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Dollhouse: Belonging

Priya: "You disgust me. Nothing in this world could ever make me love you."

Best episode of the series. So far, anyway.

What a horror. To completely lose your sense of self, while still aware deep down that you're trapped in a living nightmare. A rape of mind and body that was supposed to never end. This is the primary concept of Dollhouse at its most disturbing. What did Priya do to deserve such a fate? She said no to the wrong man.

Topher to the rescue. I didn't think it would ever happen, but I finally care about Topher. When he discovered what he had unknowingly done to Sierra, he was horrified. He couldn't bring himself to condemn Sierra to a living death. When Priya chose to never remember killing Nolan, she placed the entire burden of that memory on Topher -- and the horror of chopping up that body in the bathtub was Topher's penance for what he did to her. Outstanding performances from Fran Kranz and Dichen Lachman.

This week's Most Obvious Symbolism, birds representing freedom, was used just beautifully. Nolan forced Priya to create that huge, abstract bird painting that he kept prisoner in his house, just like he kept her. The paintings of birds that Sierra made over and over again while in tabula rasa were marred by huge blotches of black paint, representing the fear, anger and suffering she was experiencing at her core. And that drawer full of Polaroids of Sierra in all of her different imprints symbolized how Nolan kept Priya's very soul imprisoned.

This was so Sierra's and Topher's episode, but there was a wonderful moment between Boyd and Echo when he discovered her true condition. That shot of the words Echo had scratched into the ceiling of her glass prison was intense. Boyd took sides in this episode, and he sided with the dolls. To be expected, certainly, since his feelings about the Dollhouse have been obvious.

But Topher sided with the dolls against Rossum, too -- and I didn't expect that. So did Adelle, to a lesser extent. How about that? Topher and Adelle are complex villains -- that is, if they're villains at all. I'm glad Adelle didn't know what Nolan was doing. And I will again say that there's this fascinating vibe between Adelle and Topher. Maybe it's more maternal than romantic, but there's something in the way she treats him, the way she touches him. The actors are doing something there. It adds this subtle... something to their relationship.

I saved the best for last. Love is real, even in tabula rasa. Sierra and Victor connected from the moment they met, when he was imprinted, but she was her real self. Everything Victor did for Sierra in this episode touched my heart. Getting rid of all of the black paint in the shower room was such a lovely moment. Sitting on the floor in the Dollhouse, waiting for Sierra to return from an engagement that was supposed to never end. We got a glimpse of the real Victor in that little flash he had, didn't we? Was he a soldier? Is he in the Dollhouse because he has unbearable memories? Could we have a back story on Victor, pretty pretty please?

Bits and pieces:

-- Vincent Ventresca did a terrific job as the despicable Nolan. Keith Carradine, who was recently in several Dexter episodes, was introduced as a Harding, a nasty guy high up at Rossum.

-- Loved the "this is your brain on drugs" bit.

-- Boyd was so matter of fact and knowledgeable about getting rid of Nolan's body that it was clear he'd done it before. When? Where? Talk about back stories. Can we have more about Boyd, too?

-- Echo told Boyd that something bad was coming, and the dolls needed to wake up. Was that a reference to "Epitaph One?" Or is something else coming first?

-- The previous bits with Sierra in the pink suit and pearls must have been an imprint, after all. I had gotten the impression that it was the real her.

-- This ep was directed by Jonathan Frakes of TNG fame. He directed First Contact, one of my favorite Star Trek movies.

-- Paul Ballard wasn't in this episode. I should probably state the obvious, too: that this outstanding episode did not feature Echo.

-- Dollhouse is on hiatus until December 4. We will be getting the rest of the season (and probably the remainder of the series) in back-to-back episodes in December.


Victor: "Sierra doesn't like this color." Awwww.

Echo: "You're taking matters into your own hands."
Victor: "They're in my shirt."

Boyd: "You lost me at brain."

Topher: "Do you know where you are?"
Priya: "I'm in... Hell."
Topher: "You're in Los Angeles. I can understand the mix-up."

Exceptionally strong four star episode,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. does anyone know who did the painting of the bird for priya?

  2. Scuddnik,

    The artist's name is Brooke Reidt, according to an LA Times interview with Dichen Lachman.

  3. loved every bit of it... it was so dark...

    i read someone saying and i aggre that dollhouse is better when it is darker and darker...

    can't wait until december... don't know though how this hiatus is going to affect the show...

    hoping for miracles!

  4. Wow. Wow.

    This episode left me absolutely speechless. I don't want to say it's classic Whedon, because most ppl associate that with clever humor, but it certainly shows us what the man can do.

    The feel of the ep was almost surreal, kind of like The Body, from Buffy. Everything felt not quite real - from Sierra's past to the horror that she was forced into. If it wasn't for the Victor/Sierra romance, I think I would have just been completely depressed afterwards; for me, that was as much of a refuge of hope as it was for Priya.

    A couple of things that I *really* liked: How Priya was implanted with herself and not some super-human fighting skills when she confronted Nolan. She and Topher put herself in grave danger by doing so, but it was real. It really showed the overwhelming, irrational need for confrontation that abused women feel towards their abuser. It also highlights just how helpless they are, despite their rage.

    I also loved how, even though she couldn't remember Victor or anything that happened during her year as a Doll, she still felt love. It just goes to show that love transcends memory and pain.

    I agree, Billie, that this was Topher's episode. Strange, how it feels like once Joss got complete control over the show (eg not catering to Fox, or trying to get another season), the characters all developed dimension. Whiskey / Saunder's reveal was what started to unearth the morals - he was enslaving her even though he was offering another chance. His unraveling tonight was incredible. When Adelle told him he was there b/c he had no morals, he looked like he'd been slapped in the face. But it was when he said, "I have no idea" when someone (can't remember who) asked him how the Dolls felt that was really telling for me.

    Billie, you mentioned that Adelle had "sort of" morals. I thought her unwillingness was far stronger than that. I would have never thought that she'd go so far as to insult a Rossum higher up to his face. Perhaps undermine him, yes, but how awesome was it when she calmly poured him tea while calling him a kidnapper and rapist? Added to her disgust towards the killer last episode, I really start to wonder *why* she is in the Dollhouse.

    Very nice use of continuity for the writing team. The art showing with all the dolls pretending was clever and ingenious - I almost expected Whiskey to show up (remember that flashback of her and Echo making out)? And the scene where Priya was in the mental hospital screaming about being poisoned - it's an unfortunate reality that people with mental illnesses are not taken seriously, that their fear is written off as paranoia.

    Hats off all around. If the price of not being renewed is quality episodes like we've had so far this season, I'm all for it.

  5. "I would have never thought that she'd go so far as to insult a Rossum higher up to his face. Perhaps undermine him, yes, but how awesome was it when she calmly poured him tea while calling him a kidnapper and rapist?"

    I absolutely agree, Serena. This particular scene was standout, even in an episode full of standouts.

    I had thought Topher might imprint Sierra with a sleeper that could be turned into a killer, like November, before sending her to Nolan. Sending Priya herself showed that he completely understood that she needed to confront her abuser.

  6. But there really is one question bothering me..
    Well dolls have contracts. But Priya was taken from a mental institution where she was held against her own will and despite her sanity.. Even if there was a contrsct it would certainly be invalid.
    So why did they keep her as a doll? I was thinking during the whole episode "Sierra will be freed after this" But no.. Well, I really loved this episode but really left me some bitter taste at the end..
    Also with this episode being all about Sierra and no Echo, I realised I.. don't like Echo so very much or better I don't enjoy Eliza Dushku playing Echo so very much..

  7. I got the impression that while her initial "contract" was, of course, against her will, Priya decided her memories were unbearable and that she'd continue as a doll. It was that discussion with Topher about not wanting to remember killing Nolan that made me think so.

  8. Hi, Billie

    I loved every minute of this episode. And I realize more and more that the weak link of the series is Echo, or better, Eliza Dushku. Her character's acting on the fringes of the episode was much more interesting than being in the center.

    About the "storm", I believe it's indeed what we saw in Epitaph One. In the beggining of Belonging Topher seemed to be working on a way to imprint remotely, such as what they did to Victor when he got the psicho imprimt. And Whedon might be developing a story to wrap up this season, as the chances of renewal are slim at best.

    I don't think he might be reading this, but I must implore him: Mr Whedon, go straight to SyFy to get a new series. I know you like BSG, you know they can do good work there.

  9. I know I'm years late to the party but I just saw this episode and couldn't resist sharing.

    My favorite part of the whole show was when Priya stood up after killing Nolan. She was a black silhouette against the white background of her abstract bird painting; a perfect match to the pictures she had been drawing while in her doll state. Except now, she had overcome the black figure; Nolan didn't rule her nightmares anymore.

    I thought it was a brilliant, beautiful way to symbolize her entire back-story with one camera shot.

  10. KellyK, great comment. This is still one of my favorite Dollhouse episodes, and Priya and Victor were my favorite characters.

    And by the way, no one is ever really late to the party here. We get comments all the time on shows that have ended.

  11. Love, love this episode and everything about it. I felt sorry for Sierra/Prya: she was drugged, taken to the Dollhouse against her will, abused by Hearn and Nolan just stripped her off her old self. I really felt her pain and Dichen did an amazing job.
    I have to point out a lot of highlights: the fact that Prya took pictures and then we see Nolan with her camera taking pictures of her various imprints; how her shadow is next to the painting, after killing Nolan; Adelle calmly calling Nolan a killer while pouring tea and the body cleaning scene.

  12. Wow!!

    Another late arriver to the party and till this episode I thought I liked Dollhouse. This is the first episode that made me actually care!

    All those questions about how could Adele say they were all volunteers when Sierra clearly wasnt, answered.
    The way Topher looked at Adele in the 'no morals' scene was so like a child looking at a parent

    But the best thing about the episode- Victor n Sierra. Everyone wants someone to love them for who they are. But these to dont even know who they themselves are and still are in love. Talk about love in the bones or loving a soul :)


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