“Dollhouse” 1.11 mini-cap “Briar Rose”

In a dark alley, a bum is dumpster diving when he gets a big surprise: an arm reaches out and grabs him by the throat. Look at that — someone threw out a perfectly good killer.

Elsewhere, Echo is reading Sleeping Beauty to a bunch of rapt children. One older girl stands off to the side with her arms crossed, listening to the story with growing disgust. Finally, she snaps and tells Echo, “This is crap. Crap! Don’t you know what that means?” Well, Eliza was in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, so yeah, I think she knows what “crap” means.

The girl, an angry kid named, Susan, goes off on a rant: the lame prince didn’t deserve credit for waking Sleeping Beauty, Sleeping Beauty was a loser who should have saved herself, and what the hell is a spindle, anyway? Susan grabs the storybook from Echo’s hands and violently starts tearing the pages apart. Fairy tales are misogynistic junk.

Susan gets taken away by the staff — she’s late for her gender studies workshop.
Across town, Ballard is packing up his apartment, and packing it in with Mellie. Desperate for him to stick with a relationship known for its undercooked spaghetti dinners, one-sided conversations about Echo/Caroline, and intimacy-free, angry sex, Mellie offers that maybe all they need is a break, because his leaving is “killing” her. Mellie Loopner, born without a spine.

She walks to the nearest bridge to throw her worthless self off, but gets interrupted by her dollhouse handler, who gently escorts her into a black van. Ballard follows them straight to the Adelle’s place.

Meanwhile, Adelle and Boyd are trying to retrieve data from a newly arrived flash drive, addressed to Dominic. They’d ask the NSA mole himself, but Boyd reminds Adelle that she had him wiped and shoved in the attic, where he now occupies a cozy spot between her old fencing trophies and a box of Bananarama albums. Pish posh. Adelle instructs Boyd to wake Dominic up with a kiss from the Dollhouse Fun Chair.

Upstairs, Topher shows Ivy his latest pet project: a scan of Susan’s brain and one of Echo’s, after being imprinted with a healthy, grown-up version of Susan. Given similar experiences – Susan was abused and pimped out by her step-dad — Echo is a living example sent to Susan to show her that a crap childhood doesn’t condemn one to a crap adulthood.

Topher is insufferably smug about his genius experiment.

Topher: Whole approach, my idea. Whole engagement, my idea.
Ivy: How did you sell DeWitt on it?
Topher: Everyone wants to be righteous, when they can afford it.
Ivy: Even Topher Brink?
Topher: This feeling? Not unlike pride.

Altruism is basically ego, fed to the damaged and the hungry with a clean spoon.

Echo finds Susan “editing” out whole passages from the storybook with a black crayon. She has a bright future at the CIA. However, before she can embark on the illegal adventures that await her, Susan needs to learn that it wasn’t her fault she didn’t escape her abusive situation. Echo regales her own (imprinted) memories and feelings, and tells Susan that she was a victim, too. The moral of her story is this: Be your own prince. What? Well, which is it?

A woman tells Echo her ride is waiting. Before she leaves, Susan takes one last look at Echo and figures maybe she, too, can also grow up to be healthy and hot. Echo’s work here is done.

Still all in the soup, but don’t know the flavor, Ballard takes his findings back to his pal, Loomis, at the FBI. He uses her computer to look up an environmental engineer named Stephen Kepler, who probably designed a closed system for the dollhouse. Ballard says the place might in fact, be invisible. Loomis takes one look at the crazy scribbles on Ballard’s folder, and the maniacal look in his eyes and concludes he’s off his nut.

Back at the other nuthouse, Dominic wakes up to find himself in Victor’s body and he is not happy about it. After some minor sedation, Dominic tells Adelle the flash drive’s password is the Latin letter for “Alpha,” the name of the rogue doll who gave Dr. Scissorhands her face lift and then, went missing.

They open the file and get treated to a bit of American kitsch: a giant statue of Paul Bunyan. Adelle recognizes it from her visit to Tucson, where the dollhouse corporate headquarters might be located, and furthermore, that is where the dumpster diver was found dead.

Topher imprints Sierra with the skills of a chatty forensic technician and sends her to investigate the murder. As she goes down the elevator, Sierra babbles happily about cell breakdown, the affects of insects and “putrefaction.” Now there’s a word you don’t hear often enough.

Meanwhile, Ballard finds Kepler and learns he’s not only growing weed in his house, he’s agoraphobic and knows the dollhouse is located underground. Kepler learns that Ballard is not the Thai food delivery guy he was expecting, mostly because delivery guys don’t pull a gun on you and force you out into the night, in search of clandestine facilities full of zombies and koi ponds.

Ballard and Kepler break into the dollhouse and begin making their way to the pods, where sleeping beauty, Echo/Caroline is waiting for her prince — or so Ballard likes to imagine. But first, Shaggy and Scooby have to disable the ubiquitous cameras in the building. Topher runs into the intruders and gets tasered by Ballard. Kepler’s a big twitch and although he’s put off by the Ballard’s brutishness, he finds the dollhouse fascinating.

Kepler: Would you look at this place? I mean, first of all, feng shui up the yin yang. Also, I designed parts of it, but I did not design the stone-cold foxes in the small clothes, and the ample massage facilities. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I heart my porn, but this is cool!

Chuckles McLipless doesn’t think anything is cool, except what he knows will be the grateful, fawning look on Caroline’s face when he “rescues” her. While they tip-toe downstairs, Ballard recognizes Victor, who’s strolling around by the fountain. Kepler says, “Small world, huh? I went to grade school with Jenna Elfman.”

Kepler may heart porn, but I heart Jane Espenson; she wrote many a Buffy episode, as well as this one.

Ballard finds his way to the pods. He stands staring at them, on the brink of his big hero moment. He opens one and finds Mellie, deep in slumber. Ooh, wrong one. Ever the romantic, he says aloud she’d kill him in a second. The doll he really covets is Caroline. Gee, I can’t imagine why Mellie wants to kill him.

Ballard finds Echo, but before he can convince her to “come with me if you want to live,” Boyd is standing behind him with a gun.

A battle of fists and words breaks out between the one who wants to save Caroline, and the one who wants to protect Echo. They tussle, crashing through Victor’s pod. Victor wakes up and freaks out. Dudes, get your own pod; this one’s taken.

Ballard gets the upper hand for a moment and tries to whisk Caroline away from the bad people, telling her it’s OK to be scared. That’s nice, but Echo’s not scared at all. She has flashback feelings that Ballard’s a threat, so she breaks free, and pushes him over the stairs. Be your own prince? Right on.

As Kepler works feverishly to order Thai food, or disable alarms, or adjust the air quality in the pods or something, Dr. Scissorhands finds Victor awake and sitting up in his smashed pod. He tells her simply, “People were fighting on me.”

While the doctor takes Victor to her office for some band-aids and a lollipop, Boyd cuffs Ballard and presents him to Adelle. She said coolly, “Did you really think you could just walk into the dollhouse?”

Out of the shadows of the infirmary, Kepler emerges brandishing a scalpel, carves up Victor like a Jack o’ Lantern, and grabs the terrified doctor. It’s really Alpha, there to admire his old handiwork.

Apparently, you can just walk into the dollhouse.

While Adelle ponders what to do about pesky Prince Valiant, Alpha is holding Dr. Scissorhands hostage in her office, demanding answers about his history, and that she lure Echo into the room. Once inside, Echo sees Alpha and remembers him somehow.

Meanwhile, in Tucson, Sierra, the forensic chatterbox, discovers that the dead body is not some random bum – it’s the real Kepler. She calls in her report to Adelle and Boyd, who finally stop taunting Ballard long enough to notice on a surveillance monitor that Alpha and Echo are going upstairs.

Alpha puts Echo in the chair and when she sits up, she says, “Oh, I know you,” and immediately starts making out with his face. He says he’s there to rescue her. Take a number, pal.

Next week: In the season finale, the more Alpha “saves” Echo, the more danger for Caroline. One doll is permanently discontinued, while another’s past comes back to bite it in the ass. Sierra and November become bounty hunters. Bounty hunters with really good hair. This might be the last episode of Dollhouse, ever, so don’t miss it.