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Are friends electric? ~ Dollhouse 1.13/2.1

'Epitaph One'

'Epitaph One'

‘Epitaph One’ is the thirteenth episode of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse (Season One), an epilogue produced for a fraction of the regular show’s budget to create the required amount of episodes for the international and DVD market. It’s a brave game-changer, taking us forward to a post-apocalyptic future where the implications of Dollhouse’s technology are explored in a gripping and exciting story.(spoilers for 1.13 and 2.1 follow)…

What is so surprising about ‘E1’ is that it takes one of the major criticisms of the first season – the show’s (or network’s) reticence to tackle the deeper philosophical and moral issues of this concept – and, by creating a future dystopia in which the ‘tech’ has run wild, dives headlong into those very same ideas.

This dystopian future isn’t exactly original – in the characters’ search for ‘Safe Haven’ we surely see echoes of The Matrix and (one of my favourite cheesy sci-fis) Logan’s Run (there…is…no…Sanctuary!). However, I was fascinated by the hints dropped by various characters as to the nature of the world’s collapse. It seemed to me that various problems had occurred within a relatively short space of time – first the use of Actives by Rossum to allow ‘immortality’ (of a sort…) and effective ‘cloning’, then the hijacking of this by rogue users who employed remote wiping/programming to steal others’ bodies. There also seems to have been a way to project one’s consciousness at random, or perhaps to force others into the ether (thus Iris’ pronouncement that she didn’t know how she came to be in that body). Society was finally destroyed by the use of mass programmings by telephone, prompting a civil war of mass proportions, and ‘blanket programming’ by enemy states such as China.

Packing a surprising amount into a 50 minute episode, ‘E1′ also manages to give us tantalising glimpses of future character development and plotlines without revealing Whedon’s full hand. For example, I was surprised (and pleased) to see that a relationship had developed between Saunders and Boyd. This is made more poignant by Whisky’s later derangement and likely end, locked in the abandoned Dollhouse. I found Saunders’ mental trauma in 2.1 (‘Vows’) to foreshadow this eventual breakdown of personality.

Indeed so many things in the season two opener become more significant when we are armed with the knowledge of what’s to come. Topher’s realisation that he has created a fully complex personality in Clare hints at the terrible perversion of his genius that will occur – Echo’s revelation to Paul that she is starting to recall her imprints surely lays the foundation of their partnership. We can also read Adele’s customary confidence and cool exterior as an aspect that will ultimately contribute to the downfall – as long as she is able to lie to herself and others about the motives of Dollhouse/Rossum, others will continue to buy into their flawed ‘philanthropy’.

The Active story of ‘Vows’ was a little boring. I didn’t really understand why Echo needed to be imprinted as an undercover agent who was pretending to be Roma – Ballard was listening all the time anyway, so just Roma (with an imperative to make her husband talk) would have done. However, Amy Acker really sold the subplot of Saunders’ trauma, and I also enjoyed Boyd’s brief appearances as the new head of security.

If you were unsure about Dollhouse, I recommend Epitaph One just because it makes you look at things in a whole new light. It remains to be seen whether Season 2 can elevate itself beyond ‘imprint of the week’ stories and the unbelievable Ballard/Echo storyline. However, I found episode one to be a lot more enjoyable with the greater understanding of the characters embued by ‘E1’. Apparently the future will make further appearances during Season 2, and were originally going to be combined all the way through – it’s understandable why this did not happen, but I look forward to its eventual appearance. That’s really all that will keep me interested in Dollhouse, because, with the exception of the odd, brave episode, it continues treading a path of dull mediocrity.

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