Portrayed by Olivia Williams, Adelle DeWitt is a main character of Dollhouse. She is the boss of the Actives in the Dollhouse and is also the employer of the Dollhouse-staff. Topher Brink, Boyd Langton, Claire Saunders and Laurence Dominic answer to her, and she has a secretary called Judith. She is employed by a larger entity and herself answers to Matthew Harding, Clive Ambrose, and many other unknown Rossum higher ups.
She is also the main contact for all clients of the Dollhouse, negotiating the contracts with them and sometimes even developing friendly relationships with them.
Her other duties include recruiting people to become Actives.
The official character description calls DeWitt "very sophisticated" and "cold as an alp." She "runs the Dollhouse with an efficiency that is both ruthless and protective" and "would die before she showed anyone how lonely she is."
DeWitt's life before employment at the Dollhouse is largely a mystery. In "A Spy in the House of Love", she tells Victor in his Roger persona that she used to "head a division that grew replacement organs out of stem cells." It is likely this was a division of the Rossum Corporation.
As the head of the LA Dollhouse, DeWitt is a demanding and cold leader who nevertheless allows for breach of protocol or non-standard behavior if she sees value in it. Employees who betray her may be sent to the Attic, like Laurence Dominic, or assassinated, like Joe Hearn. She is never seen engaging in personally revealing conversations with her employees. She may be cold and exacting on the job, but she exercises flexibility with her employees when it benefits the Dollhouse. While Dominic sees Echo's erratic behavior as a threat, DeWitt sees it as an asset which makes her a better doll and a protector of the Dollhouse.
DeWitt's chill and effectiveness at work are counterbalanced by an intense loneliness. As revealed in "A Spy in the House of Love", she turns to the very self-styled "self-deluding" behavior of her clients by hiring Victor as her lover and using a pseudonym ("Catherine") in a mere facsimile of a true social life. She sees a great value in the service the Dollhouse provides, insisting the clients are getting what they "need", though she may be blinded by the fact that she so deeply identifies with those clients. In "Haunted", she says that "Loneliness leads to nothing good, only detachment. And sometimes the people who most need to reach out are the people least capable of it."
DeWitt has struggled with alcoholism. In the first season, this seemed to be a bit more subtle, as she would drink with clients ("Stage Fright") or when she was particularly distressed ("Gray Hour", "Omega"). As season two wore on, the demands of working in the dollhouse and her own personal isolation and wavering morality took a toll, and she was barely seen without a drink in hand after "Belonging". In "Stop-Loss", she completely loses control, and is passed-out drunk on her desk in the middle of the day. Boyd calls her "a drunk" to her face and she calmly puts down her drink. She is later seen showering alongside the Actives, and then takes her side in the fight against Rossum. This development occurred following a cast reading of Shakespeare's Hamlet in which Williams played Gertrude as a drunk which may have influenced Whedon's decision to increase the emphasis on DeWitt's drinking problem.
Adelle DeWitt is a complex character. She the only one with any voice within the Rossum corporation, and thus any capacity to protect the members of her House. She does see Rossum trend for evil, but struggles with her own personal ambitions and weaknesses. Thus, she is often trapped between her duties and desires as a Rossom executive and deeper ethics. What starts out as cold, self-serving ruthlessness eventually develops into stoic, compassionate leadership. She is the individual who Topher calls "their general."
Through much of the first season and some of the second, she at least held the distinction of standing for the safety and protection of the dolls under her, an uncommon -- unheard of, really—position among other Rossum employees. In "Belonging" DeWitt's faced the misogynistic Nolan; a client demanding the permanent imprint of Sierra (the woman he forced into service at the Dollhouse), DeWitt blatantly refuses at first. A Rossum employee, Matthew Harding, arrives and orders the permanent imprint under the threat of death, which would leave the LA House at the mercy of the Corporation. Despite her vehement protests, and she ultimately complies. DeWitt is visibly troubled by what's in store for Sierra and spends the evening drinking alone in her office, leaving only to make sure Topher is carrying out the condemning engagement. By the end of the episode Sierra is back in the house and Nolan is dead due to the actions of Sierra, Topher, and Boyd. DeWitt seems to simply "look the other way" when Nolan's mysterious disappearance is reported to her. This is one of the first instances where she clearly chooses her own well-being over the welfare of the actives.
Over the course of "The Public Eye" and "The Left Hand", the L.A. Dollhouse suffered a few setbacks under DeWitt's supervision, including Madeline Costley's attempt to expose Rossum, and both Echo and Ballard going AWOL. Harding uses these mishaps to question DeWitt's loyalty to Rossum and capability as a leader, and by "Meet Jane Doe" he has demoted her and taken over the house. Over three months, Harding puts the house through many changes, mostly negative, though he promotes Topher to the head of the R&D department and is a little more honest about the company's intentions. At this time, Topher speculates over Rossum's plans for the technology and comes to the conclusion they are developing a way to wipe non-actives, essentially any regular person with no implanted active architecture. Topher is successful in creating this tech himself, and he finds it both fascinating and terrifying. He confides in DeWitt, who soon after steals the blueprints and hands them over to Harding. This maneuver effectively convinces Harding of her allegiance to Rossum and earns her rule of the house again, but leaves Topher hurt and infuriated by such a betrayal of trust. It is unclear at this point if DeWitt completely sought to control the LA Dollhouse for her own gain, or if she was playing a role to Rossum in order to regain control over the Dollhouse in order to offer some measure of protection for its members. In “Meet Jane Doe,” the following dialogue takes place:
- Boyd Langton: You need to take this house back.
- Adelle DeWitt: And how am I supposed to do that?
- Boyd Langton: The Adelle I knew would never ask me that question.
In "A Love Supreme", the seemingly evil DeWitt becomes suspicious of Ballard, Boyd, and Topher, and tries to discover their part in Echo's absence and peculiar behavior. Victor, imprinted with the personality of a sage psychologist, comments on DeWitt's need for control and accuses her of loathing Echo for her freedom to be celebrated as both "the virgin and the whore"; However astute these observations may have been, DeWitt's suspicions are confirmed by the end of the episode. When Alpha breaks into her office, DeWitt admits to being scared out of her mind, and without hesitation offers up the lives of Echo, Joel Mynor, and anyone at her disposal. This shows an inclination to absolute self-preservation.
Continuing the downward spiral in "Stop-Loss", DeWitt decides to imprint her lover Roger into Victor for one last fling the day before his contract expires. Somehow, Victor's love for Sierra seems to surface in spite of the imprint, and Roger breaks up with DeWitt. When she lashes out and tells him he's a doll, he simply doesn't believe it, inadvertently rubbing more sand in the wound by stating he could never believe Adelle would sink to such depths as her pathetic clients by having to hire someone to get what she needs. This stings for a couple of reasons, even a man who is programmed to love her cannot bring himself to it, not to mention it being a major fault in the programming and the fact that she outs her identity as Miss Lonelyhearts to Topher.
However, as shown by the memories in "Epitaph One", DeWitt is a clear and compassionate leader in the war against Rossum. It seems her actions in "Meet Jane Doe" and "A Love Supreme" are acts of desperation, and her actions were an attempt to satisfy her need for power and control. Clearly, her descent was a deeply emotional struggle, undergone after suffering personal and moral setbacks from a seemingly omnipotent enemy. Her words, "loneliness leading to nothing good, only detachment" ring true about herself. Arguably, she could not have achieved the level of morality and leadership she eventually rises to without these events.
At first it appears that she has gone completely evil, as she has Echo, Tony, and Priya captured using the disruptor device and then sent to the Attic, and has threatening conversations with Boyd and Topher (and she wears an appropriate all-black outfit). After Echo, Tony, and Priya escape from the Attic at the close of S2: "The Attic", it is revealed that Adelle and Echo planned for them to do so all along, believing that the Attic must hold Rossum's deepest secrets and that Echo stood a better chance of escaping it than anyone else. It is unclear at what point in Season 2 Adelle has turned from the dark side (if she was ever truly and completely there). Perhaps it was when she takes her "shower of angst" in "Stop-Loss" she has finally managed to choose. Adelle, Echo, Tony, Priya, Topher, Boyd, and Ivy now prepare to take a stand against Rossum armed with the information from the Attic.
- Echo: DeWitt offered Caroline her five-year term in the Dollhouse. She told her that she would take care of the mess Caroline's life was in and that the experience in the Dollhouse could help her. Since Caroline became Echo, DeWitt has shown a growing confidence and interest in Echo's ways to handle problems during engagements. She sends her back as Eleanor Penn to save Davina Crestejo in "Ghost", even though at that point it wasn't clear that the client, Davina's father Gabriel Crestejo, was still alive. DeWitt also prevented Boyd from shooting the fan during the hostage exchange in "Stage Fright" to see how Echo would handle the situation. She was impressed by Echo's out-of-the-box-thinking and thought that Echo acted in the Dollhouse's best interest since she stopped the person trying to kill Rayna permanently, it just happened to be Rayna herself. In "Gray Hour" DeWitt was deeply uncomfortable with the notion that she might have to neutralize Echo since she was remotely wiped during a heist-engagement. In "True Believer" DeWitt continued to praise her adaptability in difficult situations, and Laurence Dominic suggested that she probably "likes" Echo. In the next episode, "Man on the Street", after Echo drew a picture similar to that in her assignment as Rebecca Mynor Adelle allowed Echo to finish the engagement that was previously interrupted by Agent Ballard, seeming to acknowledge that Echo is remembering through her wipes.
- Topher Brink: Topher is blatantly unprofessional in dress and manner, but Adelle is patient and indulgent with the quirks of the genius responsible for the imprints. Topher has described himself as DeWitt's "number one son", and her relationship with him is very boss-y. In "Gray Hour" DeWitt has admitted to Topher that despite the Dollhouse's efforts to dispose of Alpha he is still alive. She upped his security clearance and suggested they work together on stopping him from causing more damage. Their relationship grows more complicated during the course of Epitaph One. By the time Topher has had a complete breakdown, Adelle takes on a very maternal role with him, reading to him, making sure he eats, and generally taking care of him. At that point, Topher refuses to leave the pods and won't take his meds without Adelle there to tend to him. As of "Meet Jane Doe", the two experience a falling out with DeWitt betraying Topher's confidence and coldly putting him in his place. Likewise, Topher has begun to go behind her back and works with Paul Ballard and Boyd Langton.
- Laurence Dominic: Dominic is DeWitt's right hand, following every order she gives him, but also questioning some of her reasoning's. She clearly has the upper hand in every argument, since she is his boss, but they are not in agreement on every topic (for instance Echo). While DeWitt seems fond of her and her specialness, Dominic continues to remind DeWitt that Echo is showing the same signs that Alpha showed before his composite event. In "True Believer" he goes behind DeWitt's back and tries but fails to get Echo killed during the engagement. DeWitt noticed his absence (but not his attempt at Echo's life) and reminded him that he should not "gamble on what [she is] willing to do". Although insisting to Dr. Claire Saunders that Dominic was merely "an employee with whom [she] worked closely", she was visibly affected when it is revealed Dominic is an NSA spy. This did not deter her from sending Dominic to the Attic, however, and when she stops him from shooting himself he turns the gun on her.
- Boyd Langton: DeWitt hired Langton after the Alpha incident because the Dollhouse looked for people with a more intensive background, probably referring to his previous career as a cop. She likes to tell him that situations are more complicated than he imagines, and makes references to him not being long enough in her employ to know every aspect of her work. In "Ghost" DeWitt's business-focused view was contrasted by Langton's moral point of view when he convinced her that wiping Echo would destroy the chances of finding Davina Crestejo and that it doesn't matter that the client is probably dead since they "have a mission". He reminded her that she likes to tell herself that what the Dollhouse does helps people.
- November: Although the exact nature of the relationship Adelle shares with November/Mellie is unknown, she seems to share a similarly caring relationship with her as she does with Echo, refusing to bring her in the Dollhouse due to Mellie's love for Ballard. Adelle was also the one to activate November's fighting imprint to kill Joe Hearn.
- Alpha: The rogue Active is one of the few things that can crack Adelle's composure. In "Gray Hour", the thought that Alpha has compromised the Dollhouse's security drives her to drink. In "Briar Rose", Adelle raises her voice at Dominic (imprinted in Victor) in trying to get information on a possible lead on Alpha. In "Omega", she is visibly angry when she learns that Paul unwittingly brought "that thing into my house."
- Sierra: In the episode "Needs", it's stated that Sierra was "sold" into the Dollhouse. When Boyd discusses with Dr. Saunders how the actives gained closure, he agrees that Sierra needed to confront the man who "took away her power" (presumably a reference to being sold into the Dollhouse). It was revealed in the episode Belonging, Sierra was brought to the Dollhouse as a mental patient suffering from severe schizophrenia. It was assumed by the staff that Sierra confronted "the doctor who diagnosed her" when in actuality she was confronting Nolan, the man who drugged her into what appeared to be schizophrenic fits. When Topher discovers the truth, Adelle finds out and is furious, accusing Nolan of making her an accomplice to what is essentially kidnap and rape. When she tries to take the situation to her superiors, Adelle is blackmailed into forcing Sierra into a permanent imprint and being sent to Nolan forever. She echos Paul's statement from the first season saying "we're not slave merchants". But when her hands are tied, she folds and forces Topher to give Sierra to Nolan. She spends the remainder of the episode feeling extremely guilty, drinking alone in her office but also making sure Topher follows through. When Sierra is returned to the Dollhouse under vague and suspicious circumstances, she chooses to not ask about the reasons and accepts that she got what she wanted, regardless of the means.
- Victor: In the episode "A Spy in the House of Love", it's shown that she was engaging him, as Miss Lonely Hearts, so that he could provide moral support and also sex. But, she soon came to grips with herself and cut off any further engagements with Victor. In Belonging, it is revealed that the Rossum higher ups know about her tryst with Victor, but don't care as they all "take a little something home from the office once in a while."
- Paul Ballard: At the start of the series she shows little concern about Paul Ballard's investigation and appears quite confident he has nothing despite Dominic's insistence that "Even a blind dog can find a bone if he digs enough holes". And indeed Dominic words prove wise as Paul continues to get closer to the Dollhouse thanks to Alpha's help and his own personal determination. This forces Adelle to send in one active (Victor) to throw him off and in to a trap, but that only proves to strengthen his resolve. She then sends Echo to discredit Paul by framing him for shooting a police officer. It is after this that Adelle starts to see Paul as a growing concern but she remains confident that they can keep him out of their hair with "love" by using their sleeper active November to keep him distracted. This proves to be an absolute failure thanks to Paul's resolve which is only strengthened when he discovers who November is, thanks to the mole. When they finally do meet in "Briar Rose" Adelle tries to lord superiority over Paul telling him he has no idea what they are doing and scoffing at his ideals of morality and his belief the Dollhouse is "consensual slavery". She even becomes enraged with him in the next episode when she learns he inadvertently brought Alpha back in to the house. But as "Omega" progresses she begins to see him as useful when he deduces Alpha's location and saves Echo's backup from destruction. His words on morality even seem to have an effect on her when he points out how their use of a violent criminal led to the monster known has Alpha. She keeps Paul on the staff in the end has he has the most expertise in hunting Alpha, as a private contractor.
- Dr. Claire Saunders: Adelle tolerates Claire's objections and criticisms, though she knows Claire is an Active from the beginning. She has a moment of vulnerability in front of the doctor after Dominic wounds her.
In the future of Epitaph One, Adelle learns that the Dollhouse will begin selling permanent imprints (more or less stealing the lives of others), so that the wealthy and powerful can become immortal. She objects strongly, on the grounds that the Actives should have their memories and personalities returned to them.
A later memory reveals that Dominic has returned to his original body. He confronts her, accusing her of being responsible for the collapse of the world from widespread imprinting technology. There's also the implication she's relapsed.
After civilization collapses, Adelle becomes the leader of the refugee community living in the Dollhouse. She also comforts Topher who is mentally distressed.
When Paul and Echo return to the Dollhouse, Echo goes to speak with Adelle, while holding a loaded gun.
When the "actuals" leave the Dollhouse, they go through Adelle's office, and see it has become a memorial shrine to many people.
In Epitaph Two, Adelle is shown to be living in Safe Haven with Priya and T. She accompanies everyone as they make their way to the Dollhouse to get Topher the equipment he needs to reverse the effects of the global imprints. She is reluctant to let Topher activate the device after learning that it will result in his death, but lets him do it while she herself stays behind to help other survivors rebuild the world.