Dollhouse: Episode-By-Episode Guide
You’ve probably asked yourself, can Eliza Dushku really carry a show as a leading lady? Is Eliza versatile enough to play a different character in every episode? Can Eliza sing in that episode where she sings, makes us listen and seems to think we should be impressed? Can Tahmoh Penikett, her leading man, act his way out of a wet paper bag with a lighter and a map?
The answer to all these questions is no. But you should still watch it, because it’s Joss Whedon, and anything created by Joss Whedon is magic, including Dollhouse. Here’s why:
Why you should watch Dollhouse
It’s an interesting concept. Dollhouse is about an underground organization made of people who have signed a five-year contract (for reasons mostly unknown) to be implanted with different personalities and put into situations on command of the highest bidder. At the end of each “engagement” their memory is “wiped,” and after their contract is up they are promised a pleasant awakening with no memory of their time there. It’s basically a fancy version of jail that resembles a health spa. Personality-less versions of the actives, darkly nicknamed Dolls, get to spend all day swimming, painting, pruning bonsai trees, doing yoga and receiving massages. And yes, there are co-ed showers. The way these people work off their time goes way beyond prostitution. To willingly become a Doll is to get out of debt or jail. To unwillingly become a Doll is to be kidnapped. This show unabashedly explores why prostitution and human trafficking are horrific things. And isn’t that a message we can all get behind?
The supporting cast is great. Harry Lennix, Fran Kranz, Enver Gjokaj, Dichen Lachman, Olivia Williams, Miracle Laurie, Amy Acker and Alan Tudyk. They can all act—especially Alan Tudyk, Enver Gjokaj and Dichen Lachman. Talk about versatile. Dichen Lachman should’ve been the leading lady, since her acting is effortless and convincing in every situation. (I suspect that may have been the plan at one point, but she was an unknown, at that time, and obviously the show needed a star to sell it to executives.) Fran Kranz who plays Topher, is also doing a phenomenal job of portraying a comical, morally bankrupt “sociopath in a sweater vest.”
There are many Whedon twists. Which are just like a plot twist, but actually unexpected and usually involve a very main character dying.
So here is an episode-by-episode guide, because, even though this show was only two seasons long, not all Dollhouse episodes are created equal. (In fact, some are really terrible.)
1.0 Echo. This is the unaired pilot that you can only see on the DVD. It’s way better than the real pilot, but everything unfolds way too fast. Watching it first actually ruins the show. Plus, they take all the best scenes from it and disperse it throughout the first season, anyway. SAVE FOR LAST.
1.1 Ghost. This one is okay, but you can’t skip it because it compensates for the missing pilot and lays the groundwork for how the Dolls, or actives, work. CAN’T SKIP.
1.2 Target. This episode isn’t good either, especially since the guy who “rents” Echo tries to hunt her for sport, but some important arc stuff happens. CAN’T SKIP.
1.3 Stage Fright. This is the one where Eliza thinks she can sing, since she’s programmed to be a diva’s background singer to protect her from a death threat, but Eliza’s totally tone death. All the other actors in the episode can’t even act like they think she sounds good. Nothing about this episode is good. DO. NOT. WATCH.
1.4 Gray Hour. This one is fun, and it’s where the show starts to pick up. It’s still a little too episodic at this point, since it involves a bank heist, but the story starts to interweave soon after this. WATCH.
1.5 True Believer. Echo is programmed to be blind and go undercover in a cult. It’s weak. SKIP.
1.6 Man on the Street. This is where the story really kicks in. By the time someone says “There are three flowers in a vase...” and something very unexpected “triggers,” you will be hooked until the show ends. WATCH.
1.7 Echoes. This one gives you insight into why Echo ended up in the Dollhouse in the first place. WATCH.
1.8 Needs. Several actives remember their past lives and try to escape. WATCH.
1.9 A Spy in the House of Love. Someone in the Dollhouse is a mole, and by the end of the episode, someone gets sent to the attic. (This is much worse than it sounds.) WATCH.
1.10 Haunted. The concept is fun, Echo is imprinted by a dead woman who wants to solve her own murder, but I remember there being a lot of horses and a lot of yawning (from me). WATCH.
1.11 Briar Rose. The Echo part of this episode is boring, but the Alan Tudyk part will blow your mind. WATCH.
1.12 Omega. Echo is abducted by this season’s Big Bad, and some shocking details of Dr. Saunder's (Amy Acker) past surfaces. WATCH.
1.12 Epitaph One. This unaired episode seems way out of place and introduces a new slew of characters I don’t care about while the main characters are only shown in flashbacks, since it takes place 10 years in the future. But it does have Felicia Day, and it will be important later. In fact, the whole end of the show won’t make sense without it. WATCH LATER.
2.1 Vows. Important episode that returns us to the happenings of the here and now. WATCH.
2.2 Instinct. Echo is imprinted too strongly as a mother and spends the whole episode freaking out about a child that isn’t even hers. Totally boring and horribly acted by Eliza. SKIP.
2.3 Belle Chose. This creepy episode involves a doll accidentally being imprinted with a serial killer; it's gross and disturbing. You don’t need it. Though there is one bright spot: Victor (Enver Gjokaj) humorously portrays a horny school girl named Kiki. SKIP.
2.4 Belonging. This explores hows Priya/Sierra (Dichen Lachman) was forced to become a Doll and it’s super disturbing... and interesting. WATCH.
2.5 The Public Eye. Finally, Summer Glau (Firefly) appears as a Doll-brainwasher who mirrors Topher (Fran Kranz), except with even less humanity, which is novel considering that Topher referred to Dolls in this episode as not being “real people” like him. Best line: DeWitt: A former active once made a passing reference to us in his blog. That was his last entry.
2.6 The Left Hand. Victor (Enver Gjokaj) portraying Topher’s character is one of the most convincing performances on the show so far. He modifies his voice and mannerisms to match Topher’s exactly.
2.7 Meet Jane Doe. This is a filler episode. I don’t even remember the plot. Something about a food stamp? I just remember being pissed off that I watched it. SKIP.
2.8 A Love Supreme. This is an awesome and eventful episode. Someone wears an awful lounge-singer-like suit, and somehow rocks it. Someone else gets blown up, right after a very fitting pun. Only Whedon could pull this off. Best exchange:
Alpha: For months you shared the same room. You never slept with her. You could have but you didn’t. If that’s not love… are you gay?
Alpha: Then it’s love.
2.9 Stop Loss. We finally got to see the exit process for a Doll who didn’t escape. The graduated Doll woke up, asked if it had really been five years, filled out some paperwork, and later found himself compelled to sleep in his elongated tile shower instead of his bed (since the Dolls sleep in creepy coffin-like beds). But he mostly didn’t remember anything. However, I found the whole “soldier, one-mind” story line stupid.
2.10 The Attic. Joss once jokingly claimed that he “invented” the twist ending. In this episode, he convinced me. I predict most writers’ twist endings, but not this one. I could’ve done without his creative version of nightmare-sushi though. Ick.
2.11 Getting Closer. This one is fantastic. The return of the cute nerdy romance between Bennett and Topher (including the nerdy-love theme music) was very satisfying. So were the two twist endings. Best line: Topher: You know I always had a crush on you, even when I thought you were a dude… This is better.
2.12 The Hollow Men. This episode has some shocking Whedon twists. Also, Enver Gjokaj (Victor) once again does a fantastic job being Topher’s character. Best exchange:
Topher: I did all of this. I’m the one who brings about the thought-pocalypse.
Topher: Is brain-pocalypse better? I figure, if I’m responsible for the end of the world, I get to name it.
2.13: Epitaph Two: The Return. Epitaph Two was much better than the unaired Epitaph One, since it returned to the main case. But doing that meant that couldn’t, or just didn’t, explain how it was 10 years later and no one had aged. I mean, they didn’t even try to age anyone. There wasn’t the tinniest bit of age make-up. Yet age make-up is rarely well-executed, so maybe we’re better off. Alpha’s role in this episode also requires a complete suspension of belief, but I love Alpha so much I don’t care. Best exchange:
Ballard: The world still needs heroes, kid.
Echo: Did you really just say that?
Ballard: What? I was being inspirational.
Echo: You are so corny.
Ballard: You’re…fat. (She’s not.)
Also, sorry, but be ready for another shocking Whedon twist before the end. Speaking of which...
What about the end of the show?
I’m not sure how I feel about the last scene. It seems completely out of character for someone who was trapped in the Dollhouse for years to find peace lying down in one of the creepy pods. And the exit music was the wrong tone. Angels falling on me? They couldn’t get something better? Does Sarah McLachlan only do depressing pet commercials now?
Overall, despite all the skipable episodes, Dollhouse is a really good show. And you should watch it.