Dollhouse: Welcome to the World of Pimps and Kidnappers

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Note: Dollhouse originally aired in the US in 2009, and is finally being shown on Australian free-to-air TV now.

The first episode of Dollhouse begins looking like a security video, which shows a dishevelled Eliza Dushku sitting across from an upright business woman.

Is that Faith and Lilah of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel universe? The comparison can't be helped; Dollhouse is another Joss Whedon creation, after all.

But then, Miss Upright pours some tea, looks to Eliza Dushku and says, "Nothing is what it seems." She offers Dushku, who we later learn is Caroline, a clean slate. Caroline is sceptical, and seems to be in some sort of serious situation. At this point, Caroline really does seem just like frantic, stuck-in-a-mess-again Faith. Especially when she points out that she doesn't have much of a choice but to accept what Miss Upright is offering.

Miss Upright stops Caroline by saying that actions have consequences, but what they do helps people and it could help her, too. Miss Upright is offering Caroline a contract that will last for five years, and that will clear up "this mess". But Caroline doesn't think she deserves this; she was just trying to make her way in the world. Resigned, she sits back down. "I know ... actions have consequences," she repeats.

"But what if they didn't?" counters Miss Upright with a small Cheshire Cat grin.

The scene suddenly cuts to two bikers at night, racing down streets. One biker falls, scraping her knee, but quickly gets up and gets back on the bike. It's Caroline, looking serious before she races off again. She catches up, and their race ends in a restaurant full of people. It's a party, and Caroline's racing opponent is the birthday boy, Matt. They argue over who won before they begin dancing. Not important, but the dress she's in is surely just a top. What happened to her leather pants?

Anyway, Matt takes her off the dance floor to say that he's had an amazing weekend; he seems uncertain, though she is all smiles. He gives her a gold chain with a heart pendant. She accepts, and they kiss. Naww. He then goes to get another drink, and, still smiling, Caroline walks back to the dance floor with a spring in her step. She's happy. Until she stops mid-step and all emotion leaves her face.

She quickly moves out of the building and Matt doesn't look surprised. She goes outside and to a black van. An older man holds the door open as she gets in. He asks if she is ready for her treatment, to which she says yes, entering the van, which is full of tech gear. And he didn't even have to offer her candy.

Caroline, whose code name is actually Echo, keeps babbling on about Matt. The van pulls up to a building, and, before going in, she asks the older man, who is actually her "Handler", Boyd Langton, if she can go back to the party after her treatment. He smiles sadly at her, saying that he'll wait for her.

Upstairs, she changes, still babbling about Matt to the staff around her. She then goes to lay down onto a chair-type thing, something you'd see at the dentist. Except that it has got an electronic ringlet near the head of the chair, and all these other wires attached to it. Topher, the scientist behind the technology, begins the "procedure", effectively removing Caroline's memory. Unconscious, she drops Matt's heart pendant. She doesn't remember anything; she is simply Echo, here at the Dollhouse for treatment.

Topher and Langton discuss the ethics of essentially using people's bodies, removing their own personalities and downloading new ones. Topher believes it helps people, like they're humanitarians. Langton doesn't think so; he's concerned about the "Actives".

The first 15 minutes of this episode has given a little bit of background into Caroline, and has set up the concept of the entire series, as well. The Dollhouse, itself, is intriguing, although it's basically like they're pimping out these "Actives" to the highest bidder -- which is incredibly gross. Going on from here, the episode now starts to diverge into numerous plot lines.

Plot line 1 (the main one) -- while other Actives are going about their very serene and basic routines, Dr Clair Saunders (another Angel alumni, Amy Acker) is checking over Echo. Dr Saunders has scars all over her face. She notices that Echo's knee is hurt, but Echo can't remember why; something that really bother Echo as she tries to remember.

Echo then leaves, and, noticing lights from upstairs, she goes up and sees Topher working his procedure on another Active. Echo sees that the Active isn't asleep, but in pain. Echo is concerned; why is the girl not asleep? Why is she hurting? Topher explains that it's her first procedure, that's why. Once done, Sierra will be a new friend for Echo.

Plot line 2 -- in a palatial mansion, a young girl is on the phone, talking to her extremely rich, doting father, Gabriel. She's alone in the house, and, as she hangs up the phone, men in balaclavas kidnap her. Next, Gabriel is talking to Miss Upright, from the beginning of the episode -- her name is Adelle Dewitt. Gabriel wants to hire an Active to help get his daughter back and without getting the police involved, as per the threat of the kidnappers.

Echo is assigned to help Gabriel; she has the personality of the ultimate hostage negotiator, though she needs glasses and has asthma. Langton, her Handler, is surprised. Topher explains that the personalities are imprints from real people. He can't create new ones, but he can alter or mix them.

At first, Gabriel is reluctant, thinking that Echo can't do the job. But eventually, she convinces him, revealing that she (or, at least, her personality imprint) had been kidnapped as a child. While talking, she flashes to Sierra in pain during the "procedure", but has no idea what she is seeing.

Eventually, she gets the kidnappers to agree to meet and exchange the money for the girl. But during the meeting, things go wrong when Echo recognises one of the kidnappers, "the Ghost" (who had kidnapped and raped her as a child). She knows they aren't going to hand over the child, but, as she tries to warn Gabriel, things go wrong. One kidnapper shoots Gabriel. Langton, who was keeping his eye on the exchange from a distance with a sniper, shoots the man who shot Gabriel.

Langton is not happy. How could Topher not know that this complication could have arisen? Topher explains that the imprints come from dead people, and this personality's owner had, eventually, killed herself. Langton is astonished and Topher looks uncomfortable. Silly, silly scientist man.

As things have gone wrong, Dollhouse goes into retrieval mode, but Langton argues with Adelle that the only way to now save the situation is to let Echo finish the job before removing the personality; Echo has figured out where the girl is, after all.

Outside the building where the kidnappers are holed up, Echo convinces the large team assembled to give her 10 minutes to let her go inside and get the girl alone. She goes in, convinces the other kidnappers that the Ghost is going to kill them, and take the money and the girl. The kidnappers start shooting at each other, and quickly Echo gets the girl out. While the Ghost lies dead, the other two kidnappers gesture to her to leave with the girl. But, just as she goes to the door, it is blown open. Sierra walks in and shoots the two kidnappers. Echo isn't happy; she had it under control. Sierra shrugs -- they heard gun shots.

The kidnappers' storyline dragged on a little, but it helped explain how Actives work, how personalities are imprinted, etc.

Plot line 3 (adding more drama) -- FBI agent Peter Bollard is being questioned about his investigation into the Dollhouse by his superiors. The investigation has ruined his marriage and his promotion; they are trying to convince him to stop digging. Bollard points out that because they can't take him off the case, it is clear that someone higher up wants him to continue the investigation.

Later, Bollard follows rich man Lubov, who owns a club. Bollard corners him in the bathroom, and threatens his club if he doesn't use his connections to the Borodin crime family to find out information about the Dollhouse for him. This scene was great, very punchy and Whedonesque in its humour.

Plot line 1 (again) -- Dominic, the security chief, thinks the whole operation went well. But Adelle, ever the upright (and uptight), is concerned, though Dominic thinks everything has been "contained". She hands him a file, asking him how he plans on containing this. The file reads in bold, "Alpha". Dun dun dunnnnnnn.

Plot line 4 (adding super-crazy levels of drama to the main plot line) -- in a lovely suburban house, there is a naked man sitting on top of a coffee table, watching Caroline's graduation video. (What, you've never done that?) He seals a photo of Caroline into an envelope that has Agent Bollard's name on it, as well as a note saying "Keep looking". There are two bloodied, dead bodies lying behind him. Here would be the very obvious foreshadowing moment -- he's clearly the not-contained Alpha.

At the end of the episode, the Actives in the Dollhouse have been wiped. They are serene as they move and get ready to go to sleep. Five in total are shown. From the graduation video playing back in the suburban house, young and carefree Caroline says, "I know, it's such a cliché. But what can I say? I want to do everything. Is that too much to ask?"

Oh, the irony.

Looking back, this recap is long, as almost every moment helps explain the mystery -- and it's another complicated, if not perverted, world that Whedon has created. It's unfortunate that I'm watching this with the knowledge there are only two seasons, and this episode has already set up an intriguing series of questions. Let's hope that two seasons is enough to answer them all.

Dollhouse airs Mondays, at 10pm AEST on Channel 11.

Read our recaps of episode five, episode four, episode three and episode two.

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