This week’s episode of Dollhouse can best be described as a twisted version of Sleeping Beauty, where Echo’s savior could either be an altruistic ex-FBI agent, or a violent, vengeful ex-lover.
A man wearing tattered clothing approaches a dumpster and begins sifting through its contents. Pulling aside a few bits of trash reveals a human arm, poking through the rubbish. The man moves forward to inspect what must be a disposed carcass, but when he is within range the hand lashes out and closes around the poor guy’s throat.
Echo reads to a group of clustered youngsters the story of a young woman named Briar Rose, who was put under a spell which caused her to sleep for 100 years. The curse was lifted when a prince-who had vowed to rescue her-did. It’s the story of Sleeping Beauty. The children listen intently, but one of them seems to have an issue with the story’s plot. She claims that Rose should have taken care of herself by not pricking her finger on the spindle, and falling prey to the curse. Susan is also angry because the Prince gets all the credit for rescuing her, even though he only shows up at the last minute when the spell lasted over a hundred years! Echo learns that this girl’s name is Susan just before the girl erupts into an outrage. Susan grabs the book from Echo’s hands, and begins tearing the pages out of it. The little girl is restrained by a man standing behind all the children, and story time is over.
Afterwards, Echo speaks with the foster-care headmaster and concludes that something in the story must have triggered Susan’s reaction, reminding her of what she’d been through. Echo admits that the story had always bugged her also, and that she had chosen it specifically because she had anticipated Susan’s reaction. Echo reveals that she had been sent here to help the girl.
Echo gets a bio on Susan, learning that the girl always found a way to smuggle a blade on her. Susan’s mother had died, leaving the poor girl with her mother’s boyfriend who was into drugs and prostitution. He exploited young Susan for his own gain.
Paul packs his bags while Mellie floods the room with a river of tears. She can’t understand why he is breaking up with her. She asks if it’s about Caroline: a girl he’s been trying to rescue from the Dollhouse, but Paul is mum. His sole reason for leaving, he says is that Mellie and he are not good for each other. Mellie says maybe the just need break. She urges him to lay the blame where it deserves to be, perhaps the stress his work causes him. Paul tells her that she said exactly what he needed to hear… and that is why he has to go.
Later, Mellie walks down the street crying. The Dollhouse van collects her and she gets in. A silver car follows close as the drive off. Paul is at the wheel, trying to find out where they’re taking her.
Toys in the Attic
Dewitt approaches Boyd with a removable hard drive that was apparently supposed to be delivered to Dominic, the former head of security. Problem is, Dominic had been a traitor to the Dollhouse and they’d had him wiped a few weeks back. His body now sits in the attic. Boyd wonders if it is the NSA’s way of reaching out to Dominic. Dewitt wants to know what’s on the drive, but Boyd warns her that it can probably only be accessed by Dominic. It is apparent that they must retrieve the defector from the attic.
Topher and Idelle mull over a pair of brain charts. One image reflects the brain of Susan, and the other image is of Echo’s recently imprinted brain. The images are near identical, the point being that Echo is imprinted as someone the girl might be when she grows up. Echo’s brain shows that there is a disturbed past, but the brain is healthy. Topher explains to Idelle that Echo is a living example of the Susan’s best possible future. Echo is supposed to show the kid that she has a chance at a normal life.
This moment of righteousness is ended by a single phone call which Topher answers, sighing. They want him to bring up Victor.
Susan is patching up the job she’d done On Echo’s story book, taping the pages back together. Echo sits by her and reaches out to the girl who has seemed to calm down. She relates to her by explaining that she had wanted to run away from someone when she was younger also. She found a way to get by: pretending that all the bad things were imagined, and all the good things she imagined were real. She urges Susan to pretend that she is the Prince in the story. Susan says that she can’t be the prince because she didn’t save anyone. Echo reminds her that the prince only came in at the end. Briar Rose dreamt of her savior while she was under the spell. In a way she saves herself by making him fight to get her out.
Susan points out another reason why she can’t be the prince: the prince was a boy.
“Yeah, but that’s not his fault,” Echo jokes, earning the kid’s trust. Their time is interrupted, but before Echo takes off, she asks Susan for the blade she’s been concealing.
Paul consults his FBI buddy for help. He tells her that when he was looking for the Dollhouse he was led only to dead ends. The minute he stopped looking they sent someone for him. He is certain Mellie is a doll, and he even knows where they’ve taken her: 23 Flower Ave, The Dollhouse. He explains that he went into the building and checked it out only to find that it was the wrong place. There is an invisible building, one underground. He knows this because they had hired an environmental systems consultant named Steven Kepler, an expert in buildings that recycle their own air and power. Such a building re-uses its own power, eliminating any reliance upon external power generating systems.
Dominic’s persona is activated through Victor’s body which has been restrained in the activation chair. Dominic immediately begins cursing Boyd and Dewitt, aware that his body is in the attic. They sedate him and get to the questioning.
Paul knocks on Steven Kepler’s door and makes his way in. Steve is a paranoid sort of environmentalist who appears to have some knowledge in horticulture. Paul begins to question him about self-sufficient systems, and Steven seems to understand where the conversation is going. Paul explains that he needs to rescue a woman named Caroline from the Dollhouse. Steve gets tweaky, certain that they will kill him if he helps Paul out. Steve admits that he helped build the Dollhouse but doesn’t want to say much more. Paul isn’t hearing any of Steve’s crap. He pulls out a gun and convinces the spineless tree-hugger that they are now partners.
Dominic maintains that he9s never seen the hard drive before and doesn’t know who sent it. He claims that the NSA contacted him via telephone. He imagines that the person who is trying to contact him is Alpha. Dewitt’s doubt is laid to rest when they uncover the password: the Greek symbol Alpha. An image of a Paul Bunyan statue comes up. Dewitt recognizes this statue because she’s seen it before in Tucson, Arizona. Boyd runs a search on Tucson where a body was found earlier that day in a dumpster. The body had been slashed with a knife.
Sierra is activated as an FBI trained forensic specialist, and deployed to inspect the body. She recognizes the slashes on the victim’s face as a “signature”- one she’s seen before. Echo returns to the Dollhouse and goes to sleep.
Prince Charming’s Rescue
Paul drags Steven along as he breaks into the Dollhouse. Steven kicks and screams the whole way. Topher discovers the intruders, but before he can raise and alarm, Paul tazes him. Finally they reach Dewitt’s office where Steven takes a seat at her computer and begins taking control of things. He points Paul in the direction of the sleeping actives and Paul moves out.
He finds the pod room and finds Mellie lying in one of the pods. He doesn’t rouse her, because he is certain she would kill him without eve knowing it. He opens the pod housing Echo, and realizes that he’s found what he’s come looking for.
“Caroline,” he says, waking Echo from her sleep.
A gun clicks behind him; the finger resting on the trigger belongs to Boyd.
“Sorry, Agent Ballard, but you don’t get the girl.
Echo asks who her savior is.
“I’m Paul. You called me. You asked me to come get you,” Paul explains with his hands raised. “You’re name is Caroline. You’ve been brainwashed.”
Boyd tells Echo to go for a swim and Paul turns to fight Dollhouse’s head of security. As they wrestle with one another, Boyd and Ballard collapse into one of the other pods and land on victor, who wakens screaming. At one point, Paul gets the upper hand and he urges Echo to run with him. As she runs, Echo has a flashback from when she and Paul had fought in an earlier episode. She knocks Paul off the stairs, and he has another brawl with Boyd. The fight ends with Echo helping Boyd subdue Paul, long enough to slap some cuffs on him.
Idelle finds Victor wandering around bleeding from wound s caused by splinters of glass. She takes him to the infirmary. Steven walks through the door to meet them, an uncharacteristically mischievous grin written across his face. Before a word can be said, Steven pulls a knife and slashes Victor’s face. The marks closely resembled the slashes Sierra noted on the body found earlier that day in a dumpster in Tucson. Idelle recognizes the signature and the man who made it: Alpha. The grin on his face assures Idelle that she hadn’t mistaken his identity. He grabs her and begins to admire the scars on her face: the scars he put there.
Paul claims that he is a federal agent and that Dewitt and Boyd are in big trouble. Dewitt calls his bluff. She knows he has been released from the FBI, and is no longer protected by their laws. Paul tries to plead with them on a moral level. He asks if they can really justify what they do. Boyd explains that the actives volunteer themselves, but Paul says there is no provision for consensual slavery. It’s still wrong. Dewitt suggests that they put Paul in the chair, but Boyd points out that Paul hasn’t consented to becoming an active, showing that there is an element of morality to his character.
Meanwhile, Echo is beckoned by Idelle’s voice. She rounds the corner to find Steven holding a knife to Idelle’s throat. Echo looks into Steven’s eyes and says: “I know you. I remember something about you.” Steven exchanges prisoners, and takes Echo to the imprinting room.
Paul’s interrogation is interrupted by Sierra who is calling to relay the information she’d obtained concerning the body found in the dumpster. The body belonged to a Steven J. Kepler, who had actually been killed in Los Angeles. The body was brought to Tucson. Boyd runs the name and learns that they had a profile on the guy: Steven Kepler helped build the Dollhouse. Taking a look at the security monitors, Dewitt also comes to realize that Kepler is not in Tucson…
Echo rises from the activation chair and the look in her eyes as they fall on Alpha is more than recognition. “Oh, I know you,” she says, smiling.”
“Of course you do,” Alpha replies. “I told you I’d come rescue you.”
“My prince,” Echo says, kissing the intruder.
The two walk to an elevator door and embrace as the doors close.
I like how the premise of Sleeping Beauty takes a sinister twist in this week’s episode of Dollhouse. Echo is sent to commiserate with Susan, a child who’d been locked up and exploited in her youth. Echo is all the while unaware that her handlers treat her in a similar fashion. Echo too is a Sleeping Beauty, waiting for someone to comes and rouse her from her sleep. We are led by the plotline to expect that Paul Ballard will be the man to stage her rescue, when in reality the entire Dollhouse is being played by the evil Alpha, who manages to extract her in the end.
Recap by Jonathan Friedler