Check into the DOLLHOUSE w/ Season 1 Recap

The cast of Joss Whedon's new FOX series 'Dollhouse', including Tahmoh Penikett (far left)

With the second season of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse about to premiere, we thought new or lapsed viewers could use some catching up. 



Joss Whedon wrote a show for Eliza Dushku.  Then they made a pilot.  Then the network thought the pilot was too dark and had them make another pilot.  Then they put it on at 9 on Fridays.  This is in no way like what happened with Firefly (except the most of that part). 

Then the show got pretty good after a slow start, and the season ended, and they had a budget of 13 episodes for a DVD but only had 12 aired, only the network didn’t want to do a 13th episode because it already paid for the first pilot, and the first pilot was all split up on the other episodes anyway, so they did another 13th episode for the DVD on a shoestring budget that also worked as a possible series finale.

Then the show got renewed anyway.  This did not happen with Firefly.

So now there will be a second season, where the episodes will be slightly shorter than those in the first season, and on a smaller budget, and there will be flash-forwards to a dark future that was shown in the episode that premiered on the DVD.

If you find this confusing, just read our handy guide.  It will bring you up to speed on the major plot points from 13 episodes worth of TV shows lickety-split.  Well, the stuff from the DVD makes it less lickety-split.  A lot went down. SPOILERS AHOY


The Dollhouse is a secret organization that implants human “Dolls” with personalities and skills needed for various “engagements.”  It is exactly as creepy as it sounds.

The dolls are named after military call signs – “Victor,” “Sierra,” etc.

Echo (Eliza Dushku) is a Doll.  She used to be a college student named Caroline Farrell.

Caroline fell in with some hippies who wanted to get evidence that the Rossum Corporation (a subtle reference to the early robot play R.U.R.), who had a lab on campus, was doing inhumane experiments on animals.

Unfortunately, she found out Rossum was really doing brainwashing stuff.  Caroline’s boyfriend got killed, and she wound up on the run.  This is what happens when you hang out with hippies.

Two years later, she was captured and offered a way out – five years of service at the Dollhouse, after which she would be free and very wealthy.

Now, as Echo, she’s one of the most in-demand Dolls in the Dollhouse.  People hire her for a six-figure sum as a perfect friend, or a bodyguard, or love at first sight.

Said “love at first sight” usually also involves sex.  Like we said, creepy.

Some Dolls have signed up for the Dollhouse under their own free will.  Others…not so much. For example: Caroline.

The Dollhouse is run by Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams).  She passionately believes in the Rossum Corporation’s goals, and that the Dollhouse provides genuine experiences of human connection.

The Dolls or “Actives” are programmed with full personalities in a big dentist chair of brainwashing by Topher (Fran Krantz), a tech guy who is creepy and likes to wear sweater vests.

Then, they’re sent out on assignments with a Handler who watches their vital signs and intervenes if something bad goes down. 

Echo’s Handler is Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix), an ex-cop who has a fatherly relationship with her, sort of like Giles on Buffy.

While imprinted, Echo thinks she really is the person she’s been programmed to be, whether it’s a singer, a girlfriend, or just someone who likes tank tops and tight pants like, um, Eliza Dushku.

When the engagement is over, Boyd tells her it’s time for “a treatment,” and she’s all “I want to go to there!” and heads back to the Dollhouse.

When not on Active duty, Echo and the other dolls hang around in a brain-dulled state where they paint things and take showers and say simplistic stuff, sort of like River on Firefly or Fred on Angel

They also sleep in coffin-like floor-beds.  Again, creepy.

Speaking of Fred on Angel, there’s Dr. Claire Saunders (Amy Acker) who treats the Dolls after missions, and helps make sure they’re treated nicely.  She has some scars – both on her face, and on the inside.

Why does she have scars?  That’s because of Alpha.

Alpha was an early Doll.  He was not a nice person when he was not a Doll. 

Now, he is not a very nice…person(s).  See, Echo reminded him of the girls he liked to cut and torture when he was just an ex-con recruited to the Dollhouse program.

After he went nuts, scarred Dr. Saunders and murdered several other Dolls, he was captured.  But while going through his previous imprints to see what went wrong, all 48 imprints simultaneously “composited” in his head.

In other words – 48 full personalities, each with their own abilities and memories, are going off in his mind at once.  That’s gotta suck.

Alpha destroyed the “wedge” with his original personality and escaped the Dollhouse.  From there, he did a lot of things to mess up Echo’s engagements.

This included remotely wiping her imprint over the phone (important) and hiring Matt Keeslar from The Middleman to go after her with a hunting bow.  Watch The Middleman on DVD!

Echo, for that matter, sometimes seemed to manifest aspects of Caroline’s personality, whether it was going off-mission, recalling past events that should be erased, or just doing mysterious paintings of mountains.

While all this was going on, FBI Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) was obsessed with finding the Dollhouse.  Alpha kept sending him clues about Caroline.

Ballard got sort of weirdly fixated on saving Caroline.  He doesn’t have much of a life.

Ballard kept hitting dead ends and having people laugh at him.  However, he did meet a supportive neighbor named Mellie (Miracle Laurie) who liked to bring him lasagna while wearing a low-cut dress.

Unfortunately, Mellie turned out to be a sleeper doll called November.  Ballard did not find this out until after he’d slept with her.  That messed him up. 

He then hooked up with her again, which messed him up even more.  Ballard needs therapy.

Mellie/November’s real name turned out to be Madeline Costley, and she had joined the Dollhouse to erase her grief over her young daughter dying.  Aw!

Ballard also found out more about the Dollhouse after disrupting Echo’s engagement with a billionaire played by Patton Oswalt, who is awesome.

Echo was sent to kill Ballard, but her implant was tampered with, and she instead gave him a message – the Dollhouse was bigger than he thought.  In fact, there were Dollhouses all over the world.

A “documentary” running through that episode also postulated that if the Dollhouse technology got out, it could wipe out civilization as we know it.  Once again, more on this later...

Meanwhile, at the Dollhouse, Echo developed a friendship with two other Dolls, Victor (Enver Gjokaj) and a new Doll called Sierra (Dichen Lachman).

The Dolls all shower together, which usually isn’t a problem because of the brainwashing and everything, but Victor started having “man-reactions” to Sierra.  This was a problem.

As it turned out, Adelle was also having an affair with Victor in one of his imprinted states.  She broke it off, and felt sad.

Even with some deep brainwashing, Victor and Sierra kept being drawn together.  They love each other!

We still don’t know Victor’s past, though he was apparently in the military.

Adelle also felt sad when she found out her head security guy, Laurence Dominic, who’d tried to kill Echo before, was really an NSA spy. 

Dominic got sent to the Attic, which is where “broken” Dolls go.  It involves having your mind pretty much wiped out.  You don’t want to go to the Attic.

Boyd got Dominic’s old job.

It also seems Sierra’s real name is Priya Tsetsang, and she became a doll because she rejected the advances of her wealthy boss, who sold her to the Dollhouse.  He then repeatedly had her imprinted to “service” him.  Some vengeance might be needed.

Sierra was also repeatedly molested by her Handler, who Adelle tricked into being killed by November.  Sierra could use a break.  Free Sierra!

At one point, Echo had an engagement where she was implanted with the personality of Adelle’s friend, who had recently been killed.  It wasn’t a very good episode, but this pays off later.

Ballard finally got a break in his case when he tracked down the guy who built the Dollhouse, played by Alan Tudyk from Firefly.  He helped Ballard break in.

Unfortunately, he was really Alpha, who kidnapped Echo. He also scarred Victor like he did Dr. Saunders.

It seemed that in his infatuation with her, Alpha wanted to turn Echo into a multi-personalitied superbeing like himself, involving his own evil dental chair of brainwashing.

He imprinted a waitress with the original Caroline personality, then imprinted Echo with every other personality she’d ever had.

Unfortunately for Alpha, Echo handled this a lot better than he did, and kicked his ass.  Sort of like, um, Faith the Vampire Slayer.

The waitress with Caroline’s personality got killed, but the “wedge” with the Caroline imprint still survived. 

Ballard and Boyd helped save Echo and the wedge, but Alpha got away.

During this mess, Dr. Saunders was devastated to find she was really a Doll named “Whiskey,” who was cut up by Alpha so Echo would be the most popular Doll, then reprogrammed as a replacement for the real Dr. Saunders, whom Alpha had killed.

She sadly accepted her fate, and refused to find out who she was before.  She also realized that Topher had programmed her to hate him, indicating he feels some guilt over what he does.

Ballard agreed to stay at the Dollhouse as a contractor, on the condition that Mellie/November got her original personality back and had her contract paid off.

So life went back to normal at the Dollhouse, with Echo all blankety-blank again…

…except for when she muttered “Caroline” to herself as she went to sleep in her coffin-bed.

But wait!  There was ANOTHER episode that took things even further!

In the year 2019, Los Angeles looked nastier than Blade Runner, The Shield and a John Singleton movie combined.

A group of refugees that included Felicia Day and Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story stumbled on to the Dollhouse. 

Using the evil dentist chair of brainwashing, they discovered:

-The Rossum Corporation decided to offer Dolls as permanent host bodies for their clients’ personalities.  Adelle did not like this.

-Topher developed a way to do implants over the phone.

-The Chinese figured out how to use this technology on a widespread scale with a big phone call, which is sort of like Stephen King’s novel Cell

-This pretty much caused the apocalypse.  Topher felt lousy.

-The effects of these bursts seemed to include randomly moving around people’s personalities and creating crazed “butchers,” which were probably in no way like the Reavers from Firefly.

-Boyd began a romance with Whiskey/Dr. Saunders, but he had to take off on some mysterious mission.

-At some point, the various Dolls were able to manifest their original personalities alongside their implants, though this caused headaches.

-Sometime after that, the Dollhouse had become a virtual refuge for “Actuals” (people with Original Recipe personalities) seeking shelter from the attacks.

-Echo/Caroline and Ballard were out seeking help; they apparently had a complicated relationship.

-Caroline was some sort of freedom fighter, like Sarah Conner, whose show used to run before Dollhouse, but is now canceled.

-Victor and Sierra had apparently gotten together at some point, but Sierra was no longer into him. You overcome brainwashing for a girl and she still dumps you. This is what happens in real life, sadly.

-Something bad had happened to November, but it wasn’t clear if this was Mellie-November or another Doll labeled “November.”  Just roll with it.

-Dr. Saunders’ face got fixed, but she reverted back to a blank “Whiskey” state and hung around the abandoned Dollhouse guiding people and gassing Butchers and wearing white dresses and being enigmatic and stuff.

-In another flashback, Dominic got released from the Attic after the apocalypse-thing had happened, and had an “I told you so” moment with Adelle. 

-According to Adelle, Caroline holds the key to the future – she can’t be implanted any more.

-Later, Caroline helped evacuate the Dollhouse for “Safe Haven.”  It’s unclear whether or not she killed Adelle.

-Also, Alpha apparently played some role in allowing the people at “Safe Haven” to be un-wipe-able.  Good for Alpha!

-Back in 2019, Felicia Day and Scut Farkus, along with a little girl imprinted with Caroline’s personality, set out to find “Safe Haven,” where Caroline 1.0 may or may not be.

-Also, Joss Whedon says most of the flashbacks in this episode may have been unreliable, so everything you just read might not have happened.  I’m confused now.

Then the show got renewed for a second season. 


-Will Caroline save the future, like Sarah Conner, or at least John Conner?

-What is Victor’s backstory?

-Will Sierra ever get to kick her old boss’s ass, and what happened with her and Victor in the future?

-How did Victor and Whiskey/Dr. Saunders get their scars removed in the future?

-After John Conner got sent to the future, what…oh, right, that show was canceled.

-Why did Boyd join the Dollhouse?

-What happened in the two years before Caroline accepted Adelle’s offer, and what do the images of the mountains mean?

-What’s Alpha going to do next, and how will he affect the future?

-How will Echo and the others become able to assert their original personalities?

-Was it Dominic feeding Ballard info, or is there another spy in the Dollhouse?

-How will Ballard function as part of the organization he hates?

-Did Caroline kill Adelle in the future?

-Will Dr. Saunders have much to do, given that Amy Acker has to also appear on ABC’s Happy Town? (She is on this show for at least three episodes.)

 -Though Whedon hinted at some of Rossum’s positive real-world activities, will we see what those are on the show?

-In this one episode, Echo was imprinted as a midwife.  Who the hell would pay six figures for a damn midwife?  Seriously, for six figures, you could probably get one of those floating droid-things from Revenge of the Sith, and that wasn’t even a good movie.

-With the current economy affecting disposable income, have all the billionaires using the Dollhouse been forced to resort to less expensive means of companionship, such as craigslist?


-Never trust the Chinese, even if Firefly taught us they have cool swearing.

-If you hang out with hippies, you’re just going to wind up brainwashed by an evil corporation.  That statement is all-encompassing.

-Cell phones will bring about the apocalypse.

-Though free massages and all the loose-fitting clothing you can wear might sound like a sweet deal, it’s probably not worth it to have your personality erased so people can have sex with you.  Not even if free health care is involved.

-Dentist chairs are evil.  Sweater vests are probably evil.

-We’re all looking for a sense of perfect connection on this crazy jelly donut we call Spaceship Earth, but hiring a ninja-cyber-hooker isn’t the answer.  Feeling good about yourself, owning your insecurities, and realizing that we all have problems is the key to connecting with another person, not brainwashing someone else into being your date, or midwife.

Dollhouse’s second season premieres, now with 20 percent more flash-forwards, at 9:00 p.m. EST on Sept.24 on FOX.  Season One is available on DVD or on iTunes, with the last few episodes from Season One on Hulu.

Zack Smith ( is a regular contributor to Newsarama.

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