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BLOG Dollhouse 2.13 Epitaph 2: Return

Blogger Will Salmon delivers his verdict on the final ever episode of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. Risk of spoilers if you haven't seen it yet!

By the time you read this, you will have no doubt seen the last episode of Dollhouse. What can I say? My PC died (should have bought a Mac) and I lost my original draft. But as the SFX website bursts forth in its new incarnation, it started bugging me that I hadn’t finished commenting on the show’s second season. So here it is, massively tardy, but meaning well. And did I mention there may be spoilers ahead…!

I’ve never felt as conflicted about a TV show as I do about Dollhouse. In many ways it was a brilliant show – clever, funny and in its best moments, challenging. On the other hand, it was also frequently daft and marred with ropey performances. It’s Joss Whedon’s weakest show by far, but also his most fascinating and thematically rich.

All of those elements are encapsulated in ‘Epitaph 2’. Set ten years after the rest of the series, this finally ties up all of those dangling plot threads: what happened to Rossum after Echo blew up their HQ, what’s become of Alpha, and exactly what have the gang been doing in the ten year gap between ‘The Hollow Men’ and this. It’s a good episode, though it never reaches the heights of ‘Belonging’ or ‘Briar Rose’, Dollhouse’s two actual best ever eps.

Relocating the action to a Mad Max-style wilderness, packed with roaming Butchers (intriguingly similar to Firefly’s Reavers…), is refreshing, but the chief pleasure here is seeing how much the characters have developed. Priya’s a mum now. Anthony, weirdly, has become an 80’s style cyberpunk (complete with the ability to upload skills into his brain via USB stick!). Alpha, predictably but still effectively, has reformed. He’s now sane, stable and repentant of his crimes. In Joss Whedon’s world, no one is irredeemable – and hooray for that.

I also loved the reappearance of Harding and Ambrose in new bodies; the former now looking like a fat(ter) Nick Griffin and the latter a thin(ner) Nick Cave. The whole Neuropolis sequence has an odd 2000AD vibe that’s at odds with the rest of the series, but a lot of fun.

But the rest… well it’s a bit of a mess. The plot basically involves moving from one place to another shooting things. There’s a dull, strained relationship subplot for Anthony and Priya to move through before they finally get a (deserved) happy ending. The soundtrack is all limp cod-metal, and the acting from some of the secondary characters, like Zone and Anthony’s gang, is questionable. In fact Anthony’s gang in general was just rubbish – a bunch of walking badass clichés.

Still, the ending is effective. Topher’s Pulse Bomb may be a hand-wavey solution, and some will grumble that it resolves things too easily, but it doesn’t really. Sure, everyone gets their personalities back, but the world is left in a terrible state. Several of our leads are dead and the survivors face a grim future. It’s a happy ending, of sorts, but hardly a neat or tidy one.

So that was Dollhouse: frustrating and fantastic in roughly equal measure. A show torn between brilliance and baffling stupidity, and like Firefly, no doubt destined to enjoy a happier afterlife on DVD. Now Joss, please put Dr Horrible down, and get on with making that brilliant HBO show that you’re so clearly capable of.