Friday, August 14, 2009

My Review of Dollhouse's 1x13: "Epitaph One"

Written by Joss Whedon And Jed Whedon And Maurissa Tancharoen
Directed by David Solomon

Zone: “What’s wrong with your face?”
Mag: “It’s my face, get out of it.”

Sometimes I love not living in America. Especially when a network called Fox conveniently decide not to air an episode that will air internationally and has already debuted at Comic-Con 2009 and is also available on the first season DVD.

Sci-Fi, who’s worst crime when it comes to this series is their refusal to allow the word ‘bitch’ to be heard in a 9pm timeslot are fortunately gracious enough to air this little gem. Or maybe rough diamond would be more appropriate given that this is most definitely a rough episode to watch.

It’s 2019 and the apocalypse has completely decimated nearly all of LA. Joss Whedon and apocalypses usually tend to fair badly for his characters and greatly for us as an audience. This episode is no exception on that score.

The idea of the Dollhouse’s imprinting process becoming so destructive that people were suddenly becoming involuntarily imprinted might not be shocking but it’s definitely a natural progression. No good was ever going to come from a concept like the Dollhouse and I love that this episode proves what viewers have known all along.

Rossum deciding that some people were deserving of immortality was naturally disgraceful but it was also the very thing that made Adelle realise that the Dollhouse really had gone too far in every way possible. For a moment I was worried that Victor would be permanently imprinted with Mr Ambrose, who frankly didn’t care what Adelle thought. Luckily for us, Victor wasn’t.

This episode gave us a lot of flashbacks in an attempt to bridge the gaps between “Omega” and the events of 2019 as well as some new ones explaining origins and the like. I particularly liked Topher getting hired for the Dollhouse and instantly taking a mutual dislike with Dominic. Topher really did know how to make a first impression on the surly security man, huh?

This tied in beautifully with the dynamic between Topher and Adelle as a result of the imprinting madness that ensued in this dystopian future. I’ve never felt sorry for Topher before and I never thought that I ever would but damn it, Fran Kranz really sold Topher’s despair and madness of what had happened to LA so beautifully.

Adelle being a source of comfort for him was interesting. I had read that there was supposed to be a couply vibe between Topher and Adelle in this episode but the one I got was clearly maternal rather than sexual. I don’t think I could’ve handled watching a sexual relationship between Adelle and Topher. Not because of age, just because I couldn’t ever see Adelle viewing Topher that way. She likes her men more mature and presumably rugged.

Which is why I was delighted that Dominic reappeared in this episode. Given that Adelle put him in the Attic and all his fears about the Dollhouse came true, Dominic showed some surprising restraint during his scenes with her. Adelle should thank her lucky stars that he shot at her drinks collection and not her.

In fact Adelle seems to be getting free passes everywhere she went. Rossum seemingly didn’t make that much of an effort to have her eliminated and even Caroline managed to just about stop herself from shooting Adelle too. Though Caroline’s opinion of Adelle certainly hasn’t improved.

A couply vibe between Caroline and Paul was fairly prominent in this episode too. It was a neat reveal that Caroline was somehow retaining her original self along with her imprints. Certainly suggested that her and Paul were working together to take down the Dollhouse and “Omega” did hint at further compositing as well. I wasn’t surprised however that Caroline decided to copy herself though.

I think it’s also safe to assume that Boyd and Claire might have been in on it as well. There was also a couple vibe from them but as soon as Boyd told Claire to stay behind while he fled, I knew it spelt trouble for them. Really, Boyd, you should’ve taken her with you.

It seems that in ten years time, Claire left the building (not the Dollhouse) and Whiskey came back intact and unwilling to leave because she believed that Boyd would return and also to protect Caroline’s wedge. I’d like to think that Boyd had every intention of doing so but that something stopped rather than him giving up or not caring about Claire/Whiskey.

Still this episode was wonderful for Amy Acker who more or less stole the show as Whiskey was there to aid Mag and Zone in their own attempts to combat the imprinting process. Iris really surprised me as a character but then again, seeing gun wielding kids embarking on killing sprees will do that to you.

Of course this wouldn’t be a Whedon series without a casualty and poor Whiskey pretty gassed herself along with the butchers in order to give the others time to escape. While it might not be exactly as heartbreaking as say, Fred’s death in “A World In The World”, it’s horrible to think that this poor girl isn’t going to have a happy ending. Still nature of this show, I think we’re more than prepared for it.

Imprinting Iris with Caroline’s personality got an interesting puberty joke but it might have been nicer if we had seen or learnt a bit more about the butchers. They were enough to get Mag, Zone and Iris/Caroline fleeing the Dollhouse as soon as they arrived though. The ending with them looking at the memorial wall and climbing to freedom with the sun shining worked beautifully.

If anything this episode, really deserves credit for some truly gorgeous shots amongst all the grim ones we have to see for the most. A special shout out to the music and some of Zone’s more caustic lines as well.

Also in “Epitaph One”

Unless you’ve been to Comic-Con or own the first season on DVD, don’t bank on FOX airing it, though you can get this episode on ITunes as well.

Mag: “We all like the sound of our voices. That’s why we’re here – to keep our own voices.”

Sierra’s full name was revealed as Priya Tseusang in this episode as people were scribing their names on their backs to remember their real selves. We still don’t know Victor’s real name.

Dominic (to Adelle/Topher): “Cities don’t burn because they got smarter; they burn because they get out of control.”

Paul: “How are you feeling?”
Caroline/Echo: “Not exactly good as new. You need to pick up the pace.”

Caroline talked about her headaches getting worse and Sierra at one point refused to take any medication for hers. This can’t bode well for either girl.

Zone (to Iris): “Don’t worry, sweetie, everyone’s got to grow up sometime.”

Iris: “I wanna be like Zone.”
Mag: “Why on Earth?”
Iris: “Because he’s funny and mean.”

Some good guest casting with Felicia Day as Mag and Adair Tishler, both of whom are recognisable from their roles of Buffy, Dr Horrible and Heroes alike.

Adelle: “This is wrong. You can’t do this.”
Victor/Ambrose: “I think you’ll find in the coming months that we can.”

Mag: “There is no safe haven.”
Whiskey/Claire: “Not for everyone.”

Amy Acker channelled a bit of a Drusilla vibe with her Whiskey performance and people who weren’t imprinted were calling themselves, “Actuals”.

Dominic: “Did I miss anything?”
Adelle: “Just the vodka, thank God.”

Topher (to Adelle): “If I think I can figure things out, is that curiosity or arrogance?

Alpha was mentioned in this episode by Caroline as helping them. Either Caroline stole his technology or Alpha came to a compromise. Oh and we got a little mention of November. Seems she was a casualty too.

Iris/Caroline: “Thank you Whiskey for helping me.”
Whiskey/Claire: “Was I my best?”
Iris/Caroline: “Always.”

Standout music: Writers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen’s “Remains” at the end of the episode was just gorgeous.

“Epitaph One” is certainly a mindbender of an episode. As a series finale, it’s exactly the kind of scenario that you’d expect but given that we have a second season where Mag, Zone and Iris are supposed to be appearing in, it’ll be interesting to see the lead up to the events depicted here.

Rating: 9 out of 10.


Nat said...

I thought this was an excellent episode, probably my favourite Dollhouse episode- shame its not an 'official' one.

I got a maternal vibe from Adelle and Topher and the relationship one between Boyd and Claire. The Adelle/Topher one could be seen as a bit sexual though (I guess thats a bit Oedipal really!!)
The scene between Adelle and Topher was really heartbreaking, really touched me, so sad.

I liked that this is the future Dollhouse is meant to be headed towards, I think it adds a really interesting dimension to the show, I'm looking forward to seeing the gaps filled in.

It was actually really interesting to see a proper post apocalypse Whedon style. I may be wrong but we've never really seen that in his show; Buffy/Angel approached the apocalypse and Angel showed a bit of it, but it was interesting to see.

Excellent support cast as well.

shawnlunn2002 said...

Actually, Nat some of the events of this episode are forshadowed I think in Season 2 (have you seen the shots for Vows on the net?) and the characters of Mag and Zone are supposed to be appearing next season.

I thought this was a beautiful episode, wonderfully constructed but FOX's decision not to air it when it's aired at Comic-Con, in the UK and is available on DVD remains a stupid one.

Thanks for your comments. Brilliant as always.