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Echo during her "treatment."


DeWitt: I'm talking about a clean slate.

Caroline: You ever try and clean an actual slate? You always see what was on it before.

A short-lived, 26-episode Cyberpunk show by Joss Whedon, which began airing in February 2009 on Fridays at 9 p.m. on Fox. Against all odds, it was renewed for a second season, but low Ratings led to its Cancellation. Luckily Whedon anticipated the cancellation and was able to score a full 13 episode second season, managing to get a complete plot and some closure out of its final episodes, after the cancellation order was given.

The show is about the titular Dollhouse, an illegal offshoot of a corrupt medical conglomeration known as the Rossum Corporation. Basically, the Dollhouse consists of a group of men and women called "Actives" or "dolls," who have been wiped clean of their own personalities and have new personalities, tailor-made to suit the customer's needs, "imprinted" onto them for the various clients of the Dollhouse. Besides the obvious applications, "dolls" can be rented for use as made-to-order surrogate mothers, bodyguards, best friends, thieves, negotiators, and politicians (and those are just the examples from the show itself). If you have the money, the Dollhouse can create a human being to fulfill your desires, no matter what they are. Each doll gets wiped and imprinted many times for many different purposes over the course of their service contract, which they signed voluntarily before being wiped.

Throw in one obsessive FBI agent, Paul Ballard, looking for the Dollhouse; one escaped Active named Alpha who is insane; and one Active, Echo, who appears to be remembering things from her engagements that should have been wiped; mix for two minutes and bake at 350 degrees. Season with a bunch of guest stars from Joss Whedon's stable, including Summer Glau, Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Alan Tudyk, Eliza Dushku in the starring role of Echo, and breakout performances by Fran Kranz and Enver Gjokaj, and we have a Dollhouse.

Note: the true finale of Season One, "Epitaph One," is actually a Lost Episode on the DVD and Blu-ray sets. Please view this before watching the series finale, "Epitaph Two: Return."

Dark Horse Comics is now putting out a miniseries Dollhouse: Epitaphs, which takes place after most of the series, but before "Epitaph One" and "Epitaph Two."

There is also a Character Sheet for this series. Not to be confused with the play by Henrik Ibsen, or Alawar Game's hidden object Stray Souls Dollhouse Story.

This show contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Absentee Actor: Season two had at least one actor MIA in episodes 2 through 6, with the seventh episode ("Meet Jane Doe") being the first since the season opener to feature all seven main characters - and Sierra's appearance is practically a cameo.
  • Action Bomb: Boyd was this in "The Hollow Men" and Topher (by his own choice) in "Epitaph Two: Return."
  • Actor Allusion:
    • A Stealth Pun from Bennett to Echo in "The Left Hand" (2x06): "It's not a question of faith."
    • An earlier example is found in "Stage Fright" (1x03) when Echo assumes the persona of Jordan, perhaps the most Faith-like of her Dollhouse characters (right down to a common South Boston upbringing). After the hip-hop star Rayna Russell fires Jordan from her squad of backup singers, her retort is remarkably similar to a line by Faith as she argues with Buffy in "Faith, Hope, and Trick":

 Echo/Jordan: "You can fire me, but bitch, don't think you can take me!"

Faith (threateningly to Buffy): "Wow. Think you can take me?"

    • Bennett also says she'd like to get a look at Caroline's amygdala, to which Caroline replies, "You'll have to buy me dinner first."
    • In "Getting Closer" (2x11), Caroline notes in a flashback that Bennett (played by Summer "River Tam" Glau), is "Smarts off the chart. Bet she could kill you with her brain."
    • In (1x05), Patton Oswalt plays an internet billionaire who made it big with "Bouncy the Rat"
  • Adorkable: Topher for sure. Bennett if you can overlook her sociopathic tendencies.
  • Affably Evil: the Dollhouse staff, most notably DeWitt (constantly nice and polite, even when doing bad things) and Topher, whose God Complex is balanced by his desire to show off how smart he is to those around him. Boyd too, as he truly cares for Echo and her emotional growth into her own being, as well as considering the people at the LA Dollhouse to be his True Companions. Of course, he also wants to harvest Echo's spinal fluid and allowed his private army to raid the Dollhouse too.
  • After the End: "Epitaph One" and "Epitaph Two: Return".
  • Alliterative Name: Rayna Russell.
  • All Just a Dream: "The Attic" (2x10) puts a nightmare spin on this, as it opens with Echo reliving watching Victor and Sierra get mercilessly gunned down more than once, as far as making her relive her worst fear.
  • Alternate Reality Game: At "R Prime Lab", a woman called Hazel is trapped in a portable lab apparently used by her mother to record the personalities used for Dolls. Players sign up for an account and communicate with Hazel in real time to help her find her mother and discover the Dollhouse conspiracy.
  • Amnesiac Lover: Victor and Sierra through all of their various imprints. Happens specifically to Paul towards the end.
  • Anachronic Order: In Season 2, Fox aired the original second ("Belle Chose") and third ("Instinct") episodes in reverse order. While both were largely standalone stories, the late switch did leave the series not acknowledging Claire/Whiskey's season-opening departure until the "new" third episode.
  • And I Must Scream: The Attic. Effectively, you are sealed into a vat of goo and placed in a coma as the Rossum Corporation hooks up your brain as part of a living supercomputer. Trapped in a virtual-reality world, you are forced to constantly relive your worst fears for the rest of your life, as the adrenaline produced by the fear fuels the computer. Or possibly, in your drugged and adrenaline-soaked state, you perceive the problems your brain (as part of the computer) is solving as your worst fears.
  • Animal Wrongs Group: Caroline seems fairly competent, but it's still at least referenced by her friend: "Is this the part where you release all the monkeys and they bite you to death?"
  • Annoying Arrows: Averted, as Boyd's arrow wound in "The Target" (1x02) is treated quite seriously; it's all he can do to stay conscious, and Echo tells him that he'll die pretty quickly from blood loss and shock if he keeps walking. Not to mention Echo and the psychopath's relatively minor wounds still coming back to plague them.
  • Anti-Villain: Adelle started off the series this way, but in the second season evolved into an Anti-Hero.
  • Anyone Can Die:
    • Pretty much every character who doesn't need to be alive for "Epitaph One" to make sense does: Bennett, Ambrose, the original Clyde, Mellie and Boyd. To quote Tim Minear: "I shot Bennett in the head because it's funny."
    • In the finale, Paul is shot dead with no warning, and then Topher performs a Heroic Sacrifice to truly save the world.
  • Attempted Rape: Poor Sierra.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: In "Haunted" (1x10), Echo is imprinted with a recently dead client who ordered it so she can attend her own funeral and find out who murdered her.
  • Auto Cannibalism: One of the people kept in the Attic is a man forced to eat his own legs as sushi.
  • Author Appeal:
    • If you're at all familiar with Joss Whedon, you'll be very familiar with his (openly admitted, at least) fanboy love for tchotchkes, damaged cute girls kicking ass, corrupt power structures exploiting said cute girls, and semi-self-insert characters (hi, Topher). Among other things.
    • Scripted, multi-person, acrobatic melee fights.
    • Eventually you will get your heart ripped out of you if you're a fan of a character. Or one of the main characters will. Just like Willow's reaction to the death of Tara, Echo's anguished I loved you! directed at Boyd was pretty much the fans' reaction. It was kind of like finding out your Dad who you loved without reservation was a serial killer. Then again, being Joss, it's one of his signature styles. Don't ask what happened to Wash and Book in Firefly, just don't.
    • For some reason, getting stabbed or shot in the abdomen at roughly the level of the navel.
    • Killing a main character with no warning - usually with a head shot.
    • And, if you believe the first ten minutes of the second-season premiere, he's got a predilection for bondage too. Not only does domme!Echo get promoted to the new title sequence, but Sierra almost immediately after the credits hints that she wants to be tied up and spanked.
    • Strawberries.
    • Zombies, of varying kinds.
    • At least three references to lesbians, in "Vows" (2x01, a flashback to an Echo-Whiskey engagement), "A Love Supreme" (2x08, a mention of a lesbian who hired out Echo to marry her) and "Epitaph Two: Return (2x13, when freedom fighter Mag mentions her attraction to Kilo).
    • Make it four and reserve extra points. "Meet Jane Doe" (2x07, Echo mentions having at least seven lesbian personas).
  • Awesome McCoolname: Arcane. He thought it sounded badass.
  • Artistic License Military: Anthony is shown in both US Army and Marine Corps uniforms during the series. What branch is he, again?
  • Ax Crazy:
    • Alpha.
    • "Epitaph One" (1x13) and "Epitaph Two: Return" (2x13): the imprinted "butchers," who had been imprinted to kill all those who weren't imprinted to kill all those that weren't imprinted to kill...
    • Ladies and gentlemen, give a big hand to Summer Glau as Bennett Halverson.
    • Don't forget creepy-ass Terry (2.3). Or Richard in 1.2. Which is really striking, given that he's The Middleman. And the stalker in Rayna's stalker in 1.3. Actually, the show is pretty chock-full of crazy.
  • Babies Ever After: In a Whedon series. Granted, it only happens for one couple...
  • Back From the Dead: Part of Echo's plan to escape from the Attic.
  • Bad Future: Seen in "Epitaph One" (1x13) and again in "The Attic" (2x10), then at the end of "The Hollow Men" (2x12), and finally in "Epitaph Two: Return" (2x13) to close the show with a bang.
  • Badass: Ballard takes out four mafia thugs who get the jump on him, even after one of them shoots him in the gut. He then stops to pump one for information before calling himself an ambulance and passing out.
  • Bathos: In true Joss Whedon style, the dialogue veers into this quite often, and quite well.

 Echo/Esther: The blind girl is looking you in the eye, do you know what that means? It means God brought me here. He has a message for you. That message is...move your ass!

  • Batman Gambit:
    • Sending Echo out to contact Paul, saying that there's someone who wants to help him. Meanwhile, Adelle sends Sierra's handler to get rid of Mellie, only to interrupt the assassination attempt by remotely activating Mellie's Active state. However, Word of God is that we're supposed to take that statement at face value... for now.
    • DeWitt again:

 Dominic: I've just been informed we have four Actives planning to escape.

DeWitt: Right on schedule.

    • Alpha hired Sierra and gave her a message knowing exactly that when Adelle and Topher found out it was him, they would re-wipe all the Actives. The "message" turned out to be a computer virus that turns all the Actives crazy and murderous, allowing Alpha to get control of the chair and wipe Paul and then imprint himself with Paul's mind.
    • Either this or the roulette below, the entire episode "The Attic" (2x10), though the viewer doesn't know that until the end.
    • In "The Hollow Men" (2x12), Topher realized that Anthony and Priya would return, so he left Topher 2.0's imprint wedge in the chair.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Apparently, Alpha wasn't programmed with this knowledge. He sliced up the beautiful Whiskey quite badly. Male beauty as well, as he does the same thing to Victor in "Briar Rose" (1x11).
  • Berserk Button: Sleepers have this programmed in, as one might expect, but an interesting subversion comes from DeWitt, who does not like losing control of anything. When that happens, rather than the psycho-fit more traditional for this trope, she goes into a cold and simmering rage that is far more dangerous in the end.
  • Big Bad: We always knew Rossum was bad news, and as of "Getting Closer" (2x11), we know just who is in charge: Boyd Langton. Holy shit.
  • Big Bad Friend: Hey you see Boyd Langton, Papa Wolf to the actives, father figure to Echo, seemingly all-around nice and decent guy? He's the Magnificent Bastard head of Rossum pulling the strings on everything going on in a massive Xanatos Gambit that he's been running since before the first episode of the series.
  • Bilingual Dialogue:
    • Tango takes on a personality that only speaks French. Her handler can't understand what she's saying, nor can any viewers that don't speak French, as it is not subtitled.
    • This adds unintentional levity to an otherwise tense escape scene because the French dialogue is stiltedly written and painfully delivered. In heavily American-accented French, Tango remarks that every word her handler says hurts her ears, that the vehicles are disgusting, and wonders aloud why she even uses this vehicle service in Los Angeles. Maybe her client doesn't speak it either.
    • It is even horrible for people who hardly speak french.
    • This recurs and is averted in Epitaph One, when Echo is imprinted with a personality that can only speak Russian. It's averted when it turns out she can speak English, though not as part of the imprint. Incidentally, Eliza Dushku's Russian, though written correctly, is horrifically accented. Any Russian watching that scene can't help but crack up at all the wrong.
    • Used in "Meet Jane Doe" (2x07) with conversations between Echo and Galena in subtitled Spanish.
  • Bio Punk: Brain manipulation, body hopping? In the world of the future the Tech Heads combine this with Cyberpunk and a hefty dose of Mad Max.
  • Black and Grey Morality: A mix of this and Grey and Grey Morality make up the moral center of the show. Adelle and Topher are shown to be willing to use the resources of the Dollhouse for good work, in the form of pro-bono work to help people who would normally be unable to afford the services of the Dollhouse (such as the season one episode "Briar Rose", which had Echo imprinted with a successful, all-grown up version of an abused child in order to inspire her to try and make a better life for herself). Also the storyline where Topher comes up with a way to weaponize the mindwipe technology, as far as moral implications of doing so especially when Rossum finds out about it, forcing Topher (who is horrified when his blueprints are taken from him by his mother-figure Adelle and given to Rossum) is forced to use the device on Boyd, when he reveals himself to be the head of the company and who is aware of the apocalyptic implications of the technology and about to kill Echo, then turning him into a suicide bomber while in his new Doll-state.
    • As Echo said to Daniel Perrin in "The Public Eye" (2x05) about Daniel's wife/handler, "I think her bad guys are badder than my bad guys."
    • Even the leads are morally compromised: Ballard's obsession with the Dollhouse leads him to do some morally questionable things, while Caroline (before she became Echo) was portrayed as a reckless, shortsighted activist/terrorist whose obsession with the Rossum Corporation led to her boyfriend being murdered and her best friend losing the use of her left arm.
    • See also Topher and Whiskey/Saunders. He seems to be rather conscience-stricken with regards to her condition once Saunders realizes that she is a former doll.
    • Adelle used Victor for several "romantic engagements" and ultimately would have allowed Sierra to be permanently given to the man who had put her in the Dollhouse as his personal revenge, but eventually takes a stand against Rossum.
    • On the other hand, Rossum and Alpha are clearly evil, so they could be seen as the "black" part of the show's black and gray morality.
  • Blank Slate:
  • Blind Seer: Echo's "Esther" alias in "True Believer" (1x05).
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Alpha; Daniel's "wife," Cindy is a female example.
  • Body Surf: How Ambrose and Harding seem to operate, at least as of the Time Skip.
  • Body Swap:
    • Mind-swaps in general, but one particular moment involved serial-killer imprinted Victor and fun-loving student Echo having their personalities swapped when Topher tried to remote-wipe the AWOL Victor. So, a fun-loving "female" Victor is in a nightclub...
    • Repeated body swaps play into the dystopia of "Epitaph Two: Return" (2x13). In the future, Harding and Ambrose — the last survivors of the Rossum leadership — hold onto power by periodically taking over fresh bodies to gain a kind of immortality. When Echo shoots Harding dead, it's not for the first time; he even taunts Echo by reminding her his soul will simply be uploaded into more bodies.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Sierra gets imprinted with a racist who makes some disparaging remarks about Asians.
  • Boxed Crook: Alpha's original personality
  • Brain Uploading: The premise of the show.
  • Break the Cutie:
    • Sierra's rape, though fortunately it seems to have no lasting damage; Sierra in "Belonging" (2x04). Big time.
    • The way Paul treats Mellie in "Briar Rose" (1x11). Though when November is re-imprinted as Mellie in "Getting Closer" (2x11), she doesn't hold this against him one bit and indeed loves him as much as ever.
    • Dr. Saunders' confrontation with Alpha and her realization that she's a doll make her noticeably less sweet than before, at least initially.
    • It gets worse for Dr. Saunders/Whiskey in Epitaph One. She refuses to leave because she is still waiting for Boyd. Thanks to Getting Closer' and Hollow Men we know how that's going to turn out.
    • The double-cross of Madeline/November in "The Left Hand" (2x06), and her imprisonment in the Washington, D.C. Dollhouse.
    • Poor Bennett's whole life: Socially awkward and clearly lonely she finds a girlfriend in Caroline. She then finds out that Caroline has been manipulating her to act against Rossum. Bennett agrees, seemingly because Caroline is her only friend. Only to have things go badly wrong with Bennett winding up maimed and left behind. It's no wonder that Bennett didn't believe Caroline's explanation and harbor's a murderous grudge.
    • Bennett's murder in "Getting Closer" (2x11). By Claire, of all people. Dear God. According to Amy Acker, it was a sleeper-type assassination, not Clyde. The whole thing is a little wishy-washy, but we're not to believe Boyd was making out with Clyde earlier that day...
    • The above, mixed with guilt at his involvement in causing the Apocalypse, has apparently caused Topher to be in a perpetual state of Heroic BSOD by the time "Epitaph One" rolls around. In "Epitaph Two," he's even worse, as Ambrose and Harding apparently killed someone in front of him every day he didn't finish the brain-wiping machine
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Victor as Lubov. And Dominic. And Topher, down to the smallest quirk! Enver's got talent. This has led to Enver Gjokaj having a rather large fanbase, at least among Dollhouse fans.
  • Broken Bird: DeWitt reveals a softer side beneath that stoic exterior in "A Spy in the House of Love" (1x09). Dr. Saunders almost certainly qualifies by "Omega" (1x12), if not earlier.
  • Buffy-Speak: No surprise, given who created the show. Almost mentioned by name in "The Left Hand" (2x06): "Oh God, doll speak."
  • Call a Rabbit a Smeerp: It's not a hard drive, it's a wedge.
  • Call Back:
    • Used in the fight between Echo and Senator Perrin's wife/handler Cindy in "The Public Eye" (2x05). Every single move Echo makes is taken from fights she's been in in previous episodes, as proved by the constant flashbacks. Also a Fridge Brilliance demonstration of why composite events are exceedingly dangerous when it happens to someone like Alpha — being able to instantly access what could potentially amount to many lifetimes of information, skills, tactics, abilities and experience and use it precisely and exactly as need and applied.
    • Almost all the visions Echo encounters in "The Attic" (2x10) are callbacks to either memories that she has retained while a composite Active, or to the memories of her imprints and basic personality. The bald man that Boyd transforms into is the Ghost, Eleanor Penn's childhood abuser from "Ghost" (1x01). The slashed-up face of Claire Saunders calls back to Caroline's moment with Claire in "Needs" (1x08). The young girl stroking a dead horse? Adelle's equestrian friend Margaret Bashford as a girl, from "Haunted" (1x10). The "hateful relatives playing croquet" are the real, not-kidnapped-surrogate relatives of Terry Karrens, from "Belle Chose" (2x03). Almost every single episode in the second half of season 2 makes some sort of reference to "Epitaph One."
    • In "Epitaph Two," while discussing Anthony/Victor's self-implanted facial upgrades, Victor and Alpha have a callback moment to the wacky fun in "Briar Rose" (1x11) when Alpha slashed up Active!Victor's face:

 Alpha: Who would do something like that to your face?

Victor/Tony: Psycho.

Alpha: Lapsed.

  • Call Forward: Two key phrases each appear twice, separated in time and even more by context. Topher's cool, slightly annoyed "I know what I know" ("Vows," (2x01)) becomes his Madness Mantra years later in "Epitaph One" (1x13). And Echo's "We are lost, but we are not gone" — also in "Vows" — is repeated by her double, Caroline-in-Iris, a decade later in "Epitaph Two: Return" (2x13).
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • No one at the FBI believes Paul Ballard about the Dollhouse. Even when they're standing on top of it. Of course, Adelle uses this to her advantage beautifully.
    • Similarly, Priya was not crazy when she said she'd been kidnapped from her home, was being drugged, and that there were men forcibly keeping her at the mental institution which her Yandere Stalker with a Crush ran. That really was what was going on, but her faux diagnosis as a paranoid schizophrenic convinced Topher otherwise.
    • As of "The Left Hand," Rossum sets up Madeline for this.
    • And, of course, there's the original Clyde's prediction that the tech will cause the apocalypse, which Rossum seems to ignore. That's a subversion, though, as the bad guys believe Clyde's predictions, but simply concluded that the apocalypse is inevitable and are maneuvering to be in a position of power when the shit hits the fan.
  • Catch Phrase:
    • "Did I fall asleep?" Subverted in "Stop-Loss" when the first thing out of Victor's mouth (after "Roger" is scrubbed from his brain) is "Has anyone seen Sierra?" A combined heartwarmer and Oh Crap; it's nice to see Victor and Sierra remembering more and more... but it's not good when the jealous lover, plagued by a constant yo-yoing of morality, is in the room too.
    • "For a little while." Often chased with, "Shall I go now?" "If you like." Subverted in "Instinct" when Echo seemingly has the personality of a newborn mother erased. When Topher says "For a little while," Echo knocks him cold with one punch, coolly answers "Shall I go now?" and escapes the Dollhouse.
    • "Do you trust me?/With my life" script between handlers and their Actives. Inverted in The Target when Echo and Boyd swap lines. It was given another creepy twist in "Getting Closer": Caroline (sarcastic): "And I'm just supposed to trust you?" Boyd: "With your life."
    • "Everything's going to be all right."/"Now that you're here." Another handler-Active exchange, subverted in "The Hollow Men" (2x12) after Echo/Caroline learns her former handler Boyd is the leader of Rossum. As Boyd is about to harvest Echo's spinal fluid for a "vaccine" against mindwiping, he tells her, "Everything's going to be all right" — only to have her snap back, "Go to hell!"
    • "It's time for your treatment." Expect a lot of those considering the Actives work with memetic activation phrases. Played with in a Deleted Scene for Omega (1x12), when Idiot Hero Paul Ballard tries to ask November, who has been imprinted with a badass bounty hunter personality, if she'd like a treatment with the following exchange:

 Paul: You need therapy.

November: hits him in the face with the butt of her gun. He falls down.

Boyd: "Treatment." It's "Would you like a treatment?"

Paul: very woozy No, I'm good. passes out

    • "I try to be my best." Astute viewers would have realized that "Stephen Kepler" was an Active when he talked about doing his best.
    • The last few episodes have made a habit out of twisting these exchanges, beginning with Anthony/Victor's subversion of "Did I fall asleep?" and ending with this exchange, when Boyd becomes a doll.

 Boyd: Did I fall asleep?

Echo: For a little while. * camera cuts away, then back. Echo hands Boyd a grenade* Once I leave, go in there (the mainframe room) and pull the pin out.

Boyd: I try to be my best.

Echo: (pained tone of voice) Good.

    • Senator Daniel Perrin and his "wife" (but really his handler) Cindy repeat a series of lines, disguised as sweet nothings between spouses, to maintain the Active-handler bond.

 Cindy: Remind me why I love you so much.

Daniel: I'm your white knight.

Cindy: And I'm your beautiful damsel.

Daniel: Ever after.

  • Chekhov's Boomerang: Clive Ambrose is a rare human Chekhov's Boomerang. He shows up in Echoes(1x07) to deliver the memory drug, where he's fanboyed by Topher. He's delivered by hard drive to the Dollhouse in Epitaph One (1x13), where he starts hanging out in Victor's body.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Pretty much everything in "Briar Rose" (1x11), from the introduction of Alan Tudyk on.
    • Your first warning that "Stephen" was Alpha? The Doll outfit that shows off his muscles.
    • "Epitaph One": The remote wipe introduced in "Gray Hour" and the Fountain of Youth idea from "Haunted".
    • A Chekhov's Gun that was apparent by its absence in "Echoes": Topher is the one administering the drug to November instead of Dr. Saunders, because Saunders is actually Whiskey, and the apparent effects of the drug on her would have given the fact that she was a Doll away.
    • When Alpha imprints himself with Paul's personality it comes as a huge shock, but nobody expected it to turn up again in "Epitaph Two", when he makes a hard copy of Paul's imprint for Echo to use on herself, so that she and the (recently physically deceased) Paul can always be together.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Nolan Kinnard, the man behind Sierra's cutie-breaking phase, has a minor part in the first-season episode "Needs," but plays a much larger part a season later in "Belonging".
  • The Chessmaster — DeWitt. The lady knows what she's doing, she knows what you're doing and she knows how to stop it. Except she's been completely outplayed by Boyd, who just happens to have gotten himself in a position where he must flee as the "scapegoat" just before Caroline is reawakened and can identify him as the mastermind behind Rossum.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Neither Ballard nor Echo fight by Marquis of Queensberry rules. And neither does Boyd. Almost no one does in this universe.
  • Clark Kent Outfit: Stephen Kepler aka Alpha has one — once he changes into Doll attire, it becomes apparent how well built he is.
  • Climb Slip Hang Climb: Used in "The Target".
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
    • The chemical in "Echoes" turns people into this.
    • In "Briar Rose" (1x11), Stephen borders on this.
    • In "Epitaph One" (1x13), Topher and Whiskey.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Adelle becomes this for Topher.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: When Echo is in Bennett's clutches, she seems to take an inordinate amount of pleasure in this. But then, Bennett felt Caroline left her to die, so....
  • Combat Stilettos: Which "Taffy" ("Gray Hour" (1x04)) seems to think are comfortable shoes.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • In "Vows" (2x01), near the beginning, DeWitt absentmindedly touches Victor's face, recalling the fact that she used to sleep with him.
    • In "Epitaph Two" (2x13), Neuropolis running out of shellfish for Ambrose, a reference to him enjoying it in "Epitaph One" (1x13).
  • Corrupt Politician: Is it any surprise that the Dollhouse has powerful allies? And a senator who is also a doll?
  • Crapsack World: "Epitaph One," and "Epitaph Two"; revisited in the nightmare world of "The Attic" (2x10).
  • Creating Life: At least, creating human minds is what Topher thinks he can do.
  • Cult: In "True Believer."
  • Curb Stomp Battle: Mellie/November versus Hearn, after her trigger.
  • Cyberpunk: fits almost all the genre's conventions, even if not identified as such. Unusual in that the Cyberpunk world comes about as a result of characters' actions.
  • Dateless Grave: November, "freed" (as part of an experiment), visits the undated grave of her real-life daughter.
  • Dating Catwoman: Topher and Bennett.
  • A Day in the Limelight: "Belonging" (2x04), for Sierra/Priya.
  • Deadly Hug: Victor does this to Sierra in "The Attic", as the only way to get out of the Attic is to die in it.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Topher and Adelle.
  • Dead Person Impersonation:
    • Alpha posing as Stephen Kepler after killing him.
    • Played with in "Haunted."
  • Dead Person Conversation: Echo and Paul at the end of "Epitaph Two: Return."
  • Death Is Cheap: High-ranking Rossum executives inevitably have multiple bodies. Averted hard with Bennett's death.
  • Determinator: Ballard, to the point of deconstruction and his eventual death in battle.
  • Devil in Plain Sight:
    • Dominic. Tried to kill Echo in "True Believer," among other things.
    • As of the airing of the episode in which the mole is revealed, our WMG page for this series had 8 different entries guessing at the identity of the mole: Topher, Ivy, DeWitt, Dr. Saunders, Boyd, Echo, and "there is no mole" twice. So... pretty much everyone except Dominic. This can only be attributed to the fact that it's never the most obvious suspect. It was the most obvious suspect. Dominic was the mole. And now, he's a vegetable in the Attic. At least until Adelle briefs him...
    • And then there's Ray Wise...
    • As of 2x11: Hi there, Boyd.
  • Distant Finale:
    • "Epitaph One" ends the first season with a fragmented look at how bad things might get.
    • Season two has "Epitaph Two: Return," which fills out the picture "Epitaph One" sketched.
  • Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto Us: Used when Rossum's founder makes a last ditch effort to convince his pawns family that he needs to mind control the world.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Perrin removing Echo's GPS chip is shot uncomfortably like a sex scene.
    • To a lesser extent, Anthony "killing" Priya in the Attic is shot much like a lovers' embrace, so much so that it sends Anthony into a Heroic BSOD.
    • Echo asks about Sierra as she's crying out and struggling in the chair. Topher admits she feels some pain. Echo asks why, and Topher says in a gentle, condescending voice, "Well, it's her first time." Topher doesn't seem aware of the double entendre, but given Sierra's past and future as a victim of sexual assault, it's cringe-inducing for the audience.
  • Double Entendre:

 Caroline: We're gonna make you pop!

Bennett: Oh, I'm not sure I wish to... pop.

Caroline: Oh, you'll pop. And you'll like it.

  • The Dragon: Clyde, Rossum's second-in-command. The modified-to-be-obedient imprint version of him, anyways.
  • Dress Hits Floor:
    • Subverted in "Meet Jane Doe" (2x07) when Echo turns out to have a workout outfit on underneath.
    • Played straight in "Stop-Loss" (2x09) as prelude to Adelle's Shower of Angst.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Mellie/November in "The Hollow Man."
    • On a technicality, Boyd.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: DeWitt from "Belonging" to "Stop-Loss", arguably an instance of The Alcoholic as the roots are deep and stretch as early as "Stage Fright". Not to mention Boyd calling her a "drunk", to which she had no comeback.
  • The Dulcinea Effect:
    • Ballard suffers from this one, practically to the point of Deconstruction. He insists on saving Caroline, NOT Mellie/November, even. He seems to be bucking for Tragic Hero status here, especially as Echo doesn't like Ballard.
    • Subverted when Ballard gets November, not Echo, out of the Dollhouse when given a choice. The only reason he didn't try to rescue her before was her Sleeper Personality.
    • Subverted a second time when you realize that freeing November/Mellie and not Echo/Caroline means he gets to spend more time with his Dulcinea...
    • Alpha is a demonstration of the dark side of this trope.
  • Dynamic Entry:
    • Boyd comes out of nowhere to hit the Handler raping Sierra through a glass pane.
    • Echo gets one in "The Hollow Men" (2x12) when she comes flying through the frame to kick Boyd away from Topher.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: And how. By the series finale, everyone has an opportunity to put it all on the line. Mag is in a wheelchair, Paul is shot dead, Alpha must leave his new family, Echo goes through Hell (aka The Attic) and grieves Paul's death, Adelle is on the verge of a breakdown, Topher has gone through a Heroic Sacrifice, etc. It's interesting to note that finally, after all these other shows, Priya and Anthony actually do stay together, when most of the fandom was just waiting for Joss to tear them apart in angsty fashion.
    • Although it should be noted, Mag may not be in a wheelchair permanently, and Ballard's consciousness is uploaded into Echo.
  • Eleventh-Hour Superpower: Echo's "Omega" imprint. But Alpha was the one who gave it to her. Nice job breaking it, villain.
  • Emotional Torque: "Haunted".
  • Emotionless Girl: bordering on Uncanny Valley Girl in their Blank Slate state.
  • Enforced Method Acting: For a lot of Fans, the revelation that Boyd being the big Bad had been moved to Fan Discontinuity based on his realisticly warm and father like air in Season one. Joss comments at ComicCon reveal that Boyd was never intended to be the traitor until mid Season two. The reason that Henry Lennix was able to play a lovable Giles like figure was because that what he thought he was.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • It takes the mooks in "Ghost" (1x01) about five seconds to turn on their boss once they realize what he is planning to do with the kidnapped girl.
    • DeWitt and Dominic's punishment of doll-rapist Hearn probably counts too.
    • In "Epitaph One": DeWitt's reaction to the Rossum bigwig Clive Ambrose in Victor's body who tells her they are now selling Actives as body upgrades for people. She is not happy. Topher also looks extremely upset. And Alpha came up with whatever technique they have for resisting imprinting.
    • Topher could have made Sierra into a sex toy for his birthday but didn't. Likewise he makes it quite clear in "Vows" (2x01) that he would never do that to any of the Dolls.
    • In "Belle Chose" (2x03), when the Dollhouse managers discover the VIP they're trying to wake up from a coma is a potential serial killer, and a very disturbing one at that, they become much less inclined to wake him up. Lampshaded:

  Boyd: Topher has ethical problems [with this]. Topher.

    • Adelle and Topher's extreme reluctance (and the latter's refusal and following moral crisis) to send Sierra off to live forever with her kidnapper and rapist in "Belonging".
  • Everybody Must Get Stoned: A mind-altering substance that can be transmitted by touch is released on a college campus, and the Actives and Dollhouse security staff are sent in to clean up. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Evil All Along: One could argue that, due to Black and Grey Morality, everyone on the show is evil in one way or another, but no one compares to Boyd Langton, Echo's father figure, the head of security, Dr. Saunder's love interest, the Papa Wolf to the Actives, and also the Big Bad.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Alpha.
  • Evil Feels Good: In "Briar Rose", when Paul stuns Topher:

 Alpha: I mean, officially I deplore violence, but that was totally worth the loss of karma points.

  • Eye Scream: "I understand hell now." Whedon seems to be a fan of this — it's almost exactly how Caleb took out Xander's eye in Buffy's final episodes.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Subverted example with Adelle. It appears that this will happen in Epitaph: Part One when Echo/Caroline returns and she declines to beg for her life. The subversion comes in once Epitaph: Part Two reveals that Echo/Caroline actually spared her.
  • Fairy Tale Motifs: The entirety of "Briar Rose" (1x11) uses the titular fairy tale (better known as Sleeping Beauty) as a metaphor for the Dollhouse and the episode's plot. In addition to the episode's 'carrots' Running Gag (itself a reference to Disney's version of the story), Unfortunate Implications can be drawn from the fact that the original version of the story featured the prince raping the unconscious princess (she only woke up when she had given birth to his child). This, rather than the comparatively chaste kiss later versions changed it to. We can be certain Joss Whedon was well aware of all these things.
  • Fake American: Australian Actress Dichen Lachman uses her natural accent for Sierra and a fluent American one for Sierra's personalities
  • Fake Guest Star: Amy Acker and Reed Diamond in Season 1. (In Season 2, they become real guest stars.)
  • Fake Memories: Integral to the premise. Echo and the other Actives are programmed with them on a constant basis.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: The Attic combines this with And I Must Scream. The description "Like having a word at the tip of your tongue, only all the time" is from a real world interview with a lobotomized person. However, it's described as "Like having a word at the tip of your tongue, but for every thought you never have", which is somewhat worse.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Alpha is one of the few unambiguously evil characters on what is otherwise a very morally ambiguous show. He's also by far one of the most entertaining.
    • Also applies to Rossum bigwig Matthew Harding. Everything he says sounds like a bit of fatherly advice from the nice old man in your office. But if you're listening, yeah, totally evil.
  • Feed the Mole: An interesting take on this: "And you'll tell them everything's fine. And then we'll put you back in your box."
  • Filler Episode: "Haunted" (1x10) Subverted. This episode is foreshadowing the events of "Epitaph One" and, according to Whedon, most of season two.
  • First-Name Basis: "You know, you can call me Boyd." Lampshade Hanging provided by Topher. "Boyd? What, are you guys buddies now?"
  • Five-Man Band: Not for most of the show, but one scene in "The Attic" was too perfect to ignore. We had:-
  • Flynning: Roger!Victor and Adelle's recreational fencing match in "A Spy in the House of Love" (1x09) used foils in saber-fencing style. Badly. It looks cool, sure, but in reality is eye-gougingly awful technique.
  • Foot Focus:
    • Echo is barefoot at all times while inside the Dollhouse. It's almost like they have a "no shoes on the carpet" rule.
    • This also applied to Mellie the first few times we see her. Foreshadowing.
    • The first episode of season 2 features Echo demanding, and getting, a foot massage from Ballard.
  • Foregone Conclusion: "Epitaph One" and "Epitaph Two" show where the world will be in a few years (and dear God is it not pretty).
    • In "Getting Closer" (2x11), a whole scene from "Epitaph One" is reused within the series' "present day," which almost guarantees that the other things we saw in that episode will come to pass as well.
    • And the conclusion of "The Hollow Men" (2x12) takes viewers directly into the "Epitaph One" hell-on-earth of 2020, which is also the setting of the series finale "Epitaph Two: Return" (2x13).
  • Freaky Friday Flip: In "Belle Chose" (2x03), Echo and Victor's imprints are swapped by accident.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: in 1x12, "Stephen Kepler" hacks the Dollhouse's computer using... HTML tags.
  • Friday Night Death Slot: At least Fox had the sense of cutting the commercial breaks in half, letting Whedon have six more minutes per episode. For season 1, anyway. Season 2 seems to have normal-length commercials. To be fair, the network probably had to just to justify not canceling the show. The "remoteless TV" thing was always an experiment. It didn't work, making them less money since very few advertisers were willing to pay the premium price. Note that the other show debuting this approach, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, got axed. Fringe also had a "remoteless" debut season, and has done okay, although it's had a struggle in the ultra-competitive Thursday night slot.
  • Fridge Horror: The finale, "Epitaph Two: The Return", comes about... and the currently more-sane Alpha, who the "Epitaphs" comics later reinforce has only become less-psychotic because of having non-psycho Paul's imprint in his mind acting as a conscience, decides to allow the imprint-wiping, original-personality-returning signal to hit him. Remember, the reason he was in jail and thus available for Doll-ification by Rossum, is that he was a psychotic killer before the Dollhouse got hold of him. So now, not only is Alpha back to his original personality, he's also no longer imprisoned or in any way restrained, no one knows he is loose or even still alive, and he's about to stand next to a bunch of innocent bystanders who don't know all those salient details.... Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Paul in "Epitaph Two: Return" (2x13) after infiltrating Neuropolis as one of Harding's potential new hosts.
  • Fun with Acronyms: A flashback in "Getting Closer" (2x11) shows the first encounter of Caroline and Bennett... at the Tucson Institute of Technology. Hmmm...
  • Future Slang: "Dumbshows," "Butchers" and so on in both "Epitaphs."
  • Gainax Ending: "Epitaph One" as a Mind Screw Ending subtype. "Epitaph Two" also counts — think of all the viewers who watched it without having seen (or heard of) the first half.
  • Gambit Roulette:
    • Alpha's machinations and improbable foresight drove the plot from the second episode.
    • How the hell did he know they wouldn't shoot Echo in "Grey Hour" after he wiped her?
    • Dollhouse would find her too valuable, he was probably ready to rescue her in a pinch, and he's stark-raving mad.
    • Boyd getting himself installed as Echo's handler so he could keep tabs on her. Not to mention giving permission for Sierra to be permanently imprinted and sent to Nolan and later having Adelle demoted, all to test Topher and Adelle to see if they were worthy to be among the chosen few who survive the thoughtpocalypse.
  • Geeky Turn On: Topher and Bennett, mutually. Eventually leads to a Pair the Smart Ones situation. It doesn't last long.
  • Gender Bender:
    • "Belle Chose" (2x03).
    • In "The Hollow Men" (2x12) Whiskey/Claire Saunders is imprinted with the evil copy of Rossum co-founder, Clyde Randolph.
  • Genre Savvy: Caroline, when Topher offers to give her her memories back. "You first." And Topher in general, most of the time.
  • The Ghost: Judith, Adelle's secretary. Referred to several times, never seen.
  • Girlish Pigtails:
    • Ivy sports them from time to time, in keeping with her role as the second most immature employee at the Dollhouse (the first being Topher, of course). But in the second season Ivy's hairstyles mature along with her personality.
    • Also, Echo's persona "Kiki" in "Belle Chose" (2x03), sports pigtails to add to the sexy student look.
    • And Sierra, as Audra the super fan in "Stage Fright" (1x03).
  • Go Mad From the Revelation: Topher appears to have done this in a big way, in the future shown in "Epitaph One" (1x13).
  • Gone Horribly Right: A lot of the problems in the show result from them successfully improving their technology. There's also Alpha's attempt to create Omega by combining all of Echo's former imprints into one. However, since most of them weren't completely psycho, Omega doesn't take well to Alpha's idea of killing Caroline over and over again, and hits Alpha with a pipe.
  • Good Feels Good: The reason for Echo assignment in "Briar Rose":

 Topher: Everybody wants to be righteous when they can afford it. Even Topher Brink. This feeling, it is not unlike pride.


 Paul:This is a bad place.

Alpha: Bad people, maybe. Good place.

  • Grand Theft Me: suggested in "Haunted," though Adelle doesn't approve. Later, in "Epitaph One," we find out that this is or will become Rossum's long term business plan — selling off the dolls as replacement bodies for tidy nine-figure sums. Adelle still doesn't approve, and presumably makes her "defining choice" by reclaiming Victor's body.
  • Granola Girl: Caroline, although other flashbacks in season two reveal a grittier, tougher side to her.
  • Grave Robbing: OK, so it's more "brain" robbing, but still counts in "Haunted".
  • Green Lantern Ring: The whole premise of the dolls sets up this effect, allowing the writers to give Echo skill X in one episode, and then skill Y (but not X) in the next episode. As well as seemingly giving Alpha skills A through Z, as well as skills 1-100, when he glitched.
    • And then Echo gets the ability to switch and merge her skills at will in season 2.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Dr. Saunders seems to be one of the nicest members of the Dollhouse, but her face looks like the Hunter from Gargoyles.
  • Gunman with Three Names: In "Omega" (1x12) it is revealed Alpha's original name was Carl William Kraft. Lampshaded when Ballard says "Three names, always ominous."
  • The Handler: Ex-cop Boyd was specifically requested to be Echo's handler, because her last one was carved up by Alpha. Boyd was later promoted to head of security when Dominic turned out to be the mole. A new handler, Travis, has been introduced. As of the end of the second-season premiere, Ballard has been selected to become Echo's new handler.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Joe Mynor gives one to Ballard in "Man on the Street" (1x06).
  • Have You Told Anyone Else??:
    • In "Getting Closer" (2x11) when Bennett Halverson tells Dr. Saunders she can fully restore Caroline who knows who the head of Rossum is, Saunders shoots her in the head.
    • In "Hollow Men" (2X12) when Topher lets Boyd know that he had worked out they had a mole... because Boyd was the one he trusted the most... and Boyd thanked him earnestly for trusting him. Then he made an excuse to split up... and sent operatives to kill Victor/Tony and Priya/Sierra.
  • Heel Face Door Slam: Bennett Halverson. She's being helpful, albeit mainly just so she can get her revenge, and she's even hitting it off with Topher, and Saunders/Whiskey walks in and shoots her. Holy Shit!
  • Heel Face Return: Alpha in the series finale.
  • Heel Face Revolving Door:
    • Adelle, through much of the series. Observe: She starts off as Anti-Villain - HBIC of the shady dollhouse, though somehow keeping the well-being of the actives a priority. She then caves when Harding's orders her to permanently imprint Sierra as the wife of her massively crazy Stalker with a Crush, but feels really guilty about it and drinks a lot. She becomes Topher's confidante after having been demoted, until she betrays him and hands over the keys to the Thoughtpocalypse-mobile/get her swank office back. But she still feels really guilty and drinks a lot. Sensing a pattern?
    • The final Face Heel Turn of sending Echo to The Attic was in fact only because she's a Magnificent Bastard working all sides — she only appears to be evil to her staff and the viewers until the last moments of "The Attic" (2x10).
    • Bennett appears to have been through it a few times as well, serving as Caroline's Reverse Mole until Caroline's martyr complex left Bennett without the use of her left arm, then turning face again in "Getting Closer" (2x11) only to get murdered.
  • Heel Face Turn:
    • Dominic saves Echo in "The Attic" (2x10). Yes, the same guy that spent half of season 1 trying to kill her. Dominic lampshades it too with the quip "I'm glad I didn't kill you."
    • Alpha is an ally in the future.
  • Heel Realization: Topher, beginning in "Vows" and continuing in "Belonging".
  • Hell-Bent for Leather:
    • Both Echo and Sierra when they take on the persona of "Taffy".
    • And Echo again at the start of "A Spy in the House of Love" (1x09), albeit considerably less of it.
  • Hello Boys: Echo frequently appears in sexy outfits and situations in the first few scenes of the show. Even though she's often a glorified prostitute and the show tries hard to drive this home, the timing seems like it's also a deliberate attempt to snag viewers. The most obvious offender is "A Spy in the House of Love" (1x09), which features Echo in a dominatrix outfit.
  • Hero Antagonist: Agent Paul Ballard in the first season is pretty firmly in this territory. Senator Daniel Perrin appears to be until it's revealed he is actually a doll himself and his investigation is actually a Xanatos Gambit by Rossum.
  • Heroic BSOD:
    • Echo goes into this during "Ghost" (1x01) when one of the kidnappers with whom she's negotiating turns out to have kidnapped and raped the girl who originally had that template personality. Who eventually committed suicide. Nice going, Dollhouse.
    • Technically goes into a variant in "Gray Hour" (1x04) as well, after she becomes remotely mind-wiped on a mission, which turns out to provide instant sensory overload.
    • In "Epitaph One" (1x13), Topher seems to have gone into a permanent one of these. The prelude to which comes in "Belonging." "I was just trying to help her...."
    • As of "Vows" (2x01), Dr. Saunders has been hit pretty hard by this trope.
    • In "Getting Closer" (2x11), Topher goes into one when sleeper!Whiskey kills Bennett.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Oh, poor Topher... Also, stupid Topher. He couldn't have designed a timer?
    • After seeing what has happened, I don't think he wants to live.
    • It should just have been made so you had to fire the pulse through the brain of an Actual or something, close the obvious loophole..
  • He's Dead, Jim: When Paul is forcibly mindwiped by Alpha and becomes unresponsive, Alpha quips, "When did you die?". Echo enters the room, and says he's "dead", presumably using her spider sense, and Alpha retorts "brain dead". In fact, he's in a vegetative state, as revealed at the episode's end, but Echo would have known that if she checked for a pulse. Rule of Drama is certainly at play, considering at least one of Echo's personae is a nurse.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Under the effects of a Mushroom Samba, Boyd plays an excerpt from Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, demonstrating that while he's not at the pro level, he's definitely had years of piano experience. (Truth in Television: Harry Lennix played that scene himself. Also true: the rest of the Fantasie-Impromptu is a great deal harder!)
    • In "Haunted" (1x10), he briefly muses about the nature of immortality.
    • In "Getting Closer" (2x11), well... oh dear God ... Boyd Langton is the founder and director of the Rossum Corporation.
  • Hive Mind: "Operation Mindwhisper" is a Rossum attempt to weaponize it.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Boyd in "The Hollow Men" (2x12). He even goes boom!
  • Hollywood Pudgy: Averted. Mellie, who's larger than the Hollywood norm, is considered just as gorgeous as any other girl. Although, she is self-conscious about this.
  • Hostage for Macguffin: Adelle trades Topher's remote imprinting device blueprints for control of her Dollhouse. The ramifications of this lead to "Epitaph One".
  • Hot Chick in a Badass Suit
  • Hot Chick with a Sword: Adelle plays with swords as a hobby. And foreplay.
  • Hot for Teacher: Kiki
  • Hot Librarian: Lampshaded by Echo's handler when he's questioning why her current identity has to wear glasses when nothing is wrong with her vision. Topher has made her temporarily nearsighted.
  • Hurricane of Excuses: The "medicinal carrots" line from "Briar Rose" (1x11) — see the Crowning Moment of Funny page for the whole thing.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Lubov seems to think so. So does Ballard--witness his exposition in the pilot as to why a multibillionaire would bother hiring a Doll or his speech to Lubov that leads to the "People are mostly crap" line.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: "The Target" (1x02). Subtly Lampshaded, since the baddie's fake name is "Richard Connell," the author of The Most Dangerous Game.
  • I Am Very British: Trope Namer
  • I Can See My House From Here: Lubov says this from the penthouse balcony in "Stage Fright" (1x03). It's in an ironic fashion, along with "look at the pretty lights" and "the people look like ants".
  • Idiot Ball: Paul demanding that they let Mellie out of her contract as a condition for his working for the Dollhouse was noble and loving. However, Mellie didn't actually remember anything, and thus was of no assistance to him in his quest. If he had asked for Caroline's freedom instead, it would have been a huge step forward for him.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: "I must stay here and try to enjoy myself."
  • I Say What I Say: Topher and Victor-as-Topher get some of this in "The Left Hand".
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Averted in Stop Loss by Victor/Anthony; he handles the various guns he carries like a soldier (because he is one). More than that, he uses a real-world weapon ready position (SUL) when handling his pistol during his rescue. This continues in the next episode where he steps in and out of cover like a trained soldier.
  • The Igor: The attractive and rather snarky Ivy is a subversion of this trope.
  • IKEA Weaponry: The Loony Fan's sniper rifle, which is assembled from parts hidden in his crutches, just like in The Day of the Jackal.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" FightTwice in "The Hollow Men" (2x12), first played straight with Mellie's sleeper personality, then subverted with Clyde in Whiskey's body.
  • Immortality: Type IX, Parasitic. Word of God states this is Alpha's long-term plan. As of "Epitaph One" (1x13), it's revealed to also be Rossum's marketing plan for their core elite. Later, in the war-torn world of "Epitaph Two (2x13), it's how the remnants of Rossum's leadership hold onto power.
  • In a World: Topher tries to narrate his game of laser tag like this in "Haunted" (1x10), but can't manage to make it sound that epic.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: All of the Actives, in their resting state. November doesn't seem to have any problem with the co-ed shower when she regains her memories, either.
  • Instant Expert: Literally. Invoked. With. Actives.
  • Instant Sedation: In "Instinct" (2x02), the injected sedatives work unrealistically fast.
  • Insufferable Genius:
    • Topher. "You're in my house, Laurence! Of the two people here, one of us is a genius and the other is a security guard in a very lovely suit!"
    • Stephen Kepler, in "Briar Rose" (1x11). Though in more the Cloudcuckoolander sense than the "dick" sense.
    • And Bennett, in both senses.
  • The Internet Is for Porn: In "Man on the Street" (1x06), Echo is cast as the wife of an Internet entrepreneur. When Ballard bursts in on them with a gun, she immediately assumes that her husband has gotten involved in Internet porn.
  • Intoxication Ensues: "Echoes" (1x07).
  • Ironic Echo: What Echo, no pun intended, does to the founder of Rossum. See the Catch Phrase examples above.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: After "defeating" Rossum:

 Ballard: So, did we save the world?

Echo: I guess we did.

Cut to "Ten Years Later", where the apocalypse is still happening.

  • It Got Worse: "Epitaph One" (1x13).
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: In "Epitaph Two", from Alpha, of all people, albeit with a creepy twist. In "A Love Supreme" (2x08), Alpha had imprinted himself with Ballard's personality, leaving Ballard brain-dead for two episodes. Upon witnessing Echo's grief at losing Ballard, he downloaded Ballard onto a wedge and left it behind, so that Echo could add Paul's personality to her own composite. Which would make things very awkward should they decide to break up.
  • Jittercam: Progressively more noticeable throughout the second season, and finally hits the wall in "The Attic" (2x10).
  • Jossed: Ten thousand theories about who the real villain in the series is. Not one of them included Boyd.
    • In hindsight, why didn't anyone guess him? He's the all-too-bland likeable guy about whom we know nothing, and he's not very hands-on violent but he's definitely capable of it. Who else could it have been? It's obvious!
    • Granted that the shock of the revelation was intense and genuine, but on further reflection, the issue is even simpler — if Boyd was such a good guy, why was he working in the Dollhouse in the first place?
  • Just a Flesh Wound:
    • Averted hard. Ballard's gunshot wound bothers him for most of the season.
    • Adelle in "A Spy in the House of Love" waits quite a while without much reaction to have her gunshot wound treated. Though she does consider it a "graze".
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Pretty much everything in "Briar Rose" (1x11). Joss even pulled one on the audience with the "Briar Rose/Sleeping Beauty" misdirect.
  • Karmic Death: Sierra's rapist handler, whom DeWitt could have had shot by Mister Dominic, was instead slaughtered by an apparently helpless female Active. It did not lack for poetry.
    • Boyd at the end of "The Hollow Men", wiped and turned into a Doll who is used to destroy the Rossum HQ.
    • And, in a sadder version of this, Topher dies detonating the device that will restore everyone in the world's mind to its original state, after spending the entire series screwing with people's heads.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Cindy Perrin gets one of these in "The Left Hand" (2x06).
    • Claire gets a brief one in "Omega" (1x12). She makes it up later, though.

 Victor: How can I be my best now? Dr. Saunders, how can I be my best, please?

Claire: You can't, Victor! You can't be your best. Your best is past. Your past you can't even remember. You're ugly now. You're disgusting. The best you can hope for now is pity. And for that, you're going to have to look somewhere else.

    • She gets another in "Getting Closer" (2x11) when she kills Bennett, with Topher as the dog.
  • Kill the Cutie: Bennett Halverson. That is all.
  • Killed Off for Real: Original Clyde Randolph, Bennett Halverson, and the Clive Ambrose body we're used to seeing all get the ax in "Getting Closer (2x11).
    • Not one episode later, Mellie/November and Boyd, the latter being the first main cast member to get axed.
    • And finally, in "Epitaph Two: Return" (2x13), Paul and Topher.
  • Knife Nut: Alpha.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: The show seems to be viciously attacking this trope. This forms part of Senator Perrin and his wife's handler imprint.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Boyd. Ballard is headed this way by the end of the first season. Of course, Boyd is not be as noble as he seems...
  • Lady Drunk: Adelle, though less about age, more being provoked by the pressures of a wavering moral compass.
  • Laughably Evil: Alpha can be this at times.
  • Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone: Echo had been helping Bennett with the wedge reconstruction until Topher showed up, at which point she quickly made an excuse to leave the room. Which was unfortunate...
  • Left Hanging: The Hive Mind technology introduced in Stop-Loss foreshadows the secret of the Attic and Rossum's mainframe, but after that, it never comes up again.
  • Let's Get Dangerous: November is a special type of doll known as a "sleeper". As is Whiskey, on her return.
  • Little Miss Badass: Caroline, in "Iris'" 10-year-old body, slinging an assault rifle as expertly as her new allies Mag and Zone. Caroline-in-Iris is restored to her true girl self at the end of "Epitaph Two: Return," as the other imprinted people are also brought back to their original minds.
  • Little Miss Snarker: See above.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Already dead before the show begins. This was what led to Madeline becoming November.
  • Living Doll Collector: Terry Karrens.
  • Lock and Load: In the second episode.
  • Lonely At the Top: Rayna Russell.
  • Loony Fan: The villain in "Stage Fright" (1x03).
  • Loss of Identity: One of the show's main themes.
  • Lost in Character: Echo's "power", retaining imprints.
  • Lotus Eater Machine: The Attic is the opposite of one of these.
  • Love At First Sight: Sierra/Priya actually fell in love with Victor pretty much the first time she met him, which was while he had the imprint of an Italian art dealer. Those feelings persisted in both of them well afterward.
  • Love Makes You Evil:
    • Alpha. Hoo boy, Alpha. Although Alpha's original personality was evil to start with. Significantly, when Alpha emerges as a sane man in "Epitaph Two," his last gift to Echo is Paul's mind on a hard drive — by which he steps aside and allows Echo and Paul to be together (in a way).
    • Nolan. Hoo boy, Nolan.
  • Madness Mantra: "I know what I know."
  • Mad Scientist:
    • Topher
    • Bennett
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: The chair room. Also, Alpha's copy of it in "Omega" (1x12).
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: There are more than 20 Actives in the L.A. Dollhouse. Guaranteed, if a particular engagement involves the Myth Arc, it will go to Echo, Sierra, Victor, or November. This makes sense for Echo, because both Alpha and Boyd are obsessed with her, but there is nothing special about the other three.
  • Making Use of the Twin: done with Enver Gjokaj's non-actor twin, Demir Gjokaj, in "The Attic." In Anthony/Victor's Attic nightmare, he's back fighting in Afghanistan and finds himself gun-to-gun with a Taliban fighter: himself. And he must relive the experience over and over.
  • Mama Bear:
    • Echo becomes one in "Instinct," thanks to Topher's fiddling.
    • Adelle toward her Actives. In "The Left Hand" (2x06) she even goes as far as brutally squeezing the genitals of the head of the DC Dollhouse and threatening to his face to have him horrifically murdered - without any trace of a bluff - if he doesn't return Echo to her. Later, in "Epitaph One" and "Epitaph Two: Return" she is like this with Topher.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Boyd.
  • Manchurian Agent: Mellie fits this like a tailored suit. Turns out Senator Perrin is one as well.
  • Many Spirits Inside of One: Alpha and Echo, since they don't forget their imprints.
  • Meaningful Background Event: Easy to miss, but in episode 1x05, as the cultists are buying supplies, you can see a man in a low-pulled cap walking past in the foreground, then slipping out of the store in the background.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • "Echo" and "Alpha" (also see Theme Naming below).
    • Richard Connell is the name of the guy who wrote The Most Dangerous Game.
    • Rossum built "robots" in the play RUR... who were actually not mechanical but rather biological, i.e. basically human (...and who overthrew their masters by the end of the play, no less. Foreshadowing, perhaps?). "Rossum" actually isn't the name of the founder, but rather was taken from the play. Lampshade Hanging?
    • In a bit of a punny variant: Arcane = Our Cain.
    • We briefly see a doll named Kilo. Topher points out: "She weighs one kilo!"
    • "Addle the Wit" anyone?
  • Mega Corp: Rossum Corporation, which is in everything from MRIs (they've cornered the market) to mercenaries (they're developing a Hive Mind for just this purpose).
  • Men Are Uncultured: Subverted during "Gray Hour" (1x04). One of the thieves is an art geek brought along for his expertise, but when he says they're there to steal "the Parthenon" one of the other thieves goes, "Isn't that kinda big?" Putting him ahead of the (large) number of people who don't even know what it is.
  • Mental Fusion: "Stop-Loss" (2x09) reveals that Rossum is creating an army of soldiers who are mind-linked, sharing everything that each one of them thinks, sees, and hears. This comes back to bite them when the army's newest recruit, Victor's original personality, Anthony, turns against them and is not only able to predict their every move, but can even turn other soldiers against the hive mind.
  • Mind Probe
  • Mind Rape: The entire premise of the show.
  • Mirror Match: Victor's Attic nightmare, in which he's forced to fight Taliban insurgents who look like him (and are played by Gjokaj's twin brother, as previously mentioned).
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: The show is unapologetic about this. The Dollhouse technology could clearly be used for many, many things other than what it is used for in the show. For example, education: you could imprint someone with their own personality, plus whatever skills they wanted to learn. Many people wouldn't need to go to school, ever again, or the reverse, a cure for post-traumatic stress syndrome by editing out that reflex levels of traumatic experiences. Similarly, in one episode, characters describe how someone could become effectively immortal at the expense of others, by making backups of their mind and imprinting themselves into a new body whenever they die. The ability to turn human minds into data and implement them on any human brain would change society radically. However, the characters are well aware of the implications, and came to the conclusion that The World Is Not Ready. And boy were they right.
    • Ballard talks about this in the first episode: because the Dollhouse technology is so new and expensive, only the very rich have access to it, and all the rich care about doing with it is getting a shag or a giggle.
    • This is likely a very good thing. Anybody want to lay bets that, should somebody attempt in-series to implant skills within their personality or attempt to cure post-traumatic stress syndrome, would turn out to be a rather bad idea?
    • The "uploading different skills" use seemed to work very well, with the example of Senator Perrin in "The Public Eye." His original personality was a drunken partyboy voted "Most likely to die in his own vomit", his imprint is an ambitious, charismatic senator version of himself intent on taking down Rossum. All according to plan.
    • Curing PTSD worked rather well as well, as we find out Victor's original personality Anthony had PTSD from being stationed in Afghanistan, which was edited out of his personality by Topher during Victor's contract. It worked rather well, except for the Mind Whisper incident.
  • Missing Episode: The DVD-only "Epitaph One" (1x13). A few scenes from this episode form the "Previously On..." introduction to the series finale, which is nice for those of us who didn't get the DVDs.
    • Thankfully not the case for UK viewers — the Sci-Fi Channel aired Epitaph One at the end of the first season.
  • The Mole: Dominic. There ha been much fan speculation that he's not the only one. And he isn't. Boyd has been pulling the strings all along.
  • Moment Killer: Moments after Topher and Bennett kiss, Saunders totally kills the moment by shooting Bennett in the head.
  • Morally Rather Gray Brit: Adelle DeWitt
  • Mood Whiplash: In spades.
  • Mushroom Samba: "Echoes" (1x07).
  • Musical Homage: "Omega" (1x12) ends with Beck's "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime," which is included in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind's soundtrack.
    • The discordant keyboard tune that plays over some Topher scenes in the second season (notably, during the 'Bride of Frankenstein' sequence in the first episode) is highly reminiscent of the music from the Queen song Machines (Back To Humans).
  • Mutant Enemy: (Grr. Arg.)
  • Mythology Gag: Echo calls Topher "Shaggy" in one of the flashbacks in "Belonging," a seeming callback to the "Scooby gangs" on previous Whedon shows.
  • Military Alphabet: The Los Angeles Dollhouse names its Actives from it. Washington DC uses Greek gods instead, suggesting that each branch uses a different scheme.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: The entire attraction between Topher and Bennett is founded on this, they get turned on by each other's technobabble. Topher even admits he had a crush on her before he even met her simply due to reading her research. "You know I always had a crush on you, even when I thought you were a dude."
  • Nerd Glasses:
    • Sierra wears these as part of her identity as Audra, the "number one fan" of the hip-hop star Rayna Russell.
    • Topher enthuses over Bennett wearing these on a chain around her neck:

 Topher-in-Victor: Glasses?

Topher: Glasses on a chain!

Topher-in-Victor: For the win!

  • Nerd in Evil's Helmet: Arcane, revealed to be Clyde Randolph, in "The Attic".
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: All Ballard's attempted infiltration of the Dollhouse in "Briar Rose" accomplished was to distract the staff while Alpha made his move.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Oh, so much. Alpha's machinations give Echo the ability to switch seamlessly between imprints without a machine, and everything that DeWitt and the Dollhouse do during the course of the entire series to try to fix, contain, or destroy her simply makes her stronger.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Alpha.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Averted in "The Hollow Men" (2x12). Topher specifically lists the prototypes, the plans for the prototypes, and all the equipment used to make the prototypes as things needing to be destroyed.
  • No Such Thing as HR: Paul Ballard eventually gets fired from the FBI, but not until well after he's shouted down superiors and gotten into blows with another agent over personal insults. Perhaps justified in that he'd already been dead-ended from the rest of the agency for such behavior.
  • Nothing Personal: Said by the hired goon to Boyd in "The Target" (1x02).
  • Not So Different: In the commentary track for "Man on the Street" (1x06), Joss Whedon points out that everything Hearn says during his interrogation by Adelle and Dominic is a completely valid observation about the troubling nature of how the Dollhouse works.

 Hearn: "How is this any different from sending her out to put her under some fat old emir? Does that make it better, because she believes she's in love for all of a day?"

  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • "Stephen Kepler" aka Alpha uses this trick in "Briar Rose" (1x11).
    • Echo also used this increasingly in season two, as she pushed the staff into difficult situations and challenged the dolls to expand their thinking. One example is found in "Belonging" (2x04) when Boyd notices her secretly reading a real book, something a wiped Active shouldn't be able to do. He calls Echo on it:

 Echo: I can make out some of the words. It's fun. Exercising our brains makes us our best.

Boyd: Echo, when did you learn how to lie?

  • One Steve Limit: Subverted, as Clyde Randolph and Clive Ambrose don't turn out to be the same person, although this may have been an intentional Red Herring.
  • Ontological Mystery: (Needs) Possibly the first time this has been used well into the narrative, rather than the beginning. Echo, Sierra and Victor (or rather, Caroline, Priya and Anthony) wake up as themselves, but have no memory of the Dollhouse. Bewildered but aware they are captives, they immediately set out to escape, while trying to figure out how they ended up there in the first place.
  • Outlaw Couple: Alpha as "Bobby" and Whiskey, and later Echo as "Crystal."
  • Outrun the Fireball: Echo, at the conclusion of "The Hollow Men" (2x12).
  • Painful Transformation: The tissue mapping involved in the installation of Active Architecture or getting sent to the Attic is a very painful process.
  • The Paragon:
    • Caroline's drive to "save the world" constantly shines through in Echo, helping her to protect and inspire the people around her. By the time Epitaph One takes place, she's become something of a cynical, badass Messiah to those left in the Dollhouse.
    • Notable line from "True Believer" (1x05), while trying to get a cultist out of a burning building:

  Echo/Esther: The blind girl is looking you in the eye, do you know what that means? It means God brought me here, He has a message for you. That message... is move your ass!!

  • Percussive Maintenance:
    • "Vows" (2x01) features a flesh-and-blood version of this, in which Paul Ballard's repeated punching of a captured Echo causes her to cycle through her personalities until she locks onto the fighter imprint that battled Ballard himself several months earlier (in "Man on the Street"). Echo turns the tables on her captor, arms dealer Martin Klar, subduing him and saving the day. This is the first time this will happen to Echo, but hardly the last.
    • In "True Believer" (1x05), Echo (as the blind Esther) is struck by Jonas Sparrow, short-circuiting the camera implanted in her head and restoring her sight.
  • People Jars: Anyone sent to The Attic is put on life-support and vacuum-sealed.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • DeWitt's willingness to take a shitstorm from her superiors to ensure that no other Active gets abused the way Sierra did as well as her consenting to Echo finishing the engagement with Internet Guy.
    • Topher gets one in "Briar Rose" (1x11), designing the engagement to help the traumatized little girl, which apparently no-one actually paid for.
    • As part of his agreement with the Dollhouse, Ballard has them let November go free.
    • Topher in "Getting Closer"to Ivy: "You have a remarkable brain. I think it should stay in your head. Ivy, don't become me. Go. Go!"
  • Phlebotinum Breakdown: Echo seems to glitch an awful lot. First when she's drugged up in "The Target" (1x02), then she gets remote wiped in "Gray Hour" (1x04), then the return of Caroline's memories in "Echoes" (1x07), and then she wonders out loud what she's been imprinted as this time in "Vows" (2x01). In fairness, at least three of these glitches could have happened to any doll in the same circumstances, as all were caused by physical trauma of some sort (including Echo having her head slammed into a desk in "Vows"). Only the incident in "Echoes" can be considered something with mostly internal causes; though a drug caused that glitch, it manifested itself through Echo/Caroline's ingrained memories.
  • Phlebotinum Rebel: Echo and probably Alpha, depending on who you consider the bad guys to be.
  • Pink Mist: A stunned Topher is misted by blood from Bennett Halverson when she gets shot by whoever Whiskey was being at that time.
  • Positive Discrimination: The show really does love this trope.
    • All the villains of the first season were male and we don't get an actual female villain until halfway through the second season. Then there's one episode where all the dolls get zapped by Alpha and end up attacking everyone. Only the male actives are shown being subdued while any time the females are shown it's beating the others up.
    • One episode really cranked this Up to Eleven where Echo was planted as a bodyguard for a pop star who had an obsessive stalker that was going to kill her. Then comes the big reveal that the pop star knew who the stalker was, responded to his letters all the time and actually asked him to kill her. She backs out at the last minute and the guy is touted as still the complete villain, never mind that the singer led him on and indulged him. She is never called out on this apart from Echo saying she's stupid for wanting to die that way. The singer gets off completely scott free while the guy outright gets killed.
  • Power Trio: Ostensibly, Topher Brink (Id), Adelle DeWitt(Ego), and Boyd Langton(Superego). May also be a Five-Man Band when one includes Claire Saunders and Paul Ballard.This is later Jossed when it is revealed that Boyd is the Big Bad and that Claire Saunders has been evicted from Whiskey's head.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The Attic. At first glance, it's a collective nightmare where Rossum sequesters its worst enemies. However, it's later revealed to be a system for turning people into processors for a massive neural-net supercomputer. While also being the first thing.
  • The Power of Love: Sierra and Victor recognize each other no matter what imprint they are given.
    • Seeing Sierra in "Stop-Loss" (2x09) helps Victor disengage from the Mental Fusion of the Rossum super soldiers.
  • Power Perversion Potential: The poster child for the trope as, unlike most other works, it engages with and explores those dark little mind-control/brainwashing fantasies as part of the premise. Then throws them in your face.
  • Private Military Contractors: Scytheon
  • Primal Fear: Plenty of existential dread in brainwash.
  • Properly Paranoid: Agent Ballard.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: Happens when an Active is on the receiving end of a Disruptor. Used to very cool effect in "The Public Eye" (2x05) to reveal that Senator Perrin has Active Architecture.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Victor gets imprinted with one in "Belle Chose" (2x03). Later, so does Echo.
  • Psychotic Smirk: Alpha, right after his big reveal.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Dominic lampshades that he is this (though he was drugged at the time).
  • Put on a Bus: Dr. Saunders leaves after learning her personality is imprinted. Naturally, the Dollhouse wants to find her. November as well.
  • Rape as Drama: Sierra, who was not only raped by her handler but also mind raped and forced into the Dollhouse where she is imprinted into being the girlfriend of the guy who forced her in.
  • Reality Ensues: "And then you sleep with her." "Well, it 'is' a fantasy."
  • Real Life Relative: Eliza Dushku's boyfriend Rick Fox makes a rather disjointed appearance as an Active in "Getting Closer", the last of the Los Angeles dolls to be freed. Her older brother Nate Dushku is the Big Bad in "Epitaph Two: Return" - as the latest body housing Clive Ambrose.
  • Recycled Set: The L.A. Dollhouse apparently bought the building from Wolfram and Hart (Angel). It's especially obvious when characters walk along the balcony overlooking the dolls' main recreation area.
  • Redemption in the Rain: Adelle has a redemption in the shower in "Stop-Loss" (2x09) although it's not clear until the end of the next episode, "The Attic".
  • Redemption Equals Death: Bennett agrees to bring back Caroline, makes out with Topher, and then gets shot in the head by Sleeper!Whiskey
  • Red Right Hand: Bennett has a dead left arm. She doesn't seem to like talking about it, either.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Seriously subverted. The whole arc is about the consequences of the technology becoming global, and the profit motive is constantly being discussed.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Played with in "Instincts" (2x02) when Echo finds a photograph of her "husband" with his actual (dead) wife, whose memories she has apparently been implanted with (seeing a honeymoon picture, she remarks that that was where they went on their honeymoon.)
  • Rescue Romance: This seems to be Ballard's overriding goal in regards to Echo, trumping even his desire to expose the Dollhouse. He doesn't get the girl. To an extent, Boyd seems to be doing this with Saunders as of season two.
  • The Reveal: Lubov is an active.
    • As is Mellie.
    • Alan Tudyk is Alpha.
    • Claire is revealed to be Whiskey by Dominic!Victor in "Briar Rose" (1x11). In "Omega" (1x12), she checked Topher's computers and learned that it's true.
    • As is Senator Perrin. (Kind of.)
    • Then Claire has been made a sleeper doll — and blows Bennett's brains out before Topher's eyes.
    • And let's not forget Boyd is the head of Rossum
  • Reverse Funny Aneurysm: In-universe example: Dominic's infuriated reaction at Victor pulling rank on him because Topher programmed him as an agent working for the NSA suddenly becomes a lot funnier a few episodes later.
  • Revival Loophole: Apparently this is the only way to escape from the Attic.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: It's never brought up in the dialogue, but Boyd, one of the Dollhouse's resident badasses, seems to be a believer in this.
  • Room 101: The Attic. We don't even find out what happens there until "A Spy in the House of Love" (1x09). It isn't pretty.
  • Room Full of Crazy:
    • Ballard's apartment.
    • "Belonging" (2x04) reveals that Echo has been scribbling simple phrases concerning events in previous episodes on the inside of her sleeping pod, such as "Victor loves Sierra", "Sierra loves Victor", "Dominic was bad", "I love my baby", "I was trained to kill", etc.
    • Topher's redecorating of the pod room, shown in Epitaph 1 and 2
  • Rule of Cool: in "A Spy in the House of Love" (1x09) when D'Anna is boxed there's all these flashing lights and electric-spark noises. Why? Well, because...
  • Sanity Has Advantages: Omega!Echo is able to beat up and escape from Alpha initially because he never considered that she might not be as crazy as he is.
  • Sarcastic Confession: In "Omega" (1x12) Ballard explains to the FBI that he's found the Dollhouse, and they're standing right on top of it. Naturally, they walk away. It may also be an invoked case of Cassandra Truth.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Kilo, a thin Asian Active, is imprinted with one of these in "Meet Jane Doe" (2x07). Kilo's "ghetto accent" is likely a callback to actress (and Dollhouse writer, and Joss Whedon's sister-in-law) Maurissa Tancharoen's nearly forgotten past as a Motown recording artist with the early-1990s girl band Pretty in Pink, which had three black members out of five - plus Tancharoen and one white member. By Tancharoen's own account, she had some interesting identity issues in those days, so her character's ghetto-girl accent seems to be a bit of self-deprecating humor.
  • Screwed by the Network
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money: Seems to be most of the reason why Rossum is able to keep the house hush hush. If there are 20 houses, each with 20 actives, and each active participates in 200 engagements a year, and each engagement has an average price tag of $1 million, then gross revenue is $80 billion per year. Assuming 10% of costs go towards paying actives at the end of their contracts and 30% goes towards house operations, total profit is $48 billion. This leaves actives with $100 million in earnings at the end of their contracts.
  • Science Is Bad: Ballard sure seems to think so. And science (or "tech") led to the World Half Empty of "Epitaph One" (1x13) and "Epitaph Two: Return" (2x13).
  • Self-Inflicted Hell: People in the Attic are forced to experience their worst nightmares.
  • Ship Tease: Many throughout the season, in just about any combination you can conceive of, but rarely the ones you expect. Except for Ballard/Echo, which was strongly hinted from the start. Not that we've actually seen any consummation or anything, but it's so strongly foreshadowed it'll be a shock if it doesn't happen. Not to mention the fact that Whedon, in pre-release interviews, actually described Ballard as Echo's romantic foil.
  • Shirtless Scene:
    • Ballard
    • Victor gets many, many shirtless moments, including an entire fight scene, in "Stop Loss" (2x09).
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Victor and Sierra are attracted to each other no matter what, even when they are programmed to love other people, much to the dismay of Adelle when she tries to sleep with Victor one last time.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Boyd employs this tactic.
  • Shoot the Hostage: In "The Hollow Men"(2x12), when Ballard is being used to shield Boyd, Echo shoots him in the leg.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Many of the happier or heartwarming scenes in the initial episodes seem kind of pointless when you realize that most of the people involved are probably dead after civilization is destroyed.
  • Should Have Thought of That Before X: In episode "Omega":

 Caroline: Hey! That *is* my brain! I want my brain back! I want back in my brain!

Alpha: You should have thought of that before you vacated the premises.

  • Shout-Out:
    • "Ghost" (1x01) features an explicit reference to Edward James Olmos, who plays Commander Adama on the 2000s-era Battlestar Galactica reboot series. It's worth noting that Dollhouse's own Paul Ballard is played by the same actor as Helo, a character from that series.
    • In "Briar Rose" (1x11), Topher uses the word "frak" as another Galactica Shout-Out.
    • In "Meet Jane Doe" (2x07), he says that Bennett "went all Cylon on me".
    • And there's also this line in "The Attic" (2x10):

 Clyde: This is the shape of things to come.

    • "The Hollow Men" is almost certainly a reference to the T. S. Eliot poem by the same name. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.
    • Adelle DeWitt, resident stoic and chessmaster is possibly a shout out to All About Eve and the character Addison DeWitt.
    • Adelle's comment about pain revealing true character in "Stop-Loss" is a shout out to Niska, the torture happy baddy from Firefly
    • The "Rossum Corporation" is a literary shoutout to Karel Capek's play RUR: Rossum's Universal Robots. Capek, of course, popularized the word "robot." Clyde 5.0 hangs a lampshade on it in "Getting Closer."
    • From that same episode, the recurring 'carrots' gag, referencing Disney's Sleeping Beauty movie.
    • "Omega" (1x12)

 Topher: Yes, we take their souls, and then we put them in our glass jars with our fireflies!

Alpha: Oh, gods!

    • Ballard's "I surely do" line in "Man on the Street" might be a reference to Mal from Firefly. It's certainly said with the exact same inflection. Or to Riley's defiant line to Angel in Buffy before they fought.
    • Season 2 features Echo warning that the Dollhouse faces "The Oncoming Storm".
    • Also, we have a genius scientist with a dead arm, who happens to be a bit psychotic, as well.
    • The character name Bennett Halverson is quite likely a reference to The Manchurian Candidate (Frank Sinatra's character Bennett Marco), since plot elements of Halverson's two main episodes ("The Public Eye" and "The Left Hand") allude to plot elements in that film.
    • The title of episode 7, "Meet Jane Doe", is a reference to the somewhat obscure Frank Capra film Meet John Doe.
    • Topher in "Meet Jane Doe":

  Topher: Are you out of your Vulcan British mind?

    • More Star Trek:

 Topher: How did you know it was called a disruptor?

Bennett: What else would you call it?

    • DeWitt in "Stop Loss" (2x09):

  DeWitt: They say (the Attic is) whatever hell you imagine.

    • Upon the conclusion of his contract, former Actives are set up with temporary lodging in a suite at the Hyperion Hotel.
    • Caroline (in flashback), in "Getting Closer" (2x11) referring to Summer Glau's character:
    • Also in "Getting Closer", at one point Bennett asks Topher if he routed through an IO-9 to remotely control the imprint chair. Word of God confirms that it was a Shout-Out to the sci-fi review site.
    • When Boyd is gushing about how proud of his "family" he is, Topher is compared to the Tin Man for discovering his dormant morality and Adelle to the Cowardly Lion for mustering up the courage to take back her house and defy Rossum. Which makes Echo, who assembled her very own composite brain, the Scarecrow.
    • In "Stage Fright" (1x03), the deranged fan uses the same method to smuggle his rifle past security as the assassin did in The Day of the Jackal.
    • In a deleted scene during mid-late season 2, Topher is testing a goggles-and-gloves set to manually work his screens, and in the middle of it he tears off the headset and says "The goggles do nothing."
  • Shower Scene: Lots! And coed to boot! Even Adelle gets one.
  • Shower of Angst: Ballard in "Haunted." Also Adelle in "Stop-Loss".
  • Showing Off the New Body: Non-villainous example when Margaret is first uploaded into Echo's body.

 Margaret-in-Echo: (almost feeling herself up) Nice work, Addie! I'm pointing to the sky!

(she and Adelle both giggle)

  • Shut UP, Hannibal: Boyd gloating that Echo can't try to shoot him while he has Ballard hostage is interrupted by Echo shooting Ballard in the leg, causing Boyd to drop him.
  • Significant Anagram: In "A Love Supreme" (2x08), a client named Mr. E. Hap Lasher retains Echo for an engagement. After the alleged client is found brutally murdered, Adelle deduces that E. Hap Lasher spells out Alpha's here, which is significant in that he's hiding in her bathroom at the time.
  • Simultaneous Arcs: In "A Spy in the House of Love" (1x09), the plot is shown from the perspective of November, Sierra, Echo, and Victor.
  • Sissy Villain: Terry Karens.
  • Slut Shaming: Miss Lonelyheart gets the double whammy of being an old woman, she's absolutely not allowed to have sexual desires.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Topher has a chessboard set up in his office. It's the wrong way round, though.
  • Someone Has to Die: The remote-personality-restoring bomb that has to be manually activated in "Epitaph Two: Return" (2x13).
  • Space Does Not Work That Way: Discussed by Topher and his birthday-friend imprint on Sierra, playing a game listing weak sci-fi science such as "fiery, noisy Explosions in Space".

 Sierra: Oh, but there's so much more. Light-speed travel, space storms, and sexy, sexy aliens...?

Topher: Ah-ah, I said "classic sci-fi errors"; now you're just attacking good storytelling.

  • Spanner in the Works: Topher becomes this in "The Hollow Men". He's generally a cowardly, hysterical figure who lapses into Heroic BSOD when he's forced to confront the consequences of his actions... but a security precaution he takes before the start of this episode saves the day in a way the Big Bad couldn't possibly have predicted. (Too bad he mentions it to the wrong person.)
  • Southies: Echo's imprinted personality in "Stage Fright" (1x03), Jordan, claims to be a Southie. Eliza Dushku is actually from a more fashionable part of Boston.
  • Skunk Stripe: Echo has a compact one in the apocalyptic future of 2020. Supposedly this is a gray streak caused by all the hardships she's gone through.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Paul and Mellie/November. And the "The Hollow Men" (2x12) put a capper on the heartbreak after Mellie struggled to fight off the "three flowers in a vase" phrase that would have caused her to kill Paul; unable to cope with being a doll, she shot herself.
  • Spiritual Successor: Could pretty easily be seen as a western take on Ghost in the Shell. If Whedon didn't at least know about Ghost in the Shell beforehand, then it's a massive coincidence.
  • Stepford Smiler: Madeline, both when Adelle was talking to her, and especially when Ballard was talking to her about her dead child with a curious lack of affect.
  • Stripperiffic: Any subtlety that might have existed in this show's Fan Service was thrown out at the start of "A Spy in the House of Love" (1x09), when Echo is imprinted as a dominatrix. It might be quicker to list everyone who didn't show skin in that episode.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Echo in "Belonging": "Something bad is coming. Like a storm. And I want everyone to survive it." At episode's end, she gets a note from Boyd with an all-access key card attached, which repeats the storm metaphor.
  • Stuffed Into the Fridge:
    • Subverted. Mellie, being attacked by Sierra's rapist ex-handler, decides that dying is for minor characters and instead kicks ass. Or, as the case may be, kicks cervical vertebrae. This was, of course, largely the effect of creepy flowers in a mysterious vase ("vah-ze"), but that's entirely secondary.
    • Played with in the first episode, too. The kid is hidden in a turned over, roped-up fridge. And alive and fine!
    • Played straight, however, with November and Bennett toward the end of Season Two.
  • Suicide by Cop: Rayna in "Stage Fright" (1x03) was trying a variant of this.
  • Surprise Incest: Margaret-in-Echo gets chatted up by her son, who has no idea who she is.
  • Take That:
    • Apparently the Jonas Brothers are very popular clients in the Dollhouse. Sly commentary on their love lives, perhaps?
    • In "Instinct" (2x02), Topher gets a good zinger in:

  Topher: The human brain is like Van Halen. If you take one piece out and keep replacing it, it just degenerates.

    • In "A Love Supreme" (2x08), after Echo switches to one of her previous imprints without assistance from Topher or his machines:

  Topher: I am obsolete. This must be what old people feel like. And Blockbuster.

    • In "The Attic", someone asks about what year it is.
    • Adelle, after Caroline's capture at the Rossum laboratory in Tucson ("Getting Closer" (2x11):

  Adelle: You made me come to Arizona. I loathe Arizona.

  • Talkative Loon:
    • During "Ghost" (1x01), Echo lapses into what sounds a lot like River-speak. From Joss' mouth during the commentary of "Ghost" (1x01) "Fuel the River" Moment.
    • In "Epitaph One" Topher becomes one.
  • Talking to Themself: Alpha. In a hilarious take on the idea, Topher and Victor imprinted with Topher's brain have several phone conversations in "The Left Hand". They get along perfectly until they're in the same room as each other, then Topher's all too happy to get "Topher" out of his hair.
  • Tap on the Head: This is how Topher incapacitates Bennet when she tries to kill Echo/Caroline. Amusingly, he does it in a way that would actually break her jaw rather than render her unconscious.
  • The Teaser: They were especially long in Season One, when a Fox programming stunt allowed episodes to be up to 50 minutes instead of 44.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: The actives have a habit of stating their emotions like this when they are in their wiped state.
  • That Man Is Dead: Victor/Anthony in "Stop Loss" (2x09): "Anthony is gone."
  • Theme Naming: The Actives' "names" (Echo, Sierra, Whiskey, etc.) all come from the radio alphabet military alphabet.
    • Other Dollhouses also seem to use different theme naming; the DC branch uses Greek deities, for example. Do note that "Echo" works in both themes.
  • Think Unsexy Thoughts: In Needs, when Victor (no longer in his blank Doll state) has to use the co-ed showers so as not to attract suspicion, he starts listing the lineup for the Mets while trying not to look at the female Dolls, especially Sierra.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: From "A Spy in the House of Love" (1x09): "I'm. Not. Broken."
  • Three Amigos: Victor, Sierra, and Echo have always been the primary focus of the show. Depending on how you count the number of personalities in Echo's head, this may tally up to something more on the order of forty-three amigos.
  • Time Skip: Played with in the Flash Forward episode "Epitaph One" (1x13), but played dead straight in "Meet Jane Doe" (2x07).
    • And again at the end of "The Hollow Men" (2x12) ten years later to Epitaph One
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Dr. Saunders and Senator Perrin
  • Too Dumb to Live: Echo Or more accurately Caroline. "Let's all act emotionless and content so they don't find u- OH GOD YOUR FACE!"
  • Took a Level In Badass: Dominic in "The Attic" (2x10).
  • Too Much Information:
    • Did we really need to hear about how Nolan's rigor mortis is like Viagra for him?
    • A less ghoulish version is seen in "Haunted" when Nicholas Bashford discovers his deceased mother Margaret (uploaded into Echo) and reveals that he, like she, is a Dollhouse customer (the mother in Los Angeles, the son in New York). "Nicholas!" "What? So are you! We're all adults here."
  • Torture Technician: Bennett. Dear God, Bennett.
  • Trash the Set: What happened to Adelle's office in "Epitaph One."
  • Trigger Phrase: Activates: "There are three flowers in a vase. The third flower is green." Deactivates: "There are three flowers in a vase. The third flower is yellow." In "The Hollow Men," the attempted reuse of the trigger on Mellie — though she fights it off and spares Paul - causes her to break, and she kills herself before Paul's eyes.
  • True Companions: Subverted so. Very. Much. Turns out the reason the Big Bad was keeping the heroes alive wasn't because he needed them for his evil plan (though that was part of it), but rather because "you're my family. I love you guys." The heroes are not touched. Except for Paul. There's always one relative you can live without.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: Alpha.
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: In "Stage Fright" (1x03), DeWitt mentions freeing up the unseen "twins" for Biz Zarella to "unwind" with. Draw your own conclusions.
  • Two Scenes, One Dialogue: "A Spy In A House of Love" (1x09), "Belle Chose" (2x03).
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Harding's rule in the episode "Meet Jane Doe" (2x07).
  • Ubermensch: Alpha refers to himself and Echo after he forces her to have a composite event as this. Heavily mocked via Lampshade Hanging by Echo post-"Omega": "Right. New, superior people. With a little German thrown in. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?"
  • Understatement: Adelle's reaction to Topher's realization that Rossum is trying to build a remote imprint device that will basically lead to "Epitaph One" is "That's unnerving."
  • The Unfettered: Alpha.
  • Unreliable Narrator: In "Getting Closer" (2x11), we discover that the memory of Caroline that Bennett showed to Echo in "The Left Hand" (2x06) took significant latitude in its interpretation: Caroline did, indeed, say, "Sorry, sister, if I stay we both get nabbed." However, she followed it up by taking all the blame for the attempted bombing-gone-wrong.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Man-reaction."
  • Unwitting Pawn: In "Briar Rose" (1x11), Paul does a beautiful job of distracting all the Dollhouse employees from Alpha for long enough for him to imprint Echo and escape. And now this applies to everyone except for Boyd, it seems, who was the mastermind behind everything.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: "Taffy" keeps a bottle of resin in her bra.
  • Viral Marketing: The Alternate Reality Game Dollplay.
  • Voices Are Mental: Topher retains his own voice when imprinted into Victor, as does Ballard when downloaded into Alpha.
    • With the case of Topher, that was just Enver Gjokaj being an awesome actor and managing to imitate Topher's voice to that degree. He's that good.
    • And Ballard's voice from Alpha was probably just Echo's perception of it.
  • Waif Fu: Echo and Sierra, as well as Whiskey/Clyde 2.0 after absorbing fighting-skill imprints and getting into a vicious brawl with Echo in "The Hollow Men."
  • Waistcoat of Style: Alpha in the second season.
  • Wham! Episode:
    • "Man On The Street" (1x06)
    • "A Spy in the House of Love" (1x09)
    • "Briar Rose" (1x11)
    • "Omega" (1x12)
    • "Epitaph One" (1x13)
    • "The Public Eye" and "The Left Hand" (2x05 and 2x06) function as a two-part Wham! Episode.
    • "A Love Supreme" (2x08)
    • "The Attic" (2x10)
    • "Getting Closer" (2x11), more than any other episode in the series. Seriously.
    • "Epitaph Two: Return" (2x13). It's a Joss Whedon show's planned-out finale, nothing less is possible.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Chronologically, the last time we saw Dominic was in Adelle's office in Epitaph One--he's never mentioned again.
    • We never do find out what became of Clyde Randolph 2.0, or Ivy, or learn the exact story of Alpha turning good. The early cancellation made some What Happened to the Mouse? inevitable, but the fact that there was advance warning means there's a lot less than there could have been.
    • Clyde 2.0 died in the Attic as Dominic mentions. Ivy shows up at the end of the Dollhouse: Epitaphs bonus comic but is not explained further (yet). A continuation comic has been announced so it will probably fill in those details.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Alpha gives a What the Hell, Hero? speech to Caroline!Wendy about abandoning her body to the Dollhouse in Omega Reprised in the same episode by Omega!Echo to Caroline!Wendy.
    • When Echo turns a newly wiped Boyd. A person who is literally at their most innocent. Into an unknowing Suicide Bomber. Thumbs up hero. Worse part it didn't even change a thing.
    • Bennett also calls Caroline out for leaving her behind during the raid on Rossum, resulting in Bennett's arm being paralyzed. Subverted in that Caroline had Bennett's best interests in mind. Bennett was a Rossum employee, so by leaving her there, she would be found and given medical treatment, and viewed as a victim rather than as a co-conspirator and a traitor.
    • Ballard using Echo to take out criminals he couldn't catch when he was with the FBI.
  • Whip It Good: Echo as a dominatrix at the start of "A Spy in the House of Love" (1x09). She uses it on Victor's handler just for the hell of it.
  • Who Dunnit to Me?: The plot of "Haunted" (1x10).
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: To infiltrate an NSA facility in "A Spy in the House of Love" (1x09), Sierra disguises herself very stylishly as a woman who works there. This verges on a Paper-Thin Disguise however, because despite duplicating her hair-style, clothes etc. Sierra really doesn't look much like her victim at all. When she passes an ID check against a photo of the real NSA staffer, the audience seems to be asked to maintain Willing Suspension of Disbelief on the dubious idea that enough people there are sufficiently unobservant for an "all 'Asians' look alike" ploy to work.
  • Woman in White: Whiskey, "Epitaph One" (1x13).
  • World Half Empty: The nightmare future scenario of "Epitaph One" (1x13) and "Epitaph Two: Return" (2x13), set ten years into the future, which showcases what happens when use of the Dollhouse tech goes horribly wrong.
  • The World Is Not Ready: The justification for keeping the Dollhouse technology secret. In "Epitaph One:" Played straight: The world really ' wasn't ready.
  • Villainous Crush: Alpha seems to be channeling Leoben Conoy, at times.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: In "The Hollow Men" (2x12), Clyde Randolph (in Whiskey's body) to Echo: "Y'know, this is the first time I can hit a girl without feeling bad about it."
  • Xanatos Gambit: With a dash of Batman Gambit. Alpha killed the environmental specialist and posed as him. Ballard "forces" him into the Dollhouse, and basically distracts Boyd and DeWitt while Alpha waltzes in and gets Echo. If Ballard had succeeded in getting Echo out, Alpha would only have had to take her away from him. Win-win for Alpha.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: In "The Hollow Men" (2x12), you can see Boyd desperately trying to keep his plan intact as it starts to fall apart. He comes very close, his only miscalculation is that he believes Echo will be unable to fight him. And he almost survives that, too, except he's distracted enough for Topher to get in a shot with the mind-wipe gun.
  • Yandere:
    • Alpha.
    • Nolan, who tried to come on to Priya the old-fashioned sleazy way, and when that failed, drugged her up, threw her in the mental hospital he ran as a schizo, and then called in the Dollhouse to "help" her. After she'd been wiped into becoming Sierra, he started renting her out on a regular basis. He's dead now, though, down to the point of being cut up into pieces and dissolved in acid.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: The events of Epitaph One are not prevented, despite the best efforts of the protagonists in season two.
  • You're Insane!: Said by Echo in "Echoes" (1x07). And echoed by Adelle in "The Hollow Men" (2x12) when Boyd lays out his plan to save the favored few from having their minds wiped in the hell-on-Earth to come, saying they must choose to be the destroyed or the destroyers. Adelle's retort: "You are spectacularly insane."
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Dying in the Attic dreamscape means dying for real. Sorta. The perpetual terror-induced adrenaline spikes eventually take their toll on the body, but until then the system can do with you as it wishes. However, if someone deliberately sets out to kill you, then you die right then. Also you can choose to die, though who knows why they would give their victims that option
  • You Will Be Assimilated: The "Mind Whisper" technology.
  • Zettai Ryouiki:
    • When Echo goes undercover as a hooker as part of her "Taffy" persona in "Gray Hour" (1x04), she has thigh-high leather boots, with a leather skirt. Once the disguise is no longer needed, she changes into something more sensible (and better suited for robbery), but still keeps the high-heeled boots.
    • Used again as "Alice" in "Echoes" (1x07). Who says this trope gets neglected by the Western world?
    • The opener of "A Spy in the House of Love" (1x09) makes three for Echo. Later in the episode, Ivy gets a lower-grade Zettai Ryouiki.
    • A fourth instance slightly low on the leg occurs in "Belle Chose" (2x03).
    • Caroline and Ivy both get a C-grade in "Getting Closer" (2x11), but neither matters because Bennett one-upped them at the start of the episode.
    • Mellie in "The Hollow Men," but only a D.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: While not a literal example, the post-apocalyptic scenario depicted in the Epitaph episodes invokes tropes commonly associated with this: you have people who have lost their minds and identities running around and attacking everything on sight, with a handful of unaffected individuals trying to survive in the violent new world order and find a cure, etc.
    • Don't forget that the ones attacking everything on sight are also eating dead people, including each other after they've been killed.