The series premiere of Dollhouse sets the stage for the series.
In the opening scene, we see two women at a table. One is older, with an accent. She calls the younger woman "Caroline" and says that she can help her wipe her file clean. While Caroline mumbles something about committing the crime or act that she committed because she was told to, the older woman simply says to give her five years; after that, Caroline can start fresh. Caroline reconciles herself to this fate, saying: "I know, consequences have actions."
The older woman replies: "What if they didn't?"
And the action begins!
The scene cuts to heavy metal music and Caroline on a motorcycle. She speeds into a bar, side by side with another rider. They appear to be a couple, a very recent one. Just as the man pretty much admits his feelings for Caroline and gives her a necklace, she leaves the bar... heads to a van and is told by a man inside that it's time for a treatment. Caroline seems fine with this...
... only her name isn't Caroline anymore. She awakens from her treatment - which takes place inside a giant structure referred to as a "Dollhouse" - and is called Echo.
Here's what we quickly learn:
- The man in charge of these "treatments" is named Topher; he seems to love his technology a lot more than the women. The treatments, of course, are complete personality transfers, as he implants a combination of former personalities and talents and interests - from a range of people - into the women of the Dollhouse. They are refered to as Actives.
- The aforementioned man in the van? His name is Boyd. He is Echo's Handler, the guy that follows her around from mission to mission and ensure he safety. Boyd seems to actually care about Echo and questions the overall morality of the Dollhouse.
- The older woman from the first scene is named Adelle DeWitt. She appears to be in charge of the entire operation, as she works out of an office alongside the head of security, Laurence Dominic.
- Finally, within these first 20 minutes, we meet Dr. Claire Saunders. She helps Echo with a knee problem (which she can't remember having) and has scars all over her face. Worth keeping in mind.
So there are some centrai characters. The mission, or Engagement as it's referred to, at the center of this episode involves a kidnapped girl. The father wants to pay the random and Echo is sent in to facilitate the deal. She has been given the personality traits of someone who calls herself Eleanor Penn.
Ms. Penn is an expert negotiator and leads the father to the meeting place where the daughter/money exchange is set to take place. But Penn recognizes one of them men making the deal. She hyperventilates. Boyd, who was following his Active, is forced to intervene and shoot one of the kidnappers. The Engagement goes awry, the girl is not recovered and Echo/Penn is taken back to the Dollhouse.
The problem was this: the main personality that Topher implanted in Echo was from a girl that was actually kidnapped... by the man recognized above! As a result, though, Echo (still as the implanted Penn) knows how to get to the girl before she is killed. DeWitt is hesitant to go through with this plan, initially preferring to wipe Echo clean and maintain the Dollhouse secrecy, but she is convinced otherwise by Boyd.
In the end, Echo rescues the girl, with a guns-blasting assist from Sierra, a new Active.
We close the episode by seeing the Actives showering and living in the Dollhouse. Before they go to sleep in contained sleeping chambers, the scene cuts to a room where at least two men have been killed. We see their lifeless bodies. We also see a video of Echo from college! She's being interview by someone from the yearbook. The person watching the video - whose face we never see - looks to be almost naked. He's stuffing an envelope with a photo of Echo and addressing it to Paul Ballard.
Ballard is an FBI agent we met earlier in the episode. He's obsessed with finding the Dollhouse, which almost everyone else at the bureau believes is a myth. Ballard is keeping his eye on the Russian mob, as it's known for trafficking women, the sort of operation that could be handing over kidnapped individuals to the Dollhouse for use.
The nearly nude man has a message on the back of the envelope that possesses the Echo picture and is being sent to Ballard: "Keep looking..."