Dollhouse 1.13 "Epitaph One"
It's the year 2019, and the world has gone absolutely chaotic. In this dystopian future the imprinting system had gotten so advanced and taken into the wrong hands that the plan for immortality was taken too far; giving individuals the right to imprint their personalities into as many bodies as they choose, wiping away others and continuing to body hop from one to another. But something went wrong, and many of them are going mad, killing senselessly, butchering and killing, no law and order anymore in the world as humanity is on the verge of ending. There are two dividing sides -- the "Butchers" and the "Actuals", the latter being the ones with their own personalities while the former have been imprinted.
We follow a small group of Actuals who are trying to find refuge from the chaos above ground, where they dig deeper they find the Dollhouse, soon to realize it was the original creation of the imprinting systems they know. Giving flashbacks through memory logs, we see in chronological order the chain of events that started everything via the Dollhouse. Although without much detail of how and why we're given enough to understand the situation and how it had gotten so out of control.
The episode gives us a sense of hope that somewhere there is a place where no imprinting happens, where there is a cure, and only Caroline knows where this location is. The imprint she left behind leads the last two survivors of the Actual group to where this unknown place is, leaving us with this bittersweet hope with an unknown future for these characters and for the rest of humanity, as well.
Dystopian Future: Be Careful What You Wrought
This is very Joss Whedon, even though a stand-alone episode in and of itself this is perhaps incredible when telling the mythology of the Dollhouse and its technology and how it all fits in. While most of the first season of Dollhouse focused on Echo and her gradual self-awareness and having different engagements in having the morality of what is right and wrong with such things, this episode kind of gives the darker aspect of the what could happen scenario which we've already briefly discussed within the show but never really truly explored.
I consider the first season more of an introduction to the world of the Dollhouse; how it looks shiny and bright and wondrous, a place where no consequences for one's actions happen, even though we know it is morally wrong with all this gray area they're putting themselves into. But the aftermath if and when this spirals out of control will bite them hard in the ass, which is what this episode gives us. A sense of forewarning, foretelling what will possibly come to pass if the technology gets into the wrong hands. The wrong hands in this case happens to be Rossum, and possibly other Dollhouse organizations worldwide.
"The Dollhouse deals in fantasy, that is their business. But it is not their purpose."
This is a message relayed by an unknown source contacting Paul Ballard, wanting him to investigate the truths of why the Dollhouse was created and what they intend to do with this technology. Throughout most of the first season we know that Paul has probably been predestined to come in contact with the Dollhouse one way or another, and by the finale we see that he may be of good use after all. In "Epitaph One" we see that somehow he becomes an agent of theirs, Echo's handler in fact, which may give him better access to the ins and outs of their operation and how it connects with the Rossum Corporation. We kind of get bits and pieces of what this truth just might be. We see in this episode that one of the superiors of Rossum wants to take bodies as their own, because the advanced technology, created by Topher it seems, is for their own interest of being immortal, living forever and having all the luxuries they please. Adelle quickly shoots down this very notion, but the superior doesn't see it that way, and warns her of the consequences if she turns them down.
While not clear on the exact details of what happened afterward, but it's very clear on the aftermath of how Rossum treated such opportunities; biting off more than they could chew in thinking it was for the benefit of everyone and everything, and thus creating something they could not control or stop.
Meg: They really thought they were helping, huh? Giving people what they needed. Is this what we needed?It's a typical story of mankind creating something much bigger and more dangerous than they ever realized, and by their own arrogance and greed by taking more than necessary and playing God they brought down their own destruction. It's not necessarily the story of technology gone wrong, but how we as humans sometimes don't learn from our past mistakes and take advantage of it, misuse it and a combination of our greed and what we create can lead to disastrous outcomes, even the end of humanity.
Caroline: No. Kids playing with matches, and they burnt the house down.
The Advancement of Imprinting Technology
It appears that the imprinting technology enhanced, and not just because it's in the future but because from the looks of things any kind of technological devices can remotely wipe someone or at least imprint them or corrupt them in some manner. We're not given the exact details of how this can actually happen, all we know that it's possible and this is why the Actuals don't use anything of any kind of technology (telling others to through out the "tech", like a walkie-talkie for instance) and are trying to find a place where no technology exists so there is no remote imprinting whatsoever.
It seems, based on the flashbacks, that Topher was one of the contributors to the enhancement of the imprinting systems. We first see him when he's just arriving at the Dollhouse for the first time, and he's immediately correcting and wanting to change the old school version of the imprinting chair, which was definitely not as sophisticated and high-tech as the one we are familiar with in the show. His genius mind knew precisely what was needed to speed up this process of imprinting and wiping personalities, and it's because of his genius that probably led to the downfall in the very end. One of Rossum's superiors even mentioned Topher's help in that department, and we see that Topher went into a complete mental breakdown after realizing what he'd done.
Another contributor, which is just me going on a whim, might be Alpha as well.
Alpha was mentioned only once in passing, though it's unclear which side Alpha is on and whether he's with this destruction or against it. But judging from his mental state and philosophy in the finale there's no doubt he might actually be helping the higher corporations in advancing the technology. We already know that he did a remote wipe on Echo once before, so it's not exactly impossible that he's also behind it as well.
However it was evolved, imprinting seems to be the thing to avoid in the future. There also seems to be something with it that makes people turn into killers, which is why they call them "butchers"; kind of like Reavers from Firefly in a sense. Again, unclear of how all of this happens and how and when, but this episode gives us a taste of what we might actually be getting into in the second season. Which I really hope they do, because this raised so many questions of this kind of technology and how all of this is possible. Even in a fictional world it's a mindboggling concept, but very interesting nonetheless.
The Characters: Moralities Questioned and Refugees on the Run
Perhaps one of the many things that I enjoyed about this episode were the characters and the developments seen, even with the minor characters used for this episode only. I was rooting for them, wanting them to escape, to find this "Safe Haven", to make it out okay. But there were depressing and heartbreaking moments with some of them, as well.
In the flashbacks we see our regular cast, the characters we've grown familiar with over the course of the season, and there is a vast difference with them that makes us wonder what is happening, how it all went down, and what will happen to them in this future. If in fact many of them have survived. We see Adelle DeWitt, once a calculating businesswoman who knew her mission with the Dollhouse losing her way, realizing that everything she'd worked for was crumbling before her, that her job was taken advantage of and that what she believed in was a farce. We see her with Topher, who is hiding in one sleeping pods with all his belongings surrounding the outside of it and trying to make sense of what is happening despite having gone off the deep end. We see Adelle trying to comfort him as he's trying to understand his own mind, questioning his own morality, what is right and wrong? Did he start all of it? Was his ideas genius or arrogance? That was just heartbreaking to watch, especially when Adelle cradles him in an embrace, because we know she's thinking the same thing herself. Did she allow herself to become so blinded by the so-called mission of the Dollhouse that she couldn't see what was happening right underneath her nose? It's just interesting because both Adelle and Topher came off as amoral characters in the beginning, not seeing the wrongness of the organization they were apart of, but gradually we see they are human beings after all, they have a conscience and see the wrong in what they are apart of. I also want to see more of this being fleshed out with both their characters in next season, especially after all what we've seen in this episode.
We have Boyd, who leaves abruptly without any reason given, only that he is running for his life. We see Sierra and Victor trying to make it through together, although not exactly together-together, and either they have their own personalities again or have become self-aware like Echo had become, and this goes for the other Dolls as well (which I'm assuming after what Rossum wanted to do, and what was happening, Adelle wanted all the Actives to have their original selves back, but that's just my guess). We also see that Paul and Caroline are working together, both in the flashback before the damage has started as it seems they are finding ways of discovering the truth behind the Dollhouse and after, when they return after finding that safe place and the cure. There's a sense that Caroline/Echo is the heroine of the story, and she is. But there are other characters now to share this tale with, her friends and those that help her along with passing on the truth and saving what is left to be salvaged of the human race.
But the most heartbreaking story of all was Dr. Saunders/Whiskey. She truly can never leave the Dollhouse, even after all that's said and done she feels compelled to stay there as though she still serves a purpose. In the dark!future we see she does, she leads the Actuals to Caroline's last imprint of where this safe haven is located, and they continue on to complete that journey. We also see that she's no longer Dr. Saunders anymore, but back to Whiskey. Haunting and ominous, like a trapped ghost of the heart of the Dollhouse; she's there to help and guide people, and she sacrificed everything for that purpose alone. It is truly the saddest more depressing character arc ever.
From all of this, plus the Actuals trying to find answers to their prayers, of finding peace and an end to all this insanity and suffering, character arcs and storylines are what make this show. I wouldn't care about it if there wasn't any character I could like or root for, and in the ending of the episode we have no idea who has survived and who hasn't.
And this is why I'm glad there is a second season because I want to know, and I want these characters to be okay, I don't want it to end like this.
Things I Liked From "Epitaph One":
++ Post-apocalyptic, dystopian worlds/futures is something I'm fascinated by, from 1984 to Serenity and Battlestar Galactica, just seeing the destruction of the world we knew and how it came about from ourselves is something not a lot of shows these days focus on. And Joss Whedon knows how to make an entrance with it, from the moment the episode begins to when it ends there is nothing that indicates the world that we know now. I just love it.
++ Every single actor did amazingly in this episode, but major props go to Felicia Day, Amy Acker and Adair Tishler (Molly Walker from Heroes). They all brought it to the table, and I was incredibly impressed. Adair in particular, the way she played three different personalities in just this one episode, from going as a little kid to the murderous unknown individual to Caroline and messing with guns and whatnot? I think that's awesome acting right there. ♥ It's sad this was a one-shot future!episode though, I really wish she and Felicia could be in season two because they would be amazing additions to the main cast.
++ They said this was filmed on a lower budget than the rest of the episodes from season one, which will extend into season two as well. I could hardly tell. Could anyone else?
++ So much mindfrakking details I think my brain nearly s'ploded, but it was awesome either way.
++ Proof that Joss loves BSG way too much: the imprinting systems in the future where personalities can travel from body to body is almost like the Cylon downloading process, living forever and all eternity, becoming immortal. Of course, instead of your consciousness being downloaded into an identical body your personality is traveled into other people's bodies, perhaps unknowingly and unwillingly?
++ I really want Topher to be fleshed out more, this has been my wish since the finale but this episode has made it abundantly clear we need more backstory on Topher. I was one of those that disliked him in the beginning, but was starting to warm up to him near the near of the season. And this episode? Oh my God, this episode is just perfect in demonstrating there is more to Topher than what we've seen. The same with Adelle, and I really want more of Boyd's backstory as well. Why he was recruited to be with the Dollhouse and so forth.
++ "Home sweet home" I liked how Caroline said that.
++ Unlike some people, I like the notion of Paul and Caroline working side by side. I've had this thought since the very beginning, whether it's Echo or Caroline. Or both. I think they work together as team rather than as a couple, even though I still have this thought of Paul/Caroline because they have the same idealistic mindset. But seeing them together with guns? Me likey, lots. What? I have a thing with hot people with guns, so sue me.
++ Sierra and Victor. I want them to have a happy ending, not the way this episode indicates that they are no longer in that "together" phase. *crosses fingers*
++ I liked how they barricaded the entrance of the Dollhouse, having no way in or out. Being trapped in your own personal sanctuary, or hell depending on how one looks at it. It's probably the only safest place they have after the shit that's been going down.
++ DOMINIC!!!! :DDDDD Just seeing Dominic in those flashbacks made me so giddy. And it seems that they brought him out from the Attic in that future, based on the events happening I couldn't blame them. But his "I told you so" rant to Adelle was priceless.
++ Whiskey. :(((
++ I loved how they left it ambiguous to whether Caroline shoots Adelle or not, leaving it up to us to make that conclusion.
++ The ending was sad, depressing, and bittersweet. They made it out, but where will they go from there? Will they make it? Are the others still alive? What will happen to the world even if they do make it to "Safe Haven" and get to the cure? What exactly is this compound that they were talking about? So many questions, and more questions from those questions, and only season two to start giving us these events which might answer them.
Overall: Fantastic. Brilliant. Absolutely incredible and wonderful hour of an episode which is more of a forewarning of what will happen if these chain of events cannot be prevented. This is the genius of Joss Whedon, and while I'm saddened this never was aired as the original finale I'm also kind of glad they didn't. It's far too dark and beyond what FOX was looking for, hence the changes in the beginning when the show first premiere (have yet to see the original unaired pilot, but judging from others that have that, too, is darker than the one they aired). Nevertheless, it's finally here and I advise all Dollhouse fans to get others to watch this episode, whether they like the show or not. There's a possibility many will get hooked after seeing this, I can feel it. I really loved what this episode brought us, mindboggling and bringing us pieces of a puzzle we have yet to see fully displayed yet, but it's amazing that we can speculate and understand the events even without having all the facts.
I want season two to focus on how all this comes about, which is probably why this is a good reason for this to be the lead-in for season two, don'tcha think?
LOVE YOU JOSS WHEDON, THIS SHIT ROCKED MY SOCKS LIKE WHOA. BRING ON S2 BB, BRING IT ON! :D
I love this show, seriously. While this episode was unaired it will be screened at this year's Comic Con, for all that are going to the Dollhouse panel. There has been some talk that FOX might also be airing it after all, though it's unclear about when and where or if this is actually true at all. Either way, this episode really adds more of the mythology into focus for all those that stopped watching way too earlier into the season. So if you haven't yet, download the episode and watch for yourself. Same with the unaired pilot, too. All I can say is, this is pure Joss Whedon, through and through.