Crumbs: Reviews » Dramas » Dollhouse » Season 2 » Epitaph Two Return
Critical reviews of U.S. TV shows
and analysis of what makes them
good, bad, irritating and enlightening.


Dollhouse is a drama about a secret company in Los Angeles who can programme the minds of their young 'Actives' with any personality that a client chooses. FOX 2009-2010


Episode 13 - Epitaph Two Return

28 March 2012

Synopsis: Mag, Zone and child Caroline are captured and taken to Neuropolis, formerly Tuscon where Rossum maintains control. Paul and Echo break them out and rescue Topher and take them to safe haven. There Adelle and Sierra (and son Tony) live in relative peace. Victor answers Echo’s calls bringing his tech-head friends with him. Topher has a plan to reverse all the wipes and restore everyone’s original personality but needs to return to the Dollhouse to achieve it. On the way back Paul is killed. Once inside they find Alpha who is using the space to save those who have lost their personality. Topher sacrifices himself to save the world.

The Good: When the final moment came I felt sad and satisfied. Half way through season one I did not think this show would make me feel anything. So all credit to Joss Whedon and company for creating a world to care about.

Most of the character’s reach conclusions which seem very appropriate and the way time has passed and had an affect on them was excellent. Top of the list was Topher. His indifference to human manipulation in season one made it hard to believe the show’s producers expected to laugh along with him as the comic relief. But since Epitaph One we have seen his conscience grow to the point where here he is the ultimate sympathetic figure. Rossum’s coercion (where they killed a person every day until he produced what they wanted) sounded truly horrific and more than justified Topher’s mental breakdown and desire to sacrifice himself to put an end to the suffering he caused.

What I thought was particularly powerful was the way in which his mental strain had reduced his behaviour to that of a child. It was that childish glee which made his morally flexible behaviour seem particularly unappealing. Yet reduced to childish behaviour here he gains our ultimate sympathy. “I’ll fix what we did to their heads. You fix what we did to the rest of the world” he says to Adelle. Finally he knows what is right and removes his genius from causing anything similar. Adelle too redeems herself by accepting her part in the horrors that have come about. Her mothering of Topher was nicely acted bringing her own guilt and affection to the surface.

The scene where Paul was killed was very effective. So often on television gun battles are poor visual spectacles. Here the group had a clear destination and once they started to be fired upon, we had a clear danger. Mag gets her legs shot to pieces, a serious consequence that would logically happen. Then suddenly and surprisingly Paul is gone. It was unexpected and gave the finale a nice sense of loss which despite the apocalypse it might otherwise have lacked.

Echo’s weeping sorrow at Paul’s death was excellent, entirely appropriate and well acted. Again it underlined that this was not a happy ending for her in every way. I liked the way her friendship with Sierra\Priya was portrayed. Clearly as the only two female “dolls” who stayed together after the world went to hell they would naturally bond and become close friends. They seemed it and were able to support and cajole each other when needed.

Victor and Sierra’s happy ending was never in doubt was it? Still they managed to throw one more roadblock in the path of true love before they could play happy families. Victor’s tech gang didn’t add a lot to the story but they did hint at what might have happened in the post-apocalyptic world. It also hinted at how humans would still embrace some technology even when seeing the disasters it could bring. It rather confirmed Boyd’s logic about the technology not being reversible (212).

It’s sad that we never got to see Alpha evolve, just one of many stories this show might have told well. But to see him at peace finished a story thread which was mentioned in Epitaph One. His gift to Echo (of Paul’s personality) was a nice touch, not just for the love story but also because only he as a fellow multiple personality would understand what she needed. Quite how Paul living in Echo’s head would work is not something I intend to question, it made for a suitably sweet and bizarre resolution.

The irony of Echo and company going back to the Dollhouse in order to maintain their personalities was another clever idea. Their desire to protect who they had become was yet another undeveloped theme but one which made sense and allowed that wonderfully appropriate final shot of Echo at peace back where her story began. Another little irony was Caroline’s fantasy of freeing all the dolls coming partially true as Adelle leads out some “dumb shows” to regain their original personalities.

Also, Mag, Zone and child Caroline were blended into the story pretty well I thought. The story wasn’t about them and I thought they were given just enough focus to give them fitting conclusions. The idea of Rossum clinging on was a good one too. It made sense considering their reach was so vast and it was good to see the full horrifying dehumanisation which immortality brought about. We see Harding, now fat and indulgent referring to his “host” body as “a new suit!” A brilliant way to sum up the immorality in one line.

The Bad: Victor’s tech-head team trying to kill Topher was an unnecessary moment. It echoed a similar moment in Epitaph One where the writing put dramatic tension ahead of logic. Their claim that they would rather rule the waste land than save the world sounded very hollow and thrown in to provide more action. It wasn’t needed.

If you didn’t buy Dollhouse on DVD or follow it online, this episode might have made no sense. FOX didn’t air Epitaph One and I don’t know how many countries around the world did broadcast it. It’s not Joss Whedon’s fault that FOX didn’t air it but it’s not the viewers fault either. For many this episode will have been badly affected as a result.

There is no mention of Boyd here. Surely his personality was backed up and he would have been “resurrected” and continued to run Rossum? Perhaps that would have been too complicated a story to tell but it’s an unanswered question. We didn’t have time to learn the fate of Laurence Dominic either.

Was the young girl meant to be Echo or Caroline? Clearly Echo considering all the skills and memories she had but she was called Caroline throughout the Epitaphs. Maybe Echo would have sounded too weird a name.

It is of course entirely convenient that Topher can save the whole world and needs to do it from the LA Dollhouse, but I’m not complaining.

The Unknown: N\A

Best Moment: I actually think the last scene was deeply appropriate. The chair may have destroyed many people but it created Echo. Now with Paul in her head she walks through her new home, her former prison and settles down to sleep. Her work done. I felt sad and satisfied at the same time. When television makes you feel, it’s doing its job.

Epilogue: In the end Dollhouse goes out on a high with a satisfying conclusion. It’s an episode which rather confirms Joss Whedon’s strengths when it comes to storytelling and characterisation.

But the legacy of Dollhouse has largely been to ask questions about his abilities. The show was too dark and complex for network television and in the post-24 age it was too episodic. For once his choice of actor failed with Eliza Dushku unable to play roles differently in a way which would have made each episode memorable. The similarities between the structure of Dollhouse and Buffy the Vampire Slayer also raised questions about Whedon’s imagination.

But the strength he and his team showed in changing the course of the show was admirable. He did similar things on Angel and remains extremely rare as a producer for being able to recognise mistakes and changing direction. Let’s hope his next project gives him more freedom and us more great television.




Add your comments on this episode below. They may be included in the weekly podcasts.

Post your comment


  • Hey Charles, thanks again for writing. I absolutely agree about the feeling that this could have been the Season 5 finale. And good point about Ambrose not recognising Paul. I decided to conclude that Whiskey died in Epitaph One as they didn't mention her. I guess she lay down knowing that she was to die too.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 05/02/2010 10:50am (10 years ago)

  • I liked this episode because it could have easily been the finale that Joss had envisioned if the show had been the 5 seasons like he planned it. Too bad that also means we can only imagine the things that have happened since the world has "ended".

    Like Alpha sort of caught me off guard considering he's shown as a killer throughout the series and now he's this charming monkish kinda guy (I loved when he said "Victor! Why would anyone do something so horrible to your face?" which is an ironic reference to Alpha cutting up Victor's face in season 1)

    Another thing: We assume Echo has killed Harding plenty of times before over a decade of fighting so how does Ambrose (the other Rossum leader) not recognize Paul? And they didn't really explain what happened to Whiskey. Does it make sense if she just died when she let loose that gas?

    Well anyway, I liked this episode and I liked the review!

    Posted by Charles Lin, 04/02/2010 5:18am (10 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments