Two women are sharing tea. One of them has an offer.
"Nothing is what it appears to be,"; the older person says. She is Adelle DeWitt. She offers the young woman a clean slate, by making a five-year commitment.
The other woman disagrees. She says when you clean a slate, there's always something left. DeWitt tells the girl, called Caroline, that actions have consequences but what they do helps people, and could help her, too.
Caroline is skeptical, and says she just wanted to make a difference and take her place in the world. Still, she adds, actions have consequences.
"What if they didn't?"DeWitt asks her.
Switch to what seems to be More Fast, More Furious, only with motorcycles. One of the riders crashes out, and we see it's Caroline. She picks up her bike and roars off, leaving her helmet behind. Both drive into a Chinese restaurant, and we see it's part of the other rider's birthday party. He's called Matt. He wins, and she accuses him of cheating. Then, they forget about it, and start dancing..even if it is to Lady Gaga. We learn that they've spent the weekend together, it was great, and he gives her a nice necklace. He goes to get a drink, and she dances again....until she stops, and walks out of the restaurant. Matt sees her leave, but doesn't stop her. He realizes the fantasy is over. She walks to a van where another man tells her it's time for her treatment. It's supposed to be 5 AM, but it looks like it's 5 PM in January. Well, they'll fix it in post.
Caroline changes clothes, and goes on and on about Matt. She thinks she's found somthing real. Too bad it isn't...and neither is she.
The guy operating the chair, Topher Brink, tells the girl to sit, and warns her it may pinch. Suddenly, the life of this girl, from the party to her birth, dissolve away. Topher then approaches her, and calls her Echo. She asks him, "Did I fall asleep?" "For a little while", he replies. Then, she leaves. Echo is really an Active, who can be programmed to be anyone, but has no personalities at all. In this case, she acts like a calm River Tam, but what used to be Caroline is gone.
Topher and the handler, Boyd Langdon, discuss what just happened. Topher calls what happened giving two people the perfect weekend. He sees himself as a humanitarian, while Boyd says they could go to prison for their "humanitarian" ways. Topher's proud of himself, and envies Echo a little. "She's living the dream,"he says. "Whose dream?"; Boyd asks. "Who's next?";, Topher replies.
Cut to a very fancy place, where 12 year old Davina Crestejo is talking to her dad, Gabriel. It's a typical cell phone conversation. When she reaches her room, she's grabbed and put into a body bag. While this has turned into Taken, dad is not Liam Neeson.
Gabrel turns to the Dollhouse, and apparently he's used it before. He asks DeWitt to get him a negotiator to oversee the ransom payment. She agrees. She doesn't want anyone brought to justice because it may expose the place. That is job one here. The Dollhouse must say invisible to all, even God. That's DeWitt's top priroity. She reminds Gabriel that the chosen Active doesn't know the house exists, and must never know.
Meanwhile, Echo is examined by Dr. Claire Saunders, who has a scar on her face. It's faint, but it's there. Claire sees Echo injured her knee, but Echo doesn't remember how. She has forgotten her motorcycle accident, and who she was.Claire asks if it bothers Echo. "Should it?";, she replies. Claire tells Echo she'll take care of her, but Echo asks who takes care of Claire. As Echo reaches for Claire's face, Claire pulls away. The scar is deeper than we think.
Later, Echo notices some flashes in one of the upper rooms. She steps in, and sees a woman being zapped, like River was zappped by the Alliance. Topher sees Echo, and gets her out of there. He says they're just doing some work on her, but soon she'll be "strong and happy". While this is happening, Claire is peeking from outside the door. Why is she worried abut Topher and Echo being together? Echo leaves, but not before telling Topher something fell on her. "I bet it was something great,"; he says. At this point, I have deep disgust over Topher, who apparently thinks people can be rewired like computers. While that skill may not be popular in civilization, it is needed in the Dollhouse. Ick.
Now a very interesting scene that symbolizes the strife experienced by one Paul Ballard, the least popular FBI agent since Fox Mulder. Two FBI supervisors look over Paul's career, which mainly has been searching for the Dollhouse for more than a year. Paul is convinced it exists, but can't find it. Thing is, all he's done has been threatening: a senator and almost ruining a big investigation into human trafficking. Paul asks why he can't be transferred. The supes explain someone more powerful has insisted that Paul keep looking. They think the idea of a group that programs people into anything makes no sense. Paul says it does: "Nobody has everything they want. You get what you want, you want something else...Something more extreme. Something perfect.". As for Actives, he says "(w)e're talking about people walking around who may as well been murdered." While this is happening, we get clips of Paul in a kick-boxing match with a bigger, heavily tattooed guy. As he's being criticized, we see him lose. When he promises that his chase of a "fairy tale" won't interfere with anyone else, we see him win. Foreshadowing, or wishful thinking?
Echo is now prepared for "treatment", to become someone else. Then, DeWitt tells Boyd all Echo has to do is make sure ransom is paid, and no one gets arrested. Gabriel wants his daughter, not justice. Then, we see Echo is The Negotiator: Eleanor Penn, cool, no-nonsense, and direct. Almost like a schoolmarm. Too bad she looks too young for the job, but we'll get to that later. Aside from that, she has the knowledge to do the job, spouting out negotiation theories and
possible outcomes that make you wish she could referee recent and future labor problems...or maybe financial bailouts.
Still, Echo the Negotiator? Even Boyd isn't buying this, especially making her nearsighted and asthmatic when she wasn't before. Topher says his personality downloads are traces of several real people mixed to create a whole. Making Echo Penn nearsighted actually defines her. "Achievement is balanced by fault,"; he explains. "Everyone who excels is overcompensating, running from something." For some reason, he's looking at Claire while saying that. Did he just define himself?
Echo Penn talks to Mr. Sunshine, the kidnapper. She insists he call her Miss Penn.. It's all about control. Not only that, she raises the ransom to eight million dollars. She figures the group is four people, and they can split the cash easier. Her strategies do work, but Gabriel has real doubts. After all, he knows how Miss Penn really is, and can't believe Instant Negotiator will actually get his daughter back. He gets close to blowing her cover--to her--until he asks if someone took her away. She says yes, when she was nine, and she was kept for three months. We know he is actually talking about the people who recruited her for the Dollhouse, but Echo Penn thinks it's from a past trauma she is supposed to remember. "All those terrible memories these men put in your head," Gabriel says, "Why would they do that?" "Sometimes bad things just happen," she says, "and no one could protect you from them." At this point, she flashes back to Sierra and her "treatment"; and she freaks out. She recovers, and tells Gabriel to be ready for the next day. Then, she gets her puffer. She has asthma, remember?
Paul is tracking down a sleazy Russian guy named Lubov, who might be a lead in the Dollhouse case. When Lubov goes to a urinal, and is confident it's not Shirley Manson in disguise, he feels a gun on his neck. It's Paul, who makes Lubov repeat Dollhouse several times. Paul tells him to find out who's connected to the Dollhouse, stay away from a certain Russian group into human trafficking, and that's it. Paul reminds Lubov to wash his hands...and shoes.
At the ransom drop, Boyd is off to the side, ready to act if something goes wrong. Mr. Sunshine asks for the cash, but Echo Penn wants to see Davina. She does, and the money is laid out. Then, Echo Penn sees a bald man, and freaks out again. She tells Gabriel to make sure the kidnappers don't return to the boat, or Davina's gone for good. Gabriel demands his daughter, and Mr. Sunshine shoots him. Boyd kills Mr. Sunshine, and gets orders to scrub the mission. That means losing eight million dollars and the kid, but it's necessary. Then, Echo Penn says "you can't fight a ghost."
In the van, she explains she recognized the bald man as the guy who kidnapped her when she was nine. She recalls how heavy he was, although he kept calling himself a ghost. The man eventually kept all of the money and killed his fellow kidnappers, and thinks he'll do the same with Davina. Of course, this is really from the personality mix Topher made, but could it be that justice could be served if they get back Davina? Well, Echo Penn also thinks the masked kidnapper may be someone who knows Davina. Once Echo Penn gets her treatment, she'll figure it out....except she won't.
Boyd barges into DeWitt's office, demanding that Echo's treatment be delayed, at least long enough to find Davina. DeWitt disagrees, saying that the Dollhouse must distance itself, or it won't be a secret anymore. Besides, Echo botched it, but Boyd says it's really DeWitt, because she gave Echo the personality of an abused woman...and she met the abuser. Reluctantly, and despite the lame "it's complicated"excuse, DeWitt agrees, but Head of Security Dominic will escort her. After all, people won't like the Dollhouse, even slightly, if such a place thinks losing kidnapped children isn't a big deal. Topher also find out the woman the bald guy really kidnapped killed herself because she couldn't escape the trauma.
It turns out Echo Penn wasn't treated yet, and she's got the answer. Apparently one of Davina's teachers is involved, and uses that fact to find the kidnappers. She tries to convince them what the bald guy will do to them. She even guesses correctly they are hiding Davina in a refrigerator. The bald guy isn't afraid of Echo Penn, and grabs her face, but she says she may be too old for him. The kidnappers do believe her, and shoot Bald Guy. He couldn't fight the real ghost within Echo Penn. she finds the kid, and one of the kidnappers tells them to leave. Then, someone with a rifle comes in and kills the rest of the gang. It's Sierra, who is now happy and strong.
So, we have a happy ending, and Echo and Sierra don't remember a thing. They both calmly walk around, eventually to the showers which are apparently co-ed. All is still not well, though. DeWitt mentions that have another problem, and its name is Alpha. Meawnhile, someone puts a picture of Echo in an envelope addressed to Paul. On the back, it says ";Keep looking." Oh, and there's also a couple of dead bodies in the room. All the while, there's a video of "Caroline" saying what she'll do after college. She says she'll take her place in the world, travel and save the world. So, as Echo/Caroline calmly walks into her coffin/bed, we hear her say "I want to do everything. Is that too much to ask?"