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Series / Dollhouse

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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.
— "Ghost"

Dollhouse (2009-2010) is a 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 romantic and sexual applications, "dolls" can be rented for use as made-to-order surrogate mothers, bodyguards, best friends, thieves, assassins, hostage negotiators, detectives, spies, 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 supposedly 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, Dichen Lachman 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", which was fortunate enough to be aired.

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

There is a Character Sheet for this series, and now a recap page.

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:

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    Tropes A-D 
  • 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 (Eliza Dushku) 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 pop 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?"
    • Eliza Dushku plays a secret agent after having played the daughter of one.
    • 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 Glau), is "Smarts off the chart. Bet she could kill you with her brain."
    • In the same episode, Claire Saunders (Amy Acker) breaks down in the arms of Boyd, sobbing: "I wish we had more time!" Fred Burkle said exactly the same to Wesley the day her soul was consumed by Illyria. Of course, Amy Acker played Fred.
    • In (1x05), Patton Oswalt plays an internet billionaire who made it big with "Bouncy the Rat"
    • This isn't the first time Tahmoh Penniket has fallen in love with a sleeper agent. In fact, his work as Helo is what made Joss Whedon cast him here.
  • 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. 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" take place after the Dollhouse technology has been used to mind control people en masse, turning a majority of the world's population into either ravenous killers or completely helpless blank slates.
  • Afraid to Hold the Baby: In the episode "Instinct", Echo complains that "her" husband reacts to her handing him "their" child as if she were trying to get him to hold a loaded grenade.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Boyd, after getting imprinted. "I try to be my best."
  • Alice Allusion: The season 1 episode "Echoes" has Echo leave an engagement to follow a news story to a nearby college, where she becomes infected with a hallucinogenic memory drug, meets various characters known to both Echo and Caroline who aren’t quite themselves and uses a manhole to break into a building. The personality imprint she has at the time is named “Alice”, and she is wearing a sort tunic dress, thigh high stockings and Mary Jane style high heeled shoes.
  • 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.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Adelle`s ambitions surely helps bringing forth the apocalypse. She was degraded, and used Topher`s invention to get her old position back. It helps much that her superior had ambitions and for world domination no less.
  • 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:
    • 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.
  • Artistic License – Military: Anthony is shown in both US Army and Marine Corps uniforms during the series. What branch is he, again?
  • Artistic License – Space: 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.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Possibly unintentional (Joss Whedon is a well-documented atheist with a history of writing believable Christians) but when Victor says to a waitress to give a group of groupies good wine for the first few bottles, and after that the house stuff, he's referencing a line from the Bible ("Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine." - John 2:10).
  • 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.
  • 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. Among other things.
    • Specifically, the self-inserts can be seen with Topher, the character-creator and geek; Adelle, the one in charge, responsible for everyone (discussed by Joss in the audio commentary of 2x01 "Vows"); and Boyd, the mastermind who forces the characters to confront terrible things in order to overcome them and evolve into better people.
    • 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 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).
    • Every single active in the Dollhouse is barefoot. This is something that used to be occasional for Whedon; now it's the foot fetish equivalent of a porn set.
  • Autocannibalism: One of the people kept in the Attic is forced to eat his own legs as sushi.
  • Awesome Mc Cool Name: Arcane. He thought it sounded badass.
  • Ax-Crazy:
  • "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, and it doesn't magically make everything perfect for them.
  • 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.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: To paraphrase Adelle. "Everyone working here has badly compromised principles except for Topher. He never had any to begin with."
  • 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 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 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 head of Rossum pulling the strings on everything going 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.
    • 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: At the end of "Epitaph Two", the heroes are able to undo the mass mindwiping and imprinting and restore the personalities of the remaining butchers and dumbshows. However, the world is still ruined, and the technology used to cause the apocalypse is still out there.
  • 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.
    Echo: "I think her bad guys are badder than my bad guys."
  • Blank Slate:
    • Actives when unimprinted. (Except for Echo, who shows signs of having memories of her engagements early on. She eventually develops a full personality)
    • Also showing personality to a lesser extent are Sierra and Victor.
    • Alpha started developing a personality after seeing Echo for the first time. Unfortunately, it proved to be as much a psychopath as his original persona. This was before he was imprinted with the personalities of 48 other people, turning him into a super-genius killing machine.
  • Body Surf: 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.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Sierra gets imprinted with a racist who makes some disparaging remarks about Asians.
  • 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" (2x12) and "Hollow Men" (2x11) 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 harbors 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-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. 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.
    • There's the original Clyde's prediction that the tech will cause the apocalypse, which Rossum seems to ignore. 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.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "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?" An 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." When Topher says "For a little while," Echo (with a mother imprint) 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, Defied 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 "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.
  • Character Death: Defied 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 Defiance comes in once Epitaph: Part Two reveals that Echo/Caroline actually spared her.
  • 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:
    • 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, which are rather inconsistent with Stephen's apparent lifestyle.
    • "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".
  • Chemically-Induced Insanity: Sierra's backstory. After spurning the advances of a rich man, he is so angered that he doses her and has her put into a mental ward. She is then turned into an Active, a programmable love slave hired out to rich clients, which includes the man responsible for her state.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander:
    • The chemical in "Echoes" turns people into this.
    • In "Briar Rose" (1x11), Stephen borders on this.
    • In "Epitaph One" (1x13), Topher and Whiskey.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Landers Minder: Adelle becomes this for Topher.
  • Clue, Evidence, and a Smoking Gun: When Caroline first meets Bennett in college, she guessed Bennett is a neuroscience major. Bennett is shocked she guessed that so easily and asks how she figured it out. Caroline says it's because Bennett is eating a tuna sandwich, and fish is brain food.... and also because Bennett is carrying a large stack of neuroscience textbooks.
  • 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 Pragmatist: Neither Ballard nor Echo fight by Marquis of Queensberry rules. And neither does Boyd. Almost no one does in this universe.
  • Combat Stilettos: Seen on a number of occasions, but notably worn by both Echo and Sierra when imprinted as cat burglar "Taffy" ("Gray Hour" (1x04)). Ironically, both Actives mention the importance of wearing comfortable shoes on the job.
  • Combo Platter Powers: 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.
  • The Compliance Game: There is a particularly creepy example involving an adult. Joe Hearn rapes his charge Sierra several times when she is in her Womanchild Empty Shell state; he tells her that it is a game.
  • Composite Character: Echo becomes an in-universe example by the end of the series as her personality is a merger of all 40-50 of the personalites she has been imprinted with in her time as an Active. The incident that starts the process of her becoming this is even called a Composite Event where all of her previously imprinted personalities up til that point are reimprinted into her at the same time.
  • 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 is running out of shellfish for Ambrose, a reference to him enjoying it in "Epitaph One" (1x13).
    • In "Needs" (1x08), when Echo frees all the blank slate Actives, among them is Sam, the college student and memory drug thief who was coerced into joining the Dollhouse at the end of "Echoes" (1x07).
  • Cool Code of Source:
    • The episode "Briar Rose" uses the HTML source (which isn't code—it's markup) from the Web site for Wolfram Research in a cracking scene. Wolfram Research is a real company that makes Mathematica software, but it shares a name with an evil corporation on Whedon's series Angel, making it a particularly nerdy hidden reference.
    • Their environmental control system also seems to make heavy use of some XML dialect, as seen when Alpha uses it.
  • Cops Need the Vigilante: The Dollhouse is once hired to assist a DEA operation. As the Dollhouse is already an illegal entity, everyone involved is up front about the iffy nature of this operation.
  • Corrupt Politician: Is it any surprise that the Dollhouse has powerful allies? And a senator who is also a doll?
  • Cowboy Be Bop At His Computer: A TV Guide blurb inviting people to check out the Alternate Reality Game Dollplay referred to its protagonist Hazel as "Echo's pal" despite them never having anything to do with each other besides existing in the same universe.
  • 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.
  • A Day in the Limelight: "Belonging" (2x04), for Sierra/Priya, we see the origin story for Sierra, and how her situation affects the Dollhouse.
  • 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.
  • Dead Person Conversation: After Paul's death in "Epitaph Two: Return," Echo is gifted one final imprint - his. The show's final scene is the two of them having a conversation inside her head.
  • Dead Person Impersonation:
    • Alpha posing as Stephen Kepler after killing him.
    • Played with in "Haunted", when Echo is imprinted with the memories of a recently deceased Dollhouse client. From Echo's point of view, she is the deceased, but of course looks nothing like her. Consequently, she spends much of the episode pretending to be a friend of the deceased, in order to solve her murder.
  • Death Is Cheap: High-ranking Rossum executives inevitably have multiple bodies. Averted with Bennett's death.
  • Description Cut: After the motorcycle race at the beginning of the first episode Echo challenges the hunk she's with to a rematch. Instead he says, "No, lets just dance." Cut to them rocking out to Lady Gaga singing a club version of Just...well...Dance.
  • Determinator: Ballard, to his eventual death in battle.
  • Devil in Plain Sight:
    • Dominic. Tried to kill Echo in "True Believer," among other things.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Echo and Paul training in "Meet Jane Doe," which was even shot to mislead the audience into thinking that Paul accepted Echo's advances earlier in the episode.
  • Dominatrix: Echo appears as one dubbed "S&M Barbie" in 'Spy in the House of Love', one of her personalities just back from an assignment. Eliza Dushku hired a coffee truck to try to distract the cast and crew from drooling over her but it failed to stop them gawping. The scene received huge publicity and went viral online, reputedly earning Dollhouse a second season by itself.
  • 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.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Sci-Fi: The series deals heavily with this trope, as the show’s premise deals with brainwashed women and men, called “dolls”, who can be implanted with customized personalities and skill-sets and are often used as sex companions for clients.
    • Episode 6 hangs a lampshade on the issue with two storylines: one about a handler/bodyguard revealed to be raping his doll in her "blank slate” mode and asking if it's any different from when a doll is on assignment and their personality thinks they're in love with the client. The other storyline depicts a sympathetic client, a grieving widower who uses the doll to recreate a touching romantic moment with his late wife but who is still considered evil for sleeping with the doll. The dolls are all volunteers who knew what they were signing up for, but it's still rape in the sense that a programmed personality doesn't realize their feelings and desires for their partner are all manufactured.
    • A regular client who sleeps with a male doll is revealed to be one of the female higher-ups running the Dollhouse, but “breaks up” with the doll because she feels so guilty about it.
    • Then there’s the subplot with Topher and Dr. Claire Saunders—when she discovers she’s really a doll implanted with her predecessor’s memories, Claire confronts Topher with the accusation that he designed her to want to sleep with him even though she hates him.
  • 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.
  • Do Wrong, Right: In (2X04) Belonging when Topher sends out Priya to her rapist and she kills him, Topher sees the mess that happened, prompting a BSOD and then Boyd shows up, and tells them he brought a kit to dispose of the body, and coaches them on how to make it look as if he disappeared.
  • 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 Men" chooses to kill herself rather than follow through with the assassin programming and kill Paul.
    • On a technicality, Boyd, when wiped to a blank slate and handed a grenade with instructions to enter the next room and pull the pin.
  • 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 insists on saving Caroline, NOT Mellie/November, even. He seems to be bucking for Tragic Hero status here, especially as Echo (at least initially) doesn't like Ballard. 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. Then 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.
    • Invoked when Echo is hired to protect a famous pop singer. Topher imprints her with the identity of a backup singer, but throws in some fighting skills and a strong desire to protect the pop singer at all costs, despite barely knowing her. As he points out, the best bodyguard isn't someone who's paid to protect you, it's someone who wants to protect you.
  • 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.
  • Dysfunction Junction: So much. There's an entire episode devoted to showing that healthy, not damaged people don't belong in the house at all.

    Tropes E-H 
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: 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. Interestingly, Priya and Anthony stay together, when most of the fandom was just waiting for Joss to tear them apart in angsty fashion. Ballard's consciousness is also uploaded into Echo, so that they can share her body and be together forever.
  • Eleventh Hour Super Power: Echo's "Omega" imprint. But Alpha was the one who gave it to her. Nice Job Fixing It, Villain.
  • Euphemism Buster:
    Topher: He seemed to be having a kind
    Dr. Saunders: A what?
    Topher: A, you know, reaction that a man — person might have in know, the...naked part. Shower. Victor.
    Dr. Saunders: Victor had an erection?
    Topher: I prefer man-reaction.
  • 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:
      Topher: Basically, this is what some of your more famous serial killers' brains look like.
      Adelle: You're quite certain of this?
      Topher: Certain enough that I have serious ethical problems trying to wake him up.
      Boyd: Topher has ethical problems. (Beat) 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".
    • Topher knows that when Rossum asks him to build them a device, they intend to combine it with other tech to create a more nefarious device, so he tries to build a "dumber" device that performs its ostensible function while being useless for anything else. It leads to this great line from Harding when he finds out: "Topher Brink is a genius, but I had no idea he was actually smart".
  • 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.
  • Evil Feels Good: In "Briar Rose", when Paul stuns Topher:
    Kepler: I mean, officially I deplore violence, but that was totally worth the loss of karma points.
  • Evil Laugh: When Echo is in the Attic, she comes across a projection of Boyd Langton. When she asks where her friends are, he lets out a reverbating evil laugh before telling her she has no friends (he's lying).
  • 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.
  • Fairytale Motifs: The entirety of "Briar Rose" (1x11) uses the eponymous 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), the original version of the story featured the prince raping the unconscious princess and 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 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.
  • Fanservice — The series has some for everyone. See especially the Season 2 opening credits, which is nothing but lingering shots of Echo from all over the first two seasons.
  • Fan Disservice: To most people the idea of a brainwashing technology used by a shadowy organization to run a sex-slave operation in every major city in the world is too horrific for anything else to really apply.
  • 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. What's more, Epitaphs One and Two show that even to Alpha there's more than just evil...
    • 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) Averted. 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?"
  • 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.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Dr. Claire Saunders passionately hates her colleague Topher Grace for being an Insufferable Genius. As it turns out, she's actually an Active, Whiskey, whose current personality imprint was designed by Topher to be his Commander Contrarian. After discovering this, she spitefully tries to seduce him by crawling into bed with him.
    Topher: Hey, I could whip up a love slave anytime I wanted!
    Saunders: But that wouldn't be a challenge, would it? Slaves are just slaves, but winning over your enemy — the one person guaranteed to reject everything you are — that's real love. More real than anything up there in the world.
  • 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).
  • Foreshadowing: A minor example, but in 1x07, "Echoes", Victor is imprinted as a high-ranking NSA consultant to help with the campus clean-up. He pulls rank on Dominic, who is, ironically, revealed as a mole for the NSA two episodes later.
    • In 1x08, "Needs", Dr. Saunders is among the Actives being blindly released to the world, foreshading the reveal that she's an Active.
    • In 1x11, "Briar Rose," a restrained character asks for a drink before being sedated. Dominic in Victor's body is sedated while resisting helping Adelle and Topher access the information from Alpha. He is restrained by Dr. Saunders, and says 'whiskey' imploringly. Dr. Saunders is revealed to be a doll the next episode, with a call-sign of Whiskey.
    • At the end of the very first episode, eagle-eyed viewers may notice Victor among the Actives climbing into their pods, several episodes before Lubov is revealed to be an Active in deep cover.
    • In 1x09, "A Spy in the House of Love", Echo, imprinted as a spycatcher, interrogates various Dollhouse staff members. Her questions for Dr. Saunders center around the fact that they seem to always be on duty, never leave the building, and don't seem to have any outside hobbies. Dr. Saunders is an Active, imprinted as an emergency replacement for the House's original doctor.
  • "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.
  • 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.
      • Above troper is likely talking about the thieves Echo was trapped with; the Dollhouse had no reason to shoot her.
    • 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.
  • 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). 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.
  • Good Powers, Bad People: In "Briar Rose", when Paul and Stephen are breaking into the Dollhouse:
    Paul:This is a bad place.
    Stephen: Bad people, maybe. Good place.
  • 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.
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Evil: To say the show uses this trope a lot would be to understate dreadfully. While actives themselves are good, Paul Ballard is good-ish, and the entire LA Dollhouse staff is deeply grey. We all just agree Alpha is evil as are the people in charge of Rossum as a whole. And by the end this has fragmented even further. The surviving staff of the LA Dollhouse are firmly on the good side, and so is, surprisingly enough, Alpha. Victor and a few others have gone grayer, but by now the only true evil people are the remnants of Rossum.
  • 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".
  • 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."
    • Likewise the sociopathic "Terry Marion Karrens" from "Belle Chose" (2x03), with more Ballard snark: "Any part of that a boy's name?"
  • The Handler: All dolls have caretakers referred to as "handlers". 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.
  • Happiness in Mind Control: Tony chose to become an Active and have his memories erased because his PTSD made it difficult for him to adjust to civilian life. When his contract is up, he enlists with another program that threatens to erase his personality completely, because he'd rather be a cog in a machine than be Tony again.
  • 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 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 to 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 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".
    • Although there were signs beforehand.
  • 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.
  • 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 Evil Plan 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.
  • 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" in "Stop-Loss" (2x09) is a Rossum attempt to weaponize it.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Boyd in "The Hollow Men" (2x12). He even goes boom!
  • Hollywood Beauty Standards: Justified with regard to the Actives, because they are both chosen because they meet a certain standard of conventional attractiveness and are shown constantly exercising and being given a restricted "health food" diet when not out on engagements so that they maintain their appearance and fitness level.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: In Haunted, it turns out that Margaret didn't know her immediate family well at all before her death, thus alienating them. She and her brother made up only days before her death after years of being too stubborn to talk to each other, her daughter hates her for being a control freak and her son murdered her to get at the inheritance, causing her husband to be bequeathed with her horses (which she deemed her most valuable property, but he can't stand).
  • 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 for Teacher: Kiki, Echo's imprint in "Belle Chose" (2x03)
  • Hot Librarian: Lampshaded by Echo's handler in "Echo" (1x01) 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.
    • Topher also describes Bennett Halverson this way in "The Left Hand" (2x06).
  • 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".
  • Hurricane of Excuses: The "medicinal carrots" line from "Briar Rose" (1x11).

    Tropes I-L 
  • 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.
    • A client requires a competent negotiator to facilitate an exchange between himself and the men who have kidnapped his daughter... so he makes Echo question whether she's a negotiator at all? Fantastic idea, sir. It's especially bad because DeWitt herself explicitly told him to not challenge the Actives' identities or their perception of self, as that would confuse and potentially render them useless.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Neuropolis (formerly Phoenix), the capital of Rossum's post-apocalyptic empire in "Epitaph 2".
  • 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.
  • 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 averted with Clyde in Whiskey's body.
  • 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.
  • Incestuous Subtext: in 'Haunted' Adelle's old friend Margeret downloads her personality into Echo so she can attend her own funeral and see what everyone truly thought about her. Her son later deep kisses her, telling her he's noticed her checking out his body and she admits it but claims it is subconsciously and due to "Too much wine". In 'Stage Fright' Adele offers a Dollhouse client twins to "relieve his tension".
  • Indentured Servitude: It's never called out by name, but this is what the Dolls amount to. They have all signed contracts with the Dollhouse to give away their bodies for a certain in number of years, during which they are fitted with new personality downloads and hired out to rich clients on 'engagements', often sexual in nature. Of course, these contracts are illegal by modern standards. One ex-doll even tries to go public after her years of indentured servitude are up to expose the Dollhouse.
  • 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 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 Cloud Cuckoolander sense than the "dick" sense.
    • And Bennett Halverson, 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.
  • Ironic Echo: What Echo, no pun intended, does to the founder of Rossum. See the Catchphrase 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.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: The theme song manages to sound completely innocent and completely creepy at the same time.
  • I Say What I Say: Topher and Victor-as-Topher get some of this in "The Left Hand".
  • It Can Think: Topher's shocked stare at Echo when she recognises his role in the house, and then orders him to imprint her so she can help catch the spy. This is before the composite event, too.
  • 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.
  • Jitter Cam: Progressively more noticeable throughout the second season, and finally hits the wall in "The Attic" (2x10).
  • Just a Flesh Wound:
    • Averted. 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: 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.
  • 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.
  • Lady Drunk: Adelle, though less about age, more being provoked by the pressures of a wavering moral compass.
  • Layman's Terms: "Oh, I do the English part? That's new."
  • 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.
  • Leitmotif: Despite being a minor character, Bennett has one—or better, Bennett and Topher's ship has one.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: November is a special type of doll known as a "sleeper". As is Whiskey, on her return.
  • Little Miss Badass: Iris definitely counts for one, when she gets Echo's backup copy downloaded into her. She leaves the category at the end of "Epitaph Two: Return" when she and all the other Actives get their original selves returned.
  • Lock and Load:Implied in "The Target". Boyd gives a gun to Echo while asking him whether he knows how to use it. Echo's answer is that none of his brothers are Democrats, the subtext being that Republicans usually support the legality of owning fire weapons, so they are stereotyped as freely using them. As such, Echo's brothers have taught him how to handle guns.
    Boyd: You know how to use this?
    Echo: I have three brothers, none of them Democrats.
  • Lost in Character: Echo's "power", retaining imprints.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The feared "Attic" is revealed to be an inversion of this. It's a giant neural network where people that the Rossum Corporation deemed to be a threat are hooked up to use their brains for their computational power. The person who's plugged in experiences their worst nightmares playing out in front of them, such as their friends dying and being unable to help, fighting an endless, hopeless battle against an enemy that never gives up, or being fed your own legs for dinner. The oldest person who was trapped inside, Rossum's former co-founder, had been travelling from one personal nightmare to the other to Mercy Kill as many people as he could and hopefully stop Rossum.
  • Love at First Sight: Sierra and Victor are implied to experience this every time they meet, which is why their connection persists through multiple memory wipes. Also true in a more basic sense in that Priya, Sierra's original personality, actually fell in love with Tony/Victor the very first time she met him, when he was imprinted as an Italian art dealer.
  • 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. For the girl he loves, he gets her unjustly forced into a mental institution, faking a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia so no one believes her. He forces her into the Dollhouse, pretending it's for her own good, then regularly hires her to have his way with her however he wants.

    Tropes M-P 
  • 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.
  • Mama Bear:
    • Echo becomes one in "Instinct," thanks to Topher's fiddling, even after she gets wiped.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Marrying the Mark: Sen. Perrin's wife is actually his Handler. He is an Active whose wealthy family had him imprinted in order to transform him from an alcoholic fuckup into a respected Senator, in exchange for letting the Rossum Company use him in a scheme to cover up their crimes.
  • 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?
    • Topher Brink. He goes over it.
  • "Meet the Celebrity" Contest: In "Stage Fright" (1x03), Sierra is imprinted as the winner of a contest to spend a day with pop star Rayna Reynolds. As Rayna is being stalked by an obsessed fan, Sierra has also been imprinted with some serious bodyguard skills.
  • 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: Averted 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.
  • Merger of Souls: Echo and Alpha both have 40+ personalities inhabiting a single body. It is clearly shown in Echo's case that her "main" personality is an amalgamation of all the personalities she has been imprinted with, though she can seamlessly slip into one specific personality when needed. With Alpha, it's not as clearly defined and there are even a couple scenes where two or more of his personalities are openly arguing with each other. He does seem to have one "main" personality that is in overall control, though it is never clearly shown if this "main" personality is an amalgamation of all his personalities like Echo's is.
  • 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.
    • This could theoretically lead to multiple-doll pairings such as "Hotel Uniform" or "Golf Uniform," if they follow the entire alphabet.
    • "Romeo Juliet."
    • At one point we're told the L.A. Dollhouse has well over 26 Dolls, so one wonders what the others are called...
  • Mind Hive: Both Echo and her Evil Counterpart Alpha eventually transform into a new type of being with multiple personalities simultaneously inhabiting the same person. When Echo is asked if she would want to go back to her original personality Caroline, she states that she is no longer that person and is now her own entity.
  • Mind Prison: House employees who abuse the Actives or otherwise make trouble for the house get sent to The Attic, where they are put into stasis and subjected to nightmares while their brains are used to provide processing power for the house's network.
  • 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.
    • 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.
    • A number of Actives seem to have been recruited with the promise that Rossum will use the technology to cure their mental health issues once their contract is up. Whether Rossum keeps their word on this is unclear at best.
  • The Mole: Dominic. There has 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.
  • 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).
  • Mythology Gag: Echo calls Topher "Shaggy" in one of the flashbacks in "Belonging," a seeming callback to the "Scooby gangs" on previous Whedon shows.
  • Namedar
    Topher: How did you know it was called a disruptor?
    Bennett: What else would you call it?
  • Nerd Glasses:
    • Sierra wears these as part of her identity as Audra, the "number one fan" of the pop 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".
  • 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."
    This is better.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Averted in "Haunted". Most of the dead person's relatives aren't all that unhappy about her being gone, mostly due to a combination of well-meant actions that weren't well-received (And then there's the one person who murdered her to get at the inheritance...)
  • Neural Implanting: The key technology behind the Dollhouse - Actives are imprinted with the skills, knowledge, memories, and personality traits to fulfill their engagements. Depending on the details (e.g.: an Active imprinted as an expert safecracker versus one imprinted as a deceased friend or loved one) specific aspects of these imprints may be of greater importance than others.
  • 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.
    • There's also a brief line in "Epitaph Two" (2x13) where someone tells the protagonists off for their actions in the previous episode.
      Harding: Did you ever think if you didn't cut off Rossum at the head, the tech might never have gotten out of control?
  • 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.
  • 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. It doesn't help. You'd have thought the idea of an off-site backup would at least occur to him...
  • No Such Thing as H.R.: 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.
  • Not Helping Your Case: When being interviewed to try and expose the spy in the House (who had installed a chip into the chair to corrupt Imprints), Ivy claims she could tear apart and reassemble Topher's equipment without him ever knowing. Only after she says this does she realise how bad that sounds. Subverted; she isn't the spy anyway; it was Dominic.
  • Nothing Personal: Said by the hired goon to Boyd in "The Target" (1x02).
  • 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: Averted, 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.
  • Operation: Jealousy: The unaired pilot's opening montage of Echo's engagements includes one where a middle-aged man brings Echo as his date to the wedding of a much younger ex-girlfriend with this intention. Judging by the bride's reaction, it got under her skin at the very least.
  • 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!!
  • People Jars: Anyone sent to The Attic is put on life-support and vacuum-sealed.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • This is a plot point really. The reason Boyd chose Caroline to become Echo was because of her unique physiology that helped her resist imprinting at a neural level. All this glitching is just that ability come to the fore.
  • 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.
  • The Plan: 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.
  • Post-Coital Collapse: In "The Target", Echo is out hunting with a client, and after some flirting while he teaches her how to hunt, we Smash Cut to them collapsing in his tent, panting for breath and he can't help but wonder if there is anything she isn't good at.
  • 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. First, there's the sheer number of engagements that involve dangerous, illegal, or... well, perverted activities. Beyond that is the very existence of the Dollhouses - a technology with the potential to completely revolutionize fields from education to psychiatry is used almost exclusively for the creation of stables of brainwashed slaves.
  • 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.
  • Precision F-Strike: Topher is kinda out there and has shaky morals (at least, at the beginning), but he remains rather polite throughout the show, so when he calls Adelle "the coldest bitch on this planet" after she betrayed him and potentially doomed the entire world, you know things are seriously screwed up.
  • Primal Fear: Plenty of existential dread in brainwash.
  • 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.
  • Put on a Bus: Dr. Saunders leaves after learning her personality is imprinted. Naturally, the Dollhouse wants to find her. November as well.

    Tropes Q-T 
  • 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.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: DeWitt goes full-on Mama Bear when she finds out one of her employees has been raping Sierra. Later, the first overt sign of Topher's morality comes when he resists turning Sierra over to the man who forced her into the Dollhouse (for rejecting his advances before she became an Active.)
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: During the filming of "True Believer," a blind woman was brought on set so Eliza Dushku could portray one realistically. However, when Eliza followed the blind woman's advice, everyone thought that her character didn't look blind because she wasn't acting like blind people usually do on TV. Tim Minear discusses this at about 38:00 of this podcast.
  • Recycled Premise: The setup of Epitaph One is extremely similar to Stephen King's Cell
  • Redemption Equals Death: Bennett agrees to bring back Caroline, makes out with Topher, and then gets shot in the head by Sleeper!Whiskey
  • 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".
  • Red Right Hand: Bennett has a dead left arm. She doesn't seem to like talking about it, either.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Averted. The whole arc is about the consequences of the technology becoming global, and the profit motive is constantly being discussed.
  • Reincarnation Romance: A sci-fi variant with Victor and Sierra. No matter who they're programmed to be — no matter who they're programmed to be in love with — they keep finding each other. It's one of the more subtle and powerful arguments against the Dollhouse's claim to be able to create real emotions.
  • 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.)
    • "Man on the Street" (1x06) sees Echo imprinted as the dead wife of a billionaire, allowing him to relive the day he intended to surprise her with the purchase of their home. (His actual wife was killed on the way to the house.)
  • Rescue Romance: This seems to be Ballard's overriding goal in regards to Echo, trumping even his desire to expose the Dollhouse. He fails to save Echo and his situation quickly becomes much more complicated, although she eventually does reciprocate his feelings. 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.)
    • DeWitt was in cahoots with Echo all along.
    • 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
  • 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 quickly turns into this in the first season, especially once he's suspended from the FBI, as he covers his walls with leads on the Dollhouse. Mellie grows increasingly uncomfortable with it as the season progresses.
    • "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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell: People in the Attic are forced to experience their worst nightmares.
  • Sex Sells: 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.
  • Ship Tease: Many throughout the season, in just about any combination you can conceive of, but rarely the ones you expect. However, there are a few exceptions which are more obviously intentional and consistent (Paul/Echo, Victor/Sierra, and Topher/Bennett, to be specific).
  • Shirtless Scene:
  • Victor gets many, many shirtless moments, including an entire fight scene, in "Stop Loss" (2x09).
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Basically, everything Topher Brink says that isn't Techno Babble has good chances of being a pop culture reference.
    • In "Haunted" (1x10), Topher is shown wearing a Boba Fett hoodie.
    • "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.
    • In "Ghost" (1x01), Topher says of Echo after the wipe, "The new moon's made her virgin again", which is a reference to the Tennessee Williams play Camino Real.
    • "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 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.
      • Unless there's Word Of God on this, it's far, far more likely that it's a reference to the not-at-all-obscure term "Jane Doe" used to refer to a fictitious or anonymous woman in legal proceedings.
    • 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.
    • In one of her first appearances in The Public Eye, Bennett Halverson notes something about a doll's amygdala.
    • 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.
    • Ep 5 season 1, "true believer". How could the term "faith" not show up when addressing Echo`s imprint?
    Ester, Where is your faith?
    • 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."
    • Stage Fright shouts out to Britney Spears, basically, her entire life, singing for the (Mickey) Mouse, having a Show your junk breakdown, and Contractual Purity via Madonna-Whore Complex , being sweet and down to earth but having street cred, and even, to a degree, the feel trapped/seek for freedom issue pop stars like her have had, the pop star herself is a mesh of Britney, dance moves/outfits, and another generic pop star, and Beyonce.
  • Shower Scene: Actives are frequently seen taking communal (and coed!) showers when not on engagements. Used as a plot point in a number of episodes:
    • In "True Believer" (1x05) Topher and Dr. Saunders are clued in to a budding relationship between Victor and Sierra when they notice Victor getting erections ("man-reactions") whenever he and Sierra shower together.
    • "Needs" (1x08) sees several amnesiac but self aware Actives thrown off by the coed nature of the showers while trying to blend in with the rest of the Dollhouse.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Skip the Anesthetic: Adelle DeWitt at the end of "A Spy in the House of Love" when she's getting a gunshot wound stitched up by Dr Saunders. It's implied she's punishing herself for trusting Laurence Dominic, who turned out to be an NSA mole.
  • Slut-Shaming:
    • Miss Lonelyheart gets the double whammy of being an old woman, she's absolutely not allowed to have sexual desires.
    • One presumes that, in addition to the roses, she's being paid very well for letting that nice young man borrow her car.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Topher has a chessboard set up in his office. It's the wrong way round, though.
  • Something Else Also Rises: Victor has a man-reaction to Sierra's presence in the co-ed shower, to the alarm of Topher as the mind-wipe should make that impossible.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Sierra is a rare sympathetic example. She is drop-dead gorgeous; however, this makes her a target to all sorts of unsavory people, like her handler and ex-boyfriend. See the entry for Rape as Drama.
  • Someone Has to Die: The remote-personality-restoring bomb that has to be manually activated in "Epitaph Two: Return" (2x13).
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Stripperiffic: Any subtlety that might have existed in this show's Fanservice 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.
  • 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.
  • Technically Living Zombie: The "butchers" in the Bad Future have had their sense of reason destroyed and mindlessly attack anyone they see.
  • 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.
  • 13 Is Unlucky: The show originally premiered on Friday 13th February 2009.
  • 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:
  • Downplayed on one occasion when Echo - whose imprint at the time was intentionally designed to be aware of the Dollhouse and what it did - was actually told she was a Doll. She wasn't supposed to know that part, but because of the advanced deductive reasoning skills she was imprinted with, she conceded it made sense and probably would have eventually put it together on her own.
  • Played for Laughs when an implanted Sierra tells Ivy to her bemusement, "I'm not comfortable with, uh, orientals."
  • 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."
  • Tricked into Escaping: A variation is pulled on Echo and the other major Actives in "Needs." Unlike most incarnations of this trope, it is at least partly for their benefit; the Actives are imprinted with amnesiac versions of their original personalities in a sort of wish fulfillment exercise, allowing them to gain some measure of closure for issues which led to their entering the Dollhouse to begin with. Of course, the Dollhouse also expects to benefit by letting some of the more... free thinking Actives "get it out of their systems."
  • 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: 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.
  • Truth in Television: The dolls' predicament of having their memories and personalities wiped mirrors the very real phenomenon of dissociative disorders, Alpha and Echo's later condition of having and conversing with several imprints inside their own heads even more so. Tropers should note also that there is a great deal of debate about whether this disorder even exists, at least in the forms that TV (especially the Soap Opera Disease) and film generally portray it; and in the past it was vastly overdiagnosed and overpublicized.
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: In "Stage Fright" (1x03), DeWitt mentions freeing up the unseen "twins" for Biz Zarella to "unwind" with. Draw your own conclusions.

    Tropes U-Z 
  • Übermensch: 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??"
  • Undercover When Alone: The Reveal that Boyd was the head of the Rossum Corporation creates several examples of this. In an interesting variation, one example had him stay in character for a Doll in a Flash Forward... whose mind he would soon wipe anyway. This is an example of the writers not having decided that he was The Mole yet, which led to internal inconsistencies with the flash forwards.
  • 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."
  • 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 with, "This way, it'll only be me."
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Man-reaction." Even more so once we recall that Topher actually studied in the medical school.
  • 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.
  • Villain Has a Point: His own role in developing the mind-controlling technology notwithstanding, Boyd Langton was actually absolutely correct in predicting that once the technology is developed, it will spread and will be abused (regardless of the original intentions of the people involved), as shown in two Epitaphs. In fact, even Topher's Heroic Sacrifice doesn't at all guarantee that there won't be any more attempts to restore the technology.
  • Villainous Crush: Alpha seems to be channeling Leoben Conoy, at times.
  • 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."
  • Wham Episode:
    • "Man On The Street" (1x06)
    • "Briar Rose" (1x11)
    • "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.
  • Wham Shot: Alan Tudyk's light-hearted stoner suddenly and wordlessly carving up someone's face in Alpha's signature style.
  • 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.
    • 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 calls Caroline out for leaving her behind during the raid on Rossum, resulting in Bennett's arm being paralyzed. Caroline had Bennett's best interests in mind and 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. He comes to regret doing that after Echo barely survived the mission.
  • Whip of Dominance: Echo wields a whip when being 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.
  • 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.
    • Since Sierra was sent in by Dominic (the real mole) specifically to retrieve a fake file that implicates someone else, her disguise didn't really have to fool anyone as it's stated later in the episode that the people at the NSA were expecting her and knew exactly what was going on the whole time.
  • 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.
  • 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 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:
  • 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.
  • 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.