Just finished Briar Rose and Omega, and have to say that it's official: Dollhouse is the greatest thing Joss Whedon's done to date. With that out of the way, let's get to the episode reviews.
The most interesting thing for me about this episode is that it inverts what had become the standard formula for this show ('A' story involving Echo and/or one or more other Dolls, and 'B' story dealing with other story arcs such as Paul's hunt for the Dollhouse), with Paul's hunt being the 'A' story and the story involving the Dolls being the 'B' story. Another interesting thing about the episode is that, for the first time ever, the storyline involving Echo was more or less inconsequential in the long run, and was mainly there to give Eliza something to do. That's not by any means a complaint, though, because what it does is introduce us to one more personality for her character ahead of what happens in the season finale, so although it might be inconsequential to the actual storyline of the episode, it does end up having some merit, albeit in a rather roundabout way.
I first became aware of Alan Tudyk through Firefly, and have to say that I can't think of anyone better suited to playing somebody like Alpha - or his assumed alter-ego Stephen Kepler - than him.
Jane Espenson has written or co-written some of the best episodes of Buffy, Battlestar Galactica, and Once Upon a Time, which is a testament to her talents as a storyteller, and this episode has to rank among the best things she's ever written. One of the things that most stands out about the episode is that it didn't remind me of anything else that she'd written.
I'd thought about awarding a couple of earlier episodes a perfect 10.0 rating, but I'm glad I held off because Briar Rose truly earns that rating due to its inversion of the by-now-standard Dollhouse narrative formula and the ways in which it continues to demonstrate Jane Espenson's massive storytelling talents.
I've never really been that big a fan of Tim Minear; the man has talent and has written a ton of great episodes for Joss Whedon series over the years, but he tends to get a little bit too cerebral and dark for my tastes. Having said that, though, I have to give him props for writing and directing what is not only the best episode of Dollhouse thus far, but also one of the best episodes I think I've seen in any television series EVER.
There's so much going on in this episode that I'm not entirely sure what to talk about first, so I think I'll focus on three main threads:
1) Paul working with Boyd to find Alpha
2) Alpha using Echo to create an Ubermensch, Omega
3) The revelations concerning the character of Dr. Saunders
Tahmoh Penikett and Harry Lennix are great on their own, but when you throw them together and force their characters to work together - especially after having them beat the tar out of each other in the previous episode - you've really hit paydirt. It was also great to get to see Ballard's reactions to seeing what the Dollhouse does up-close-and-personal.
It was kind of hard at times to wrap my head around exactly what Alpha's whole goal and modus operandi was, both in the present and in the flashbacks where we discovered his fascination with Echo, but Minear ended up making everything work, especially once Alpha initiated the composite event in Echo and unleashed the Omega personality. It was also a trip - and a treat - to get to see Echo interact with her original self, Caroline, although I think I would've chosen a different actress to play Wendy, the girl who becomes Caroline's 'avatar'.
Amy Acker is one of my favorite actresses EVER, and once again proves why with her acting in this episode both as Whiskey and as Dr. Saunders. The reveal of Saunders being Whiskey was perfectly scripted and edited, and, although totally different than what I was expecting based on the brief glimpse of her character in the Alpha flashback in Ghost, the flashbacks telling her story and showing how she came to be scarred were perfectly structured. The scene where she discovers - as Dr. Saunders - that she used to be a Doll was also perfectly written and acted, and led to what I thought was one of the best parts of the episode: her giving the scarred Victor a lollipop just like the original Dr. Saunders used to (which, I might say, was a brilliant little character trait for Minear to slip in).
It's really not possible to give this episode anything other than a 10.0 rating, but even that doesn't really do justice to just how impressed I was by it. As I said at the start of my review, it really is not only the best episode of the series, but also one of the best episodes of any television series I've ever seen.
Now for a review of the season as a whole.
Dollhouse Season 1 Review
I REALLY liked the first season of the series, and didn't think there was a single bad episode in the lot (and yes, this includes Stage Fright, which, if you'll recall, I awarded an 8.8 to).
The prevailing opinion I've seen is that the season starts out somewhat slowly, but I have to vehemently disagree with that sentiment. Yes, the early episodes appear on the surface to be more standalone than the later episodes and can therefore seem to delay the 'true' start of the season's main story arc, but, as I noted earlier (twice), I really don't believe that there's a single truly standalone episode in the entirety of the season, and actually think that the fact that the early episodes seem like standalones but aren't actually standalones is one of the things that makes Dollhouse stand out as something unique in the pantheon of Joss' works and, as noted, his greatest work to date.
What Joss does with Dollhouse is give us a series and story that starts out being very much outside his usual milieu, both in terms of subject matter and stylistic approach, gets a little bit more recognizable, and then finishes up by going back to what it started out as.
I'll be back later with reviews of Vows and Belle Chose, the first two episodes of Season 2.