(See the video version here)
The seventh Dollhouse episode “Echoes” starts to build up momentum toward the season finale with a look into Caroline’s backstory. The thing with Dollhouse is that who a person originally was sheds light on who they really are, which will come out even with mind-wiping and imprinting. We get a taste of what our protagonist used to be to find out what she’s heading towards.
It starts out with the Dollhouse receiving a visit from Clive Ambrose, representing the Rossum Corporation, which controls the Dollhouse project. He describes how this new psychotropic drug called N7316 has gotten loose on this college campus and they need an army of Actives to regain control of the situation. Because the mind-wiping puts a memory block in the area of the brain affected by the drug, he believes the Actives would be immune. So, Topher sends out Victor and Sierra to lead a bunch of Actives there, while Dollhouse security assists, and Topher experiments with the drug on November at the Dollhouse. Victor also shows obvious attraction to Sierra despite being in an imprint.
While the Dollhouse has their attention focused on that, little attention is paid to Echo. Echo is playing out the same romantic scenario as in the first episode with the same guy. Unlike the Mynor character of the last episode, he just comes off as a pervert. A technical glitch with the TV brings up a news broadcast describing the events at the college. It turns out that this is the same school that Caroline went to, and a memory is triggered. Echo obsessively pursues this memory, completely abandoning the client, who’s in bondage and can’t raise an alarm.
When Echo arrives, Victor pegs her as someone on the drug because she’s acting so strangely. He takes her to a treatment area, where she starts talking to this guy named Sam. Sam describes how he thinks that the evil Rossum Corporation is blame for this drug fiasco. Echo realizes she knows a way into the Rossum building, so they run off to gather evidence against Rossom.
Boyd follows Echo to the school and tells DeWitt what’s up. Adelle instructs him to get Echo out of there to keep her from messing things up. A drugged-out woman hassles him for a moment, and he pushes her hand away, coming into direct contact with her skin. As it turns out, the drug’s effects can be spread like a virus through direct touch. Boyd gets to Echo and Sam, and he asks if she wants a treatment. This is a trigger phrase supposed to make her compliant. Echo says no and leaves, which is a pretty major subversion of the Dollhouse’s control, but Boyd is drugged and doesn’t really care. He goes off to practice piano.
The drug spreads to the other Dollhouse employees. Dominic soon suffers from the effects, and Victor has to take his gun away. Back at the Dollhouse, Topher gives November a high-five and then grabs Adelle’s arm to demonstrate how the drug might spread through touch. Thanks, Topher. Topher advises Victor to keep charge of the situation because he and the other agents will be immune because of things the government did to them, which Victor seems to buy.
However, it turns out that the drug does have some effect on the Actives. It eats through their mind-wipes, allowing for what Topher calls “glitching”, where the Actives will experience realistic traumatic flashbacks. November flashes back to being Mellie, Victor flashes back to being in the Iraq war as Tony, and Sierra flashes back to Hearn raping her as Sierra. This will be gone into in the next episode. Meanwhile, Echo remembers more and more of Caroline.
Through flashback, we see Caroline as an outspoken liberal activist. A lot of feminists dislike how they portray her as harsh and unlikable. I agree it’s a stereotypical role without much depth, but I don’t think her personality is so different from a lot of real activists. She’s just all about the politics, so either you agree with her and like her or you don’t. I disagree with some of her politics and her sense of justice, but her basic personality is about wanting peace and freedom for all and taking every step to bring about justice. As we find out later, this goes unsavory places, but that core element of wanting freedom for all is what drives Echo. It is her “soul”. I think Caroline’s likability might be one of those issues where if she was male you wouldn’t care as much.
In any case, Caroline was this extreme animal rights activist who decided she, her boyfriend, and their two friends were going to illegally film animal testing in the Rossom building in order to get people motivated about animal rights. I’ll point out that this is wrong and what they should do is track down a disgruntled former employee to describe the situation. The friends initially seemed interested, but they backed out when they realized Caroline was serious. The boyfriend went along with it, though, and they set out to break into the Rossom building the way Echo and Sam do in the present.
The drug basically takes the Rossom building security out of the game, and Echo and Sam easily make it to the lab where the drug is kept. Sam finds it “really fast”. It’s revealed that he’s responsible for getting the drug out, trying to sell it to a rival company in order to financially help out his mother, and he murdered his partner who tried to back out. He tries to poison Echo with an overdose of the drug, but this just causes her to glitch a lot.
She remembers Caroline and her boyfriend discovering Rossom was working on some creepy stuff with human brains and fetuses. The security then came after them with deadly force. The boyfriend was killed, but Caroline escaped. This memory motivates Echo to run after Sam and stop him. Boyd comes out of the drugged state and helps her out, taking her back to the Dollhouse. Sam is later seen being persuaded by Adelle into becoming an Active.
“Echoes” is primarily humorous, with Dollhouse employees acting wacky, yet plenty of dramatic stuff goes on as well. As Boyd only comes in at the end, it’s another case of Echo being victimized by a man and then her rising up to take him down. In addition to the standard feminist plot, we are shown the backstory with Caroline in which Rossom is explicitly referred to as evil by the protagonist twice. The glitching further shows how Rossom’s mind control technology is imperfect and that the Actives will eventually rebel. We are with them, not the Rossom people, so the story is ultimately about the importance of liberation rather than slavery. This theme will be more overtly dealt with in the next episode, “Needs”.