Here’s the way I’m going into Dollhouse this season, based on the season premiere: I’m going assume this will be its last season, that Joss Whedon is sorta/pretty much/maybe-not-but-he’s-going-to-act-like-it-because-it-seems-creatively-freeing-for-him also assuming he’s got just this season to play around on Friday night, and therefore the show is going to be as loose, funny, and self- and pop-culturally-referential as he damn well pleases, and those of us that tune in will have a good time.

So it was in the season opener, “Vows,” which featured a far more self-aware Echo. [OBLIGATORY SPOILER ALERT HERE.] She seems smarter ’cause she has more memory of her various personae, and seeming smart is always the best thing to seem in a Joss Whedon show, because it means he and his staff write you funnier/sharper lines…

But not this week. Tonight was a night for proclamations and manifestoes: “We are lost but we are not gone,” said Echo. Frankly, except for the moments when Echo was martial-artsing her way through bad guys, while I enjoyed the wedding, I was a tad bored with her mission to bring down Battlestar Galactica‘s Jamie Bamber, perhaps because I didn’t understand why it was so important, and his character seemed like such an ordinary sleaze. But maybe you’ll explain it to me.

I was more intrigued by the brief glimpse of Alexis Denisof as a politico inveighing against the Dollhouse and all it stands for. (It’s nice to know that within the Dollhouse universe, there are people who feel about Adelle DeWitt’s house of baffling repute the way some of us did at the start of last season, that its zombie inhabitants are creepy, and Denisof’s Senator Perrin hasn’t even gottten a load of the creepmaster-Topher yet.) (What was up with that clumsily-edited slapstick with Topher all but yelling “Eeek!” and scampering away from rats?)

And by far the best thing about tonight’s hour was Dr. Saunders/Whiskey, whose self-knowledge, intelligence, and verve I currently find more intriguing and absorbing than Echo’s. Yes, even when she was coming on to Topher. More seriously, the way Amy Acker is portraying the push-and-pull of being Whiskey but wanting to remain Dr. Saunders, she lends Dollhouse the best sort of gravity: emotional heft. If she keeps this up, it’s going to be downright tragic when Acker leaves Dollhouse after a few more episodes to be part of the cast of Happy Town, about which I’m hearing increasingly mixed things.

I’ll keep this short, because I want to know what you think of DeWitt’s new haircut. Oh, and everything else on your mind about this episode, please.