24
Oct
2009
Dollhouse: Season 2, Episode 4
Belonging
Jordan
This week Fox announced that it will not be airing Dollhouse during the November sweeps, as it tries to woo advertising dollars its way. Instead, those of you who are home Friday nights and looking for some challenging, dark, complex, and excellent television will see reruns of House and Bones (neither of which I watch, and frankly, neither of which have this show's potential for layered greatness). This is a tragedy, as it makes the show's cancellation all the more inevitable. Fox currently plans to burn off the next six episodes in two hour blocks over the month of December. The final three of the order will air, but it has not yet been announced when. All of this is prologue to an analysis (which I warn may get a bit long) of what may be the finest episode the show has done yet. "Belonging" gives us important insights into almost all of the major characters and pushes them to places most never thought they would go. Because of this, I would like to break the review down by character, starting, of course, with the episode's center.

Sierra: Last season's "Needs" told us that Sierra (formerly Priya) had been forced into the Dollhouse against her will by the nefarious and wealthy Nolan, whom she apparently rejected. Tonight's episode shows us how something that is so antithetical to the Dollhouse's alleged mission was allowed to take place. We see Priya as an earthy craftswoman, peddling her wears on Venice Beach and being wooed (none too smoothly) by the shady Nolan, who constantly buys and praises her paintings. He even throws her a show, where he has hired Echo and Victor to be random art critics who can praise Priya and talk him up. This is all by way of seducing her, which he mangles, becoming increasingly desperate and violent as she tells him she'll never love him. Which leads to the phenomenal cut of Sierra locked in a passionate embrace with Nolan, heartbroken to have to leave him. As she does, he takes a picture to remember her by, and throws it in a drawer that is full of them. Nolan has been using Sierra for over a year now, after drugging her to make her appear insane and tricking the Dollhouse into "helping" her. This episode also allows the real Priya to be put up against Nolan, where she kills him, just as the bastard deserves. She also learns tonight, consciously for the first time, that she is in love with Victor, a pure, trusting, caring love that shakes her to her core. As she tortures Nolan, she explains, "I love him so much more than I hate you." At episode's end, Priya still has to be wiped and returned to a life of slavery and prostitution she never asked for, but at least when she walks down the stairs, she has Victor waiting for her, and when they sleep at night, it is in the same pod.

Adelle: DeWitt has always been one of the most compelling characters the show has to offer"”cold, hard, and seemingly amoral she runs the Dollhouse with an iron fist, if only so she can exert her own strong ethical code over her surroundings. Adelle has never been as unfeeling as she wants people to believe; she is a woman with a strong ethical code who has been, as she says, morally compromised. She attempts to do the right thing in this episode, confronting Nolan and depriving him of contact with Sierra, yet her attempt at righteousness is quickly undermined by Keith Carradine's Rossum higher-up Mr. Harding, who assures her that she will run the Dollhouse as they tell her because, "you won't like the early retirement plan." Pushed up against a line she has promised never to cross, Adelle breaks and gives in to her superiors wishes. She has pledged to protect the people under her care, and has made many a self-righteous speech about how she is doing the right thing, yet when push comes to shove, Adelle abandons her ethics entirely and agrees to give off a human being to appease her client and her superiors.

Topher: In arguably the most interesting character arc the series has offered yet, Topher began as a glib, amoral wunderkind who saw the Dolls under his care as little more than science experiments. As DeWitt coldly points out when Topher resists imprinting Sierra for the last time, "You'll do it because you must. The cold reality is that everyone was chosen here because their morality has been compromised. Except you. You were chosen because you have no morality." She dispassionately reminds him that he has always seen the Dolls as "new toys" a fact that is displayed when we see, in flashback, his excitement over Sierra's schizophrenia. What an experiment she will be. Yet Topher has grown over the course of the series, and "Belonging" gives him his first real ethical quandary. When faced with giving off a woman to a disgusting, murderous, violent rapist, Topher reaches his limits and takes a stand. He imprints Priya as her original self and tells her what has been done to her. He arms her with the knowledge to destroy Nolan and looses her on the monster himself. He of course did not think that his actions could lead to Nolan's death, and as Boyd points out to him, his first brush with having a conscience did not go well, but we have now seen that Topher is developing a system of morality, and unlike Adelle, he will not be so quick to compromise it in the face of authority. As Adelle tells him, "If you are starting to develop pangs of conscience, you may comfort yourself that you had no choice." In Topher's mind, for the first time, he didn't have a choice. He knew what the right thing was and he did it, in spite of potential consequences. And, at the episode's end, as Topher put Sierra back to sleep, he found himself truly awake for the first time.

Boyd: We have known since the series began that Boyd was an ex-cop with moral quandaries about working at the Dollhouse. He has seemed like the good guy in a den of evil, a more cynical Ballard, perhaps, but with his heart and his ethics in a similar place. Tonight gives us several inclinations we may have been wrong. For one thing, Adelle reminds us that everyone in her employ has been morally compromised in some way. Then there's the exchange after Nolan's death when Boyd tells Topher, "You're a Doctor, you know how to dissect a body." Topher, a little terrified, responds, "That was in school. And why do you?" More important than even that is Boyd's call to an old friend The Goose. We don't know what his history is yet, but I hope we get a chance to find out (while admittedly, fearing that he may become another Shepherd Book, a mysterious character from Firefly whose past was never explored due to cancellation).

Victor: His love for Sierra has been a known quantity for a long time, though its development tonight takes some adorable turns. When he sees Sierra painting dark pictures with black paint, he tries to wash the paint down the drain in the showers, so she can't be sad anymore. This leads to an adorable moment between the two as they paint their faces and play around. Yet when Sierra playfully calls Victor an Indian Chief, he glitches, again to his past in the military, and collapses, begging "I don't want to be in charge." We knew before he had a dark past in the military, but now it seems he was a failed leader and that is what led him to the Dollhouse. He was so scarred by what he had done while in charge that he was willing to give up control of even his own body to escape the horror of what he had done.

Echo: "Belonging" is an Echo-lite episode, which (not always purposefully) often means its one of the stronger ones. Yet Echo's developments tonight are important. She points out Sierra's paintings to Topher (he humorously refuses to hang it on his nearly empty fridge) and puts him on the track of Nolan. But more importantly, Boyd finds a journal she has been keeping, and writing on her pod to remind her who she is and what she's doing. Echo plays dumb when he confronts her, but he knowingly ,almost fearfully asks, "Echo"¦when did you learn how to lie?" She has become self possessed and is determined to awaken all of the Actives before a cataclysmic event occurs. She has even saved an access card, wrapped in a piece of paper that reads "For the storm." Echo reads and writes of her life in secret, much like many slaves in the antebellum period, and has seemingly formed a secret community with Victor and Sierra. While she plots and remembers in her journal, they illicitly bunk together in the same pod. She wants everyone to have gained consciousness before the "bad things" come, but as Boyd reminds her, "Some people are not ready to wake up."

Dollhouse at its best is an often squirm inducing look at the dark side of humanity, populated with compromised characters who are committing morally repugnant acts on a daily basis "because they must." Adelle has yet to awaken to the choice she has in the matter, to her ability to fight the seemingly insurmountable odds, but Topher has. Echo has. And even Ballard (absent tonight) knows that in the face of an enemy that cannot be defeated, you can still choose to stand and fight. As each character grows toward this realization, and toward the very difficult road ahead, paved by their previous indiscretions and outright acts of evil, they develop into some of the most compelling, layered, and imminently watchable television characters in recent memory.

Grade: A

Notes:

-Keith Carradine was excellent and quietly menacing as Mr. Harding. I hope he returns.

-"You're taking matters into your own hands." "They're in my shirt."

-Sierra tries to take Victor to the treatment with her. Their love is so pure!

"Thanks for the treatment, shaggy." "No problem, can't remember your name today." My how Topher has grown, and also, the look of disbelief Adelle shoots him here is hilarious.

-"Do you know where you are?" "I'm in hell." "You're in Los Angeles. I understand the mix up."

-"I woke up from a nightmare, only to live in one. Are we happy here?" "I"¦you"¦most of you"¦I have no idea." This is the first time Topher has ever even thought of that, and the realization pains him.

-Sierra asks Topher to permanently delete this day from her when she reawakens, and asks him "This secret we have. Can you keep it?" Topher, now wiser from his experience responds, "I can keep it, but I don't know if I can live with it."
Tags: Dollhouse
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