In “Epitaph One” we see the world ten years in the future from the other episodes of season one of Dollhouse. We are shown through flashbacks a few of the events that led from the Dollhouse technology to an apocalyptic world in which people’s personalities are regularly wiped, body switching is common, and those who maintain their original personality are hunted down. The episode is deliberately vague because at the time of its production it was unclear whether Dollhouse would have another season, so some closure needed to be provided while still allowing room for possible future episodes. Despite knowing this, however, I thought the episode presented too many ideas without developing them sufficiently to serve as a proper conclusion. Even considering the subsequent episodes which contain references and will likely explain this one further, I still don’t feel like the episode was complete enough.

First, there is the idea of how the Dollhouse technology led to the current situation on Earth. Apparently, China is sending waves of signal which wipe people’s personalities and turn them into dolls like the father in “Epitaph One.” Second, there was apparently a phone call, also originating from China, which programmed those who picked up to go and kill anyone who was not programmed. While we learn that Tohper’s use of waves rather than analogue to program dolls is the origin of this technology, there is no explanation for how we moved from brothels to China destroying all human personalities. I think the episode is intended to show that this technology is ultimately evil and can only end in apocalypse, but while I can imagine some possible scenarios which lead from point A to point B, I feel like there are more specific events that could have altered this outcome significantly.

We are also shown a Rossum executive in Victor’s body informing Adelle that the dolls’ bodies are now being sold for 9 figures. This makes sense in the context of the previous episodes, particularly “Haunted,” as we saw the possibility for eternal youth and immortality through body switching. However, this episode confused me when the woman inhabitting the girl, Iris, said she had no idea how she ended up in that body. This didn’t seem to mesh with the idea that the technology was for the rich and privileged. If people are just being wiped or killed off, what purpose could it possibly serve to have this woman randomly placed in a girl who ended up with a bunch of revolutionaries? Maybe it was intended as a link between the idea of the apocalypse and the ideas of body switching already presented, but for me I think it just confused the issue and put out one too many ideas at once.

What do you think of the vision of the apocalyptic future? How would you imagine the world went from the Dollhouses to the way we see it presented in “Epitaph One?”

Did you think “Epitaph One” was enough of a conclusion for the series? Is there anything you wish had been clarified, or explored in more detail?

2 Responses to “A Grim and Ambiguous Future”

  1.   heb7 Says:

    Hey Alex,

    I shared quite a few of your questions, but apparently “Epitaph One” never even aired on the television but was rather included in the DVD (I suppose they filmed it before their surprise renewal). I did find it to be an adequate “end” for the series, however, although it definitely could have been more complete. Not only was the demise of the Dollhouse explained, but also some of the intermittent history was provided through the eyes of the “dolls.” I would have like to see a more definitive outcome for the show, however. I suppose that they definitely found Caroline and those with “birthmarks,” but which “body” and which “mind” won? The fact that she left her memory stored in a tape shows that she expected her collective memory to live on even if she didn’t, but does the little girl Caroline have a different soul? Will she fight the real Caroline to stay alive? There are a lot of issues to resolve, but I feel that Whedon and his crew did an adequate job considering the task was to create a believable ending for a complex show that only spanned one season (or even less, if you do not count the Fox dominated episodes).

    It was also interesting that the Topher’s non-analogue uploading would lead to technologies that allowed for mass contamination. The apocalyptic world did indeed seem like the end of times, complete with yellow skies, dilapidated skyscrapers, and plumes of black smoke. How frightening would it be if the only thing that prevented you from becoming a mindless, murderous warrior for the “other team” was your chance inability to answer to the phone.

    I would be interested in seeing the second season and “Epitaph II” to see how Whedon approached this “second” series finale.

  2.   Alex Says:

    Hi Haley,

    I was more concerned with how exactly the technology moved from creating prostitutes, or even extra bodies for the rich, to some kind of annihilation by China. While I can see how the technology evolved, I don’t think the show did a very good job in showing how the technology became so widespread, and why it was being used in the way it was. I thought that the idea was to show that something that seemed morally problematic, although limited in usage (the prostitution of the dolls) inevitably to an end of the world scenario. However, I thought that the future shown in “Epitaph One” relied on more than just the existence of that technology (specific decisions and politics about how the technology spread). I think that a lot of other things had to happen that were not necessarily covered by the show to reach that type of scenario, and I guess that because I expected that, I considered the episode a failure.

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