At first, I felt like “Needs” was taking Dollhouse a few steps back from the heights of the past two episodes. The plot – kind of a hoary trope in which people awaken in an unknown situation and have to figure out what is going on – felt really tired to me, and even though by the end I was accepting of the purpose of it, it wasn’t all that fresh a take on it. My biggest problem with this episode was that it felt like something the viewers needed, not the characters or the story itself. As Echo, Sierra, Victor and November (minus Mike, who was the first of the bunch to get reprogrammed for not playing along with the whole “act like a doll and you’ll live” concept) band together to find a way out of the Dollhouse, they end up exploring some of its inner workings that we as viewers don’t normally get to see, like the weapons arsenal, the costume and prop shed and the kinds of ass-less chaps Victor has to wear on romantic engagements. And, because of some chemicals released into the sleeping pods of these five Actives, we got to understand the kind of people they were before they came into the Dollhouse.
Although, even then, not by much.
November had a daughter who died. Sierra was basically sold into slavery in the Dollhouse. Caroline was tough and clever, Mike was a conspiracy theorist and Victor was . . . uh . . . a take-charge kind of guy? All we learned about him was that, even without an imprint, he knows how to strangle someone with a towel.
These facts allegedly told us how these people ended up in the Dollhouse, and were all revealed as part of Dr. Claire Saunders’ master plan to stop said Actives from glitching. If they were imprinted with their old personalities, but no memories, and allowed to experience a controlled version of the outside world, they would eventually find closure and, thus, stop glitching. So November shuts down when she finds her daughter’s grave, Sierra finds closure in Victor’s arms after confronting the man who took away her power, Victor finds closure by getting the girl and Echo gets hers by “freeing” the other Actives.
The reveal that the “washing” of these Actives was a way to reindoctrinate them, I think, was the only part of this episode that worked. Otherwise, it was generally pretty blah and devoid of Whedon’s usual wit and storytelling style. Writer Tracy Bellomo doesn’t have many credits to his name, and perhaps that’s why this episode just doesn’t feel right to me. Or maybe it’s because I watched it after watching two of the best season 5 episodes of Angel, ever, “Smile Time” and Whedon’s own “A Hole in the World.” It’s hard to accept something this middling when you know how awesome Whedon and his team can be. I mean, Puppet Angel and Demon-God Fred? Those things are damned hard to top.