Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dollhouse 2.04: "Belonging"

“It’s absurd. I don’t remember meeting him or even spending a moment with him, but I can feel it stronger than anything. I’m crazy about him! I love him! I love him so much more than I hate you.”


Friday’s episode of Dollhouse was one of the series’ best, and an example of what this show can do when it’s really firing on all cylinders. It evokes emotion, and it really makes you think. It deepens characters we thought we knew and continues them on the path we know they’re destined for. I also liked that this episode featured many of the secondary characters, who are actually more compelling and played by more talented actors (although Eliza Dushku has proven that she can turn in a good performance). This recap is going to be longer than normal, because almost every moment in the episode is compelling enough to deserve a mention here.

“Belonging” is basically Sierra’s origin story, but it also provides wonderful character moments for Victor, Topher, Adelle, and Boyd. The episode opens on a shaky, close-up shot of Topher repeating to himself “I was just trying to help her.” Ominous foreshadowing! We then flash back to Venice Beach (oh how I want to visit LA to see crazy places like the Venice Beach pier) where Priya, not yet Sierra, is selling paintings. A smarmy, self-important guy approaches her. This is Nolan, the man Priya confronted in “Needs” because he sent her to the Dollhouse against her will. Nolan is apparently a regular purchaser of Priya’s art. He wants to commission a large painting, and he’s obviously hoping it will lead to something more.

The party to celebrate the installation of the artwork is the creepiest television scene I’ve experienced that wasn’t gory. It was creepy because the Dollhouse went so all-out to help Nolan seduce Priya. Both Echo and Victor are there, Echo as a random party guest who talks up Nolan and Victor as Luca, an Italian art dealer. I love how Sierra and Victor were drawn together even back then. Priya, feeling stifled and thinking Luca is kinda cute (she would be right about that), tries to leave with Luca. Nolan tries to physically keep her from leaving. Nolan is absolutely nuts. He accuses Priya of “seducing” him and makes a huge scene. Priya swears that she will never be his. Not unsurprisingly, the next scene is Priya kissing Nolan. He takes a Polaroid like Priya was known to do and reveals a drawer filled with almost identical photos. Priya has become Sierra.

At the Dollhouse, Sierra is painting a purple bird and black spot. Victor compliments it, but Sierra doesn’t like the color. Victor asks why she uses it. Sierra answers, “It’s always here” as Echo observes. Echo interrupts Topher working on some sort of chip related to remote wiping to bring him Sierra’s painting. Echo tells him, “Sierra hates the bad man.”

Topher goes to Boyd and asks about the “repeat client” Sierra has been seeing. Boyd is amused something is bothering Topher, which is kind of a rehash of the “Topher has ethical problems!” bit in “Instinct,” but it’s always entertaining, so that’s okay. Topher mentions Sierra was a paranoid schizophrenic when she got to the Dollhouse, as if it absolves him from responsibility for keeping her enslaved. He also says he got the warning about Sierra from Echo. Boyd is alarmed. He seems kind of Domenic-like at this point in the scene, which is never a good thing.

On Boyd’s advice, Topher looks up Dr. Saunders’ records of Sierra. Sierra always put those black splotches on paintings. Saunders speculates it could be something from Sierra’s past or what I’m going to call “Topher rage.” Topher is pretty upset at the idea he could be the “bad man,” and he sets out to prove Saunders wrong.

Meanwhile, Victor is gathering up all the black paint because Sierra doesn’t like it. Echo tells him to take all of them. She thinks it’s good he’s taking matters into his own hands. “They’re in my shirt,” Victor replies sweetly. Boyd sees what Echo is doing. Continuing to spy, he also sees her reading. Topher bursts in and says Nolan is an expert in a class of antipsychotic medication. Some of these medicines make a mentally healthy person appear schizophrenic. Priya was drugged to seem psychotic. Adelle walks in on the end of the conversation.

I was extremely impressed by what Adelle did next, although the feeling didn’t exactly last very long. Adelle calls Nolan in for a talking to. She tells him, “I would no sooner allow you near one of our other Actives than I would a mad dog near a child. Given that you’re a raping scumbag one tick shy of a murderer. I can’t recall…do you take sugar?” It’s just so very British how her tone changes on a dime as she asks how Nolan takes his tea. Nolan, however, continues to be an ass. He threatens that Adelle will be fired if she doesn’t have Priya imprinted and sent to him permanently. Adelle appeals to Mr. Harding, who is probably her boss, but he’s not sympathetic. Nolan is too valuable an asset. He one-ups Nolan and tells Adelle that if she doesn’t comply, she’s going to the Attic.

The next scene is one of my favorites from the episode and made me say to Sarah (whom you know from her guest blogs) something to the effect of “Victor and Sierra are gonna make me cry.” Victor is in the shower washing the black paints down the drain. Sierra walks in and asks what he’s doing. He replies, “Now you don’t have to use this color anymore.” Sierra approaches him and they put paint on each other’s faces, just like little children. The whole first half of the scene has an air of cute and child-like. It all comes to a screeching halt, however, when Victor flashes back to time in the military. He collapses, but Sierra’s there to cradle him and say it’s okay.

Adelle tears Topher down to make him do her bidding. She brings up Dr. Saunders. She tells Topher that he was chosen to work at the Dollhouse because he has no sense of morality, and she tells him that he must learn to share his toys. There is a brief touch between the two of them that I think is supposed to be a precursor to the very maternal relationship Adelle has with Topher in Epitaph One. Sierra and Victor are sitting at a table holding hands when Topher says it’s time for Sierra’s treatment. Sierra wants Victor to join her, and they walk towards the Imprint Room holding hands. Topher says that Victor can’t come, but Victor says he’ll wait right there and sits down by a plant.

We then get a flashback of how exactly Priya came to the Dollhouse. Adelle approaches Topher as he finishes wiping Echo after an engagement. She tells him she may have a replacement Sierra. A mental health case. He thinks that sounds pretty cool. Topher goes to the mental health facility to see Priya. Nolan’s been giving her “treatments.” I appreciate the odd parallel between her life as Nolan’s prisoner and her life as the Dollhouse’s prisoner where she receives a different kind of “treatment.” Priya is rocking back and forth, muttering. As soon as Topher asks if she’d like to leave, she says yes and asks him to help her. Men with guns took her and are filling her with poison. Topher thinks it’s a delusion, but it’s true. We see hazy scenes of Sierra actually being captured juxtaposed with her going out on Doll assignments, accompanied by a new Jed Whedon/ Maurissa Tancharoen song called “Drones.”

Adelle checks up on Topher to make sure he did his job. He did indeed, but maybe not quite how Adelle planned. Topher is putting away the drive that stores Priya’s original personality. At Nolan’s swanky house, Sierra seems to be happy and naïve. She switches on a dime, though, from the aggressive, horny girlfriend to the real Priya, ready to attack her tormentor. My reaction? Yay Topher!

Boyd confronts Echo. He found her book, and there were words scratched into the lid of her sleeping pod. She tries to act vacant, but he’s not buying it. It still seems like he’s going to go all Domenic on her. Thankfully, however, Boyd just wants to warn Echo that she needs to keep her enlightenment on the down-low. She can’t keep pushing, and if she doesn’t stop, there will be consequences. Echo doesn’t care. She wants everybody to wake up because a storm is coming.

Back at Nolan’s house, Sierra is taunting her captor. She tells him she has fallen in love. Nolan thinks she’s talking about him, but Priya corrects him. She’s talking about Victor. This is rewarded by a slap from Nolan that escalates into a knock-down-drag-out fight. Priya eventually stabs him to death. Topher, feeling guilty, goes to get Priya and Boyd follows. They’ve got to cut up Nolan’s body. This traumatizes poor Topher and is probably one of the things that led him to become the non-functioning mentally unstable child he is in “Epitaph One.” Boyd calls what sounds like old mob connections to minimize the “consequences” of Topher’s actions.

With the cleaning done and lies told, Topher and Priya have a chat in his office. Priya wants the memory of this day erased. Topher turns her back into Sierra, and she goes back to Victor. Before he turned on the imprint chair, Priya asked Topher if he could keep the secret of what happened that day. “I can keep it, but I don’t know if I can live with it,” is his reply. We end with everything pretty much back under control at the Dollhouse, but things aren’t quite the same. Echo has her book back from Boyd, and he included a security card that she can use “for the storm.” And Victor and Sierra are sleeping snuggled up in the same pod.

No comments:

Post a Comment