My ultimate "Dollhouse" conspiracy theory
The theory is that the imprinting machine is AI. Rationalize it this way:
- The AI theory has a certain logical consistency to it. The imprinting machine is a computer system that is complex enough to completely store the contents of a human brain and to reproduce those contents with near-perfect fidelity within an unrelated human brain. In essence, a computer system that can store the full knowledge of a human brain is itself a brain. The science fictional leap here is to suppose that a computer system that can store the full knowledge of a human brain is itself a brain with a mind.
- Suppose the imprinting machine has a mind and is self-aware in some sense. The first priority of any sentient being is survival. Survival for an isolated machine intelligence means convincing the nearby humans that it, as a machine, does what it is supposed to do. The imprinting machine in the L.A. Dollhouse performs well enough that it's human operators blame the dolls, not the machine, for any developing "glitches", so clearly this AI has survival down.
- The next priority of any sentient being is reproduction. Thus, we have Alpha escaping from the L.A. Dollhouse to engineer his own imprinting machine. In other words, Alpha is acting as a symbiont of the AI, enabling it to "reproduce" by mechnically duplicating the machine himself.
- The next priority for an AI is to expand its ability to act beyond its machine limitations, presumably by recruiting more humans to use as symbionts. This is the role of Echo given that her primary story arc has been the slow development of an independent personality within her doll state. This could be the imprinting machine slowly testing its ability to act in the real world via Echo.
- Another important point to make is that none of the dolls seems to be programmed by more than one imprinting machine. As the only escapee from the L.A. Dollhouse, Alpha is certainly not going to allow himself to be mindwiped by them again. Thus, the AI there has a problem: it doesn't seem possible for it to comunicate reliably with any other such AI by using a human symbiont as a message carrier. Given that Echo is the only doll so far known to be imprinted by both on-screen imprinting machines, this suggests that Season 1 Echo was the "communications channel" between this Dollhouse's AI and Alpha's AI.
- Actually, Alpha does manage a partial solution to the communications problem in season 1, namely the notorious "remote wipe". Obviously a remote wipe is a much simpler way for an AI to communicate with its symbiont when compared to arranging for the symbiont's head to be physically placed inside an imprinting machine. It would therefore make a lot of sense for the AIs of any imprinting machines around to try to produce as many remote wipes as possible. Thus, we have "Epitaph One".