It was a great night for Dollhouse if you’re a Victor and/or a DeWitt fan. As who among us is not?
The back-to-back hours, “Stop-Loss” and “The Attic,” covered a lot of ground. “Stop-Loss” found Victor with his five-year contract up but rather than go free, he was caught up in as part of a Rossum-funded para-military organization: “their version of Blackwater,” we were told. Echo, with her new ability to select just the right “imprint” in her skull for the right moment, led the good guys (hard to tell exactly who those are these days, isn’t it?) on a mission to rescue him. Lots of good old-school, Buffy-style butt-kicking occurred in this episode, on the parts of both Victor and Echo. (Eliza Dushku may have had some acting challenges in this series, but her round-house kick is impeccable.)
The other prominent element was DeWitt: Olivia Williams was superb as DeWitt droolingly dead-drunk, under pressure and in despair over maintaining control over the Dollhouse, feeling self-contempt for conducting a years-long secret tryst with Victor under her client code-name “Miss Lonelyhearts,” and — best of all — acting as though she’s willing to destroy Echo in order to survive. So she sends Echo to…
“The Attic,” the second hour and the place we know since last season is a very, very bad place to be. This 60 minutes was dense with Dollhouse mythology. Echo, Victor, and Sierra were laid out on tables in the Attic, covered in Saran Wrap. I kid you not: I think that’s all the Dollhouse budget allowed for special effects on this one — the heroes had to be held down by plastic-wrap. The Attic is, Topher tells Ivy (and therefore us, because that’s why Ivy exists as a character — to act as someone a character can talk to and explain things we need to know), a place that’s “testing the limits of the human mind.” We learn that “all the Dollhouses in the world are connected.”
So are characters from the past: Reed Diamond, as Dominic, had been sent to the Attic in season one, was back in the Attic eternal present. It takes a while for him and Echo and us to get our bearings here, until we all realize that many of the scenes of terror and combat are visualizations of each character’s worst fear. The Attic runs on this fear — “brains soaked in adrenaline,” in a nice phrase — with fear the “processing power.”
Most crucially, we meet a remorseless dark-garbed super-villain, Arcane, who proves to be an alternate-identity for one of the most important characters in all of Dollhouse, and all the more interesting for the way he’s so understatedly brought on here. He’s the brainiac Clyde Randolph (Adam Godley), who helped form what turned into the evil Rossum Corporation before being betryed and exiled. He explains to the hardy guerilla band including Echo, Victor, and Sierra that all the dolls in all the Dollhouse Attics are “networked to a central hub,” their brains being used as super-computers. The mission, therefore, is to “shut down the main-frame” of this network.
And I didn’t even mention that throughout all this, we had to worry about the brain injury of Paul Ballard. The only way to save him was to have Topher imprint him — turn him into a doll, in short.
By the end of the evening, we were back to where I always thought we’d be: With Echo and DeWitt united. “We can bring them down,” DeWitt said of the Rossum forces. “It’s time for me to be Caroline,” said Echo.”It’s time for me to win her war.”
Best lines of the night:
• When Clyde asks Echo what year it is, she replies, “2010, I think — I don’t know how long we’ve been off the air.”
• Ivy, when the going gets tough, to Topher: “Can I go back to getting you juice boxes?”
• Topher refers to his boss as “Cruella DeWitt.” (How long did the writers restrain themselves from making that joke?)