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"True Believer" is the fifth episode of Dollhouse. It was written by Tim Minear and directed by Allan Kroeker, and it aired on March 13th, 2009.


After some cult people stop in town to get supplies, one of them leaves a note with the words “Save me.” It’s turned over to Agent Lilly of the ATF and he’s put in charge of leading the mission to attempt to diffuse whatever situation is going on within the compound, including taking on the leader, Jonas Sparrow.

As it turns out, Jonas isn’t just a cult leader. When he’s not spouting biblical references, he’s running guns. Most of the people in the “Temple” don’t know this though. There’s a history of problems with this group and it’s clear none of them want to repeat what happened in the past. They just want to enjoy their lifestyle and praise God.

Among the rich and prestigious clientele of the Dollhouse is a Senator who doesn’t want the Temple situation to go awry, it being an election year and all. He hires the Dollhouse to send someone in undercover to help out with taking down the place, preferably without incident. The note left behind is enough evidence for Agent Lilly to get a warrant to enter the premises but they don’t really know what they’re up against. The Dollhouse sends in Echo, masked as a blind woman who has a true faith in God and believes she had a vision of Jonas Sparrow.

Her blindness isn’t just a mind trick. Through surgery on her eyes and brain, Dr. Saunders and Topher actually make Echo blind and using an experimental procedure, turn her eyes into cameras that can send live video feed to a remote location, giving Langton and the ATF people visual evidence of what’s in the compound. It’s all great in theory but there’s a risk of brain damage. It’s clear that Dr. Saunders is uncomfortable with putting Echo through this. We’ve seen a lot of this behavior from her in the past. While Topher is all about tinkering around in the heads of the Actives, Saunders seems more than apprehensive about the work she’s doing.

When Echo, going by the name of Esther, shows up at the compound, the people are happy to meet her and amazed by her story of the vision of Jonas and how she hitchhiked across the country to meet him but Jonas is skeptical. Given that he knows there’s people in the federal government looking to take him down, it’s understandable that he might be wary of newcomers. He and his #2, Seth take Esther down to the gun room to see if she’s really blind. He shines a light in her face and watches her pupils, which don’t respond. He’s convinced she’s on the level, at least for now and Esther/Echo gets a good look around the room, giving Langton and the ATF people a nice little video of the arsenal Sparrow has set up in one of the basements on the compound.

This gives the ATF everything they need to go in. Langton calls the Dollhouse to ask Mr. Dominic for permission to pull Echo out of there before the ATF people go in because her programming won’t protect her from the kind of Waco-esque mayhem that might ensue. Dominic’s been itching to get Echo gone because he believes her special-ness makes her a threat to the Dollhouse and he’s not looking to have another Alpha on his hands. One is enough. He hangs up on Langton without giving him permission, likely hoping that if mayhem takes his course, Echo might be out of the picture without him having to continue nagging DeWitt.

Just as the cult initiates Esther, the ATF people step onto the premises, tripping the floodlights in the process and letting Sparrow know they’ve arrived. He of course thinks Esther’s behind it and starts smacking her around. We knew from what Saunders and Topher said about Esther’s surgery that any startling physical response could trigger a seizure. Echo doesn’t have a seizure when Jonas knocks her to the ground. Instead, it appears he smacked the blind out of her. She can see! It’s a miracle! Everyone is amazed and even Sparrow inevitably admits that it must be some kind of miracle because he knew she was definitely blind when he checked her out. If this miracle can happen, why not try for another?

Sparrow leads them all to the church or common area or whatever and has Esther read a bible story about a bunch of people who were in a burning building and walked away without getting burned. While she’s reading this story, Seth’s outside on Sparrow’s orders dousing the outside of the building with gasoline and setting it on fire. He goes inside and Sparrow assures everyone that God will protect them from the fire and it’ll be a miracle. Esther’s not down with that though. She doesn’t think trying to force a miracle is the way to go about it. When Sparrow hits her again and then turns to assure everyone that they’ll be ok, Esther hits him over the head with some blunt object and tells everyone to get out of there. God didn’t let her see just so she could watch. Convinced by her pleas, everyone but one guy and the fallen Sparrow bolts for the door. Esther approaches the guy to convince him to leave but he spits in her face for not believing. She punches him in return and then some people get the guy out of there.

Just as Esther is about to leave, Mr. Dominic shows up disguised behind a smoke mask, shoots Jonas and then knocks Echo out, leaving her to die in the burning building. He leaves without being noticed and fortunately, Langton shows up and pulls his girl out. He took the mask off before he hit Esther and from the look on Echo’s face when she saw Mr. Dominic at the Dollhouse, it seems like a good possibility that the incident will have left at least some impression on her.

We found out earlier that it was Agent Lilly who wrote the “Save me” note. Langton spotted him on the security tape sneaking around the convenient store while the cult people were in there shopping. Lilly’s determination in getting Jonas Sparrow back in prison was making him impatient and he decided to take matters into his own hands in giving the judge a reason to let the ATF go in there.

Back at the FBI, Ballard’s ignoring his gunshot injury and back at the office trying to find out anything he can about Caroline. He attempts to charm a co-worker into helping him look. She sees right through his ploy but is charmed nonetheless and tries to come up with something on the girl. Of course, she finds nothing but she agrees to keep looking.

Ballard forgets his pain prescription and has Mellie bring it to him at the office. It’s clear she’s happy to have an excuse to come visit him at work and in addition to his pills, brings him some “leftover” stuffed shells. Ballard is polite as usual but gets distracted viewing the latest video of Caroline that was delivered to Ballard at work. Mellie watches him watch it and then makes her exit.

When the cult thing makes the news, Ballard spots Echo among the people in the compound and leaves for Arizona but by the time he gets there, the whole thing is over and Echo’s long gone. Agent Lilly won’t even let him speak with the cult members being debriefed and once again, Ballard goes home empty handed.

Back at the Dollhouse, Victor goes from six to midnight when chatting it up with Sierra in the shower. Topher’s gabbing about something on the phone when he glances at the shower-cam and spots that Victor has an erection, something that isn't meant to happen as actives aren't meant to feel attraction or arousal. He reports the man reaction to Saunders, who thinks it’s due to Victor being sent to the same client (an woman known only as Ms Lonelyhearts) with the same imprint too many times. Her belief is that repeated imprinting with the same personality might be a problem for actives.

Saunders insists on watching as much shower footage as they can to analyze Victor’s behavior. What they conclude is that it isn’t the imprinting that’s causing Victor’s man reactions but Sierra; the behavior only started after she showed up and Victor only reacts when she’s in the shower with him. It is clear that Victor is physically attracted to Sierra, something that is certainly not meant to occur with the actives. DeWitt orders Victor to be scrubbed.[2]


"True Believer" was the seventh episode produced. Tim Minear, the writer of the episode, described his involvement throughout the process as "Pretty involved. I prepped it with my old friend Allan Kroeker, I was on set much of the time, and I was in the editing room until it was done."[3]


Tim Minear said about the genesis of the episode: "Well, Joss wanted to do a cult episode. The only real edict was that the culties should have a point of view -- that they shouldn't just be crazies. In fact, they should be right. I liked that notion. I don't recall who came up with the "blind Echo" angle -- I think it was Andrew. Anyhow, we were behind in scripts and I just said "let me do it." Took what little we had and worked it out on my own. In terms of my thought process I wanted to make sure there was a real reason why only the Dollhouse could do what needed to be done in this instance and I wanted the story turns to be rooted in the Dollhouse premise so I used the sci-fi angle to make a scientific miracle."[3]

Minear also commented on writing Echo/Esther Carpenter: "They could create a real woman who had really experienced a divine vision. And the fact that she was really blind proved that she wasn't lying. That's why she could recognize Sparrow through touch because the vision she experienced was no lie. Granted, Topher put it in her head, and we saw the 3-D model of Sparrow's head and understood how this was accomplished, but to Echo/Esther, all was true. So when Sparrow knocked the cameras loose and her vision was restored, this was also really a miracle... to her."[3] Writing Topher and Claire was one of Minear's easier writing endeavours: "I think it took me as long to write the Topher/Saunders stuff as it took to type it. Kind of a snap, actually. I also like writing for Adelle. And I have affection for Boyd."[3]


"True Believer" features a few Drive-alumns (one of Tim Minear's previous shows) like Brian Bloom and Mark Totty. Their casting has been partially influenced by Minear: "Oddly, I wasn't really thinking of Brian when I was writing. I was kind of writing for Jeremy Renner (Penn from “Somnambulist” [Angel]). When he wasn't available, I heard that Brian had been submitted. Joss and I both thought he would be great. In the back of my mind, I was kind of thinking of Mark Totty for Agent Lilly. And I asked for casting to bring him in. I cast the episode myself."[3]


Filming took place in Ventura County, at "a rugged little farming commune".[4] Eliza Dushku recalls the filming on the cult compound: "[W]e were shooting up in Piru, which I don't know if anyone knows, but it's sort of up near Santa Clarita. We were on this cult compound, and we were all dressed very Amish or something. It was this interesting wardrobe, and we were all gathered around this little television with like crank knobs, sitting on a stool out in the middle of nowhere [on election night] watching Obama take it. We will all remember that for sure."[5]


Echo is imprinted with the persona of someone with blind faith--who is also actually blind and an unknowing spy for the government--to infiltrate a dangerous cult led by ex-criminal Jonas Sparrow, while Claire Saunders and Topher investigate an unusual development between the blank Victor and Sierra.


Active Client Alias Personality Mission
Echo Senator Boxbaum Esther Carpenter Blind True Believer Infiltrate a religious cult
November L.A. Dollhouse Mellie Paul Ballard's Neighbor Sleeper Active


Cast & Crew[]

Eliza Dushku mentioned that the imprint in "True Believer" was one of her favorites of the first season: "I did love playing the blind cultist in an episode from Tim Minear, who is one of my favorite writers, who has been with us since the Buffy days, and Angel as well. They implant cameras into my eyeballs and send me into a cult compound as a true believer to get intel on what’s happening inside. And yet, because we’re not spies, because we’re not in the loop, so to speak, I just go in there as a pure true believer. And that was very interesting."[6]


"Okay, now we’re getting somewhere."
The A.V. Club Recap
"It’s only five weeks in, but we could all use a shakeup."
Zap2it Recap
"The fifth story ‘True Believer’ is a strange mix of the good, the bad and the tantalising of this production. It had the potential to be exceptionally interesting, but blows it all towards the end in a somewhat lob-sided third act."
Den of Geek Recap
"Overall, a pretty good episode. A few reveals and hints of things to come."
TV Squad Recap
"Besides being one of the show's strongest episodes yet, "True Believer" was also extremely topical. (...) More important than that is the quality of this week's episode. Of the five episodes we've seen thus far, "True Believer" had the best balance of standalone one-off and serialized arc storytelling."
TV Guide Recap
"All in all, “True Believer” is a pretty good episode and a nice ride all the way through."
The Independent Comics Site Recap
"I loved the "B" plot, about Victor's erections, and what they mean, and what to do about them. The livestock are getting out of control! And I sorta liked the "A" plot, a lot more than I thought I would."
io9 Recap
"This episode started off with more conviction and clarity than any previous episode but then slowly became more convoluted and confused as it went on."
The TV Critic Review


"True Believer" reached 4.3 million viewers, a 2.6/5 Rating/Share, a 1.6/5 Rating/Share in the 18-49 demographic and a 1.8/5 Rating/Share in the 25-54 demographic. 64% of the audience was in the 18-49 demographic. "True Believer" was the first episode that showed an upwards trend in the ratings. The episode was watched by 3.756 million viewers Live, 4.245 million viewers Live+SD and 5.280 million viewers Live+7. Including 7 days of DVR viewing showed an increase from 1.6 to 2.14 in the 18-49 demographic (a jump by 33.75%). Overall "True Believer" had 1.524 million DVR viewers. 28.9% of all viewings of "True Believer" happened via DVR, that's the fifth greatest percentage of DVR viewing for broadcast TV shows of that week.

The quarter-hour breakdown:

Time Period Rating/Share Rating/Share (18-49)
9:01 PM-9:15 PM 2.5/4 1.5/5
9:15 PM-9:30 PM 2.4/4 1.5/5
9:30 PM-9:45 PM 2.6/4 1.7/5
9:45 PM-10:00 PM 2.7/5 1.7/5


Main cast[]

Recurring roles[]

Guest starring[]

  • Brian Bloom as Jonas Sparrow
  • Rebecca Field as Kris
  • Angus Sutherland as Lilya
  • Mark Totty as Agent Lilly
  • Sam Hennings as Senator Boxbaum
  • Brad Hunt as Jesse Dillard
  • David Alpay as Seth


  • While discussing the development of Victor's "man reactions" when viewing Sierra in the showers, Claire Saunders and Topher Brink discuss the fact that she wrote a report suggesting that Victor should not continue the Miss Lonely Hearts engagements. Topher's reaction to Claire's mention of the report; is specifically that "no one reads those" a fact that will later surface in "Omega" ironically, pertaining to an engagement with Whiskey.


  • Just before Boyd talks to the store owner, a school bus is parked outside the store. Yet from inside, there is no view of the bus through the window.
  • The title of the episode, "True Believer", is a reference to the book of the same name by philosopher Eric Hoffer. It describes cults and mass movements, and the kind of people they attract.


  • 'Moody Liz' by Daxton plays on the bus radio as it arrives in town.
  • The cult members sing the hymn 'Leaning On The Everlasting Arms' written in 1887 by Elisha Hoffman.

Promotional Photos[]

Notes & references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Seidman, Robert (March 14, 2009). Updated Friday Ratings: Ghost Whisperer wins, TSCC and Dollhouse higher. TV by the Numbers.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Jackal (2009-03-14). A Post-Episode Chat with Tim Minear. Retrieved on 2009-03-16.
  4. SFX Magazine (January 2009)
  5. Topel, Fred (2009-02-09). Eliza Dushku is active in the Dollhouse. Retrieved on 2009-02-09.
  6. Tobias, Scott (2009-02-27). Eliza Dushku. Retrieved on 2009-02-27.

External links[]