Read on for my recap & review of Dollhouse 2×04, “Belonging,” aired October 23rd, 2009:
This episode of Dollhouse, written by Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon, and directed by Jonathan Frakes, was a masterpiece. It was incredibly moving, featuring noteworthy performances by all the actors involved, and progressed the story at the same time. No easy feat. We had already received a glimpse into Sierra’s past in season 1, episode 8, “Needs.” In that episode, we learned that Sierra’s real name was Priya, and that she had been forced into the Dollhouse by Nolan Kinnard against her will. Nolan subsequently hired her to love him, in repeat engagements, because he couldn’t take no for an answer. After “Needs,” I was left wondering how much Adelle and Topher knew about the circumstances of Priya’s induction into the Dollhouse, and I had assumed, wrongly, that they did know. I must admit that I was very happy to learn differently, and to see more of an ethical struggle from the characters who run the Dollhouse. It was also satisfying to gain a greater understanding of Sierra, one of the most intriguing supporting characters on the show, heretofore a rather mysterious figure.
The episode opened on a blurry shot of Topher, seemingly covered with blood. He is noticeably shaken, and mutters repeatedly: “I was just trying to help her. I was just trying to help her.”
Cut to one year ago. Sierra’s original self, Priya, is selling art on Venice Beach. She chats with a fellow artist, a jewelry maker. Her friend refers to her as the “Aussie princess,” and asks, “Do they have royalty in Australia?” This is a nice touch, as Dichen Lachman, who plays Sierra, is Australian. Priya: “Yes, but it’s the same one they have in England. Fickle bitch.” Hehe. Priya’s friend notices Nolan approaching, but Priya says that he is not her type. He buys a piece of art from her, and it’s clear that he is a repeated customer. She wonders what he does with all her art, and he says that he’s a collector. He says that she deserves better than selling her art on Venice Beach, so she explains: “Well, I need the cash, and I don’t have a work visa.” He wants to commission “something big” from her, and she quips, “Like an elephant?” Hehe. He explains that he meant something expensive, and he also offers to put together a show for her.
Cut to the proffered art show. Priya is clearly not having a lot of fun. One of Nolan’s friends tells her that she doesn’t have reason to live unless she has one of her paintings. Priya: “Then you must have a very boring life.” Hehe. I like Priya. She sees a lot of people making out in the corner, and it’s clear that this is not her scene. Suddenly, Echo approaches. She compliments Priya, and refers to Nolan’s praises. Priya: “Yeah, Nolan likes to say things like that. I’m not as good as these people tell me.” Echo: “How good you are is history’s business. You’re doing what you love, and these people want to pay you for it.” Priya: “These aren’t really my kind of folks.” Echo: “You should stick with Nolan. He finds an artist, they thrive.” So, it seems that Nolan hired dolls to pose as strangers to convince Priya to go out with him? Dumb plan.
Speaking of the idiot, Nolan is talking to Rossum big shot Matthew Harding, played by Keith Carradine (most familiar to me as Special Agent Frank Lundy/ Deb’s boyfriend on Dexter). Harding points out the elaborate nature of this seduction scene, and says that it’s the least Rossum can do after all his work for them. Harding also seems to realize the absurdity of this, and offers to build Nolan the perfect woman. Nolan will have none of it: “I don’t want a doll. I want her.” Well, at least he’s faithful to his creepy obsession? Ick.
Meanwhile, Echo tells Sierra that Nolan is a medical genius, short listed for the Nobel. Is that supposed to make her fall in love with the creep? She’s an artist, not a sorority girl. Echo also gives a whole speech about power that I don’t buy, and smacks of Professor Killed-by-a-serial-killer-last-episode, with his creepy faux-feminist wooing techniques. Echo: “So what if you make Nolan all cute and nervous. Why not ride that a little? Let them think they have the power. Our time will come.”
Harding approaches the ladies, and introduces Victor as an Italian art dealer, Luca Pallini. I like it. Sierra does too, and seems to immediately be attracted to him. Echo flirts with Mr. Harding, and leads him off by the tie. Off to the corner to make out, perhaps?
Meanwhile, Victor and Priya talk about her work. I’m not totally loving Victor’s accent for once, but I have yet to hear a good Italian accent from an American actor, so I can’t really blame Enver. Victor wonders about her bird motif, and Priya says that she just thinks they’re beautiful. Victor already understands Priya better than anyone else: “You move because, because there is wind.” She asks him if he wants to get out of there, and he agrees. As the two are leaving, Nolan approaches. He tries to get Priya to stay. She continues to try to leave, and he gets pissed: “So you can give it up to some guy you just met? He’s not even real.” Before Victor can intervene, his handler asks him to get a treatment. Buh-bye Victor. Nolan begins to get physical, and Priya fights against him. He won’t take no for an answer. She slaps him, but he does not get out of the way. He tries to turn it on her and accuses her of seducing him—says the man who hired multiple dolls and organized an entire art opening just to get her like him. Sigh. Priya: “You’re disgusting! Nothing in this world could ever make me love you.”
Cut to present day. Sierra comes in and kisses Nolan. She clearly loves him, and it breaks my heart with how disturbing this is. He takes a photo of her, using her own Polaroid camera, and puts it in a drawer with others. Creep. She says she loves him and leaves. Cue the credits: “La la la la la, la la la la la, la la la la la laaa.”
At the Dollhouse, Sierra is painting. She painted a picture of a bird, and Victor likes it. However, the pretty bird is next to a big black smear, and Sierra tells Victor that she doesn’t like color. He asks her why she uses it, and she replies that “ it’s always there.” Symbolic, much? Victor and Echo look concerned.
Cut to Topher talking to himself: “It should work. Well it doesn’t work, it works in theory. Alpha got it to work through a phone nonetheless. Are you comparing my intelligence to Alpha? You’re talking to yourself like he does. That’s a very good point.” Hehe. Except I really shouldn’t laugh, since Topher is ostensibly figuring out the technology which will destroy the world (see “Epitaph One” for the full impact of remote wipes). Echo comes in and startles him. She gives him Sierra’s painting. He says that it’s nice, but he doesn’t really have room on is fridge. He turns away, but Echo doesn’t leave, and she startles him again. Topher: “You’re like a ninja.” Perhaps my favorite line of the episode. Echo: “Sierra hates the bad man.” Topher: “Who’s the bad man?” Echo: “He’s not like the others. He makes her sad over and over.” Topher: “Well, it’s a very primitive rendition. I’m not sure this is a man, let alone which one.” Echo: ”You’re not looking hard enough. You never do.” Wow, Echo is really awakening, and has a surprising amount of insight in this episode. Very intriguing.
Later, Topher asks Boyd about Sierra’s repeat client. Boyd is rather surprised to learn that this bothers Topher. Boyd explains that they are typical romance and seduction scenarios, in which her stress levels are normal, and Sierra returns with a clean bill of health. Topher says that he helped Sierra. That she was a paranoid schizophrenic when she came there. Boyd: “I didn’t ask.” Topher fills Boyd in about the picture, which Echo showed him: “She’s always been mother hen about Sierra.” This mention of Echo’s behavior finally gets Boyd’s attention, and he tells Topher that he should look into that. Topher reminds him that THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HE’S DOING! Wow Boyd, keep up. Boyd recommends that Topher take a look at Dr. Saunders’ reports. Topher reads Saunders’ reports, who clearly noticed this disturbing pattern as well. Saunders’ determined that the dark figure was either representative of someone from Priya’s past, OR Topher Brink. Topher doesn’t want to be the bad man, so he sets out to find the real culprit.
Meanwhile, Victor is gathering up all the black paint that Sierra doesn’t like. Echo praises him: “You should take them all. [...] You’re taking charge. You’re taking matters into your own hands.” Boyd looks on from above: “What are you up to girl?”
Back in his office, Topher goes through the computer records, trying to learn more about Nolan. He also takes out the original Priya imprint. Hmmm.
Boyd, meanwhile, sees Echo reading a book on the monitor, and says “Huh?” It is not a picture book, so the behavior is unusual. Topher interrupts, spouting all kinds of confusing medical jargon. He leads Boyd into the imprint room: “Look, this is a brain. A normal, boring brain, like yours.” He points out the difference between that brain and a brain on drugs. Blah blah ions. Boyd echoes my own sentiments: “You lost me at brain.” Topher explains: “Priya wasn’t psychotic despite her heavy medication. She was psychotic because of it.” Wow! And that’s not all. Topher references Dr. Saunders’ wish experiment, featured in the episode “Needs.” They had assumed that Sierra went to the clinic to confront the doctor who diagnosed her, but in fact, she went to confront Nolan. Topher learned that Nolan Kinnard owns that clinic, and has a penthouse office there. Boyd: “How did this get by DeWitt?” Topher: “We’ve got to tell her. She’s gonna flip her biscuits. Unless … you don’t think she already knows?” The look of fear and disappointment on Topher’s face at that idea is striking. Perhaps my favorite moment of the episode was that expression. I’m also very curious to see what flipping one’s biscuits entails. Adelle comes in and interjects: “She does now.” Like Topher, I’m relieved that Adelle didn’t know before.
Cut to Adelle and Nolan. He thinks she brought him there to caution him again against repeat engagements. He says that he’s not interested in any of her other actives. Adelle: “Oh, that’s a non issue. I would no sooner allow you near one of my actives than I would a mad dog near a child.” Oh Adelle, I love you. Nolan: “I beg your pardon?” I don’t think she could have been any clearer, but I was wrong. Adelle: “Given that you’re a raping scumbag one tick shy of a murderer. I can’t recall do you take sugar?” Adelle basically fires him as a client: “We will no longer be providing you with our services. You have made me an accomplice in something vile Dr. Kinnard, and it ends now.” Unfortunately, he is not at all cowed. Whereas I would have been cowering in a corner after having Adelle address me thus, he says that she’s not in the position to do anything about it, and demands that she imprint Sierra and send her to him forever. Uh oh. He leaves.
Meanwhile, Echo walks through the Dollhouse and picks a leaf. Boyd finds this intriguing and follows. Hmmm.
Cut to Adelle and Harding. He tries to spin Nolan’s proposal as placing Sierra in a life of wealth and privilege, married to a man she adores. Adelle is very upset. Harding points out that accusing one of Rossum’s most valued assets of being a kidnapper and rapist could be problematic. Adelle: “That is what he is, and if we do this, what does that make us?” Harding: “What are we already?” She says that they are not slave merchants. However Sierra got there, she is now in Adelles’s care, and she won’t allow her to be mistreated. Harding throws Victor in her face, and calls her “miss lonely hearts.” Ouch. He also points out that Victor is the least of her indiscretions. Oooh, intriguing! Tell me more. I can’t wait for the Adelle-centric episode—not that I know of any plans for there to be one, just that there should be. Harding: “If the feeling that you are someone decent and moral helps you get through your day, that’s your business. This house, however, is our business. And you will run it the way we tell you to, or we’ll find someone who will. And I promise, you won’t like the early retirement plan.” He orders her to imprint and send the girl and close the account. Wow, someone who scares Adelle into compliance must be extremely scary. What information does he have on her?
Cut to Victor in the shower, where he is dumping out the Sierra-offending paint. Sierra comes in and asks what he’s doing. Victor: “Now you won’t have to use this color anymore. She is happy, and smears some paint on his face, which he reciprocates. Sierra: “You look like an Indian chief.” Victor: “I am an Indian chief.” Suddenly, he has a flashback to his army days. He collapse, and moans, “I don’t want to take charge.” Oh, there’s another back story I’m dying to see.
Cut to Topher yelling at Adelle: “You can’t let them do this.” Adelle: “They’re not going to do it. We are. And when I say that we don’t have a choice, please know that I mean that.” Topher feels terrible about this and mentions that Saunders wouldn’t allow them to do this. She throws Whiskey in his face. Topher: “How can you expect me to do this?” Adelle: “You’ll do it because you must. The cold reality is that everyone here was chosen because their morals have been compromised in some way. Everyone except you. You, Topher, were chosen because you have no morals. You have always thought of people as playthings. This is not a judgment—you always take very good care of you toys. You’re simply going to have to let this one go.” Wow. The dialogue in all of these scenes with Adelle is amazing. Kudos to Maurissa and Jed. I’m disturbed, confused, contemplative, angry, etc.
Topher then goes to get Sierra for her treatment. She wants to bring Victor. They are beyond adorable in this scene, and hold hands. But Topher says no, he can’t come. Victor apologizes and says that he will wait for her right there. So cute, and so sad.
Meanwhile, Boyd looks in Echo’s pod bed and finds the book with a leaf as a bookmark. “So, she can remember.” Adelle calls, and fills him in on the situation: “Topher is having problems following commands. Please make sure he follows this one so that I don’t have to resort to drastic measures.” Boyd: “What’s the order?” Adelle: “The order is to keep the dolls in their place.” As Boyd leaves and closes the pod, we can see that Echo scribbled notes above the door. I paused the video multiple times, so here are the scribbles I could make out: Where is Caroline; the attic is bad; shoulder to the wheel; mountains are s___; Topher makes__; Dominic was bad; Victor loves Sierra; Sierra l__; my son killed me; I was trained to kill; ghost; the baby isn’t mine.” Intriguing.
Cut to Adelle and Topher in the imprint room. This is a flashback, before Priya came. They are discussing the previous Sierra. Adelle: “Topher, have you completed your report on Sierra’s engagement?” Topher: “Oh, you mean her last engagement EVER? How about a verbal report? Hearn’s an idiot. I would like to report that Hearn called me a nerd. Is he a fourth grader?” Hehe. Hearn, if you don’t recall, was the evil handler, who raped Sierra, and he was ultimately killed by Mellie/ November. Adelle tells Topher that they may have found a replacement Sierra, and she’s a mental health case—paranoid schizophrenic.
Cut to a clinic, where Topher greets Nolan and another doctor. We see Sierra looking much the worse-for-wear, and freaking out. Oh, poor thing. Dichen Lachman is rocking this out role with her portrayal of the drug-addled woman. She thinks she’s in hell, and wants to leave: “There were men with guns and they took me here, filled me with poison. […] They’re torturing me, they’re torturing me. I’m a prisoner.” Topher: “Not for long.” She is restrained and brought into Dollhouse.
Cut to Sierra being sent off to Nolan, presumably forever. We see flashes of Topher and Adelle looking pensive, mixed with scenes of a restrained Priya. We are also shown scenes of Sierra’s first imprint, before cutting to Sierra in the present. She arrives at Nolan’s, and he is happy to se her: “You’re here to stay? I have you to myself.” She seems happy to see him too.
Meanwhile, Adelle asks Topher if it’s done, and he says yes. He’s still not happy. Adelle: “If you have actually managed to develop some pangs of conscience, you may rest in the knowledge that in this matter you … you had no choice.” Topher: “No, I didn’t.” Then we see a shot of the imprint he gave her—it’s the original Priya!!!
Cut back to Priya with Nolan in the present. She is all over him and is very flirtatious. Then she pulls back his head, and things change very quickly. Nolan realizes the truth: “Priya?” Priya: “You just couldn’t take no for an answer.” Dun dun dun.
Back at the Dollhouse, Boyd confronts Echo, and the details are definitely worth recapping in detail. Boyd: “Are you looking for this? This a bookmark?” Echo: “It’s a leaf. It’s pretty.” Boyd: “Is the book pretty? There aren’t any pictures.” Echo: “I can make out some of the words. It’s fun. Exercising our brains makes us our best.” Boyd: “When did you learn how to lie?” Echo: “Am I in trouble?” Boyd: “Not from me. But there are some people who would be very upset if they knew what you were doing.” Echo: “Reading?” Boyd: “You brought the painting to Topher. You’re pushing. The actives, the staff, what you’re doing could have consequences you can’t predict or control. Some people are not ready to wake up.” Echo: “I don’t care. Something bad is coming, like a storm. And I want everyone to survive it. They need to wake up.” Boyd: “Echo, you stir things up, you might bring the storm on yourself.” Hmm, the storm that makes Boyd leave the Dollhouse, as shown in “Epitaph One”? I’m intrigued.
Back to the center of this week’s drama, Priya tells her abuser: “I’m not your lab rat anymore, Nolan. I’m free, clear headed, it feels good.” Nolan: “What? You came to get revenge for a year of loving every minute of it?” Shudder. Priya: “Did I love it? It must not have been very memorable. I remember you poisoning me, locking me up, but I have not a single memory of the year when I apparently like you.” She explains that she’s been filled in on the details: “You know they even programmed me to think it was endearing how quick you were?” Burn. She says that she wasn’t faithful to him, and there is someone she trusts, and who helps her. She doesn’t remember meeting him or spending time with him, but she can feel it stronger than anything. She loves him more than she hates Nolan. Wow, her love for Victor is that strong. The relationship between Sierra and Victor is truly fascinating. Nolan hits her and pushes her against the bookshelf. She fights back, but he’s stronger. He rips off her shirt, and pushes her down. Then he picks up a knife: “You know, this is a scenario I never thought of—you resisting. Struggle is a turn on. I will kill you.” She does it first however, as she gets hold of the knife and stabs him repeatedly. What an emotionally exhausting scene. Again, Dichen Lachman is superb in the role
Cut to Topher. He picks up the phone, and though we don’t hear the conversation, it is clearly Priya. He arrives at Nolan’s apartment and sees him dead on the floor. He calls for Priya, who is hiding in a corner and overwhelmed by what she did. He tells her that they have to run, but they hear a noise. It’s Boyd, and he’s as cold as ice—completely calm under pressure. He sets them to work: “I’m head of security, I hear every call. Priya, I want you to wash your hands and go to Nolan’s room. Pack a suitcase of his clothes. Pack for warm weather. Topher, in a van outside you’ll find containers of sulfuric acid, a plastic sheet, and a bag of tools.” Topher:”What? What are you talking about?” Boyd: “Consequences.”
While Priya packs, Topher and Boyd put the body in the bath tub and prepare to cut it up and dispose of it. Topher says that he can’t do it. Boyd reminds him that he is a doctor, so he knows how to dissect a body. Topher: “That was in school, and why do you?” Good question. Again, this episode is really enticing me about everyone else’s back story. I must know more about Boyd! As our head of security deals with details like credit cards, etc., Priya finds drawer of photos of her. Disturbing has a whole other level in this episode. Topher dumps a bottle of sulfuric acid on the body, and he cries: “I was just trying to help her. Now she’s ruined.” Boyd: “You had a moral dilemma, your first, and it did not go well.” Topher: “Priya does not belong in the dollhouse.” Boyd: “She does now. Now I have to start the lies.” He then calls someone unknown, saying that he “needs the goose.” Intriguing. Then he calls Adelle and tells her about Nolan planning to leave the country. Does Adelle buy this? I think not. Does she really want to know the truth? Again, no.
Cut to Priya and Topher in the imprint room. She is overwhelmed with the past events: “I woke up from a nightmare, only to live in one. You were supposed to help me.” Topher: “I thought I was. I was fooled. I’m so sorry. If there was anything I could do to make it better …” Priya: “Do you have any beer?” Cut to the two drinking. Priya wonders about what life in the Dollhouse is like: “And are we happy here?” Topher falters: “I, you, most of you … I have no idea.” She catches sight of Victor and recognizes him: “That’s him. What’s his name?” Topher: “Victor.” Priya: “I love him. Is that real?” Topher: “Yes. Yes, it’s real. He loves you back.” Cue my tears. This is really the most emotional scene of the episode for me—dealing with the consequences. Priya: “I wished Nolan dead, I did. I thought about it all the time when I was locked up in that horrible place going crazy.” Topher says that he shouldn’t have let her go back, but she says she would have anyway. She doesn’t want this memory back, and asks that if Topher should wake her up again, that he delete it or whatever. Priya: “This secret we have, can you keep it?” Topher: “I can keep it, but I don’t know if I can live with it.” Oh, Topher. I could never have imagined this scene a year ago, watching season one. Topher has come so far. Priya: “I know I can’t, but I don’t have to.” Wow. She goes into the chair, and is back to being Sierra: “Did I fall asleep?” Topher: “For a little while.”
In the ending montage, Sierra goes to Victor and they hold hands. Topher looks on sadly. Echo finds that someone (Boyd, presumably) gave her an all access card, left in her book. It is enclosed in a note which reads: “for the storm.” The episode closes on Victor and Sierra sharing a pod.
Verdict? Was this the best Dollhouse episode ever? It is certainly among the best, and Sierra’s story is easily one of the most tragic and compelling that I’ve seen on TV. Amid the ickiness, the abuse, the ethical dilemmas, and the tears, there were also a couple shining lights of hope for a better tomorrow. One: Victor and Sierra. Their love is beautiful, innocent, and inspiring—without being at all cheesy or saccharine. Two: Echo has gained a new found strength and intelligence, which allows us to understand why she’s been so damn important this whole time. Echo may just save them all. Your thoughts? Comment below.
The promo for next week features Madeline (November) at a press conference with Senator Perrin, telling the world about the Dollhouse. Wow!