Faith is one of those unquantifiable concepts that's dying in today's truth-seeking world, reserved only for deities who routinely perform miracles (or have the right evangelists). For the agnostic television watcher, Joss Whedon is one of the rare figures deserving of faith; once again, he has performed another miracle and should be appearing soon on a piece of burnt toast somewhere in Mexico.
Okay, maybe "miracle" isn't the right word, but salvaging a series that was falling as flat as Dollhouse is at least near-miracle. Something bigger than you or I went into the creation of "Epitaph One," the unaired 13th episode of the show's first season that was shelved due to contractual differences between Fox and Whedon's camp -- and the results have me shouting "Hallelujah!" (Super-slight spoilers ahead, but nothing major.)
After watching "Epitaph One," Dollhouse is no longer about people getting the personalities of sex slaves, undercover cult infiltrators who happen to blind, or backup singers (ugh, hated that episode), so ditch that thought immediately. Dollhouse is now about the end of the world and the end of humanity -- some pretty heavy stuff. Behind all the gratuitous skin and banal engagements we endured during the first chunk of Season One, there is some pretty heady science-fiction in Dollhouse, and we finally get to see it.
"Epitaph One" leaps years into the future -- to 2019 -- and things totally suck. The world is in chaos, humans are attacking each other, and the apocalypse is nigh. The problem? The Rossum Corporation's sweet personality-uploading technology has gotten out of control, and bad guys have used it as the ultimate mind control.
That's the basis of "Epitaph One" (we don't want to give too much away), and it looks more like a missing piece of the Terminator movie franchise than anything else; it's almost unrecognizable as an episode of Dollhouse. In fact, the episode -- initially planned as both a possible season and series finale -- serves as a second pilot and introduces what I hope is a sign of things to come: a twisted mash-up of Scanners and Battlestar Galactica.
But there are more improvements to the series than just the story in "Epitaph One." The episode is much darker in tone (a 12-year-old girl with an automatic rifle? yes!) and a preview of how the series will look from here on out (I believe it was shot on the same budget-cutting HD cameras the cast is psyched to use in Season Two). It's stylistically much different from the first dozen episodes. And that annoying intro song has been axed.
Watching "Epitaph One" isn't mandatory to get into Season Two (you don't even need to have seen all of Season One). It stands on its own but gives those familiar with the show an extra kick. If you're looking to restore your faith in Whedon and his current project, it's a must see.
"Epitaph One" is included on the Dollhouse Season One DVD box set (Blu-ray highly recommended).
Dollhouse returns for Season Two on Friday, September 25, at 9pm on Fox.