So what do we think we know about Caroline now? Last name Farrell. Graduated from Fremont College, where Rossum, the Dollhouse’s parent corporation, has a lab. Was an activist, raided the lab to expose animal experiments. Discovered human experiments. Fleeing the lab her accomplice and boyfriend was shot, probably fatally. Caroline was hospitalized, DeWitt came to visit, Caroline fled. At some point after that, Caroline and DeWitt have a conversation over tea in which DeWitt says they’ve been dancing around the issue for two years, and offers Caroline the Dollhouse contract, promising oblivion/atonement/her life.
What don’t we know? Why Caroline was in the hospital. What happened between her visit to the lab and the hospitalization. What happened in the two years between her fleeing the hospital and her joining the Dollhouse. Why DeWitt, in the present, thinks Echo is trying to punish her.
Among other things.
This was in a lot of ways the most Whedonesque episode so far. It made use of an unusual extraneous influence (the drug) to make everybody lower their defenses, allowing them to reveal their inner humanity to the audience and strengthen their quasi-familial bonds with each other. Think the memory spell episode of Buffy.
It was cute: Topher in his skivvies, DeWitt getting the munchies, Boyd playing the piano. All of these are endearing moments. The difference is that, with the exception of Boyd, we don’t particularly want to be endeared to any of these people yet. No matter how adorable Topher gets (and he got really adorable in this episode), he’s still a borderline sociopath in his behavior toward the dolls. No matter how vulnerable DeWitt reveals herself to be underneath, she’s still in essence a slaver. I’m not sure we needed a Whedonesque moment with these characters at this time.
But as with previous series, the Whedonesquery here is at least partly a smokescreen to cover what’s really going on, which is what everybody recognizes now as Echo’s ongoing awakening, her fumbling toward a composite event, as it were. This development has several virtues: it increases the tension, gives us something closer to a heroine to root for, and allows us to understand a little more of the back story. This is the arc.
What fascinates me is that it still doesn’t make things any simpler on a moral level. We begin to see how DeWitt is not above a little blackmail in recruiting dolls – threats or bribes, a Faustian bargain either way. At the same time, though, it’s still possible that the oblivion she offers is what these people want. The first time in this episode that Boyd asks Echo if she wants a treatment, she says no. The second time, after she’s recovered more of her memories, she says yes.
Freedom and captivity is the game here. Where do we start this episode? Owen opening the bugs’ jar and telling them “fly be free,” just before breaking his own head against the window like an insect in a specimen jar. Then we have Echo satisfying a client’s bondage fantasy. Then we have Caroline wanting to free the lab animals.
For Echo, regaining her memory should be freedom, freedom to be herself again. But look at what memory does to the rest of the dolls. It debilitates them. They can’t function. Maybe Echo’s not so wrong to want a treatment. Maybe forgetting is freedom.