Dollhouse: Season 2, Episode 1
Things have changed since we last entered the Dollhouse. Dr. Saunders knows that she is a construct created by Topher and imprinted into the body of Whiskey. Ballard is working with Dollhouse to bring down a gunrunner (Jamie Bamber) who has evaded capture by the bureau for years. And DeWitt has a new haircut. Yes, a new season of Dollhouse has arrived, with more questions to ask, and more complex and fully realized characters at the ready to answer them.

Tonight's imprint has Echo believing she is an undercover agent working with Ballard to bring down the gunrunner. She has entered his life as a romantic interest, and has just married him, thus bringing her very close to taking him down. Ballard clearly still has feelings for Caroline (feelings which, thanks to "Epitaph One" we know she will eventually return) and is forced to listen as she consummates her sham of a marriage and satisfy himself with a few pushups in return. DeWitt wants Ballard to become Echo's handler, but he thinks she's working an angle and is unaware of her motivations (DeWitt's response to his accusation of ulterior motives is classic for the character. "Have you ever met anyone who wasn't special or in a coma who didn't?"). Everything is fine and dandy on the Echo front until her faux-hubby gets wise to her deceit when he discovers a picture of her and Ballard (my first thought: is Alpha up to his old picture sending tricks again? He does love to toy with Echo and those around her"¦) and slams her head against a desk. The concussion causes Echo to glitch, shifting from one personality to another at the drop of a hat. Dushku can't handle it with the manic glee that Alan Tudyk's Alpha does, but she holds her own as she changes from moment to moment. Fortunately Ballard understands what is happening and manages to force Echo into a former imprint with a lot of martial arts training (for those who don't recall, its her would-be assassin who fought Ballard then tipped him off about Dollhouse during last year's "Man on the Streets.") and she manages to save the day. This is all pretty run of the mill, but the real fun is in what's going on in the Dollhouse.

Dr. Saunders has become a little unhinged since discovering that she is in fact a doll named Whiskey, imprinted as the resident physician after she was scarred by Alpha (who was bumping her off so that Echo would be the most requested doll). She has taken to tormenting Topher, who she sees as her God and Creator. Dr. Saunders has some difficult issues to deal with"”she knows she isn't real, but she can't allow herself to die so that the person she was will emerge. She hates Topher, and so assumes he made her to eventually fall in love with him. In a heart-wrenching scene that steals the episode, Topher explains that he created her as to be smart, capable, caring, and superior to him and that in fact, she chose to hate him. This clearly hurts Topher deeply"”he made an intelligent, moral, kind woman and she is revolted by what she sees in him. The crushing weight of the fact that while she may not be real, she still has the ability to choose hits Saunders and she collapses, sobbing at the weight of her existence. She may not have been born, or had any real choice about who she has become, but she still has the ability to choose who she will be in the future. She sees this, and with a little guidance from Boyd (who has admitted his feelings for her, putting them on the path toward the relationship we know they will have before the events depicted in "Epitaph One" as well) she leaves the Dollhouse, because she has run out of excuses.

No other show on television currently could tackle questions of free will and moral responsibility as deftly, nor as fully as this episode of the show could in a subplot, which is just one of the many reasons I love it. I also enjoy the promise of Echo and Ballard's quest to "find" the people who used to inhabit the doll's"”as "Epitaph One" showed us, these people will eventually have to take responsibility for abandoning their lives and throwing themselves into something bigger than they could understand, but for now, Echo is taking the responsibility of getting these people back. Bonus points go to Dushku for the subtly changes to her Echo we see tonight"”she is no longer the Tabula Rasa she once was. She is now cracked, damaged, and comparatively much wiser, for better or worse.

While watching Topher deal with the revulsion of a better person and watching Saunders discover her own freedom are fascinating, and watching Echo and Ballard kick ass is always a good time, this episode also gave us another primer on things to come this year. It seems that Senator Perrin (Alexis Denisof, formerly Wesley Wyndham-Pryce of Buffy and Angel fame, and currently real life husband to How I Met Your Mother's Alyson Hannigan) has taken up a crusade against the improper practices of the Rossum Corporation, and may become a problem for the Dollhouse. DeWitt thinks Ballard may have tipped him off, and Ballard believes Boyd might be behind it (After all, Ballard knows why he's here, which brings up the interesting point that we still do not know what lead Boyd to the Dollhouse and what motivates him on a daily basis). Personally, my bets are on the as-yet unidentified mole (I am of the theory that Lawrence Dominic, while a spy, was clearly not the mole who was helping Paul bring down the Dollhouse last season, and whoever that is must be looking for a new man on the outside). In any case, this first episode gives us much to look forward to as the new season of Dollhouse unfolds, while reminding us of what we loved about it to begin with.

Grade: B+


-"My entire existence was constructed by a sociopath in a sweater vest, what do you suggest I do?"

-"You want to study the rat before you slice it up?" "Well that is how science works."

-"How do I live? How do I go through every day knowing that my every thought comes from something I can't abide?" Amazing questions from the always stellar Amy Acker.
-Excellent use of Elliott Smith Joss. I can always tell when you're behind the wheel.

"I'm not even real. I'm in someone else's body and I'm afraid to give it up. I'm not better than you, I'm just a series of excuses." "You're human." "Don't flatter yourself."
Tags: Dollhouse
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