I can only imagine what someone who came in to the series finale of Dollhouse cold would have thought. It really is amazing how a show that was built on standalone action-adventure stories evolved over the course of 26 episodes into this complex dystopian sci-fi parable complete with nonlinear storytelling and characters with multiple personalities inhabiting the same body. The knowledge of cancellation was clearly both a blessing and a curse for Joss Whedon and company in crafting this final season: There was a sense of urgency that started with the excellent "Epitaph One," the season one finale that was only released on DVD, and really kicked into gear with "Belonging," the second season's fourth episode, which dove into Sierra's back story and revealed the twisted motivations behind pretty much everything that went on at the Dollhouse.
On the other hand, racing toward the apocalyptic future indicated in "Epitaph One" clearly entailed cutting a few corners, and the later episodes of this season sometimes felt rushed. The penultimate episode, "The Hollow Men," which wrapped up the show's present-day storylines, was especially choppy, and felt at times like it had whole scenes missing. Last night's true finale, "Epitaph Two: Return," was much more satisfying, even if it too had to go at quite the breakneck speed to end up where it needed to be. And I have to say I sort of preferred the bleakness of "Epitaph One" to the dim rays of hope in "Epitaph Two," although the show still ended with plenty of uncertainty. The writers clearly packed a lot of ideas into this one episode, and more time spent in the post-"brainpocalypse" future would probably have been more rewarding. But for a show that seemed limited and hobbled at first, Dollhouse developed into a wonderfully weird bit of science fiction, with some of the darkest and most potent ideas that Whedon has yet explored. I'm glad we got to see as much of it as we did, and I'm glad Whedon got to tell his full story.