“Dollhouse” 1.10 mini-cap “Haunted”

Margaret Bashford is a horsewoman. Not a horsey woman, but a woman who loves her horses — almost as much as she loves her much younger husband, Jack. Oh, and she’s rich. Finishing school,
private stables, rolling hills estate, “What’s Walmart?” rich. Too bad she’s also dead.

At the dollhouse, Adelle has imprinted Echo with Margaret’s memories. Echo/Margaret sits up after Topher’s procedure, takes one look at Adelle and says, “You look terrible.” Nice to see you, too, honey.

We learn that Margaret was an old, dear friend of Adelle’s, and had previously made a deposit of the personal kind at the dollhouse. One that didn’t involve a plastic cup and a magazine, but personal just the same. Maybe you can’t take it with you, but when you have foresight and a friend in the biz, you sure as hell can come back and visit it.

After Margaret finishes fondling her new, lithe, young body, she announces she’s going to find out who killed her.

And thank them, no doubt.

At her funeral, Margaret sits with Adelle and points out her family: boozy, estranged brother, William, hunky husband, Jack, daughter Jocelyn, a photographer, and Nicolas, her feckless grown son who’s still trying to “find himself,” mostly by narrowing his search area to the betting windows at the local track.

One of them most likely killed Margaret, but which one? They all stood to inherit a fortune. William probably needs the money to drown himself in bourbon. Nicolas is up to his turned-up polo shirt collar in gambling debts. Being a trust fund kid with a decent photography career, Jocelyn doesn’t need money, but always resented her mother for never coming to see any of her exhibits. The real joke is on Jack, who was bequeathed nothing more than Margaret’s pretty ponies. If he married Margaret for her money, he should have read the pre-nup a little more closely.

Meanwhile, back at HQ, Topher tells newly promoted Head of Security, Boyd, that he needs to run his annual anterior, cortex gonkulator tests or some such gibberish. The point is, he needs someone to sign his requisition form for a doll to use as a subject. Pensive, protective and principled as ever, Boyd wants assurance the doll won’t be hurt and oh, by the way, how’s his former charge, Echo? Add paternal to that alliteration.

Evil genius that he is, Topher doesn’t so much conduct any tests as he imprints Sierra with the girl version of his Streetfighter IV-playing, junk food-eating, Klingon-fluent self. Aw. Franken-nerd just wanted a playmate to toss a football with him and talk about implausible sci-fi plot devices, and like it. Explosions with fire and sound in a vacuum? Puh-leese. Topher is in geek heaven.

Miles from Nerd Central, dour Agent Ballard is having his crushy next-door neighbor, Mellie, over for dinner. Mellie tries to make chit chat, but Ballard is even more distracted than usual. Mellie gives up the how-was-your-day and delivers this week’s gem, “I know the quickest way to kill a relationship is to take its temperature.”

And then, she does it anyway. Ballard reciprocates with the flailing relationship trifecta: Everything’s fine, (the lie) he’s just tired (the excuse) and she’s adorable (the ego stroke). And because cute, broody guys are so hard to find, Mellie pretends to buy it.

But later, she says: “You say everything’s fine, so I’m going to stop asking if it is. And if that means laying next to you while everything is not fine, then that’s what I’ll do. I will give you what you need, and let you take it from me. And if you want to give back, give back. But it doesn’t have to mean anything.”

Managing your expectations is so important. This way, Mellie won’t ever have to eat dinner alone. Right up until the day she shoots herself.

Deeply suspicious of her after learning she’s actually a doll named November, Ballard takes Mellie’s fingerprints to the FBI, where his disbelieving crime lab pal discovers she has more aliases than Prince. But before they can upload any of her pictures to Ballard’s Facebook, they mysteriously vanish from the computer. The FBI lady finally believes Ballard’s conspiracy theory.

Back at the manor, Margaret is passing herself off as “Julia,” a friend of Margaret’s no one knew she had. Margaret, as Julia, who is actually Echo, whose real name is Caroline, (still with me?) learns to her dismay that her children found her critical and cold, and possessing all the parenting skills of a sea turtle.

Margaret retreats to the balcony, where Nicolas — thinking his mom is just a pretty stranger named Julia — plants a kiss on her. Margaret throws up in her mouth a little.

Wary of Echo’s life-after-death assignment for a variety of ethical and consequential reasons that seem to bother no one but him, Boyd sends Victor in, imprinted as a prospective horse buyer, to assist with the murder investigation. Jack trots out King’s Ransom, Margaret’s prized horse, in hopes of selling him off. You can’t pay the rent in pony rides unless your landlord is Catherine the Great.

Nicolas wanders by and tersely tells Victor the horse isn’t for sale. And by the way, do I look douchey with my collar up like this?

Later that night, Julia is in the stables with King’s Ransom, cooing aloud to him, but as Margaret, not Julia. Nicolas emerges from the shadows and drops a bomb, “Did you think I wouldn’t recognize my own mother, Mother?”

Instead of panicking, Margaret’s relieved that her back-from-the-dead ruse has been uncovered. It turns out, little Nicky is a frequent customer of the dollhouse’s Manhattan location. The reunion is cut short when they hear Jack and Victor at the other end of the horse stalls, talking.

Victor tells Jack he knows King’s Ransom has been doped and isn’t worth half the asking price — no sale. Victor leaves and Jack goes ballistic, grabbing a shovel and hitting things. He smashes an electrical box, sending sparks flying. From her hiding place in the manure, Margaret shrieks. A fight ensues and Nicolas stabs Jack in the side with a hay bale hook. Jack pulls it out as if it was a splinter and chases the two into the main house.

While the three of them Scooby Doo around the mansion, Boyd is reporting to Adelle at the dollhouse: Margaret was killed with the same drug found in King’s Ransom. Whoever drugged the horse, also killed her dear friend. And by the way, is she aware that Topher is using Sierra to throw himself a birthday party? Adelle watches them on a surveillance monitor — she’s known all along and it’s fine. She says knowingly, “Loneliness leads to nothing good.” And by “nothing good,” she means polishing off a bottle of pinot while spending hours in an adult chat room as “dollface353.”

Back at the estate, Nicolas and Margaret run into a bedroom and lock the door behind them. Nicolas suggests planting a handwritten letter, post-dated, in which Margaret fears for her life and points the finger at Jack. But Margaret knows that Jack doesn’t know jack about doping horses, let alone people. It dawns on her her real killer is her own son. It was Mr. Greed, in the stable, with the syringe.

Nicolas tries to off his mother with another syringe as Jack angrily tries bash his way through the door with his stall-mucking shovel. A moment later, he inexplicably has a shotgun and blows a hole the size of a cantaloupe through the lock. Jack and Margaret gang up on Nicolas, finally knocking him out with a mirror. Jack falls onto the bed, crying “He killed my wife!” He really did love the old gal.

Afterwards, a “new” handwritten will is conveniently found and read to the family. Nicolas ends up in the pokey with nothing, Jocelyn learns her mother really did love her, and Jack inherits some actual money. Margaret/Echo’s work here is done.

Margaret returns to the dollhouse to hand in the keys to Echo’s body before being charged a late fee. Adelle says goodbye to her friend as Topher lowers Margaret’s head into the brain scrubber.

Next week: Echo helps a traumatized young girl and in the process, foreshadows her own future. Ballard is this close to finding the inventor of the dollhouse. Adelle goes to the attic for Christmas decorations. Alpha comes home and tortures everyone with a slide show of his vacation.