Dollhouse Episode 13, “Epitaph One,” or Pure Post-Apocalyptic Pleasure
An episode chock-full of big, juicy, questions set off by a scattershot of elusive (maybe illusive) off-screen answers.
I want to dwell on the part that I don’t understand, because that’s the part that’s gripping me: What is it about an ethereal woman in a white dress haunting a vacated house? Because Amy Acker was just riveting. Iconic, but I can’t name the relevant icon. Lots of symbolic power in this role. Does it come from the contradictions?
“I can show you the way” sounds prophetic, even messianic. But Whiskey 2.019 can’t herself take the path she offers; she is tied to this empty place: “I need to wait . . . I have to wait here.” For Boyd, restoration, absolution or something else that ain’t coming.
Safe Haven is more than an escape route, promising more than somewhere you can’t be wiped or imprinted: “You die as you were born, heart in concert with the mind.” That’s a vision of completion, fulfillment, being made whole, innocent as a child (“baptized down to the pains,” in the words of the song). [ETA: It turns out these aren't the actual words to any actual song, they're just what I thought I heard when listening to the awesome "Remains."]
There’s immortality, eternity: “I’ve always been here.” This Whiskey is not afraid when a gun is pointed at her, not afraid when a mob invades her house, not concerned with escape, not interested in reuniting her body with its original personality. (“Omega” raised the whole question of who Whiskey really is (if she doesn’t want to be who she was before she was wiped and prefers to remain who she isn’t: “Dr. Saunders” — a question for another post))
While she has none of the concerns of the other characters (those of the Actives in the flashbacks or of the street refugees in 2019) and only the most minimal programming and personality, she’s no innocent — she’s a vision of guilt, appearing with blood on her hands. Technologically, she may have been baptized down to her pains, [ETA whatever I mean by that it has something to do with spiritual rebirth, of course] stripped of her original personality and of the Saunders personality that she chose, but instead of becoming free of history, she’s something out of a horror movie, beautiful and damned, neither dying or living, doomed to repeat actions she does not understand.
In other words, an awesome fantasy/sci fi/horror character.
Also love the J-Mo* take on the demon child of horror movies. Iris has one gripping arc as a child, with a tragic backstory and moments of painful personal growth — and then all that is shown to really be dramaturgy of a cunning body-snatcher. I loved having to go back and retrace her steps and seeing how the character played on the emotions of those around her. Again, all the most important stuff happens off-screen, and we’re left to piece it together — what the character’s motivations were, what she was feeling, what was going through her mind. I love being invited into the story. Seeming throwaway lines, such as Iris’s desire to be like Zone, take on new meaning when you wonder why she said what she said. (Even a grown killer trapped in a child’s body needs to express her feelings?)
But this was the Topher episode. It was his arc, all the way, from mastermind to prisoner of his own mind, builder to destroyer, self-satisfied to self-loathing, arrogant to helpless and hopeless. His soliloquy reminded me of the one Joss Whedon wrote for Spike in season seven of Buffy, it was so good. It also reminded me of a psychological truth that was brought out in “Echoes.” Echo is motivated to abandon her engagement in that episode by her desire to “save him.” And as long as she thinks she’s on a rescue mission, that she’s saving someone, she overcomes her programming and declines to have a treatment. But when she realizes that she was the one who got him killed, she wants to have a treatment–to have her memory wiped. During his soliloquy, Topher’s mind works very well when he thinks he’s warning DeWitt of a bad thing that might happen, protecting her from it, but when he realizes that he’s the source of the bad thing (and I love how the word “brilliant” jogs his memory, how he’s learned to associate the word with himself, how using that word as a trigger implies he built his whole life on his brilliance before it destroyed his life and everyone else’s) he, like Echo in “Echoes,” wishes to forget.
DeWitt’s reactions throughout the soliloquy take on new meanings when you realize that she has seen Topher take this train of thought before and all her kind interjections are attempts to stop it from reaching its destination. Add another level of poignance.
There are lots of grace notes throughout, but these are the big things. Congratulations, Mo-J!* I think Fox broadcasting will air this after Fox-the-studio has used it to sell as many DVDs as it can. And it should. This episode was up there with “Briar Rose” and “Omega.”
*Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. You knew that.