Dollhouse Recap: Haunted
Dewitt’s personal friend, Margaret Brashford, enlists the Dollhouse services as a post-mortem client seeking to uncover the secrets behind her own murder.
Life After Death
Margaret Brashford rears up on her favorite horse to tell her husband to be good. Jack is sitting with his buddies, mulling over whether or not they should play tennis or drink long island iced-teas. Jack’s wife is a millionaire and has better than 30 years on him. A lot of assumptions can be made about their marriage, based on their age difference and her affluence. But Jack smiles lovingly as his wife rides off and continues to joke with his buddies. The smiles fade from their faces when Margaret’s horse returns without a rider.
Topher activates Echo. When she sits up Adelle is standing there.
“What’s wrong?” Echo asks.
“Margaret I am sorry to be the one to tell you: you’re dead,” Adelle replies. Apparently, Echo has been activated with Margaret’s persona.
Topher asks Boyd how the promotion to head of security is going. He understands that Adelle is keeping the Dollhouse idle for awhile. Since the whole Dominic thing, most of the actives are being kept on rest. Topher realizes that Boyd’s questions keep centering on Echo. He clearly is having trouble letting go of his former charge. Topher mentions that the y’ve imprinted Echo with a dead client’s memories- a client who had been a close, personal friend to Adelle Dewitt. Boyd says that what they’ve done is find a way to circumvent mortality, or provide life after death.
Topher changes the subject by saying he needs an active so he can run his ‘annual anterior insular cortex diagnostic’, a process which may not sound confusing, but really is. (As the episode will show, the exact opposite is true). He notes that Sierra has been idle the longest, implying that perhaps it is she he wants to use for this diagnostic.
Boyd changes the subject back to life after death. “Where does that end?” he asks Topher.
“Same place it begins: death.”
Margaret is overwhelmed at the sensation of being implanted in a younger woman’s body. She and Adelle talk about getting old. Adelle reminds her on more than one occasion that Echo’s body is only a loner: her time as Echo is only temporary. Margaret asks Adelle how she is doing.
“Well, my friend just died.”
Margaret confesses her reasons for using the Dollhouse services, post-mortem, are so she can solve the mystery of her murder. Though this revelation confuses Adelle, she remains steadfast. Margaret divulges her suspicions. She had been incredibly healthy and ridiculously wealthy, yet the autopsy revealed that she died of a massive heart attack. Adelle wonders why Margaret suspects murder, and Margaret tells the story of how a Nanny had sprinkled glass shards into her snack as a child. The nanny hadn’t intended to feed the child the deadly snack, but rather step in and save the day at the last moment.
The two women attend Margaret’s funeral. Margaret confesses that she wants to hear more weeping on her behalf. She also explains that the name of the body she now inhabits is ‘Julia’. Julia has been written into the will, and Margaret’s family is expecting her. It is with this alias that Margaret intends to catch her murderer. Julia points the members of her family out to Adelle. There are only three of major import; her son and daughter, Nicholas and Joseline, and her brother William. There are several other friends and relatives. Julia suspects the latter mentioned. Her husband Jack walks in to join the mourning. When Margaret met Jack, she stopped frequenting the Dollhouse. Adelle can see why.
Topher’s diagnostic begins like a Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein dramatization; a mad scientist running around, twisting knobs, shrieking with excitement about the experiment laid across his table. When the charges settle, Sierra steps off the chair and asks Topher if he got Speed Force 3, chips, and beer. Apparently ‘annual insular cortex diagnostic’ is geek-speak for “imprinting hot chicks with the mentality of a pimply, video-game loving, engineer-nerd.” Nothing made me wish Dollhouse was more real than when I saw Sierra flop onto the couch, grab an X-Box controller, and promise to destroy her buddy in whatever shooting game he popped in the drive.
At dinner in Paul’s apartment, Mellie asks him if everything is ok.  Paul dodges the question, mentions that he’s tired, and shovels some food in his mouth. She pushes the issue, asking if the re’s anything new about the Dollhouse. Paul gets edgy but apologizes quickly. Mellie finishes her wine and gets up to put the glass in the sink. Paul stands to intercept her with an embrace and a kiss. This distracts her while he removes the wine glass from her hands. She stays at the table while he takes the wine glass and puts it in a plastic bag, as if it were a valuable piece of evidence.
Julia introduces herself to Nicholas and Joseline- Margaret’s children- and her brother William. The family isn’t as warm to receive Julia as Margaret had hoped. The topic of conversation shifts quickly to the late Margaret, who Julia is disappointed to discover isn’t exactly missed by her loved ones. Nick, Joseline, and Uncle Bill tend to dwell on Margaret’s less desirable traits. Julia gets defensive and in doing so, does a poor job of concealing her identity as an outsider to the family. Uncle Bill proposes a toast to Margaret and “all that she left behind.” It seems that Margaret’s death brought her family more relief than anything else.
Julia steps in to say a few words on Margaret’s behalf. “I know Margaret was guarded, but she did have a soft side. She fell in love with Jack.”
Julia’s evidence is disregarded almost immediately. Nick explains to Julia that Margaret had “slapped [Jack] down” by leaving him only her horses in her will. He explains that Margaret knew that Jack had no interest in the horses- indeed- he knew nothing about them to begin with. She didn’t leave him any money.
Julia tries again to justify her- Margaret’s- decision. The horses were the things Margaret loved most in the world0 more than money. She gave them to Jack because she treasured them, and the love she shared with Jack equaled her love for her horses.
Nick intercedes and recognizes that they are being harsh on their late mother. He also notes that Julia, who isn’t family, is being shockingly loyal to the deceased. “You may be here to mourn Margaret, but the rest of us: we just live here.”
Outside, Julia gets some fresh air and Nick confronts her. Nick bears his true feelings. He says that his mother felt sentiment clouded things. She never vociferated her love, she was afraid her kids would have no ambition. Margaret had been pushing for Nick to work on Wall Street since age 12. Julia suggests that perhaps Margaret just wanted the best for her children. She tries to comfort Nick who gets the wrong impression and leans in to kiss Julia.
****Now don’t get me wrong… Eliza Dushku is hot, and a man can’t be blamed for trying to smooch her… but there’s no way to excuse trying to slip your mother the tongue, even if she had suspected someone was trying to murder her and had her memories recorded so they could be implanted into the body of a perky, young active who- after the murder- would join with the family as an alleged beneficiary, who was secretly trying to uncover the secrets behind her own murder. That is still no excuse.****
Julia turns as if to throw up and Nick embarrassingly explains that he misread her signals. Julia gags again and has to run to the restroom. She accidentally runs into a bedroom where Jack is brooding. She take s this awkward moment as an opportunity to gauge Jack’s sentiments regarding his inheritance.
“What Margaret did,” she says “I hope you know it was a gesture of trust.”
“What she did?” Jack seems confused as to what Julia might mean.
“Leaving you the horses. It was her way of saying she knows you weren’t in this for the money.”
Jack understands that Margaret’s real love was his reward. He then becomes suspicious and asks if Julia was speaking with Margaret’s children tonight. He asks Julia if the kids thought he was a killer.
Julia is a bit surprised that the word should even cross his mind. It does raise a few red flags, considering that the coronary declared the cause of her death as a major heart-attack.
Julia’s confusion doesn’t satisfy Jack’s suspicion that he is being suspected. “Search me,” he challenges Julia. “The inheritance I got is not worth killing for.” His words are ambiguous, and in being so: creepy.
Julia calls Adelle who is certain that her friend is being paranoid. Julia, however, is more certain than ever that she was murdered for her money. At first she thought it might have been a maid, or someone who resented her for her money, but now she suspects her family. She is sad because she had died thinking that these people loved her. As Julia she has gotten a glimpse of the truth.
Julia is being observed by a shadowy figure through her bedroom window.
Morality and Mortality
Boyd seeks an audience with Adelle. He asks her if eternal life is a new dish on the Dollhouse menu, because “if it is, this is the beginning of the end.” If the element of death were removed from the equation of life, everything would change. Morality, he argues, wouldn’t exist without the fear of death.
Adelle explains that this is a one time abuse of their power, a personal favor to a good friend. Boyd points out that once Margaret’s mysteries are solved Adelle will essentially have to ask her to die willingly. I think Boyd’s major fear is for Echo, who is hosting this paranoid persona. Adelle doesn’t seem too concerned at the prospect of Margaret being unwilling to relinquish her host. Besides, if Margaret does resist, Adelle has a new head of security to deal with it.
Adelle asks Boy D for his professional opinion regarding Margaret’s supposed murder. Boyd advises that they trace the money. He also says they should track the non-liquid assets, such as Jack’s new horses. Boyd has sent an agent to investigate King’s Ransom, Margaret’s prized steed, whose value is at its peak. The owner of the horse stands to make a lot of money, as does the person who decides to buy and race the horse.
Things become suspicious when a familiar face steps out of a car and introduces himself to Jack, who has decided to sell King’s Ransom. “George Hilton” is the name of the buyer, who is eager to check out the horse.
Julia observes Joseline weeping over a photo of her mother. She is touched by this awkward moment. Joseline regrets that her mother never once attended any of her photo exhibitions. Julia realizes that Margaret never did, and admits that it was wrong for Margaret to be so neglectful. Joseline has some nasty things to say about Jack. She is particularly resentful that her mother never confided in the family; she confided in people like Julia and Jack who was probably using her for her money while sleeping with other women. Joseline challenges Julia to come onto Jack to see if he can be readily baited by another woman.
Starting to Believe
Paul approaches a former colleague and asks her to run a scan on Mellie’s fingerprints. Having been booted from the FBI, he needs her authorization. The agent hesitates but complies. Paul explains that he has the prints of what could be a missing person, though she doesn’t know it. The scan is run and Mellie’s picture pops up, as do a laundry list of aliases and pictures of her. After a moment the screen goes blank.
“I’m starting to believe you,” Paul’s colleague states.
Topher and Sierra are tossing a football. Sierra suggests that they activate “the sleepies” and use them to do battle with one another. Topher suggests a tamer form of entertainment: chess. Sierra agrees to his terms, provided drinking can be involved.
Julia walks in on Jack who is packing. He claims that he was only here for Margaret, and now that she is gone he needs to move. Julia checks herself in the mirror and then moves in on Jack. It appears as though she’s going to test his loyalty to Margaret. She asks him if it was difficult to be married to someone so much older. He would, after all, have had so many options. She insinuates that perhaps he was waiting to be free from Margaret to fulfill his true desires.
Jack becomes livid. He pushes Julia aside and tells her that he knows she is a spy and tells her that what she’s doing is sick. He claims that he is only selling the horses because they remind him every day of the woman he loved. He asks who hired her; Nick or Joseline? He warns Julia that perhaps her doubts would be better set on Uncle Bill, who had visited Margaret the day before her death… after twelve years of isolation from one another. When Julia asks what Bill had visited for, Jack says he didn’t know. Margaret never got the opportunity to tell him. He suspects Bill needed to borrow money.
Nick observes as George Hilton inspects his mother’s favorite horse. He curses Jack for trying to liquidate his assets before his mother’s body has even gotten a chance to cool. George explains that King’s Ransom won’t be valuable for much longer. Nick’s eyes widen with suspicion and he demands that the sale be halted.
Julia walks in on Drunkle Bill, who asks if she believes in ghost. Uncle Bill thinks Margaret’s ghost is haunting the place, because she is angry. He discusses the long period in which he and Margaret hadn’t spoken. When Julia asks what Margaret and Bill had talked about the day before her death, Bill skips over the details, claiming that the conversation itself wasn’t important. What was important was that they both came to the realization that there was no reason to remain mad at each other. He toasts to Margaret and shifts the finger of blame in another direction by talking about Nicholas, who would be coping with the passing of his mother a little better if he could have talked with her about his debts and addiction to gambling before she’d died. Uncle Bill assures Julia that Nick’s situation is “not for the faint of heart.”
Kid’s at Play
Topher and his new buddy play a game of laser-tag. Topher gets his ass beat by a girl.
Mellie let herself into Paul’s apartment. She confesses her love for him and at first Paul is apprehensive to play along with a relationship he knows is not real. Something sways his decision however, and it’s not long before he’s… well, you know.
Julia enjoys a spirited ride atop her favorite steed, proving that she’s still got it. After stabling the horse a shadowy figure approaches her in the stables.
“Strange, he doesn’t like most people,” a voice calls out from the dark.
Julia turns in fear: “Who’s there?!”
Nick steps from the shadows, smiling eerily. “I have a better question: did you think I wouldn’t recognize my own mother… mother?”
Julia is relieved that she can confess her secret to Nick. She asks how he knew. Nick explains that he was the dark form watching Julia through the bedroom window the night before. He explains that everything Julia did was done in a way Margaret would have done it. His suspicions were confirmed when he saw her ride the horse. He also knows about the Dollhouse in Manhattan. In fact, he’s a customer.
Nick is impressed with his mother’s cleverness: using the Dollhouse to achieve life after death. He hadn’t thought about it: living from one body to the next. Julia laughs and explains that the luxury is only temporary. Nick agrees but points out that it doesn’t have to be.
Conversation shifts to Nick and his problems. Julia explains that, as his mother, it is her responsibility to bear his burdens. Nick claims that he was so ashamed of his gambling addiction and his debts that he could never have told her about it. Part of him was relieved when she died because it meant that she would never know how he’d shamed her, but now he is just happy to have his mother back. He tells her that she was taken from him too early. Julia is relieved to discover that someone other than her suspects she was murdered.
Their words are interrupted by George Hilton who is arguing heatedly with Jack. Julia and Nicholas hide around the corner and overhear as George accuses Jack of using anabolic steroids to pass the horse off as race-ready. Jack is arguing so as not to lose the sale, but George assures him that he’s made a four-million dollar bet, and lost. Then Hilton leaves. Jack loses his mind and, grabbing a shovel, begins striking the stable walls, shattering a light fixture.
The noise causes Julia to shriek in fear, and Jack realizes their presence. He begins to pursue the eavesdroppers, who take off, hiding behind another wall.
Jack spots them and aims the shovel at Nick’s head: swing and a miss. Nick grabs Jack’s arm and plants a metal hook into Jack’s side, wrenching it in, grotesquely. Nick and Julia run into the house and the door behind them, while Jack pursues, wounded.
Boyd had sent Victor in to discover what was going on with the sale of the horses. Boyd explains to Adelle that Margaret was killed by the same drug given to enhance the performance of the horses. The killer masked it so that the autopsy would reveal a massive heart attack as the cause of death.
He asks Adelle if she is aware of the Topher situation. Adelle tells Boyd that she allows Topher to run his “diagnostic” every now and then, because loneliness leads to nothing good. They observe as Topher and his buddy share their evening.
Nick locks the bedroom door behind them, and tells Julia that they have evidence to put Jack away for the murder of Margaret. When Julia asks what he’s talking about, Nick explains that if Julia were to write a note in his mother’s hand writing detailing the events of a murder she suspects is imminent, they could use that as evidence against Jack. Nick tells her to include in the letter when and how Jack plans to kill her.
As Jack breaks into the house, Julia asks Nick to remind her what day she was murdered.
“The 19th,” he replies confidently.
Julia finishes the letter and re-reads what she’s written about how Jack was planning to kill her using the same masking agent he’d been doping the horses with, on or around the 19th. She reads the letter with the details Nick had specified and realizes that Jack didn’t really know anything about the horses. He wouldn’t have known which drugs to give them, or for what reason.
She turns to Nick and asks: “How would he learn to drug a race-horse?”
Nick is at a loss for words. “He must have… uh….” Then Nick begins laughing. “Oh mother,” he teases, pulling a syringe from the closet in which he’s been digging. “You can never let things lie.”
Though what he plans to do is obvious, Julia asks her son what he’s doing. Nick explains that his situation had gotten real bad. He needed money and was afraid that Margaret might leave him the horses in her will, so he began drugging them to enhance their performance, increasing their resale value. He had planned to kill her regardless, but was overjoyed that she’d left the horses with Jack. If any questions were raised about the falsifying of the horse’s abilities, all suspicions would immediately fall upon Jack’s shoulders. Nick knows that Jack suspected him; after all, Jack gets into everything; Nick’s business and his mother’s bed.
Nick pushes Julia onto the bed and tries to inject her with the syringe. A gunshot blows the bedroom door wide open, and Nick catches some buckshot. The man holding the gun is Jack, who enters.
“I knew it was you,” Jack cries angrily. A grisly battle ensues, Nick gets his hand around Jack’s neck but the tables are turned quickly. Julia breaks something made of glass over Nick’s head and the boy drops to the floor unconscious.
Julia tries to comfort Jack who is cursing Nick for killing his wife. Julia yells for Bill to call and ambulance, and grabbing the note she’s written as evidence against Jack, begins burning it.
As she does, Jack tells Julia that he hopes Margaret didn’t know the truth about her son. “It would have killed her,” he sobs.
“It did,” Julia agrees.
Uncle Bill is reading a note written in the handwriting of the late Margaret Brashford. The note chronicles Margaret’s suspicion that Nicholas had planned to murder her, accompanied with dates and methods accurately detailing the events which led to her death. The note includes a few nice words from Margaret to the people she loved.
Jack and Julia watch Margaret’s horses. Jack wishes Margaret was here, and Julia suggests that perhaps she is.
Jack says that he doesn’t believe in ‘that stuff’, meaning life after death. He tells Julia that he tried to demonstrate his love for her continuously, but never knew if she believed him.
Julia tells Jack that she thinks Margaret knew how much he loved her. She hands him a note and as he reads it, his doubts appear to leak from his eyes. Julia walks away.
Adelle asks Julia if she was tempted to not come back and relinquish her host. Julia confesses that it was, but she is aware that she had her turn. The people she loves are moving on. Besides knowing Adelle, Julia wouldn’t have made it very far.
Julia asks Adelle if she’ll see her life flash before her eyes when Echo is wiped.
“Every single moment,” Adelle assures her good friend. Adelle holds Julia’s hand as Echo is wiped, and the scene fades to black.
I must say: this was a very interesting episode. It had the right mixture of action and mystery to keep me rooted to my seat for the duration of the show. I particularly enjoyed how each of the suspects managed to point fingers at one another, forcing Julia (and us) to keep our options open. Moreover, the episode uses our natural distrust of anyone who marries someone much older (and much wealthier) than themselves, to mislead our suppositions from the start. Factor in an alcoholic brother who had been cut off from the family for twelve years only to re-emerge one day before Margaret’s death, a pair of resentful, callous children, and you’ve got a handful of logical suspects.
Boyd’s concern for the lapse in Dollhouse ethics is legitimate as well. He points out that death keeps human morality in check, because we know so little about it. If death is something that can be averted: it is no longer a concern, nor is respecting it. Other moral issues are brought into question as well, though on a more subtle level. This episode is called “Haunted”, and in a way the title refers to Margaret’s beneficiaries who are being haunted by her through Julia. I found, however, that it is Margaret who is haunted by the truths of what those close to her really felt… and did. Would it be a blessing or a curse to find out what the people you love would say un-checked at your funeral? In her own words, things were better when Margaret died thinking that these people had loved her.
Recap by Jonathan Friedler