The small mountain of criticism leveled at "Dollhouse" from all sides has overshadowed the reality that only a handful of episodes have actually aired. To be honest, it's felt like the show has been running for months, because of the depth and breadth of discussion. But this short season doesn't hit the midpoint for a couple more episodes, and the end of this installment is another step on the path towards Echo's eventual independence.
As usual, the long-term arcs are a lot more interesting to me than the episodic elements. In particular, it's now becoming clear that Echo (and Alpha, for that matter) is not some kind of random or unlikely aberration. Those behind the Dollhouse, even supposed mad genius Topher, don't seem to have a full grasp on the implications of their own technology. And for some reason, they seem to be missing the fact that what they don't know is precisely what will destroy them in the end.
It's nice of the writers to finally mention that the male actives have also been pimped out for sexual purposes (though, of course, we don't see it directly). Dr. Saunders' reaction to Victor's "man reaction" is also interesting. She tries to cultivate an air of detachment, noting that she's warned her superiors that the same "doll" shouldn't be imprinted too often with the same parameters. Yet that detachment slips every now and then, showing her occasional distaste with the program as a whole.
This is similar to Boyd and even Topher, in that these characters disapprove of certain aspects of the Dollhouse, yet they compartmentalize that disapproval and proceed with the work anyway. The point being made, I gather, is that these individuals have chosen to perpetuate the Dollhouse of their own free will. Or so we are led to believe; as noted in previous reviews, the nature of the Dollhouse is such that the free agency of every character is suspect.
Ballard is getting ever closer to finding Caroline/Echo, and at this point, he should be seeing a little more support within the FBI. After all, he has a picture of a woman who supposedly doesnât exist and video proving that she does. At the very least, this particular mystery should be taken seriously. If nothing else, the Dollhouse should be aware that he's becoming more of a problem than ever, thanks to Mellie (who is obviously an active).
But the main point is that Echo is becoming more and more aware of her surroundings, her situation, and she's not happy about it. It's just a matter of time before she regains enough self-awareness to strike back. She may not be the only one, if Victor and Sierra are any indication. I believe this is Alpha's goal; place specific actives under enough stress to overcome the built-in safeguards in the programming.
In terms of the mission, it definitely gave Eliza a chance to stretch the acting skills a bit. But the depiction of the cult was so vague and shallow that I found it hard to understand what Echo was doing to convince them that she was genuine. The religious aspects were too generic, and the treatment of the "miracle" was somewhat elusive for me. I could see what the writers were trying to accomplish, but it just didn't come together for me.
But this episode has cemented my conclusion that the season (and perhaps series) will be best judged when it is complete. At that point, the context of the story should be clear, and the intentions should be on the table. It may not be enough to overcome the negative sentiments and disturbing nature of the premise, but it might be enough to clarify what Joss was hoping to achieve.