To pick up where we left off: are we supposed to sympathize with the desire to escape self-recrimination at any cost, or condemn it? This is the third episode in a row in which this desire has been foregrounded. Sierra returns to the Dollhouse to escape the knowledge that she killed Nolan. Daniel returns to the Dollhouse to escape the knowledge that he killed his wife/handler. And in between, Madeline says she doesn’t know how she’s going to live with the knowledge that she killed Hearn. What is all this telling us?
One key might be in Madeline’s background, about which we still don’t know much. In “Needs” we see her kneeling in front of a grave. Presumably grief drove her to the Dollhouse. But grief over what: death, or having caused death? My initial suspicion was the latter, and I still may be wrong, but more and more I’m suspecting I was right. If so, get this: she killed, and to forget it she joined the Dollhouse. They helped her forget; during her forgetting, they made her kill again. Forgetting her mistake quite literally allowed her to make the same mistake again. And forgetting that she had anything to forget led her to make another mistake (one she has to be allowed to make, if she’s to be free, she reminds Ballard), one that leads her back into the clutches of further forgetting.
So no, we’re not supposed to be able to forget what we’ve done. Absolution, a clean slate, shouldn’t be that easy. The only way to grow is to know ourselves, remember our mistakes. Wiping our memories doesn’t change who we are. Alpha and Caroline both demonstrate that.
Why does the show keep coming back to this theme? I think it has to do with Caroline. In “Echoes” we learn that she got her boyfriend shot and, probably, killed. We’re left to assume that this has something to do with her decision to accept the Dollhouse’s devil’s bargain. We haven’t yet learned all that happened between her boyfriend’s shooting and her entrance into the Dollhouse; with this episode we begin to learn a little, that she and Bennett had some kind of co-conspiratorial friendship. We’re still being encouraged to wonder about Caroline’s past, and specifically about why exactly she’s here. Remember how the whole series started: with us witnessing Caroline signing away her body/her self. That’s the biggest mystery hanging over the series. What does guilt have to do with it?
Why exactly she’s here. Except that, as of the end of this episode, she’s no longer there. Huge development. (BTW, I like the Incredible Hulk-style piano under the shot of her wandering alone through crowded city streets. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry – Perrin’s handler discovered that.)
Enver Gjokaj is a god. His mimicry of Fran Kranz in this episode is dead-on, and provides for one of the great Jossian this-should-not-be moments of the series. It’s wrong in all the right ways when Victor/Topher and Topher/Topher meet. Laughing at each other’s jokes. It’s hilariously meta, but at the same time horrifying: it’s the show’s most direct demonstration yet of the potential of this technology to disrupt our humanity. Dislocate and destroy it.
Equally mesmerizing are the Topher-Bennett scenes. Nerd love in full twitchy bloom. And of course as sincere as their mutual-admiration society is, they’re still each trying to sucker-punch the other. The left hand (John Cassavetes’? or Ursula LeGuin's?) doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. But if you’re some people, you don’t even know which is which (again: who’s Perrin parodying?).