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Monday, 25 of May of 2020

Dollhouse – “Epitaph Two: Return”

“I try to do my best.”

I had an intro prepared for this finale involving a trace of the show’s history. “Epitaph Two” had me delete it though because it didn’t seem to really hold up to this odd little episode. This episode, more than the previous two, is where the narrative compacting the show had to perform, and on the fly with probably no money, really comes through. The in media res of it all didn’t help, and I frequently felt disconnected from the show (perhaps airing this episode at 9 with “Epitaph One” at 8 would’ve solved this…?). This disconnect plagued me for nearly the entire episode as I struggled to maintain an interest. The stakes felt forced and too easily given and achieved. Even the showdown scene had no tension to it, leaving me to wonder why I was watching.

The show does shortchange its thematic concerns by venturing in the post-thoughtpocalyptic world, where the massive shifts that brought it about are barely discussed. Science fiction is at its best when dealing with careful and smart extrapolation, something I feel Dollhouse has been fairly successful in doing (especially in its later episodes this season). That’s the stuff I ache to know. How did the tech got out of control despite Rossum’s apparent destruction? What is a slow crawl to butchers and dumb shows, or a fast, easy event that had a slow unraveling (10 years can be very slow or very fast)?

I suspect these ideas were what many were expecting. Instead the finale provides sketchy character portraits to tie off those ends, and I think that’s, given the show’s non-sci-fi theme about cobbled together families, where the show wanted to finish. Characters are paired off, talk to one another about their lives in an attempt to give us emotional, not intellectual closure.

Lacking most, of course, were Echo and Paul. Their relationship was dull in 2010 and continued to be dull in 2020. As I said before, the show never earned their relationship, and to have Echo go through a pretty grief-stricken moment after Paul is killed (saving Felicia Day! Paul can do something right!) requires us to care about the relationship. As a result, Echo uploading Paul’s imprint to herself at the end of the episode should be sweet, but just feels like one last bit of boredom.

Priya and Tony are given their time as well, and their relationship while previously sweet and engaging was less so here. They had an adorable little boy (named T), but Tony went off and became a tech head (a roving band of Mad Max-inspired imprint-addicts who kill butchers, I guess), leaving T with Priya. Their conversation in the truck/tank goes on too long, and is uninteresting in large part because we’re filling in holes. Even Enver Gjokaj and Dichen Lachman seem to struggle with the material have any emotional weight.

Which leaves us with Topher and Adelle. Perhaps it’s my bias for the characters and the actors (and it probably is), but the emotional shorthand here feels more natural. Adelle threatening to cut off Zone’s tongue when he insults Topher is incredibly forceful because she’d do it, too. Their brief exchange as Adelle realizes that Topher must be the one to set off the Undo Bomb (what I started calling it), is touching. Adelle being the one to lead the doll-like survivors culled by a (relatively) sane Alpha to the surface with Topher in her office, being blown up to destroy the teach that caused everything were the only emotional beats that worked. And despite my bias, I feel this business work because the show has been able to establish Adelle and Topher as a pair since the start of the show.

I’m glad Whedon got the time to say good-bye to these characters, but I hope this experience finally convinces the man that he needs to be on cable. It’s not an issue of him being too smart or too quirky for broadcast, but that broadcast companies just have different expectations. And while I applaud Whedon for trying to balance their expectations with his creative visions, it’s time for him take the smaller paycheck cable offers, as well as the smaller budget, and do something where he probably won’t be bothered. He’ll do his best.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • Clearly the writers were playing a lot of Fallout 3 and Left 4 Dead when developing their post-thoughtpocalyptic world. As I Todd VanDerWerff noted, video games are suited for television, and I think this cast would do well in such a world. Also, I think the show would’ve benefited from having “Maybe” played during the finale. (But then I think every show would.)
  • Seems the affiliates didn’t like the episode either, since it cut to the Mutant Enemy logo rather suddenly, with no fade or smash cut to the executive producer card.
  • Alan Tudyk is primed to play a psychopath on Law & Order: Criminal Intent next season. I’m ready for that, too.
  • Despite its philosophical silliness, I still like the line “Somewhere not on the Cartesian plane.”
  • Need a new Friday show to watch…Guess Law & Order is my girl now. Damn you, USA, for spreading your shows out. Or I’ll end up watching Caprica. …Dammit.

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