Warning: This article includes spoilers for the thirteenth “Dollhouse” episode “Epitaph One” as well as mild spoilers for the television series “Battlestar Galactica” and Joss Whedon’s other shows: “Angel,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly” and movie “Serenity.”
SAN DIEGO — “Epitaph One,” the unaired thirteenth episode of “Dollhouse” was screened today at San Diego Comic-Con International to thousands of fans and Joss Whedon devotees.
Without giving away too much (spoiler-heavy recap at the bottom), the episode depicts a group of previously unknown characters (one played by “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” star Felicia Day) who are traveling underground and through walls and generally in dark dirty places. Finally, they stumble upon a familiar location — the abandoned Dollhouse.
This is not where the season finale left off. “Epitaph One” is a leap into the future; in effect, the “Dollhouse” version of a certain moment in the “Battlestar Galactica” third season finale (and hopefully those of you reading this did not just get spoiled).
Throughout the episode, the characters that the first 12 episodes spent its time developing were absent save for flashbacks that began to fill in the blanks of the mysterious events both during the time between the season finale and “Epitaph One” as well as such moments as chief-personality-designer-guy Topher’s first arrival to the Dollhouse.
Presumably the next season will start where the season finale left off, though. Joss Whedon indicated that there will be flash-forwards a la “Lost” and that Felicia Day as well as some of the other new faces will be returning for at least the season premiere.
As Blast reported earlier, Joss Whedon did make some casting announcements during the “Dollhouse” panel. Not only will Whedon alum Alexis Denisof (Wesley Wyndham Price in “Buffy” and “Angel”) be around for at least a few episodes, but they are also working diligently to get fellow familiar face, Summer Glau (“Firefly,” “Serenity,” “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”) on board. Whedon didn’t say whether or not Glau would have a guest spot or a regular role.
This casting news, the new faces in “Epitaph One,” the reduced budget, the new Director of Photography (also announced at Comic-Con), as well as the huge plot developments all mean that “Dollhouse” will depart from the slick, highly-produced feel of the first 12 episodes, a change that Whedon discussed. The show was promised to become more gritty in order to fit with the post-apocalyptic flashbacks as well as the descent to that post-apocalyptic world.
And speaking of the dismal future portrayed in “Epitaph One,” here’s a quick list of what the heck is going on in “Epitaph One.” The intention was for a full recap but the scale of the changes and the ridiculous amount of game-changing materiel contained in that 45-50 minutes is just insane. Oh, right, Joss Whedon. Ought to have known.
- The Dollhouse is some kind of bunker for Adelle DeWitt, Topher Brink, and several of the actives we’ve seen who are now apparently restored to their original selves
- The Dollhouse tech has gone wild; everyone gets themselves imprinted or their selves imprinted into new bodies; this is alluded to when the head of the Dollhouse organization uses Victor’s body to tell Adelle about the new direction (and ten other bodies simultaneously to inform the other Dollhouses)
- “Actuals” are people who refuse to be imprinted and remain their former selves; they tattoo themselves with their names so as to always know their true identities.
- The scope of Echo’s ability to retain imprints and her self-awareness is revealed when she is given a non-English speaking Russian girl personality and then speaks to her handler-apparent Paul Ballard in both Russian and English. She lets him know her headaches are “getting worse,” indicating a possible side effect either to repeated imprints or to cramming so many personalities into one brain.
- Topher is broken. Needing some kind of medication (edit: Haloperidol, an antipsychotic), he is wracked with guilt for being the one to conceptualize remote imprinting and revolutionizing the formerly slow process. Childlike, he responds only to Adelle and spends his time in one of the sleeping pods used by the Actives.
- Adelle herself finally reveals some moral gumption. She vehemently opposes the new direction for the Dollhouse and appears as the leader of the Dollhouse safe house; she says that there is nothing she won’t do to protect the “souls” of the Actives who have signed away their bodies.
- Echo and Paul Ballard return to the Dollhouse and Echo leaves a copy of herself on a hard drive should something happen to her.
- Whiskey (aka Dr. Claire Saunders) stays behind when the Dollhouse and Adelle’s “Actuals” are imprinted; later, she is seen as a bizarre, ethereal kind of guardian/guide to Felicia Day and company when they break in to the abandoned “spa.” No longer scarred (and Victor isn’t either — he will be healed rather quickly, according to Joss), she is a blank Doll. When Echo-in-child’s-body (more on that in a minute) sees her, she asks, “Did I do my best?” in heartbreaking delivery. Echo responds, “Better.”
- The Actuals who discover the empty Dollhouse have with them a man and his daughter, the man seems out of it and they decide to imprint him with the memories left in the console of the imprinting-chair to figure out what happened. This is the source of the flashbacks.
- Meanwhile, one of the other Actuals takes the little girl to the bathroom and discovers the communal shower which is still hooked up to hot water. Deciding to take her first shower in a year, she sends the girl on her way and his viciously attacked, apparently by Whiskey who appears with blood on her hands saying “I found your friend” once the body is discovered by the remaining Actuals.
- Later, another of the Actuals is killed — this time when the little girl appears with a gun in the imprinting room, shoots the actual and frames her “father” who is still out of it in the chair.
- The deception is discovered by the second-to-last last remaining Actual and the little girl reveals herself as an imprint stuck in “this little bitch” (referring to the prepubescent body) and calls the Actuals “bigots” for their actions.
- With the help of Whiskey, they retrieve Echo’s hidden hard disk and imprint the little girl body with her stored personality. The three of them leave the Dollhouse once others start to discover it and make their way up the elevator shaft to the remnants of Adelle’s office; on the wall they see a 9/11-like memorial collage of pictures of people who have been lost. Among the photographs are Sierra, Victor, and Echo herself — little-girl-Echo takes her own photo and says, “I hope we find me alive.”
- They look out the shattered window and see a twisted, destroyed LA. Echo quotes what the de-Attic-ified Dominic said in a flashback about letting kids playing with matches and seeing the house burn down.
Remember how it was called “game-changing?” Now you see why.
You can see “Epitaph One” for yourself when “Dollhouse” season one hits the shelves on July 28.
Blast has felt since the beginning that the premise of Dollhouse seems limitless. The potential for a huge amount of different tacks and different angles for the conspiracy story, the detective story, the survivor story, the escape story makes “Dollhouse” wrought with possibility. Yet “Epitaph One” somehow managed to shatter even these lofty expectations.
Take our advice — prepare to have your mind blown when “Dollhouse” returns this fall.