So began the first ten or so minutes of the Dollhouse pilot. It starts with a quiet yet heated argument between Echo (Eliza Dushku) and Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams). The gist of it seems to be that Echo is signing a contract for a five-year term of service, and she's not happy about it - "I don't have a choice, do I?" she snaps. DeWitt reminds her that "Actions have consequences. ... But what if they didn't?"
Then we jump into a wild motorcycle chase through a city, with two people in red helmets racing each other. Then one of them crashes, and takes off her helmet to reveal ... hot, leather-panted Echo! Naturally. She jumps back on the bike and heads off after her opponent, who is way ahead by now. They roll into a restaurant/club area, where a giant banner reads, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY MATT."
Echo, still totally hot, bitches out the motorcycle guy, whom we now know to be Matt. She accuses him of cheating; he says they should let it go and just dance. She agrees! Probably because it's another chance for her to be super hot. And Matt is eating it up - after the dance, they go off to the side and he gives her a speech about what an amazing weekend he's had with her (while she winkingly returns with sexual innuendo). He gives her a heart necklace and says he's just going off to get a drink, but as he walks away he gives her a longing smile.
Another party attendee approaches him. "Who's your friend?" he asks, clearly affected by Echo's hotness. "She had to go," Matt replies, and makes a crack about her carriage turning into a pumpkin at midnight. "Midnight? It's like five," says Clueless Dude.
Meanwhile, Echo is grinning and twisting the heart necklace in her besotted hands, until all of a sudden her face washes clear and she heads away from the party. She gets into a black van with Boyd Langton (Harry J. Lennix), who asks her how it went. "I met a guy," she tells him, grinning. They drive away.
He takes her to what we well know is the Dollhouse facility, and as Echo gets into an elevator, she makes Langton promise to take her back to the party when her "treatment" is over. He nods, but as the elevator doors close his face says: Yeah, right.
In a room full of mind-wiping equipment, Echo continues to babble about how psyched she is to have made such a true romantic connection. She changes out of her party clothes and into yogawear (but is still hot, of course). Tech guy Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) humors her, and then settles her in for a treatment. What follows is a geniuinely cool montage of everything that has passed in the fake life that Echo has just been leading over the weekend - getting the heart necklace from Matt, dancing with him, the motorcycle chase, even her childhood. There are some great flashback effects, and the final shot is the heart necklace crashing to the floor. Then comes the part we've all seen in the trailer, where Echo suddenly wakes and sees Topher.
"Did I go to sleep?" she asks. And then: "Shall I go now?" "If you like," he replies. So Masterpiece Theater. Echo walks away, completely blank, and wanders the Dollhouse facility with the other Actives. We follow Topher as he grabs her still-hot memory disk from the mindwipe station and takes it to the storage room. Langton is waiting for him, looking pensive. Topher makes his familiar joke - a ha ha, she doesn't remember anything now! - but goes on to speechify about how they've just given two people an unforgettable weekend. They're philanthropists. Langton seems unconvinced: "I think she finally met the right guy," he tells Topher.
They walk out and gaze at the Actives. "Not a care in the world," says Topher.
Then we cut to a little girl with long brown hair, and a guy in a limo who's talking to her on the phone. "I did my homework," she tells him. He says she still can't watch reality TV because it will melt her brain, and therefore her reward for doing her schoolwork is - "Knowledge," she finishes. "I hate you." It's a cute father/daughter moment that is quickly overtaken by what happens after she hangs up the phone.
The girl flops on her bed, and black-geared men appear over her. They clap a cloth over her mouth and hoist her into a black body bag. As she looks up, dazed and frightened, we see that one of the men is wearing a creepy tan mask that half-hides his face.
End of Act One.
Of course, Tahmoh Penikett's character Paul Ballard doesn't appear in Act One - "this is Tahmoh-free TV," Whedon told us cheekily. After the clip, Penikett said a few words about his character, and he expanded a bit on what we've heard before. Of course, Special Agent Ballard is a golden-hearted Mulder Redux, assigned to the Dollhouse case as the laughingstock of the rest of the FBI - who don't believe it's the human trafficking operation it really is. Ballard investigates Echo, and while he is at first dazzled by her beauty and eventually becomes her rescuer, "there's more to it than that," Penikett told us. With these characters, nothing is either one way or the other; Ballard ends up facing quite a few moral dilemmas, and by the end of this 13-episode run has gone through a bit of a personality change himself.
Other spoilers? Whedon revealed to us that Dushku sings in episode 3, when Echo plays the backup singer for a pop star. Apparently, though, a musical episode of Dollhouse is not yet in the works - "oh, I can't sing," Penikett explained. But he has done several years of Muay Thai - a martial art that is often referred to as "Thai boxing" - and he does it shirtless in the pilot. (Move over, hot!Echo.)
A fan asked if we were ever going to see Dollhouse comics. Whedon said he didn't think so, because the strength of Dollhouse was the acting and the interaction between people - it doesn't pack the superhero visual punch of Buffy. Whedon did, however, say that he would look into web series, although he hopes that "people will be into the show enough that they don't have to ask about other things!" As in: Please don't cancel this before it's time, FOX.
And as for Dr. Horrible? Whedon definitely wants to do more guerrilla filmmaking, he said, and also definitely wants to do "what's up with Dr. Horrible." Much cheering ensued.