Dollhouse — Episode 2.4 ‘Belonging’
This is another one we all knew was coming at some point or another: client gets obsessed with Doll, client wants to keep Doll forever, mayhem ensues. Despite the fact it’s obvious, it’s still a good premise, so of course the trick would be to do it properly so that it didn’t seem rote. Oh man, did they do it properly. This was the first episode to actually make me feel . . . emotional about the characters – Priya’s tragic story, Victor’s pure and simple love, Adele and Topher’s moralizing and the choices they each end up making, Boyd’s cold efficiency vis a vis the moral ambiguity of his position right now. It was extremely effective, even if you don’t mention the further strides that Echo continued to show in her ‘development.’ Basically — wow.
The first step they took toward ‘doing it properly’ was doing it in reverse: instead of a client hiring out a Doll multiple times and then getting obsessed with that Doll and stealing him/her, said client gets obsessed with a ‘real’ person, who rejects him, and so uses his evil-doctor-like abilities — and convenient ties to the likewise evil parent corporation of the Dollhouse — to ensnare his prey, turn her into a Doll, and then proceed with the obsessive multiple-hiring-out. To then furthermore use this scenario in so many other ways — to set up conflict between Adele and her higher-ups at Rossum and to give Topher his ‘first moral dilemma’ (as Boyd puts it), among other things — is really very intelligent plotting and writing. It’s stuff like this that elevates this show and its writers above your average script-for-hire TV hacks (unless I’m putting way too much stock in their abilities due to my bias and the fact I don’t really watch any other TV, and so, really, don’t know for sure).
There’s also the fact that now’s the first time in the show’s history where they could do an episode like this because we’re finally at the point where the show has a bit of weighty history behind it. These little sub-plots and intrigues I’ve mentioned could be inserted effortlessly and seamlessly because there’s enough of a back story (and fore story) to allow it. Everything doesn’t need to be explained and belaboured. Also, the basic strategy of tying this episode directly to Season 1’s ‘Needs‘ gives it an obvious and definitive place in the overall mythos (along with being Sierra’s ‘origin story’), shows us how it’s all been planned and tied together properly, and otherwise makes us feel all smart and warm for noticing it all. Big warm hug!
As grand as this episode is in terms of scope and what it accomplishes, it operates as a series of little moments:
— Sierra’s black-splotch paintings and the obvious, child-like fear that they represent;
— Victor’s flashback in the shower to his army life;
— Echo and Boyd’s conversation regarding her picking of the leaf and her book;
— Victor sitting patiently waiting for Sierra to return;
— Adele’s confidence in telling the evil doctor she would not give him Sierra vs. her being cowed by her boss when being told to do exactly that.
Then there are the big moments, the most obvious of which being Priya’s return to her body, by Topher, so she can confront and eventually kill the guy, and her subsequent request of Topher afterwards to make her forget it (and then you ask yourself: would I kill someone if I knew I could make the memory go away?). Finally, we have Topher, who in my mind gets the biggest cathartic/epiphanic moment of everybody when, after making his choice in his ‘moral dilemma,’ is forced into an even more hellaciously metaphoric action than Priya was — having to dismember, dissolve and make vanish a body, a person, much like he does when he wipes people’s brains, except this time it’s a physical, cut-through-flesh-and-bone dismemberment and his blood-spattered body at the end of it is perhaps meant to visually represent the current state of his conscience. It’s extremely meaty stuff (no pun intended). Some people might not like the fact that Topher’s growing a conscience, but I do, and I think it’s also purely necessary if the show is going to advance with any sort of interesting momentum.
One minor thing: I’m getting a little annoyed with the whole ‘one cast member being missing from each episode’ thing, mostly because it’s just really obvious. Again, my guess is that it’s a money-saving thing, but it just sticks out too much. For example, in this episode, wouldn’t it have been better to have Paul running some interference against Boyd for snooping around with Echo? Because Paul obviously wants her ‘mind’ to develop, but here Boyd just has free-run to notice what’s happening with her (not to mention Echo brought Topher the painting at the beginning . . . shouldn’t Paul be there to maybe make sure she’s a bit more subtle?) I suppose you could argue that the handlers aren’t needed, and so aren’t there, when the Dolls aren’t on active duty, but still . . . I don’t know. I don’t know if it feels like Paul should be there.
It was nice to get two really good episodes in a row; hopefully the days of purely ‘engagement-of-the-week’ episodes are over and everything we get from now on his more like this. Extremely unfortunately we’ll have to wait until December to find out. As bad as the ratings have been, I really don’t see how running re-runs during sweeps could be better than new episodes of Dollhouse; what a sad, strange world TV-land is if it is.