Ouch. I’m afraid I’ve stubbed my brain.
In part because I’m not particularly skilled at anticipating twists and in part because the writers of Dollhouse are so good at springing them, I’ve generally been a step or two behind the action from about midway through the first season. But tonight, with that final reveal, the show has officially zipped past me like Usain Bolt. So I’m looking to you, my astute readers, to help me out: What’s going on with Boyd? What does it mean that Echo’s handler is the nefarious top dog at Rossum? Why does Rossum have a file on Caroline? What does he mean when he calls her “special”? What’s the endgame? I guess we have two more episodes to get some of these answers, but am I missing something? Or should we all be content just to exist in a state of blissful uncertainty until next week?
In any case, another superb episode, courtesy of the reliably good Tim Minear, who wrote and directed. The mysteries of Caroline’s past have been on viewers’ minds for a while now, and parsed out quite stingily in previous house. But now was the perfect time to bring it the fore, because it has such a direct bearing on what’s happening now; the incorporation of flashbacks from three years earlier with present-day action was masterfully handled, with the past answering questions the present was urgently asking. We got to know why Bennett harbors such resentment for Caroline, what Caroline found out about Rossum, and in a final, shocking twist, the identity of the man behind the curtain. For that man to be Boyd suddenly turns this strong, protective, fatherly figure—the Giles to Echo’s Buffy—into someone unaccountably evil and exploitative. In a way, I’m happy the back-to-back episodes stopped this week, because this will take some time to get used to.
“Getting Closer” opens three years earlier with Caroline infiltrating what we’ve come to know as Adelle’s office and finding files on herself and Summer Glau’s Bennett. Turns out that Caroline and Bennett are friends, having bonded at a technical college in Tucson, Arizona where über-nerd Bennett, pre-glamorous makeover, majors in neuroscience while Caroline majors in causing trouble. Both outcasts in their separate ways, the two become fast friends, but when Caroline discovers that Rossum has recruited the brilliant Bennett, she sees her access as an opportunity to engage in anti-corporate terrorism. Initially stung by her friend’s betrayal—Caroline’s idealistic agenda trumps all personal loyalties—Bennett pleads with Caroline to allow her to help burn the company headquarters down. But while setting up the bomb, Caroline discovers a secret lab where humans are being experimented upon and isn’t able to keep the explosives from detonating in time. The resulting explosions leave Bennett’s arm trapped in the rubble; rather than stay with her friend Caroline makes the reasonable decision to leave her behind because she has a solid excuse for being there. Bennett, as we know, is left a seething ball of resentment.
Meanwhile, the end is rapidly nigh for the L.A. Dollhouse, as the insubordination of Adelle and company has become apparent to the people at corporate, who have killed Clyde. (We get this information from the Attic-damaged Dominic, via a Spandex bodysuit that Topher aptly likens to Tron.) The gang needs to get Caroline’s original imprint back inside Echo’s head in order to learn the who’s, what’s, and why’s behind Rossum—though, intriguingly, the dozens of fused personalities that comprise Echo are reluctant to yield. Trouble is, the original Caroline imprint has been corrupted severely, leading them to pull off a brazen abduction of Bennett from the D.C. branch, since her technical expertise exceeds Topher’s. She and Topher resume their adorable (if intermittently violent) courtship while puzzling out a solution. But then Dr. Saunders, brought back into the fold by Boyd for the final push against Rossum, shoots Bennett in the head.
The shooting was a great twist with Whedon’s fingerprints all over it; when he’s killed off major characters in his work before—think [name redacted] in Serenity or [name redacted] in Buffy’s sixth season—he likes to do it with startling speed rather than drawing it out with big deathbed speeches. What made the twist especially shocking is that it arrives in the middle of an episode where we learn so much about who Bennett really is and how her interests might align more with the rebels than we had ever imagined. To see that, as well as the puppydog romance with Topher, cut so mercilessly short made me gasp, but it also underlined just what a powerful force the gang is dealing with here. Saving humanity isn’t going to be easy, not when two of the characters we’d come to trust the most, Dr. Saunders and Boyd, have turned—helplessly and purposefully, respectively—to the dark side.
Two episodes to the end, Dollhouse just keeps getting bleaker and bleaker. And it’s all happening on network TV. Makes you smile, doesn’t it?
• Caroline: “I’m not a thief. I’m a terrorist.” With Avatar currently burning up editorial columns and blogs with its “revolutionary politics” (Sam Adams’ words, not necessarily mine), it’s interesting to see Dollhouse contribute to a mini-trend where the insurgents are the heroes.
• Can I mention for a third time how sweet the scenes are between Bennett and Topher. From Topher frantically inquiring over her abduction (“Is she okay? Still cute? Don’t you hurt her!”) to his awkward suggestiveness in giving her a tour of the lab (“You showed me yours. Let me show you mine.”) to a first kiss marred by a split lip, it was Lady And The Tramp cute out there.
• Bennett, observing the wandering dolls: “They roam like free-range chickens. We keep ours like veal.”
• Hilarious one-line cameo from former Los Angeles Lakers star turned actor (and Eliza Dushku boyfriend) Rick Fox as the last doll before Echo to be given his freedom. “Has it been five years?” he asks. “Seems like I just got here yesterday.” Topher: “Last Tuesday, actually.”
• If this series has a weak link, I think it’s Ballard. He’s gotten steadily less intriguing as the series has progressed, and Tahmoh Penikett plays him with a one-note intensity that’s a little grating.
• Appreciate the nonchalant manner in which Adelle decides to shut down L.A. Dollhouse. No transitional sessions, no easing the dolls back into their former lives. It’s time to close house.
• Programming note: Next week, I’m heading out of town for personal reasons, but the very capable Noel Murray—or his equally capable wife Donna Bowman—will take over recapping duty for me. Noel also sent me this Wikipedia link on the roots of Rossum. Enjoy…