Once upon a time, there was a prince who heard of a princess who had been asleep for years. She walks and talks like someone who is awake. She dances, steals, sings and saves lives. But he knows she is really asleep.
He goes into a dark castle, hidden underground. As he is about to wake her, he meets another prince who says she is better off asleep. While they fight each other, they fail to notice a third prince who wakes her up, and turns her into someone else. They run off to live happily ever after. As the princes wonder what happened, another princess who was asleep wakes up, and wonders why the first prince didn't kiss her instead.
Welcome to "Briar Rose", a fractured fairy tale of the Dollhouse.
The story, written by Jane Espenson, cleverly weaves the original version of Sleeping Beauty, Briar Rose, into Echo's current engagement, helping an abused girl deal with her past, and Paul's determination to free Echo/Caroline from the Dollhouse, as if he was meant to be Prince Charming. Throw in a guy who is a reluctant sidekick, and one incredible twist at the end, and you have a fairy tale that doesn't get any grimmer.
It begins with an old man dumpster diving, and finding a hand. He soon finds out the hand is attached to a very strong arm.
Switch to someone reading Briar Rose, and we see it's Echo. One of the kids thinks the story is crap, especially the curse that put the princess to sleep and the need for a prince to wake her. She angrily asks why couldn't she wake herself up, and tears up the book. We soon learn she is Susan, whose mom died of a drug overdose. She was also pimped out by the mom's boyfriend. She's been in fights and even used knives to attack others. Echo's engagement is to help her deal with the abuse, and get her to a healthier future. Surprisingly, this was Topher's idea...and it's actually a good one.
Meanwhile, Paul is about to move out of his apartment, and Mellie/November is very upset. He can't say he knows she's a Doll who could kill him. So, he goes to the "it's not you, it's me" excuse. She winds up wandering the streets, weeping, and even stopping at a freeway overpass. Thankfully, a handler is there to pick her up. You know Paul did the right thing, but it's still so sad seeing Mellie like that. We also find out Paul is following her, hoping to lead him to the Dollhouse. This may prove he really considers her a means to an end rather than a girlfriend.
At the Dollhouse, Boyd and Adelle look at a flash drive sent to Dominic. They decide they have to bring him back to see what's inside. But how can they do that without Reed Diamond?
The relationship between Echo/Susan and little Susan is very interesting. Echo/Susan tries to win the little girl's trust by talking about how she wanted to run away from her troubled youth, but couldn't. Little Susan admitted she had four attempts to run away, but couldn't. For one thing, the boyfriend told her no one could help her escape, not even the cops. Echo/Susan assured her it's OK to have someone else save you. She even points out that Briar Rose saved herself, in a way, by dreaming that a prince would wake her up. She advises little Susan to read the book again, but see herself as the prince. Echo/Susan tells the social worker she'll be back soon. She also says Little Susan is ready to go forward, but it will hurt. The hope, though is that little Susan will identify with Echo/Susan, and be headed to a better life...which Echo/Susan represents.
Paul meets Loomis at the FBI, very excited he's finally making progress. He says he got nowhere chasing leads to the Dollhouse, until they brought Mellie to spy on him. She led him to 23 Flower, where the Dollhouse exists. While the building above is not the Dollhouse, there must be something underground. He finds an environmental services consultant who could design such a place, something that is so self-sufficient, it's invisible. Loomis tries to accept this, despite the fact Paul is saying it so manically.
Back at the invisible Dollhouse, we see that Dominic is back...in Victor's body. He's not too happy about this. It make take more to get hm to cooperate. Dr. Saunders injects a sedative before he says "Whiskey". Why he looked at her while he said that is unclear. Enver Gjokaj does an incredible job imitating Dominic. He's another of Joss Whedon's Stars of the Future.
Paul looks for the designer of the Dollhouse. He finds Stephen Kepler, an agoraphobic guy who's very scared of the outside world. He also looks like a guy who flew a spaceship while wearing Hawaiian shirts...and he should be since he's Alan Tudyk. While he doesn't soar like a leaf on the wind, Kepler's been able to be self-sufficient, generating his own power, food, water and "medicinal carrots" that are popular in Humboldt County. He's more concerned about keeping his carbon footprint small. Paul wants Kepler to lead him to the Dollhouse, so he can be the prince that wakes Briar Rose. Kepler is reluctant, but a gun in Paul's hand changes his mind.
Back to Victor/Dominic, he says he kept in touch with the NSA with phones, not flash drives. However, there was someone else....Alpha. After discovering the Greek letter "alpha" was the password, they discover the flash drive has a picture of Paul Bunyan, which Adelle recognizes as something located near "The Center" in Tucson. She doesn't admit it's the main HQ of Dollhouse Inc., but Topher figures it out. Sierra is sent to look at the body Alpha sliced. Posing as an FBI forensic specialist, she figures out the body doesn't look like a homeless guy who lived deep in garbage.
The story now centers on Paul getting into the Dollhouse, redeeming himself and getting the girl. Kepler's not happy about being in a buddy cop movie scenario where Paul's the hard-nosed FBI agent and he's the guy who hates buddy cop movies. Still, through some clever sneaking, they get inside. Kepler claims he thought he was designing the new Eden, but Paul says Eden was no prison. Well, it was supposed to be Adam and Eve's only home...until that apple. Maybe Paul will become that "apple" that turns the Dollhouse from Eden to a "prison". Kepler's surprised how the place is able to be self-sustainable, with no effect on the outside world. He also likes the "stone cold foxes" who wander around. Paul finds Victor, who he knew as Lubov, and declares "my whole life isn't real." Kepler says it's a small world, and that he was in grade school with Jenna Elfman. Paul also admits again the Dolls are not people, but Caroline is the one he has to save. The only problem is, if Echo/Caroline is "set free", who's going to help little Susan?
Kepler is able to disable a few things so that Paul can find Echo/Caroline. He finds Mellie first. While she looks so beautiful asleep, he knows she could kill him. She's a Doll. She's not real. Caroline, however, is real, and finds her just as she's waking up. Boyd finds them, too, and says Paul won't get the girl. It can't be done. Even if Paul and Echo/Caroline leave, the Dollhouse will kill them. But Paul doesn't care. He's the prince, and he's getting her a happy ending. He and Boyd fight, while she looks on. They even break Victor's pod, and he's shocked more than anything else. As Paul tries to get away with her, she seems him, and seems to recall fighting him. She pushes him off. Then she sees Boyd, the man who has saved her before. Boyd is her prince because she trusts him. Paul is the evil minion, and must be sent to the Queen. (namely Adelle).
Dr. Saunders finds Victor, who says people were fighting on him. She brings him to her office, and finds Kepler with a knife. He slices Victor's face...just like he did to Saunders a few months before. That's right...Kepler is Alpha!
She is scared out of her wits as he observes how her scars have healed, even if she hasn't. He asks her if she's always wanted to be a doctor. She says yes, but for some reason he doesn't believe her. He also asks her what it was like to see him for the first time. Was he healthy, intact, fine? She answers yes to all of his questions. He says he'd like to continue, but he's running out of time...but for what?
Paul finally confronts Adelle and Boyd, and tries to convince them... and himself... the jig is up. Stifling a laugh, she tells Paul he's nothing but a suspended FBI agent who can't hurt her. He still wonders why the Dollhouse put some interesting lies into his life and tried to kill him twice. She just says "It might be good for us both that I failed." She knows the solution is simple: just turn Paul into a Doll. After all, who would miss him? Boyd's not so sure about this, but then she gets a call from Sierra. Apparently, the old man who was killed was the real Stephen Kepler,and that his body was dumped in Tucson from L-A. Alpha was imitating him....and he's in the Dollhouse.
At that moment, he and Echo meet. She says he seems to remember him, while he knows he remembers her.
One treatment later, she remembers.....that she is Alpha's lover, or she thinks she is. The point is, Alpha is the real prince around here. He and Echo then leave, but for where?
This puts everyone is a very strange situation. Adelle and Boyd have to rely on Paul to find Alpha and Echo, even if Paul knows he'll probably be killed or join Dominic in the Attic. Still, what choice does everyone have? Also, what will Alpha and Echo do, and what will he really do to her? Will little Susan get caught in the crossfire? It seems likely because the show wouldn't just forget about her, and maybe neither will Echo.
Next week's episode,"Omega", is bound to end this season....maybe the only season...with a bang. The only mystery left is whether this story will continue beyond May 8th. In some countries, it will with the lost 13th episode, "Epitaph One", but not afterwards.
At least the ratings seem to suggest that. Since people aren't flocking to the final episodes of Prison Break, they're not coming to Dollhouse either. Even with high DVR and iTunes numbers, the real statistic that counts is how many people are watching on Fridays.
The answer; not enough. Slightly more than three million people, which is slightly higher than the week before. The 18-49 demo, though, is an all-time low of 1.1.
If only you can "imprint" people to watch this show when it's on...as we used to do before TiVo and even VCRs.
Well, TV execs only count viewers to see shows live, despite the new technology that lets them wait until even Saturday afternoon to see 24 or 30 Rock. That's why Echo may fade away after next week.