"Epitaph Two" was certainly a finale.
I mean that in the sense that it really ended the story. So, in that way, it was highly successful. I's dotted, T's crossed, arcs completed, et cetera et cetera.
That said, I gotta say, it was not my favorite Whedon finale.
Mostly because it was just too neat and tidy and, frankly, kind of lame.
I've said "it hurts me to say this" before. But seriously this time. Criticizing the sadly premature Dollhouse finale brings me real emotional pain. Because if I put on my Critical Analysis Hat, it really was lacking.
Let me break my reasoning down into characters.
1. Alpha. I'm sorry, but WHAT THE HELL. I'm sure this is a development that would have been expanded and explained had the series continued long enough. But given the information we had at the time of the finale, this was just gross. Making Alpha one of the good guys? Having him be the engineer of Echo's happiness at the end of it all? I love Alan Tudyk, but I don't love him so much that I want him to come in and throw the narrative stream halfway to hell.
2. Sierra and Victor. Actually, I had the least complaint about this one. Oddly, their relationship is possibly the most complicated and most developed in the entire show. Yeah, the tied-up ending with them happy with the kid was pretty cheesy. But sweet. And it more or less made sense.
3. Topher. As with Alpha, this is just something that really needed more series to make sense. We could see the seeds of this personality transition in him. But where we left off right before "Epitaph Two" was a far reach from self-sacrifice in the interest of all humanity. One thing I will say: Fran Kranz is freaking genius in the finale, and in the series as a whole and he really should get more recognition for it.
4. Paul Ballard. He unfortunately fell victim to the golden rule of Whedon series: the faithful male lover of the strong female heroine must always die. So that was a predictable, but solid choice. Not so kosher: putting him in Echo's head. I'm sorry, but when did the Whedon team decide that happy endings were necessary? CORNY EW. Do not approve.
I feel like "Epitaph Two" was mostly an exercise in showing everyone exactly how much Dollhouse needed to go on longer. The hints we saw of the things that would happen - character transitions in Topher and Adelle, the tech-heads, the Priya/Tony relationship, the Echo/Paul relationship, Mag and Zone - were just enough to prove that having them not occur is a tragic thing. There is no doubt in my mind that Dollhouse would have grown into a mindblowingly amazing show had it run its full course. But, sadly, that was not the case due to network politics and a slow start.
As for how it all ended, my final verdict is that this finale was just not up to standard for Whedon series finales. Even Firefly's "Objects In Space," which was not planned as a finale, was more effective, I feel, in terms of summarizing themes but leaving the right amount of openended-ness (if you consider Serenity to be the finale of Firefly, I'd say the success is even greater). The main problem with "Epitaph Two" was that it was name-appropriate. It really doesn't feel like there's that much story left. I just don't care about the aftermath. It feels closed. Self-contained. Done.
Maybe that works for some people. But I feel like it took a different stance from the series. The end was too much of a fairytale.
(This review also posted on my blog at http://meltedbrain.wordpress.com.)