlimyClive wonders what’s so special about Paul. One headbutt later, and he knows.
Meanwhile, Echo takes care of the guards, and shoots FatHarding dead. Sure, he says there are “backups” of him, but she’ll deal with that. Echo is impressed meeting herself as a nine-year-old girl, while Paul finds a familiar face…Topher Brink.
The years have been tough on him. He’s been forced by Rossum to make a pulse bomb that will wipe everyone, or as he says “erase” the world. If he doesn’t, he sees someone get shot to death. He relives the nightmare of losing Bennett every day. However, he’s also come up with a way to erase the Dolls, and make them people again. He can erase the world, but he can also bring it back.
Meanwhile, a woman and a young boy are admiring the strawberries growing on their farm. The woman is Adelle DeWitt, and the boy is called T. His mom used to be called Sierra. Call her Priya now. She’s happy to be away from the tech and the Dollhouse, and prefers this oasis of peace in an insane world.
However, the insane world comes to the farm’s doorstep. Echo explains that if they want to take down Rossum, they have to go back to the Dollhouse to find what Topher needs. This doesn’t go over too well, but there’s no choice. Paul also adds that if Topher is successful, those Actives who want to keep their memories will have to stay underground for more than a year. Since Priya doesn’t want to forget her son, this is a choice she has to accept.
Then a nasty group of Tech Heads, or people who plug in abilities in their brains, arrives. They include a bald guy named Romeo, a weapons expert named Kilo (yes, that Kilo, also known as Maurissa Tanchareon), and a tough guy named Victor, also known as Tony. Yes, that Victor. When he adds English to his skill set, he explains he was asked to help in the road trip back to the Dollhouse.
The road trip features some revealing scenes. It starts with Zone getting to know Kilo, and how she has to switch imprints to stay sane. There’s Priya and Tony, talking about how the tech pulled them apart. He accepted it to protect her and save the world. She rejected it because of the pain, and decided not to fight. They both have something they care about, and that is their son.
Then there’s Paul and Echo. He wonders why she stays so guarded around him. There’s a connection but she won’t admit it. He thinks that she’s scared what may happen when she has to stop fighting and stay in one place. It means having to reach out to someone. “I think you’ve got a hundred people living inside your head,” he says, “and you’re the loneliest person I know.”
They get to LA, but are met by the meanest Butchers around. One of them shoots Mag, and Paul chases him off. He tells Mag she’ll be OK…just as he’s shot to death. Echo sees this, but has no time to cry. She has to get everyone to the Dollhouse.
Paul Ballard’s death is a shock, but not a surprise to those familiar with Joss’ works. Tragedy is always the payment for triumph, from Wash dying in Firefly to Angel being sent to Hell in order to save the world in “Belonging”.
Once they get inside the Dollhouse, they find several Actives wandering around, saying they’re trying to do their best.
They also find Alpha….who’s a good guy. He also decided to quit the fight to make the Dollhouse his own SafeHaven.
Romeo and Kilo have other ideas. They want to be Super Tech Heads, and will shoot Topher if they have to. Alpha interrupts them, while Tony tries to stop his double-crossing friends. He says that while getting skills as fast as he can download them are great, he wants to rebuild the world with his own two hands. Romeo’s upset because it makes Tony a Luddite just like Alpha.
This is a mistake. Alpha says he’s no Luddite, and clobbers Romeo. Echo also pins down Kilo, who is impressed by all this.
As for Topher, he suddenly has an idea…naptime! Actually, he heads back to his personal space and comes up with a way to make the pulse bomb they need.
Priya is busy breaking tech, in order to keep Tony away from it. Echo is upset, telling Priya Tony loves her and always did, despite being an Active for so long. Echo tells her Priya should break the tech, shut him out of her life, never tell him that she loves him.
But then, that doesn’t describe Priya. It describes Echo. Paul’s death finally hits her hard. She realizes she’s now alone, and could have had more if she let Paul in.
Thanks to a video lecture from his lost love, Bennett Halverson, Topher has what he needs to make the pulse bomb, and make sure no one becomes a Doll again. Thing is, he has to detonate the bomb himself. It’s a small price to pay, since he was one of the reason why the world became a Dollhouse. Adelle offers to help, but he won’t hear of it. “I’ll fix what they did to their heads,” he says, “You fix what we did to the rest of the world. Your job is way harder.” It may be, but at least Adelle DeWitt is the only Rossum employee willing to apologize and atone.
Zone decides to take up a tough job, too. He’ll look after MiniEcho, when she becomes Ivy again after the blast. Mag will stay in the Dollhouse while she heals. We also find out Zone used to be a landscape architect. Who knew?
We also see Priya introduce T to his dad. We also see T is for Tony, just like his dad. The family is whole again, even in a place they’d rather not be.
So, Echo prepares to dismantle the tech while she guides the Actives out. “Funny that the last fantasy the Dollhouse should fulfill would be yours”, Adelle tells Echo. Echo says she doesn’t have any fantasies. Some may say she has at least one.
Topher builds the bomb. Just before the blast, he looks at the wall of photos of all the Actives in Adelle’s old office. It’s the last thing he sees.
After the blast, all the Actives fall asleep for a little while. Then they wake up, and look at the mess. It
will be a tough job, considering there’s still the chance extra Hardings and Clive Ambroses could be out there, maybe planning to revive Doll-making.
As Echo heads to the imprint chair, she sees an envelope that’s addressed to her. She sees there’s one more imprint to be done. She imprints Paul into herself. She has finally let him in.
The last shot is Echo preparing to lay in her pod. She’s going to fall asleep, for a little while.
The show, meanwhile, will rest in peace.
Considering how quickly they had to wrap up the show, this was a good effort. There were wonderful performances by the Epitaph One Gang, led by Felicia Day, and from Eliza, Enver Gjokai, Dichen Lachman, Fran Kranz (who should be on 24 if Mary Lynn Rasjcub retires) and Olivia Williams.
Still, fans may get the feeling the story is ending too suddenly. We want to know why Alpha has evolved towards a more peaceful state, what other adventures Mag and Zone had, why Priya and Tony split because of the tech, and how Rossum ruined the world, and eventually itself. It really would have helped if Fox decided to show “Epitaph One” first followed by the sequel.
And…there’s also the wish we’d see how the survivors rebuild the world, while keeping Dollmaking tech at bay.
Still, Joss Whedon had a lot to say about identity, reality, and relationships. He also had some things to say about how big bad corporations try to influence us for supposedly positive reasons, and how science can destroy as easily as it can improve our world. What Topher did, and how he atones, is proof of that.
It would have been just perfect if there were another 13 or so episodes to fill the gaps between “Hollow Men”, “Epitaph One” and “Epitaph Two”. We would have had a classic 39-part sci-fi series.
That being said, we still had an impressive 26-episode body of work that will be remembered and discussed for some time to come.
This also means Fridays will be pretty dull again, unless you have cable.
Thanks, Joss, for being your best…again.