In case some of you missed yesterday’s Dollhouse-related Twitstorm, here’s the story in brief: FOX has opted not to show the 13th and final episode of the season, which for now will not be available until the DVD hit stores after Comic-Con in late July. A few things to keep in mind: (1) The 12th episode, “Omega,” reportedly wraps up the season in the manner expected of a conventional finale. The 13th, “Epitaph One,” is apparently something conceptually different, and not as devoted to meat-and-potatoes storytelling. I don’t know if that eases the pain or not, but I’m guessing if we weren’t aware of the 13th episode, we wouldn’t necessarily feel anything was missing. (2) However you want to interpret FOX’s decision not to air the episode, this doesn’t mean the show has been cancelled. Read more about that at Dollverse. (And don’t be shy about letting FOX know you want the show back.) (3) For more detailed information about the contractual zaniness that led to 14 episodes being produced and 12 aired, you can get the full scoop from just about every respectable TV critic in the land. Take your pick.
With all that out of the way, let’s dig into “A Spy In The House Of Love,” which offered many reasons why Dollhouse deserves a second season, not all of them having to do with Eliza Dushku strutting around in dominatrix gear. (I’m reminded a little of this shot of Kristen Bell in a Chewbacca t-shirt: There’s such a thing as giving fanboys too much of they want.) After last week’s revelation-a-thon, with the Actives “waking up” as part of an audacious controlled experiment, you’d expect the show to downshift into MOTW material, especially now that the main dolls have (presumably) had their “needs” cathartically expelled. Instead, the writers have decided to hit the gas and the result is another one of the most exhilarating hours of the season.
Praise first must go to the clever structure, which neatly follows the separate trajectories of Echo, Sierra, November, and Victor while scrambling the timeline, which makes for all kinds of interesting overlaps and surprises along the way. On top of that, “A Spy In The House Of Love” was a sweeping meditation on the theme of trust: Between dominant and submissive, between Paul and Mellie; between Topher and Ivy; between Boyd and Echo; and finally, between Adele and the many complicated (and perhaps shifty) people she’s chosen to help run her operation. If there’s anything the second half of this season has taught us, it’s that the foundations of a trusting relationship are hard to build on the quicksand that is Dollhouse.
Because I’m tired and lazy, I’ll go through this character segment by character segment, just as the episode did:
• November/Mellie: First off, she waves to Echo as the Mellie imprint, so the wiping process still isn’t working 100%. But the bulk of this subplot has her returning to Paul with open arms and he eagerly accepts her, despite having gone so deep into Dollhouse-related conspiracy theories and paranoia that he resembles Gene Hackman at the end of The Conversation. For the second time, a Dollhouse insider has smuggled a personal message to Paul in an imprint, but it comes along with the sting of betrayal, too. He finally discovers that, in “sleeper” mode, Mellie has been the eyes and ears of the organization he’s been investigating. But what interests me about that scene is that when the message is over and the unknowing girlfriend comes back, there’s no indication that Paul won’t be hopping into the shower with her as planned. I think it’s reasonable to assume that Paul will be using this knowledge to his advantage by feeding Dollhouse false information. But couldn’t he also be embracing his fantasy girlfriend in much the same way Patton Oswalt’s character did his fantasy wife in “Man On The Street”?
• Sierra: With news of a mole in their midst, Dominic employs Sierra as his secret agent to assume an NSA operative’s identity and break into its files to find out who’s been sneaking around. A brilliant plan that ultimately implicates the plausible-but-innocent Ivy, but…
• Echo: Topher creates his own insurance policy by imprinting Echo to conduct an internal investigation. He does this at Echo’s request, which proves definitively that she is far more cognizant of herself and her surroundings that any of the other dolls. It’s a very bold play on Echo’s part to give a shifty doofus like Topher this knowledge, but she’s been eying Dominic’s activities for a while and hasn’t forgotten his attempt to take her down at the cult compound. Echo’s various interrogations provide some of most entertaining moment of the episode, from immediately choosing to grill Topher first (“you’re either dangerously incompetent or trying to throw us off your trail”) to her hilariously blithe acceptance of Boyd’s frank assessment of Dollhouse (“We’re pimps and killers, but in a philanthropic way. Can I go now?”). And in the end, of course, she fingers Dominic as the NSA spy and gets to break out a little kung-fu on him, too.
• Victor: Wow. This was the big revelation tonight, and it was a thing of beauty: A total gobsmack of a surprise (for me, anyway, since I didn’t see it coming at all) and one that added tremendous depth to a character. The character is question is Adele, who has been using Victor’s “Lonelyhearts” guise as a plaything for at least nine or ten sessions, both to salve her loneliness (she is a high-powered executive with no time for romance, after all) and give her a taste of real intimacy. Since Victor is just going to be wiped anyway, Adele can lay bare all her secrets and trust that he won’t take them any further than the bedroom. And since we witness her doing just that, we get a chance to see how conflicted she is about what she does for a living. As she tells Victor, she was once someone who helped create replacement organs out of stem cells; now she’s the chief philanthropic pimp and killer.
That’s all for now. The next episode doesn’t air until the 24th, so I encourage you to spend the next couple of weeks harassing FOX. Some sort of fiendishly clever Internet meme, perhaps?
• Terrific closing scene with Echo retaining her bond to Boyd, despite being shuffled off to a new handler.
• Sierra, showing off for Dominic: “I just want you to appreciate how awesome I’m going to be when I deliver.”
• Line of the night, courtesy of Ivy, also showing off: “I probably know enough about the imprint equipment to rip it down and reassemble it without Topher ever knowing.” [pause] “Well that didn’t sound good, did it?”