“Dollhouse” 1.7 mini-cap: “Echoes”

Here’s something I never thought I’d say: Playing with dolls is fun. In this week’s episode, we’re treated to flashbacks that fill in gaps, dangerous people acting silly, and Eliza Dushku in white lace stockings. Life is good.

It’s going to get complicated, so here’s the name breakdown. Echo is our favorite, glitchy Active. Her real name is Caroline, a college student, pre-Dollhouse. Alice is Echo’s current imprint personality. Alice likes white lace stockings, tying up her lovers and doesn’t know how to make a fist.

Flashback two years. Adele and Caroline are alone in a room. Feisty and impatient, Caroline wants to leave but Adele keeps her captive, and offers her a deal: Commit to five years with the Dollhouse, in exchange for the rest of her life. There will be fun, great accommodations and massages. The Dollhouse is actually a Marriott time-share.

In the present, the Rossum Corporation is missing a vial of their most promising, top-secret memory drug. Also, but of less concern to them, one of their researchers is dead. The drug breaks down the brain’s inhibitors — first there’s giddiness, followed by total loss of impulse control, and finally, memory gaps. The drug has no name, so let’s just call it tequila.

For some reason, Rossum’s highest security R & D laboratory sits smack in the middle of a local college campus. In other business news, Microsoft is moving its headquarter to the mall, and will be located between Bath & Body Works and the food court.

The Dollhouse, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Rossum Corp., is instructed to send Actives, who have no memories to lose, to secure the campus until the vial can be found. Dominic, Victor and Sierra (fully clothed for once) and other Dollhouse operatives sets up a detox house and start administering an antidote to the infected students, who are tripping their faces off.

Alice is in the middle of a job, sees the news about Rossum on the TV, has a Caroline college flashback and rushes out the door, leaving her client tied to his bed.

The moment she sets foot on campus, Alice is caught in the Dollhouse’s butterfly net and is sent to the detox house.

There, she meets Sam, a grad student and Rossum lab worker. Sierra, imprinted as a doctor, tries to give Alice her shot, but Alice balks. As Sierra trots off to get her the liqui-gel version, Alice confides in Sam that she doesn’t need detox saying, “I’m not supposed to be here. I have to save him,” and bolts from the infirmary.

Sam follows, offering to help Alice/Echo/Caroline get into the lab, even though he has no idea what she’s talking about. Neither does she. College memories of plotting to rescue lab rats, having friends over for potlucks, and dating a guy who looks like he’s old enough to be her dad, are all flashing in jumbled bits and pieces before her eyes.

Back at the Dollhouse, Topher and Adele are pretty baked.

Adele: Are you making any progress?
Topher: I’m working! What are you doing? Besides being —
Adele: Being what? Sarcastic? Unfeeling? British?
Topher: It’s an animal.
Adele: What?
Topher: No! The word.
Adele: You have to admit, I am very British.

Eventually, the convo turns epicurean. Topher wonders what brown sauce is made of. Adele decides it’s made of brown, which according to Topher, is “mined from the earth by the hardscrabble brown miners of North Brownerton.” Adele confides she doesn’t understand lentils. Who does?

Somewhere between giggling and eating raw cookie dough, Topher and Adele realize two things: The drug infects on contact, and an entire universe could be living inside a single molecule in Topher’s thumbnail. Whoa.

Back on campus, one of Caroline’s old professors recognizes her, Echo/Caroline doesn’t remember a thing. In the detox house, Boyd has abandoned his mission to extract Echo before she recovers any more memories, in favor of playing the piano.

Using the memory of Caroline’s Save the Guinea Pigs plot, Alice and Sam break into the Rossum labs via a sewer tunnel. Alice isn’t the stealthy type. Sam easily sneaks past security but Alice gets caught by Dominic. Good thing he’s not there to hurt her, for once. Drugged out as well, Dominic begs Echo for forgiveness for the time he smashed her in the face. And left her to die in a fire. And tried to pull her plug and stuff her in the attic. No hard feelings, let’s hug it out.

The Actives rush into the lab. Victor has a flashback of his own and might actually be a soldier. Sierra flashes back to being raped by her handler and pulls a gun on everyone. This is your brain on drugs.

At the Dollhouse, pseudo-doll Mellie’s bizarro behavior gives Topher all the evidence he needs to conclude the drug is getting past his patented memory-blockers but will wear off in time, and furthermore, the infections are not fatal. The dead Rossum researcher was murdered.

In the lab, Sam grabs a specific vial from the fridge and pours the blood out of it. Inside, is the missing drug vial. Sam is the killer and thief. It was never about government plots, nor a tragic accident. It’s about what most crimes are always about: Money.

Sam subdues Alice, infects her, and tries to make a break for it. She chases after him until they’re outside, where he runs headlong into Boyd’s fist. Going somewhere, frat boy? Boyd takes Alice away for a “treatment,” leaving Sam dazed and confused in the grass.

Back at the Dollhouse, order has been restored, but the consequences can’t be erased. Adele and Dominic are acting nervous and weird with each other. “We got drugged, behaved like idiot children. It happens. It’s over,” she says mysteriously. Oh, the shame of the morning after. Meanwhile, Topher is somewhere wondering why there’s cream cheese in his desk drawers and looking for his pants.

Mellie goes back to her apartment but soon emerges with two suitcases. Her crush, Agent Ballard, asks if she’s ever coming back. Living across the hall from her unrequited crush proves to be too difficult for her, so it’s time to move on.

Adele has Sam in the tearoom.

She makes him an offer he can’t refuse on a sweet two bedroom in Cancun for mid-July.

Next week: Echo, Victor and Sierra’s memories start to return. Also, Topher makes a bong out of a test tube.