The most surprising thing about "Epitaph Two", the series finale to "Dollhouse", wasn't Paul Ballard's death, or Alpha's hero turn, or the way that Victor/Tony and his group of freedom fighters had started using the tech in their own twisted way. Sure, those were all surprising, but the MOST surprising thing was that, for the most part, "Dollhouse" gave us a happy ending.
Now, given that this was a Joss Whedon series, it couldn't be a perfect ending. This is the guy who killed Anya in the last episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", Wesley in the last episode of "Angel" and both Wash and Book in the "Serenity" movie, so you knew not everyone was making it through. But we'll get to that.
The episode picked up shortly after "Epitaph One" left off, with Mag, Zone and Caroline (in the body of a 10-year-old girl) headed to Safe Haven -- which just happens to be right near Rossum's Tucson headquarters. Of course, it just so happens that Ballard and Echo have gotten themselves captured and brought to the headquarters, now called Neuropolis, as a means of breaking out Topher, who was really the key to the entire episode.
If you thought Topher was a tragic figure in "Epitaph One", that storyline gets amplified in "Epitaph Two". It turns out that Rossum -- or Clive and Harding in new bodies -- has been forcing Topher to work on new advanced tech, and killing one person in front of him each day he didn't finish. While this was mentally draining on Topher, he wasn't about to help them again, and instead had been working on a way to reverse the imprinting tech, so Ballard and Echo break him out and take him to Adelle, Priya and Priya's young son.
I don't want to give you a play-by-play of the whole episode, so let's just focus on some key moments. It was obvious when Echo and crew (including the trio from "Epitaph One") arrived at Priya's farm that Victor/Anthony was noticeably absent. It wasn't clear at first whether he had died or he and Priya/Sierra had just split up, but it was definitely tough to see that they hadn't made it as a couple. Throughout Whedonverse history, most of our favorite couples HAVEN'T made it, so I think most of us were rooting for Priya and Anthony. But the seeds of their breakup were planted in the previous episode, when Anthony got his "upgrades" and really seemed to like them. He decided to keep going down that road with the tech, leading to his schism with Priya, who was very anti-tech. Amazingly, despite the Whedonverse tendency to avoid happy endings, they were back together at the end (and we'll get to the actual ending soon enough).
When the group finally made the decision to go back to the L.A. Dollhouse (for two reasons -- Topher needs something there, and it's the only place people with active architecture like Echo, Priya and Anthony will be able to keep their personalities and memories once Topher fixes everything), they run into some resistance, and Ballard suffers a very Wash-like fate. Adding to the parallels, Echo doesn't immediately freak out about Ballard's death. She sticks to the mission, then eventually breaks down when trying to explain to Priya that Anthony still loves her (kind of like how Zoe stuck to the mission, then eventually went near suicidal against the Reavers when the gravity of everything hit her).
Inside the Dollhouse, the group met up with Alpha, who was not only friendly with them, but completely non-crazy. It was very different from how we'd ever seen him before, and a little jarring without any explanation of how he went from crazy Echo-obsessed Alpha to co-leader of the salvation of the human race Alpha (of course, you can't explain everything when you only get 26 episodes and a one-hour finale, so I'll let them slide on that).
Eventually Victor's techies try to revolt, since they don't want Topher to turn the world back to normal, but Victor isn't with them, and Alpha and Echo subdue them. Also, Mag and Zone say their final goodbyes, with Mag (played amazingly again by Felicia Day) stuck in a wheelchair due to being shot just before Ballard bit it. But this was all secondary to Topher's story. After re-visiting his shrine of insanity (as seen in Epitaph One) and watching a video of Summer Glau's Bennett (in an incredibly touching moment at the scene of her death), he completes the tech, and lets it slip that it comes in the form of a bomb that has to be detonated manually. The interaction between Topher and Adelle during this scene was heartbreaking, probably more so than any of the goodbyes during the entire run of the series. At varying times throughout the run of "Dollhouse", Topher and Adelle were portrayed as being evil, manipulative or just plain amoral. But in the end, they both redeemed themselves.
It's just too bad Topher's redemption had to come with his death. The scene with him setting up the bomb as Adelle led all the empty shells out of the Dollhouse was well put together. Topher seems resigned to his fate, then notices the collage of pictures on Adelle's office wall. Something on the wall catches his eye, and there's a brief moment where he says "oh" and it's like all his insanity is gone, then, in a blink of an eye, the bomb goes off and wipes him out, while wiping all the actives/shells back to their original personalities.
Yes, Topher and Ballard did die, but on the whole, the episode had a happy ending. Topher's death made him a martyr for the human race and redeemed him for having invented the tech in the first place. And even Ballard's death wasn't in vein, as Alpha left his wedge (which he'd probably been hiding for about 10 years, since they couldn't find it earlier this season when Alpha wiped Ballard) in the chair, and Echo uploaded Ballard's personality into her brain, where they were able to have a touching -- if not somewhat creepy -- reunion.
Meanwhile, Priya and Anthony worked out their issues and Priya introduced Anthony to his son -- Anthony. Zone helped up the little girl who was previously Caroline, keeping a promise to Mag to take care of her. Adelle prepared to rebuild the world, and Echo went back into her bed, finally able to rest, and "let Paul in".
I don't think it was a perfect episode by any means, but it was a nice ending to the series, and a very well-written episode. Mo Tancharoen and Jed Whedon deserve a lot of credit for capturing Joss Whedon's tone, and his ability to balance humor and pathos. There were plenty of cute quotable moments (in particular Victor's "we were born ready… OK, not technically" line) and it wrapped up a lot of the loose ends from the series. I'm sure there'll be plenty to dissect in the days to come, but for now, I'll paraphrase Eliza Dushku and say we were all glad "Dollhouse" could entertain us "for a little white".