By Ken Tucker
Updated May 09, 2009 at 08:32 AM EDT
Credit: Carin Baer/FOX

The conclusion of last week’s reveal of Alpha as Firefly‘s Alan Tudyk led, this week, to the further revelation that Alpha was Carl William Craft, a violent convict who was one of the Dollhouse’s first actives, contracted by Adelle DeWitt from a prison. By accident, he got 48 personalities downloaded into him, and, as Topher phrased it, Alpha “snapped,” turning into a deadly carver. (There were numerous times here, I gotta say, when Fran Kranz as Topher delivered his sarcastic lines so caustically, I thought Joss Whedon and company were going to pull a switcheroo and have Topher be the series’ ultimate villain; didn’t you get that vibe a few times?)

This season conclusion had Alpha convincing an alternate-identitied Echo to run off with him, kidnapping an innocent woman, and pulling a Frankenstein homage by rigging up a home-made, zapping-electricity experimental device that would enable Alpha to do his own personality-implanting. Echo/Caroline had to overcome Alpha’s hold on her, and save herself.

The bottom-line theme for the season: Dollhouse was about identity, figuring your own out and dealing with it, because denying your identity or giving it up for someone else to define you, gets you in trouble.

The hour was full of Whedonesque lines (written, in this case, by director Tim Minear) such as, “I have 38 brains and not one of them thinks you can sign a contract to be a slave, especially now that we have a black President.” And Topher, speaking of souls: “We put ’em in a jar with our fireflies.” Get it? Firefly? Sheesh. Less Whedonesque? References to Nietzsche, even when uttered by a freaky madman, and ex-FBI man Ballard making a passionate mini-speech about the sanctity of the soul. Frankly, I found the conclusion a bit of an anti-climax — that is, after the climax of a fine butt-kicking scene in which Echo thrashed Alpha in a fine, Buffy-ish fight scene.

But then, in part, I presume, to keep things open for a second season, Alpha had to escape. And Caroline went back to being Echo, more or less, in the Dollhouse, murmuring robotically, “Shall I go now?” My heart sank as the “dolls” once again sank into their little pod-beds. Even if, as they were sealed in tight for the night, Echo uttered the season’s final word — “Caroline,” demonstrating she remembers her true identity — I didn’t feel much forward momentum had been built for another season of Dollhouse-ing. I understand that Caroline’s contractual five years aren’t up, but…

I thought it was a bit of a let-down, overall. There were, of course, a number of good moments here, just as there were excellent moments throughout the season. (Favorite line this night: “The wrongness of this is so large.”)

So was this the kind of season-ender you wanted from Dollhouse? Do you want to see that tantalizingly unaired, DVD-promised episode, “Epitaph One,” for clues to what different directions Dollhouse might have taken? (Or might yet take?) Are you hoping Fox will renew it for a second season? (I actually am — I want to see Whedon and the gang go at this material again.) Or should those dolls just drift off to perpetual TV-sleep?