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The Hollow Men is the twelfth episode of the second season of Dollhouse and the twenty-fifth episode overall. It was written by Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters and Tracy Bellomo, and directed by Terrence O'Hara. It aired on January 15, 2010.

The title is a reference to the poem The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot. As well as being the penultimate episode of season two, "The Hollow Men" is the next-to-last episode of Dollhouse overall, as the following episode (Epitaph Two: Return) will be the series finale. "The Hollow Men" is set up much the way that "Omega" was set up in season one: "The Hollow Men" will be the actual finale of season two, whereas "Epitaph Two" will be a sort of coda for the season (as well as the series).


Still unaware of a traitor in their midst, the dollhouse survivors flee Los Angeles for Rossum's headquarters in Tucson, where they hope to prevent the apocalyptic future.


The episode opens directly upon the ending of Getting Closer. Paul Ballard, Adelle DeWitt, and Mellie are all waiting outside the Dollhouse for Echo, when Boyd Langton comes driving very quickly towards them. He leaps from the van, carrying Echo with him, Topher Brink alongside. Echo is ranting and screaming nonsensically and clawing at the air; Topher insists that Bennett Halverson fixed Caroline's imprint wedge perfectly and that all he can guess is that Echo and Caroline are fighting for control within their joint mind. Boyd gives Echo a sedative and they all decide to continue Echo/Caroline's mission to Tucson, Arizona, and destroy the Rossum Corporation's headquarters.

Priya Tsetsang and Anthony Ceccoli come back into the Dollhouse to find it wrecked. They see that someone has left a note on the imprinting chair: a smiley face with the words "hit enter" written beneath it. After some misgivings, Anthony goes under the chair and emerges as Topher, who'd left his backup wedge in case Tony and Priya came back.

Meanwhile, carrying Echo, DeWitt leads the team to Rossum, as she surmises that the head of Rossum obviously wants Caroline very badly—unknowing that Boyd Langton is the founder. There, they meet Whiskey imprinted as the latest version of Clyde 2.0. She/he brings them to a holding room and vanishes with Echo. Boyd, still not revealing his true intentions, breaks them out of the room and takes Topher with him, sending Ballard and Mellie in one direction and DeWitt in the other.

Back at the Dollhouse, Tony/Topher and Priya surmise that Topher had actually saved one video camera from Rossum's holocaust (he'd installed it hoping to catch Ivy stealing his snacks), where they catch Boyd injecting Echo with an unknown substance. They surmise who Boyd truly is and Topher "gives himself up" so that Tony can come back with some "upgrades" in the form of martial arts skills and enhanced fighting techniques.

Boyd leads Topher to the research and development lab within Rossum and tricks Topher into finishing the prototype of his mass-imprinting device. Topher surmises that someone had injected Echo with the same psychotropic drugs administered to Priya to drive her insane (in Belonging). Meanwhile, Echo wakes up below and heads after Boyd. Boyd tells Topher that in ten minutes he'd done what an entire Rossum tech team couldn't do in months, saying that he was "glad he'd chosen" Topher.

Echo breaks in and begins beating Boyd, only to have Clyde 2.0 drag DeWitt in and point a gun at both Echo and DeWitt, backing Echo off. Echo reveals to DeWitt and Topher who Boyd really is, shocking them both. Boyd tells them that they don't understand his intentions, and that to him they are his family and he loves them deeply. He goes on to explain that he's pushed them harder than anyone, marvelling at their adaptations: Adelle taking her belief in what the Dollhouse was meant to do and forming a moral resolve strong enough to go against Rossum with it, Topher finding morals and choosing the side of good, and, of course, Echo.

Apparently, after the college experiment that lead to the creation of the original Clyde 2.0, Boyd decided that the technology, once invented, could not be uninvented, and he chose to be the "destroyers" rather than the "destroyed." In his mind, if the technology could be controlled by the right person, it could be limited to a specific purpose, once the rest of the weaker world had been destroyed.

He also finally reveals Caroline's true importance: she is genetically born with a specific gene hidden in her spinal fluid linked to her brain, which allowed her to evolve beyond the wipes into Echo. Her spinal fluid can, Boyd surmises, be tapped and used to create a "cure" for wiping. Boyd uses the Disruptor to knock Echo and unconscious and, leaving Topher and DeWitt under guard, takes her to a medical lab.

Ballard and Mellie, meanwhile, are on their way to try to fight Rossum off. Paul tells Mellie that she is real, even though she knows that she isn't. Still struggling with his own identity as a doll, Paul tells her that what they feel is real and to trust that. Mellie comes up with the plan to destroy the air-conditioning vents that control Rossum's mainframe from overheating, rather than going on a suicide mission against an army of Rossum security.

Once the process begins with Echo, Boyd learns of Ballard and Mellie's meddling and attempts to force Adelle to trigger Mellie's sleeper processing (from Man on the Street). When DeWitt refuses, Boyd uses a security recording of DeWitt's voice and triggers Mellie through the intercom system. Paul manages to get through to her long enough for her to fight off the imprint. She tells Paul that he made her feel real and that she loved him, before committing suicide.

Boyd goes to check on Echo, but Tony and Priya have already gotten to her and freed her. They then follow her instructions and free Topher and Adelle. Echo runs to find Boyd, but finds Clyde 2.0 instead. They have a vicious fight, drawing on all of their various imprints with martial arts prowess, until nearly killing each other. Echo gains the upper hand and slams Clyde into a wall until he is knocked unconscious, unwilling to kill Whiskey.

Boyd finds a shell-shocked Ballard, who assumes that DeWitt triggered Mellie under her own power and that DeWitt is actually the evil one. Boyd uses this to take Ballard to Echo, who has found the heart of Rossum. He uses Ballard as a human shield and tries to reach Echo through their handler-Active bond, which had been one of his original plans all along. He also counts on the fact that though Echo is in love with Paul, Caroline, who is now to some extent alive within Echo, has no idea who he is. Despite her own feelings, she shoots Ballard in the leg and fights back against Boyd.

Boyd gains the upper hand, informing her that though he loves her, he doesn't need her alive to make the cure. Topher arrives and immediately uses the wiping technology on Boyd, effectively killing him. His body is left in the tabula rasa state. Echo sends the others out of the building and straps Boyd's body with bombs, giving him a grenade and using his implicit trust as a wiped doll to send him into Rossum's heart and pull the pin out. The doll states that he tries to be "his best," as every doll does.

Echo, crying, races out of Rossum as Boyd pulls the pin out of the grenade with a smile on his face. The Rossum building is destroyed. Paul and Echo briefly embrace and he asks her if they've managed to save the world. Echo responds that she guesses they have, and leaves with her friends into the light of a new day. The episode shows the Rossum Corp. building which the team have now destroyed. Just prior to the final dialog between Paul and Echo, you can clearly see that the other building behind them has a Rossum Corporation logo over the entry doors.

The episode then fast-forwards ten years later, as filthy and bloody Echo and Paul shoot their way through a war-torn Los Angeles, revealing that the technology was somehow activated despite their best efforts, leading to the horrifying apocalyptic events of Epitaph One.


"The Hollow Men" was the final stepping-stone toward the apocalyptic future of "Epitaph One," where the Dollhouse's technology has been abused by the Rossum Corporation, mass-wiping the world and causing the weak to fight against their neighbors. Though Echo and her team managed to destroy Rossum's headquarters, the technology was still able to get out—something that will, presumably, be explained in Epitaph Two: Return. As it is, the story has now come full-circle:

  • We now know why Caroline was so important to the Rossum Corporation, and why Boyd Langton went "undercover" to the Los Angeles Dollhouse in order to watch over her as Echo developed into an individual persona.
  • Boyd states that he pushed Topher and Adelle and they rose to the challenge, referencing the events of "Belonging", "Meet Jane Doe", and "Stop-Loss". It explains why he would have someone standing by for body disposal in "Belonging".
  • The "cure" alluded to in "Epitaph One" by Echo is actually real, and she herself is the key to building it.
  • Each flashback of "Epitaph One" has now come to fruition:
  1. DeWitt explaining what the Dollhouse is was from her original monologue in the unaired pilot, Echo.
  2. Although retconned to fit in with the episode "A Love Supreme," the scene between Echo and Paul in the elevator where she complains of her headaches occurred.
  3. The scene between Boyd Langton and Dr. Saunders where he goes on the run occurred in "Getting Closer."
  4. The ending scene of "The Hollow Men" seems to show Echo and Paul on their way to the LA Dollhouse, as shown in "Epitaph One."
  5. Although the scene showing Clive Ambrose inhabiting Victor's body from "Epitaph One" was not shown in season two, director Tim Minear of "Getting Closer" said that the killing of Ambrose's original body in "Getting Closer" and DeWitt's statement that she knew for a fact that that was not the only Ambrose was meant to be interpreted by fans as her having lived through the scene mentioned above, and that it happened a few months ago.
  6. Dominic has escaped from the Attic once before, and though DeWitt sent him back to the Attic to keep his body safe from the Rossum invasion, it can be assumed that in the ten year span between "The Hollow Men" and the two "Epitaphs," she will release him from the Attic.
  • Dr. Claire Saunders has been wiped, allowing for upgrades when she is re-imprinted. When Dr. Claire appears in Dollhouse-based scenes in "Epitaph One", Caroline is glad she is back, and Claire notes she has programmer skills. She also stated that she would wait for Boyd in the episode "Getting Closer", which could explain why she remained there in "Epitaph One," seeing as she would have no memory of his death due to her imprint in this episode.
  • Boyd Langton has been revealed and killed, explaining his absence in "Epitaph One."
  • November/Mellie killed herself, explaining not only her absence in "Epitaph One" but also Tony's cryptic statement in "Epitaph" that Priya didn't "want to end up like November."
  • Anthony Ceccoli's path to becoming a "tech head" likely begins in this episode, when he is seen to be visibly impressed by the new "skills" that Topher 2.0 imprinted into him. This is further explored in the series final episode, including the ramifications and the reasoning's behind his decisions.

Literary allusion[]

The episode's title is a reference to the T.S. Eliot poem of the same name, which examins (among many things) the human condition in post-war Europe. Dollhouse has had a similarly literary-themed episodes before, notably "Briar Rose". The Eliot poem is most famous for its apocalyptic closing lines:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

The poem was deliberately chosen as, should the Dollhouse's technology be used to end the world, no one but Echo and her team will be aware of it enough to fight it, causing the world to end "not with a bang but a whimper."

The first verse of "The Hollow Men," describes the hollow men — people without souls — who are stark parallels to the Dolls themselves. For example:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpieces filled with straw. Alas!

The poem's paradox is of course that the titular men are both hollow and stuffed; to be stuffed is particularly suggestive of victimhood. They are the stuffed; someone else is the stuffer. A doll's 'hollowness' is a seemingly permanent affliction: Priya, Tony and Madeline were all still Actives after being restored.

Consider also the poem's occult allusions, and its conception of "disguise":

Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves

And the sexual imagery:

We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Its vision, correlating with the future of the Dollhouse universe:

This is the dead land
This is cactus land

Or the paralysis felt throughout; the hollow men cannot even fully speak, and another voice breaks through in the poem with its refrains, feeding into its apocalyptic conclusion. Lack of self — a state of disphoric unreality ‐ is explicitly linked with the world's end. The speaking voice cannot finish the sentences "For Thine is / For Life is / For Thine is the". Another refrain in the coda is "the Shadow" which falls between "the conception" and "the creation", "the emotion" and "the response", "the desire" and "the spasm", "the potency" and "the existence", "the essence" and "the descent". The shadow could be many things. Consider also the shadow cast against the painting behind Priya in "Belonging", which falls between the creator and her artwork. The shadow is indicative of presnce: it obscures light. Shadows are projected; they indicate a relationship wherein one thing is cast upon another.

The poem is preoccupied with death's kingdom, a heaven or a safe haven. The past experiences similar paralysis, it cannot be verbalised or actualised: "the broken jaw of our lost kingdom".


Main cast[]

Recurring roles[]

Guest starring[]

  • Josh Latzer as Security Guard No. 1
  • Tank Jones as Security Guard No. 2


  • Joss Whedon has made no secret of his admiration of the Terminator story. Echo's destruction of Rossum being futile in the end is a parallel to the story of Sarah Connor, who destroyed SkyNet in order to stop Judgement Day, which, in the Terminator universe, is the day the machines took over the world. The ironic futility of Sarah Connor's actions at the moment of her greatest triumph is echoed by the last moments of Echo in "The Hollow Men."
  • Boyd Langton believed that his intentions were pure, at least in a scientific sense. Echo's ragtag group's defeat of him somewhat parallels the end of Serenity, another Whedon project, the movie continuation of his beloved cult sci-fi/western drama Firefly, wherein a group of outcasts forces the controlling Alliance to face the evils of their good intentions.
  • Whedon has expressed through all of his various works (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and the storyline "The Cure" that he penned for the X-Men comic book series) many times his belief in the axiom "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions," a theme he reprised in Boyd's philosophy as Boyd showcases how much the Rossum corporation has helped people in the medical field.
  • Whedon, who at one time wrote stories for the X-Men comic books, has stated several times that his favorite comic book story arc was the celebrated X-Men story "The Dark Phoenix Saga," wherein a formerly weak woman gains ultimate power and sacrifices herself to save those she loves from that power's abuse. Mellie's story echoes this premise strongly: she is a weak and timid woman, but through the Dollhouse's technology a flip of the switch turns her into a brutal and merciless assassin capable of killing men far stronger than herself. Mellie manages to fight through her programming thanks to her overwhelming love of Paul Ballard, and, knowing that she could be re-triggered to kill him at any time, chooses to end her own life rather than endanger his ever again.
  • Aside from "The Dark Phoenix Saga," Mellie's story was also influenced by Whedon's professed love of Battlestar Galactica, wherein a Cylon had fallen in love with a human and had to choose between what she knew to be the truth (that she was a machine) and what she felt to be real (that she was a human being).


Critical response[]

Critics had either a mixed or above average response to "The Hollow Men." Many cited that the episode was too rushed to have as much emotional impact as it was meant to, or that the revelation of Boyd Langton as the founder of Rossum as too inexplicable in such a short amount of time. Particular praise was doled out to the actors for turning in fine performances, particularly to Enver Gjokaj for once again mimicking Fran Kranz's Topher with eerie precision, Eliza Dushku and Harry Lennix for adding emotional gravity to Echo and Boyd's final scene together, and to Miracle Laurie for turning Mellie into a tragic heroine.

"We didn’t learn enough about Boyd to feel like we understood his true motivations. We didn’t spend much time with Caroline to see her as a different person from Echo. I imagine Epitaph Two will give a broader sweep to events which may end up feeling a lot more satisfying but this 'penultimate finale' left a lot to be desired." The TV Critic review

Viewer response[]

Many viewers commenting on either Dollverse or Whedonesque also felt that the episode did not live up to the expectations set by "Getting Closer," though again there were many on both sides of the spectrum who either loved the episode or disliked it. Particular complaints were given to the lack of Dr. Claire Saunders, as many felt that having Dr. Saunders turn on the Dollhouse for her own reasons would have been more compelling than simply having Whiskey being taken over by Clyde 2.0. However, many fans felt that "The Hollow Men" was a vast improvement over "Omega," the season finale of season one.


Boyd: Don't you get it? I brought you here 'cause you're my family. (everyone looks at him, horrified) I love you guys!

Clyde 2.0: This world is for the people who can evolve!

Boyd: We have to face the facts: the technology exists, it can't be uninvented. Once it gets out there it will be abused. None of us can prevent that from happening. But we can choose where we wanna be and on what side when the end finally does arrive: you wanna be to destroyed or the destroyers.

Notes & References[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Seidman, Robert (January 16, 2010). TV Ratings: CBS Wins; Supernanny and Shark Tank Improve. TV by the Numbers.