I have mixed feelings about the most recent installment of Dollhouse, and that’s odd to say considering this is the penultimate episode that will be airing. But I couldn’t stand the first half of this episode. The Sleeping Beauty story was far too heavy handed, and the sections at the beginning with the young Susan meeting the older, wiser “best possible future” version of herself were the most insufferable of all. It’s perfectly fine to allude to the fairy tale (and I think there ultimately was a good payoff for its use at the end, albeit one that I think produces a very complicated reading), but it isn’t fine to lay that allusion on so thick that it isn’t an allusion anymore and it becomes completely insulting to your audience.
Echo-as-Susan tells little Susan to think of herself as the prince when she reads the story, to think that Briar Rose willed the prince into being, thus saving herself, but in the end, it’s Alpha that imprints Echo/Caroline or whomever she is with that personality, and I am uncertain what we’re supposed to assume about his act of heroism here. I think the best and most likely reading is that Caroline made a pact with Alpha before they both entered the Dollhouse to somehow destroy it from the inside, with Alpha “malfunctioning” and going rogue in order to manipulate Ballard into letting him back in so he could save Caroline, which is the personality I’m presuming he imprinted Echo with, prior to their make-out session. However, does that count as Briar Rose/Echo “dreaming” her prince/Alpha into being, and thus saving herself? I suppose it does, since the plot was hatched long before she became one of many sleeping beauties in the Dollhouse.
So, completely insufferable Sleeping Beauty allusion aside, once Ballard and Alpha-as-Stephen A. Koepler-who-designed-the-Dollhouse enter into the inner sanctum, things got really good. My husband has long since wondered why the Dollhouse has such a terrible security system, and I came to the same conclusion with this episode. Even thought the place is underground, that doesn’t mean a secret corporation should be so damned easy to access! This place has barely a fraction of the kind of security protocols a bank vault has, so it’s basically been begging for Alpha to come back and slaughter everyone, etc.
It is, however, pretty clever on Ballard’s part to break up with Mellie in order to track her back to the main site of the Dollhouse, and then to track down the man who designed the sustainable environmental life support system that an underground building would need . . . and much more clever on Alpha’s part to engineer Paul’s manipulation to get himself back in. And even cleverer to affect such a horrible, annoying personality as to not arise any suspicions that he may, in fact, be a killer Doll.
There were some great payoffs once Ballard and Alpha were inside the Dollhouse as well. I really liked the moment where Alpha refuses to go down the stairs that don’t have risers for fear something will reach out and grab him, which was reiterated when Ballard battles Boyd and Echo reaches out to grab Ballard’s ankles and trip him. This was, perhaps, the best payoff to that Sleeping Beauty story, as Echo (basically asleep as a human being) manages to defend herself. I also enjoyed Alpha’s confrontation with Claire Saunders, as he lovingly fondles the face he carved up, moments after taking a blade to Victor’s face.
There was also some good misdirection before these wonderful reveals occurred, in which some Alpha-like murders turn up in Tucson and so Adele imprints Mr. Dominic’s consciousness onto Victor in order to get access to his USB files. There’s a wonderful moment when Dominic realizes what’s happened to him and he cannot handle being uploaded into another body, which is probably the first true cyberpunk crisis I’ve seen on this show. (Also, the actor who plays Victor does a pretty good Reed Diamond impression.) Dominic-as-Victor suggests they look for Alpha in Tucson, so they send Sierra out there to examine the body as a forensic biologist . . . and she discovers that the body was killed in L.A. and brought to Tucson and that it’s the body of one Stephen A. Koepler, which was a stellar reveal as Alpha had done such a convincing job of being Keopler until this point.
Also, I definitely got some confirmation for my theory that Claire is an Active when Dominic screams out “Whiskey” and she shirks away, trying to pass it off as though he just wanted a drink. I find it hard to believe that the folks who run the Dollhouse would be ignorant of their own naming conventions, so perhaps Claire is a Doll made by someone else, masquerading as a real person? (Whiskey, by the way, is the phonetic equivalent of W, the letter right after V for Victor.) If she’s Whiskey, then I have no idea how the Dollhouse chooses to name its Dolls. I had assumed they went in alphabetical order, in chronological sequence, which would make Alpha the first and Zulu the last. Surely, I thought that Claire would have really been Bravo, someone with the Dollhouse so long that the other Dolls would have no idea she was one of them. But she’s Whiskey. And I no longer know if there is a logical system in place for the naming of Dolls. Curious, that. But mark my words: Claire Saunders is an Active. And her name is Whiskey.
Because the end of this episode was so damned good, I’ll try my best to forget that the beginning of it ever happened. I am really looking forward to the upcoming season/series finale, but it’s a pity we won’t get to see Felicia Day’s to-be-unaired 13th episode until the DVD release.