“Dollhouse” mini-cap 2.9 & 2.10: “Stop Loss” and “The Attic”

Episode 2.9 “Stop Loss”

This week, the Dollhouse continues its downward spiral into aesthetically pleasing entropy. Ballard still has the mind of a tomato, thanks to Alpha’s brain wipe. Echo did a Pinocchio but now that she’s a person and not a puppet in a bustier, she misses Ballard’s lipless kisses and scintillating conversation. Victor’s crush on Sierra is bleeding into his imprints and he “breaks up” with Adelle’s super-secret alter ego, Miss Lonely Hearts.

Back at the Dollhouse, Adelle thinks Topher knows she’s Miss Lonely Hearts and punked her for kicks. If only he were that clever, but it’s something far more insidious: “doll grouping.” “We can’t have clients rejected by dolls who are programmed to love them,” she warns Topher. What is the world coming to when a successful, attractive woman can’t get her freak on with someone programmed to let her get her freak on?

After five long years of fresh pancakes and yoga, gigolo engagements with both sexes, more accents than the UN, and sleeping in a hole in the floor, Victor’s contract is up. Moments before being given back his real identity, a US Army vet named Anthony, Echo tells him to say good-bye to Sierra before it’s too late, because he’ll both regret it and not remember it. Um, what? No matter. Her lack of logic is lost on him because dolls have all the reasoning skills of bunnies. Instead, Victor gives Sierra a Forrest Gump wave and pads up to Topher’s office for his final treatment.

When Victor wakes up, he learns that nothing has really changed in five years: the war he left in Afghanistan is ongoing, we still don’t have jet packs or universal healthcare, and the DMV is still a nightmare. On the upside, we have black president and Lady Gaga.

While Victor returns to his hotel room to sleep in the Dollhouse-like comfort of the bathtub and ponder his future, Echo sneaks out of her own sleeping pod and discovers Ballard’s comatose body has been moved. She uses her illicit keycard to get into the executive offices, where she confronts Adelle, who’s up drinking burning the midnight oil. Adelle tells Echo with a more than a little joy that she’s moved Parrot Face to an undisclosed location. Echo threatens Adelle with the serial killer in her head but it’s like Sporty Spice trying to intimate Margaret Thatcher.

Victor-Anthony’s freedom doesn’t last 24 hours when a black ops team kidnaps him and indoctrinates him into a covert Rossum groupthink program called “Mind Whisper.” Or as I like to call it, Scientology.

Topher and Boyd realize what’s happened to Victor and tell Adelle the alarming news. At this point however, Adelle has no discernible interest in anything unrelated to scotch. “Remember last time we poked our noses where they didn’t belong?” she says wearily, “We failed and I nearly lost control of the house, or something like that.” Adelle crawls back into her booze bag for a long winter’s nap.

Without Adelle’s soggy leadership, Boyd, Topher, his put-upon assistant, Ivy, and Echo decide to take matters into their own hands. They load up Echo’s head with everything from a commando to a nuclear physicist, to an acrobat. Ya know, just in case she has to mow down a battalion on her way to disarming a warhead while swinging from a trapeze.

Echo’s only other weapon will be Sierra, who they restore to her original personality, Priya. Priya is not happy about coming back and remembering her abuser, a rapey dirtbag named Nolan.

Sierra: I don’t want to remember Nolan!
Topher: Not Nolan. I couldn’t delete that day because you wouldn’t remember Victor. Before I wiped you, you told me you knew. You saw Victor, and you told me you knew.
Sierra: That I loved him?
Topher: Exactly.

Ivy hands Sierra-Priya a beer for no reason other than beer makes everything better.

Echo and Sierra allow themselves to get caught to gain entrance into the secret bunker where Victor and his fellow robot soldiers are cleaning their guns and ignoring their collective PTSD. Once Victor-Anthony sees Sierra-Priya, love overtakes his programming and he lowers one weapon while, eh hem, another one rises, but not before his mind link to the others gives away Sierra’s location. A lot of paintball-like hiding and shooting ensues, which reminds me of the wonderful afternoon I shot my friend point-blank in the thong with a pink gel ball.

Echo runs off to another part of the facility, where she implants a Mind Whisper chip in her own neck, enabling her to know what the soldiers are plotting.

There’s a stand off in the corridor. The soldiers are caught between Rossum’s “Eliminate target” orders and Echo inserting her own “Stand down” directive. Anyone who’s had the “time to go home” and “no, one more drink” conversation in their head knows this conundrum all too well.

Echo manages to get the soldiers to go away because hello? In a war of wills, the woman always wins. She, Victor and Sierra escape and drive away as fast as they can. Several miles later, Echo pulls over to release the lovebirds into the wild. They have their identities back; it’s time to go have a life. Before they can say their good-byes, pain shoots through their heads and they pass out — Adelle has remotely wiped them. The sun never sets on her British empire.

Back at the house, Adelle has Echo strapped to Topher’s chair, about going to get what’s coming to her.

Adelle: You’ve disrupted countless engagements, brought Alpha into my house, deceived me, with the help of Paul Ballard, dragged Topher and Boyd into the fun, and now, Victor and Sierra. You leave a wake of destruction wherever you go. There is only one place for a doll as irreparably damaged as you.
Echo: The attic.
Adelle: They say it’s whatever hell you image. But I think it’s something far worse.

So, the attic is the Friend Zone? Or the Bush era? Or the shady side of Giants Stadium in January?

Victor, Sierra and Echo all get sent to the attic, a nether world of infinite black where everyone is packed in water and shrink wrapped for all eternity.

Episode 2.10 “The Attic”

Echo has been in the attic for five minutes, five hours or five weeks. Who knows? The point is, she’s been sent to a watery oblivion, her plan to free the dolls is thwarted, and her fingers are pruning likenobody’s business.

Suddenly, her vital signs flat line and she expires. Oh, OK, R.I.P. Caroline. Two attic attendants start to disconnect her when suddenly, Echo comes back to life. I’m not dead yet!

The old fake-my-own-death-and-come-back-to-choke-you ploy. Works every time.

Echo locates Sierra and Victor, frees them, and they all make a break for it. On the run, Echo becomes separated from the others by an invisible wall. She watches in horror as Victor and Sierra are shot in the back by Dollhouse storm troopers.

And it never happened. In reality, Echo is still shrink-wrapped tighter than a fetish freak in a latex scene. This is Echo’s nightmare loop.

Downstairs, Adelle wants Ballard revived. “We are in the market for a strapping new Victor,” she informs Topher. The nerd king tells her the only way to bring Chuckles back is to make him a doll. While he works on that, Adelle summons Ivy to her office for a mystery meeting.

Back in the attic, Echo repeats her nightmare loop, only this time, she realizes Rossum expects her to be afraid. She wills herself to remain calm, which lo and behold, changes her story. This time, she discovers an escape hatch and climbs out, only to find her child self, under a snowy tree.

As in dreams, everything is surreal. Boyd laughs at Echo, (he never laughs) telling her she has no friends. She sees her trashy relatives and a dead horse. Dominic, Adelle’s former right-hand man and NSA plant, returns to tell her to get out of his attic nightmare. Together, they fight a shadowy killer named Arcane. Dominic tells Echo he’s been chasing Arcane by jumping from mind to mind, and she’s in his mind.

“That’s pretty cool and all, and I don’t want to ruin your whole Highlander vibe, but I’m pretty positive this is my mind. I’m pretty sure you just saved my life, for real,” Echo says.

Suffice it to say, everyone in the attic is trapped by their own nightmares. Sierra is menaced by the zombie version of Nolan, Victor is on an unending tour of Afghanistan where the enemy is himself, and Echo meets Matsu, a former Rossum employee who was transferred to the attic after finding a weakness in the company mainframe. His special treat is to be served his own severed legs by a sushi chef.

Back in reality, Adelle finishes her mystery meeting with Ivy, then warns Topher that if he doesn’t toe the company line, his job could easily go to her. She also meets with Boyd and reminds him at Rossum, you have three choices: do their bidding, do attic time, or do nothing, because you’re a dead man. Sober Adelle is no fun at all.

Echo and Dominic have figured out that the attic half nightmare, half real. Arcane is real, and feeding off the fears of the condemned. They lay a trap using Sierra’s rape nightmare, but when Arcane shows up and struggles during the capture, and everyone falls through a wall, landing in a dystopian world full of garbage, random fires, mayhem and no air conditioning.

Arcane has turned in a nebbish named Clyde, one of the founders of Rossum. After being double-crossed by his partner, Clyde was the first to move into the attic. He explains that Rossum’s mainframe is actually a network of the fastest, best computers in the world: human brains. Fear generates the adrenalin needed to make the organization run at top efficiency. Ingenious, and yet, sinister and more than a little douchey to the very people they need to keep the show going. Not unlike the GOP.

As Arcane, Clyde has been trying to slow the Rossum network by killing one mind at a time. Clyde also tells the incredulous gang that his partner has switched bodies, and created a Clyde 2.0 to do his bidding. The real Clyde has no memory of his partner’s name, but there’s a rumor going around that a woman knows who they are. Echo says, “Caroline” like it’s her “Rosebud.” “Yes!” Clyde exclaims.

The only way to disconnect from the mainframe without frying their brains is to die, be disengaged by the network, and then revived. Of course that’s how it’s done, because pulling a plug from the wall socket would be simple and boring.

Before Dominic, Victor, Sierra and Clyde realize what she’s doing, Echo lets herself get shot, so she can die and get started. See ya on the other side, suckers.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, someone is in for a rude awakening. If the five Musketeers think the future looks bleak, Ballard is ready to hang himself when he comes to and finds out he’s a doll now.

Ballard: Dinasaurdinary!
Boyd: What’s happening? It didn’t work?
Ivy: His brain is completely reorganized.
Topher: It’ll take a minute to adjust.
Ballard: [after a minute] What the hell did you do to me?
Boyd: You were in a coma, Paul.
Topher: Alpha damaged your brain. We did it to save your life.
Ballard: Did what?

Oh, nothing. But if you have the urge to do yoga and eat pancakes, would that be such a bad thing?

Boyd and Topher drop another bomb on Ballard: Echo, Sierra and Victor are in the attic, Trick. Oh, and Adelle is a bitch when she’s not drinking.

Meanwhile, Echo plans on being the hero all by herself, because she’s not normal and no one can do what she does. Sierra reminds her none of them are normal and if she goes, they all go. Dominic and Clyde volunteer to stay behind in Disturbia and fight the good fight.

Cut to: Echo is alive and out of the attic. She says, “We got it – the information we were looking for — maybe more. I understand the mainframe and I know how to get at the heart of Rossum. Your plan worked.” The camera swings around to show who Echo is reporting to.

In fact, they not alone.

Day-um, Adelle. I knew you wouldn’t let us down!

Adelle: We’re ready.
Echo: No. We’re one soldier shy. It’s time for me to meet Caroline. It’s time to win her war.

Somewhere, Bennett’s dead arm is itching like a mo fo.