They were not kidding about this episode being an improvement. We open three months ago, when there's some sort of alarm going off in the Dollhouse, and the Dolls are being sent to bed without their communal shower. Turns out Alpha, who's got to be the guy we saw at the end of last episode, had what they call a "composite event," which means he was able to hang onto a real (and, as it happens, extremely dangerous) personality, and raided the Dollhouse and used a knife to give Claire her facial scars and to kill a number of guards and Dolls. He also offed Echo's handler, after which Boyd got hired. We see that Echo got an imprint that causes her to automatically trust Boyd, which was the start of Boyd's protective affection for her, and this episode is answering so many questions it almost would have done better as the pilot. The $64,000 question, though, is this: Why didn't Alpha kill Echo? We don't find out this week, but it sure is curious.
In the present, Ballard gets the picture that Alpha sent at the end of last week, and on the back is "Caroline" -- Echo's real name, as you remember. Back at the Dollhouse, some guy wants an Active, and Adelle tells him that's fine, but charges him an extra fee based on the "moderate risk" the engagement poses. Next thing you know, an athletic and freewheeling Echo and the guy are whitewater rafting, rock climbing, hunting with bow and arrow, and Fox-approved sex, all of which indeed fall into the "moderate risk" category. However, things take an unexpected (actually, the episode title kind of gave it away, but still) turn when he gives her a head start as his next prey, and soon she's running in terror.
Meanwhile, a guy dressed as a ranger shoots Boyd's backup dead and takes Boyd prisoner, but Boyd manages to overpower him and learn he was hired to delay the response team from getting to Echo, so the hunter was really serious about this whole human-game thing. Echo finds a house in the woods in which to hide her terrified self, but she ends up drinking some drugged water the douchebag hunter left for her, which causes her to hallucinate images of both her old self and of the Alpha killings, and it looks like maybe she's heading for a composite event as well. Boyd finds Echo just in time to get shot in his side, and Echo switches up their roles as she manages to hunt down the hunter. But the twists aren't over -- when Dollhouse security goes to pick up the fake ranger that Boyd abandoned to rescue Echo, they find him dead, cut up at the hands of Alpha, whom Claire was under the mistaken impression had been hunted down and killed by the Dollhouse squad. At the end, Echo's mind is supposedly wiped, but after Laurence lets her know he thinks of her as a liability, we see her repeat a particular gesture the hunter guy taught her. So not only is she remembering stuff, but she might put an arrow through Laurence's neck? Can't say I wouldn't want to see that.
We start in a washed-out flashback to three months earlier, and an alarm is going off in the Dollhouse. A female employee hurries several Dolls to their beds even as one of them worriedly notes that they didn't have their nightly shower, and it's too bad this girl's mind gets wiped all the time because she'll never know what a close call she just had. The five Dolls in this particular sleeping chamber settle in, and as his lid closes, one of them looks scared at all the commotion...
...which is louder downstairs, as Laurence leads some armed security people into the atrium and past several bloody corpses. Seeing DDT (oh, all right, I'll call him Topher, since they say his name so many more times this episode and I'm also starting to like him), he tires to get some information out of him, but Topher babbles incoherently about getting a gun until Adelle appears and informs Laurence that Alpha was responsible, as he had a "composite event." Given their use of the NATO Phonetic Alphabet in naming their Dolls, I wonder if Alpha was the first the Dollhouse made? Laurence thinks it impossible that Alpha could have had an event, given the regular mindwipes he had, so I think we're to understand that Alpha retained something of past imprints and now has a personality of his own. Laurence then gets a call that Alpha has been seen, a call that quickly gives way to a strangled cry, and Laurence moves his team out. Topher: "Seriously? Gun?" I think some people would be happy to arrange that.
It turns out Laurence is too late, as upstairs, he and his team discover a bunch of dead Dolls in the communal shower -- and Echo, who's got their blood on her but is still very much alive. She worriedly simps that they won't wake up, and Laurence rolls his eyes and moves his team straight into the opening credits.
Over shots of Echo and Boyd returning from an engagement, Adelle says that their Actives are innocent children in their resting state, but can be imprinted to create "your heart's desire made flesh." You guys, I can't believe I didn't think of this before, but the concept of the childlike tabula rasa is just like that of Spock's Brain! Except it's better and it doesn't have Shatner's cheese-scale acting. We then see Echo just coming out of a mindwipe, and Topher asks her how she's feeling. Ah, they repeat the exact conversation they had the last time this happened -- "Did I fall asleep?" "For a little while." "Shall I go now?" -- so this is a ritual, presumably designed to make sure she's exactly the same as before the imprint. Much more interesting than I imagined. We then fade back to Adelle, who's been telling all this to some good-looking guy in expensive-looking business clothes. He says that he's been with a lot of women, and none of them has turned out to be whom she said. Adelle counters that that won't be the case here -- his Doll will be exactly who he wants, completely and honestly. However, she tells him there's one small problem, and he replies that he thought everything was good with the background check, and I didn't notice that line at all on first viewing, so good on the show for not making his concern obvious. Anyway, that's not what Adelle is talking about -- it's just that the engagement he wants has been flagged as a "moderate risk" to the Active, and as such will require a small additional fee. The guy looks at the number she's written down and laughs: "Small, huh?" Adelle smoothly replies, "To my employers, very." Here's where I start looking around for a wolf, a ram, and a hart. The guy says it'll be worth it, and Adelle cautions him to return the Active safe and sound or there will be additional costs, and the way she delivers that line makes it sound like she's already mentally sharpening the knife she's going to use to cut his balls off. The guy smiles and promises to keep it low-key...