By Sonia Aurora
Once you solve a mystery, you can’t solve it again. It is what it is. You can’t unwatch The Sixth Sense or Fight Club or watch it the 2nd time and appreciate it the same way you did the first – you know what you know. Once you know the answers to Rosebud, Luke’s father, or Keyser Soze, you can watch the film with a different set of eyes, but there isn’t innocence anymore. You are fully and unequivocally aware. Just as Langdon says in Dollhouse’s “The Hollow Men” episode, you can’t un-invent what’s been invented.
I never got the Dollhouse Season 1 dvd because I‘ve yet to make it a habit to collect TV shows (so far, I’ve got all of Buffy on DVD and Brisco County on VHS). So I skipped out on all the hoopla of the infamous and unaired 13th episode, “Epitaph One”, save for the reviews that I read saying how outstanding but head scratching it was.
About 3 months ago I realized I could download just the episode on Amazon (yes, I am a techno-tard). So I was gonna watch it and I started to, then stopped (it ebbed with my emotions for how the second season was coming along). After the announcement of cancellation, I decided to wait to watch it and squeeze it in chronologically; since I knew “Epitaph One” took place about 10 years later, I decided to just sit tight (which, when this season really got good, was really hard to do). I was insanely curious to see how this ‘lost” episode would figure in the schematics of this season and how much forethought there was. Would someone who should be dead be alive? When all the answers we had were given to this point, would “Epitaph One” actually grant more? And since the final episode is entitled “Epitaph Two: The Return,” would this be a perfect preamble?
So , before the last episode, I sat back with my computer and pressed “play”.
Mag (Whedon fave Felicia Day) scampers in her dirty, torn wardrobe, talks into a walkie talkie, then decides to “ditch the tech”. We’re in LA 2019, but also the future looked like Armageddon has landed hard, and everything is a mishmosh of every apocalyptic movie set after Bladerunner. There’s the typical stock characters, too: “handsome tech savvy leader” Griff; “sexy ambiguously ethnic tough as nails” Lynn; “loose cannon comic relief” Zone (complete with catchy nickname/name) and then the disposables of a young girl named Iris, about 12 years old, and her father Mr. Miller, who’s brain is definitely of the scrambled Doll variety.
They manage to break into the remnants of the Dollhouse, which reminds them all of a spa, but it’s eight stories underground and pumped full of air, so they figure they can hide out from the mayhem indefinitely. They wander and talk about the others they knew, people who’d been wiped, that they “put down”.
And then they find the imprint chair. At this time, that type of imprinting is archaic, so they don’t immediately know what it is. Once they figure it out, they’re curious to know if the chair can supply them with answers of the cure that’s been rumored, so they decide to use their Doll companion Mr. Miller to dump into, one memory at time, then go from there.
Memory #1 is a very young DeWitt with a client, chattering about what the Dollhouse could provide him “within reason”. DeWitt is a great saleswoman, explaining that it’s not pretend, it’s a pure connection this guy will never forget.
Zone is laughing but pissed, as he realizes the disaster the world has become results from creating “more believable hookers”. Iris and Lynn go to find a bathroom and, hopefully, food. Griff wants to keep searching through the memories, even though “whoever set this up was unorthodox to say the least.” I smile as Memory #2 is about Topher’s first day, and his tour of the Dollhouse.
This is a great setup because DeWitt is still optimistic, Dominic is his hardened security self, before his breach, and Topher is all smarmy charm, knowing he can better and best this place. Banter of all variety ensues, but ultimately we learn that at this point imprints are taking 2 hours per Active, and he can beat that record “to a pulp”, He then describes the process of dumping the data, but DeWitt and Dominic question the integrity of the brain not turning to jelly. Topher’s convinced that the brain is massively powerful, which is why most people underestimate them as the last mistake before being overtaken, to which Dominic responds: “Cities don’t burn because everyone got smarter. They burn because someone lost control of them. “
Lynn and Iris wander through the Dollhouse showers, and Lynn is so excited at the process of running water and being cleaned that she makes the classic horror movie rookie mistake of getting naked and vulnerable while Iris looks for a toilet. Random noise, and shadow over there and then Iris finds Lynn’s bludgeoned brains all over the floor as she screams.
Memory #3 is Ballard and Echo in an elevator. She spews out Russian fluently, but this is post –Echo awareness, when her headaches started to get worse, before she was sent into the Attic to know more.
The gang looks for who might’ve killed Lynn; all the while, Zone holds Iris up with his hand over her mouth. They agree that the answer might still be in the imprint chair, and that it’s time to birthmark the girl – meaning that they will tattoo her name on her back as identification to who she is if she’s ever asked. It’s a way of telling the imprinted from “actuals”.
Langdon’s leaving is Memory#4, the same exact scene as in “Getting Closer”, after he’s been shot, with Saunders begging him not to go. It’s interesting to watch this scene now knowing who Boyd becomes, or, really, who he was all along.
Iris acknowledges her dad doesn’t know who he is anymore, and then Saunders shows up in the Dollhouse, all kooky and Carrie like in white. Her brain is fried, which is a far cry from her last appearance (in Dollhouse time) as ass kicking arrogant Clyde #5. She’s Whiskey now, having found Lynn but you get the impression she had nothing to do with her death. She’s always been there (at the Dollhouse) and she also asks them if they’re looking for Safe Haven, where “no one can be changed. You die as you were born.” This must be the Utopia they’ve been looking for, if not the cure. But she leads them to the chair. She also tells them food is in the kitchen, and we watch Memory #5, with Victor (Anthony) imprinted as Mr. Ambrose, to show off the latest Dollhouse upgrade – the 9-figure version of the fountain of youth. Meaning, they are making wedges of existing people and essentially transplanting them into younger bodies – “anatomy upgrades”. No better way to live forever, and no wonder why the imprinting got so out of control (greed will do that). DeWitt is furious, and Ambrose tells her it’s about re-writing the laws of evolution, though DeWitt thinks it’s more about being above the law of humanity. He’s in ten other bodies in ten other Dollhouses so if he’s no longer in that body that means she would have made a defining choice. Which, we all know, she did.
Iris walks in on Griff asking if the imprinting hurts, showing concern for her father. So the machine takes people out of other people, she asks, and then she shoots Griff and plants the gun on her father before screaming her head off. (insert WTF?!? exclamation here).
Zone, Mag and Whiskey come in, Zone drags Mr. Miller with him to kill him away from Iris, and Whiskey volunteers to get into the chair so they can keep piecing things together. Memory #6 involved Dominic having escaped the Attic and threatening DeWitt. They’re in her old office, and he’s waxing on about how this whole operation/experiment revolved around people getting to be what they wanted. He shoots her glass when she tries to get a drink. She tells him there’s a defense to being imprinted; Dominic thinks Topher’s found the cure, but it’s actually Caroline that has it, which we now know is in her blood.
Zone shoots Mr. Miller, then comes back and tells Iris he’s dead. Mag wants to find Caroline because she’s the key. Whiskey knows that the wedge needs to go in the top of the chair.
Anthony comes in and tells Priya she needs to be in the bed chambers, but she doesn’t want to – all the talking makes her headaches worse. She also doesn’t want to take the meds because she wants to be herself and if pain needs to be a part of that, so be it. Priya thinks “hope is almost cruel at this point”. She almost wants to go above ground, but it would be suicide to do it. “You don’t want to end up like November,” he tells her. “Which one?” she asks. They are also no longer together, by her attempt at closeness and his rebuff of it: “Right, that’s over with now” (why oh why are you against love everlasting, Joss??). She has a new birthmark, and Anthony shows her they have a backup of all of them, from the lab, including Caroline’s.
Zone gives Iris a gun and teaches her how to shoot it. Mag finds the wedges and while they don’t know which is which, they plan on dumping them into Whiskey. Zone waxes about how much it must suck to wake up in a different body. “You have no idea,” agrees Iris, gun raised. Turns out she got dumped into a kid, and she’s furious. But clearly Zone put two and two together, checked that Mr. Miller’s birthmark didn’t say that, and the kid’s gun isn’t loaded. They shove her into the chair and imprint her with the first wedge.
There’s some kind of vigil in the Dollhouse, DeWitt watches. Saunders comes in, “he” won’t take his hadropardil and he’s having one of his bad days. Turns out Topher’s gone nuts, mind reeling with the knowledge that he did this. He rambles on about how one phone call created a robot army for those programmed to kill those not programmed. He thinks that’s a brilliant idea – why didn’t he think of it? But he did, he realizes. “If I think I can figure things out, is that curiosity, or arrogance?”
Someone’s breaking down a wall to get in: it’s Caroline and Ballard: “Home Sweet Home”. Echo thinks it’s nice that the Doctor’s back in the house (sans scars) , and per Caroline, thanks to Alpha no one’s imprinted at the compound she and Ballard have comes from (Safe Haven, presumably). Caroline wants a hard copy of herself. She wants to in case something happens to her. Caroline hates DeWitt, and her mind is made up to rescue them all.
Iris is now Caroline in 2019. She asks what year it is, and is psyched to see Saunders, who is Whiskey now, but in any event, whoever she is, the pre-pubescent Caroline thanks her for helping Mag and Zone find her, and she was better than her best. Caroline knew that if Whiskey stayed behind she’d lose her mind. They have the cure and Safe Haven is far. Someone breaches the Dollhouse, and Whiskey elects to stay behind and “wait”. As Mag, Zone and Caroline leave, Whiskey sets off what is probably gas or something, and resigns to death.
The trio escape through the elevator shaft and they wind up in DeWitt’s old office. There is a wall there of pictures labeled “To Remember”, which include Priya, Anthony, Mellie, Caroline. New Caroline takes a picture of her old face: “I hope we find me alive”. They climb out the window, LA in the daylight, ruined, and climb up towards the roof. The final image is a smiling picture of Caroline.
Great episode, which still contains some mysteries, but also has inconsistencies, mainly with Whiskey/Saunders. In the Dollhouse timeline, when we last saw her, Caroline/Echo had knocked her out as Clyde #5. Somewhere she became their friend/ally again, and then back to Saunders scar-free, and then to Whiskey, zombie-like. I doubt they will explain that any better, except to the viewing audience as to why Amy Acker isn’t in Epitaph 2: The Sequel, er, Return. .
But, regardless, there was a lot that happened in the nine years since we last knew of the Dollhouse family, and only one more hour to know their fates. Presumably, we get to Safe Haven. From this episode, and the previews, there is a cure. I’m hoping by the end the “tech” that has become such a dirty word can be eradicated and that the “Actuals” can live a life free of fear from becoming an “Active”.
About Sonia Aurora: Aspiring screenwriter and seamstress, Sonia’s dream is to write life-changing films while product-placing her own line of handbags. In 1999, she wrote, co-directed and co-starred in the short film Dr. Lovestrange, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bug, a satirical homage to Stanley Kubrick set amidst the panic of Y2K (Featured on ifilm.com & Coming Soon to YouTube!). While Sonia waits patiently for the Studios to call, she continues her selfless, humanitarian efforts (think Mother Teresa) through her scripts, short stories and sewing (a true triple-threat!), knowing all the while that someday her efforts will indeed save (or at least mildly tweak) the world. She still struggles with which picture to kiss before bedtime: her boyfriend’s or Bruce Campbell’s. And, in the interest of time, she’d like to start thanking the Academy now.
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