It’s hard to even muster up a sense of surprise about it at this point, because it feels like inevitability – the last episode of Dollhouse was brilliant, funny and tragic, imaginative and full of banter and emotionally satisfying. The show is finished, and I’m sure everyone now wants more.
Appropriately, this final episode returned to the post-apocalyptic world Whedon introduced at the end of the first season, which allowed him to carry his characters through to the future we know they’ll encounter and follow the Dollhouse technology to its end. The episode succeeded in bringing all the major characters to fitting ends, most especially Topher, whose sacrifice to undo the mindwipes was really the only imaginable resolution for this particular sociopath/genius/soulless engineer/Bringer of Death. I also loved the conclusion to Adelle’s character. As Alpha so aptly puts it, she’s always been a “class act,” and she’s the only character on this show I’d trust with the responsibility of putting the world back together.
Certainly the best new feature of post-apocalyptic Epitaph Two was Victor and his Mad Max crew of tech heads. They came complete with an armored tank modded from a semi-truck, sweet tattoo-esque data access points affixed to their skulls, and necklaces hung with what looked like teeth salvaged as spoils of war but were actually USB thumb drives loaded with pertinent zombie apocalypse skills. There’s nothing quite like a tiny Asian girl with giant spiked shoulder pads grinning as she shows you the USB stick where she stores her mercy so she has room to load more weapons skills. (At what point, exactly, did giant shoulder pads become the de facto costume of choice for end-of-the-world warriors? I’m not complaining, it’s just an observation.) Victor’s merry band was a great addition to the Epitaph landscape – their use of the technology was unexpected and cool, their motivations were ambiguous and believable, and their conflicts were novel.
Planet earth gets hit with a reset button; everyone who was wiped goes back ten years and everyone who survived without getting wiped remembers the horror of a ten year zombie apocalypse. That would actually be a pretty interesting show, don’t you think? And that’s really my response to Dollhouse, after considering the thing as a whole. It was always going somewhere fascinating, but the process of getting there was never as gripping as the destination. It was never clear to me how high the show’s stakes could be until Epitaph One, and without that crucial knowledge that Echo’s silly prostitution jobs would lead to the end of humanity, every new mission was just another reason to put Eliza Dushku in a tight skirt. Once season two was imbued with that additional sense of significance, the moral quandaries actually became meaningful rather than just absently speculative. By that point, though, the show had lost its audience, its marketing, and its goodwill from casual viewers.
Thus ends Dollhouse, troubled, interesting, and short-lived. I can only hope this experience will move Joss Whedon out of network television and into cable, where he might have an opportunity to make a show with more freedom and actual swear words.