Elsewhere, Echo and Ballard have a terribly long scene of their own, but this one isn't quite as badly written as the other, as it leaves at least some room for subtext. Still, it's not good enough to go over in detail, so again, the gist: Ballard thinks in the ten years since Rossum, Echo's only let him get close to her when she thought she was going to die, and wonders where he'll fit in should they live. For her part, Echo doesn't really commit to a response, but if she's in the market for something well-worn, may I suggest "Let's cross that bridge when we come to it"?
Sometime later, the group is going over their battle plan, and we learn the Butchers have been resorting to cannibalism. In that case, I'm guessing Harding's corpse isn't going to have to wait for natural decomposition to achieve skeletal thinness. As the tank pulls into the city, the dramatic music swells, like, WE KNEW THERE WERE GOING TO BE BUTCHERS JUST GO KILL THEM ALREADY. Commercials.
The truck comes to a stop, and then there are a bunch of shots of people cocking their weapons and getting their tech ready, like I'm sure they couldn't have done that just a little earlier, and then after Tony makes a horrible, horrible joke that I will do Enver Gjokaj the favor of not transcribing, the overwrought strings and random slo-mo and hand-held action try to tell us it's all way more dramatic than it is, but something does eventually happen: Mag gets shot in both legs and falls to the ground screaming in pain, and then Ballard kneels by her and tells her it's okay, and I'd want to kill him were I the one who just had both my kneecaps shattered, so I guess it's appropriate that he takes a bullet right between the eyes. Once again, Whedon thinks he's doing something shocking that's actually a random and unnecessary "fuck you" to people who like Ballard -- if he's trying to tell us that this is how death in a battlefield sequence actually happens, he's not wrong, but to convey that on any kind of visceral level, the ridiculously overwrought preceding sequence needed to be scrapped for something far grittier and faster. It reminds me of why I was so annoyed at Anya's blink-and-you'll miss it death in the series finale of Buffy -- it wasn't so much that it happened as the way it happened, because it felt like she was singled out, given that there were billions of Ubervamps and Bringers everywhere and downstairs Spike still took longer to die than Methuselah, so using "realism" to justify killing off a regular in such an unheralded way seemed hopelessly disingenuous. Not that I care about Ballard that much - and Anya wasn't my favorite character either -- and I suppose what's upcoming at the end of the episode mitigates it, but I just think Whedon has some blind spots that make him completely tin-eared. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?) Anyway, Zone gets Mag out of there in a fireman's carry, and Echo makes a big show of being steely and leaving Ballard's corpse out there, except it would have taken Tony about two extra seconds to get him inside the gate, but if Echo cares that little about him, I don't know why I'm complaining. Once they've made it to the entrance, Zone points out that last time they were there, "your zombie day spa was crawling with Butchers," and they should drop some C4 down the hole before attempting to enter. Adelle, however, points out that that could destroy the tech they came for, and besides, as Tony adds, that was a year ago, and if any of them were down there they've probably made meals of each other by now. Tony and Echo descend into the place -- and find it fully functional, with Dolls walking around in their old serene bliss. Hilariously, Echo's like, "Aw, hell!" which gives Alpha, who's appeared at her side, the opportunity to demur as to the current location. His presence, however, doesn't seem to be quite the dramatic reveal it seemed, as Echo and Alpha embrace, and Echo says she thought they lost him in Reno, I'm assuming in the permanent sense. Alpha tells her he wanted her to think that, as he didn't have the stomach for the fight, so he came back and reopened the Dollhouse as a free-range farm for Dumbshows, or something. Basically, he's now a "lapsed" psycho, and from the way he fondles Tony's face, he may be a lapsed heterosexual as well. By the way, it's never explained what turned Alpha back into a sane person, especially given that he was never sane to begin with, but from the way Alpha specifically asks about Ballard, I'm wondering if we're meant to think that the injection of Ballard's personality served to make Alpha straighten up and fly right. If so, not to speak ill of the newly-dead, but speeeeyack.