This episode continues the process of peeling back the layers of the story, as Caroline's past gets a bit of exploration as the present circumstances shed light on the nature of the Dollhouse itself. As interesting as the concept is, and as much as it expands the scope of the series into culturally relevant areas, I'm personally disappointed with some of the implications.
In essence, Caroline was part of a group of young animal activists investigating the apparent atrocities of the world's largest and most influential pharmaceutical company: Rossum. A few years before she was brought into the Dollhouse, Caroline broke into a secure Rossum lab on a college campus and discovered that those atrocities were a bit more atrocious than she imagined. This apparently began a cat and mouse game with DeWitt that ended two years later, with Caroline cornered into "volunteering" for the Dollhouse.
The implication is that Rossum is the company behind much of the technology used in the Dollhouse, and that they have a vested interest in the Dollhouse network and its usage. This would make sense, because there is an ever-growing fear that multi-national corporations are gaining more power than national interests and national law. That always involves the delicate relationship between national government and multi-national corporate contributions. One hand feeds the other.
What I like is how this undermines the easy defense that Caroline volunteered to be a Doll. This episode strongly suggests that Rossum uses the Dollhouse network to get rid of anyone who poses a threat to them. And because this is the case, other disturbing aspects come to light. Did Caroline or any other "volunteer" realize that when the five-year tenure is over, there's no guarantee that they will be released with their original personality intact?
Making the Dollhouse even more disturbing, several characters were confirmed as not being under the influence of personality alteration. DeWitt, Boyd, Topher, and Dominic are all "unaltered", or they would have reacted like the Dolls did to the release of the virus. That means those individuals have made the conscious decision to use and abuse the Dolls. That doesn't mean coercion isn't involved, of course, since Rossum could reserve the Doll status to those with the right look. They could use other means to persuade people to perpetuate the Dollhouse network. But they take pride in what they do, and knowingly doing so is a huge strike against them.
This opens the door for the series to take a different turn. Caroline's story is now the story of a young woman trying to break down a conspiracy to undermine society's understanding of reality. If she escapes and stops being a Doll, the story no longer ends. If anything, it begins. The audience is given a laundry list of reasons to hate the Dollhouse network, a reason to sympathize with Caroline, and a sense of how dangerous and pervasive the enemy could be.
On the whole, this is a good thing; it places the first few episodes in context and addresses the notion that this is glorifying the practices of the Dollhouse. (It doesn't quite address the presentation and promotional concerns, but at least some of that is FOX, not Joss.) In other words, this should make me rather happy.
Unfortunately, there's also the unspoken implication that pharmaceutical companies are inherently sinister, and that's something I can only accept to a point. Pharmaceutical companies don't conduct animal testing because they're evil; they do it because alternative substitute methods for conducting early-stage toxicological research don't currently exist. Throughout the world, information from such studies is mandated by regulatory bodies for the introduction of any new medicine, which complicates any attempt at change. I'm not trying to change anyone's mind on this subject, but the animal testing is wrapped into the truly unethical experiments funded by Rossum, and a