Mini Review: 2.04 Belonging

by admin on January 26, 2010 · 9 comments

2.04 Belonging

As regular readers will know, I’m attempting to catch up with the episodes of Dollhouse that I have missed, or not yet reviewed, by posting mini reviews before the series finale, bumped to Jan 29 (where I plan to post a full review, thus bringing closure to my WD journey). Below the jump I post my honest thoughts on the episode 2.04, “Belonging”.

THE GOOD

  • Topher’s 1st moral dilemma. This was groundbreaking stuff for such an amoral character. I really enjoyed seeing his conscience come into play as he realised the consequences of his science. At one point I suspected that the only reason Topher was so against handing Sierra over to Nolan was because she was his plaything..something that belonged to him..something that he saved so that he could have for himself. And, on some level, I definitely believe that still remained the case by the end of the episode. But this is Dollhouse, and motivations are rarely 100% in any one direction, so I was prepared to see beyond his childlike obsession and was pleased to detect a genuine sense of guilt and regret over what he did to Sierra. I actually feel that this has been coming for a while – but what has caused this gradual change in Topher? Are we simply digging deeper into the core of his character, finding shreds of humanity that is present in everyone at various depths, or could Echo be quietly reshaping hearts and minds – leading from within, as her defiant awareness uplifts everyone around her?
  • Adelle’s Veneer peeled back. I may not like the woman but this was her most interesting episode for quite some time. Much like Topher, we saw a different side to her. In fact, we saw many different sides to her; from the ‘moral’, to the caring, to the concerned, to the hypocritical, to the smug, to the knowing. Each ‘face of Adelle’ was as intriguing as the next – but it is her hypocrisy that I really want to address in this short review. She tells the Rossum guy that Nolan is a kidnapper and a rapist – which is true – but she’s so blinded by her own power and arrogance that she failed (or refused) to see the similarity between Nolan’s actions and her secret ‘love affairs’ with Victor. I was so glad that the Rossum guy called her out on that because she needed to see that she is already an extension of the Dollhouse – through her actions as well as her canny ability to turn a blind eye when it suits her. Later, she tells Topher that he isn’t just morally compromised, but that ‘he has no morals’ – which is pretty rich coming from Adelle! I was also majorly creeped out by the seductive/repressive vibe that was going on between them (is she looking for a new Victor?). It was also interesting to see Adelle’s reaction to the ‘news’ that Sierra had killed Nolan, consequently saving Adelle’s job – she was so smug. On some level it’s understandable – the guy was bad, I get it. But murder is still murder, and I hate the idea that Topher and Boyd have done her dirty work without even realising it!
  • No Ballard to bring the episode down. I guess he wasn’t required since Echo was not on assignment. Good. Can we make sure he’s not needed in the next episode too?
  • I think this episode worked well largely because we got to see a bit of the ‘origins story’ for one of the Actives. Sierra’s back-story was interesting enough, and the way it connected to present day events was powerful and emotional. Mental health is a tricky thing to pull off on television, but Dollhouse managed to make it suit the story they had to tell, if nothing else. Sierra’s journey allowed me to sympathise with her character and gave me a greater understanding of the Dollhouse, and how their science could serve a useful function in society..whilst at the same time making me think that perhaps humanity is simply not ready appropriate such responsibility. I’m also pretty interested in the idea that Sierra has fallen in love with Victor without experiencing it on a conscious level. What does that say about their love, and the durability and chemistry of love in general? Whatever it says, I think I like it.
  • Dichen Lachmen. A good performance, became more convincing as the episode wore on. Gjokaj continues to shine with subtle but effective performance.

The Bad

  • Not enough mythology or overarching menace. The episode could have done with a driving force – something to underpin everything and make me feel that all of this character development (Sierra, Topher) is not going to waste. More mythology would also make the world of the show more exciting and, I think, believable. At the moment, if you strip away the gradual evolution of the dolls, there’s not much else going on. Where’s the ‘big bad’? Where’s the danger? What’s the objective? Where’s the ‘something’ that I can believe in? Dollhouse is very lite on mythology and serial for some strange reason.
  • The Echo B-story was pretty dull. It had some neat moments – like the ‘adventures of the missing bookmark’ and the etchings, but did we need an entire episode to see that? I’m not complaining because Echo isn’t my favorite character in the world and less of her is always more. But since we had to see her, I just found it a bit lacking.
  • I don’t think the ‘Sierra awakening’ was as satisfying as it could have been. Although I enjoyed her chat with Topher and the implications that came from it, I thought it was a bit off. I expected her to be a lot more confused, or broken, or something. Instead she was pretty cool about the whole thing, considering all that had happened, and what she had discovered. I don’t know, I just found it a bit weird – perhaps, if I ever watch that scene again I’ll think differently.

I’m not going to lie. I liked this episode. For me, it’s the best of the season so far. I liked the perspective on ‘belonging’ and how the desire to be free is just as powerful, if not more powerful, than the need to belong. And for Sierra, that was despite waking up to find out that she was in love..she still wanted to wipe it all away and be put back to what she knew was real.

I also enjoyed seeing Topher realise that his possessions were real people who didn’t belong to him out of choice, and that people are never really fixed through ignorance, or lies – because they still have to wake up eventually. His ‘perfect world’ is only perfect when the actives are Actives, but when they wake up he has to deal with the consequences, and so will they. Of course, not everyone will be like Sierra (look at Mellie), but I find Sierra’s situation interesting case because I can’t imagine she was in any fit state to have agreed being an Active – indeed, we got a clip of them dragging her out of the mental hospital kicking and screaming. Literally.

I’m glad for this episode though. It gave me a better understanding of Topher. I always figured that he was a selfish child with his own collection of dolls..but now I see that the child may be in the process of growing up enough to set his dolls free.

Other Comments

  • Good to see Boyd more involved – although I’m worried by how easily he was able to clean up behind Sierra and Topher. He didn’t bat an eyelid, he just did it as though this wasn’t his first time disposing of dead bodies. Still, it’s good to gain some more insight into his character (even though I miss season 1 Boyd).
  • It’s disappointing to think that Whiskey is gone for good. Does this mean the Dollhouse has hired a new doctor, or are Boyd and Ballard going to job share?
  • How cool were Echo’s ‘reminder notes’ on the underside of her coffin-visor-thingy! You know, Echo can be pretty resourceful at times.
  • I’m not sure about the whole “a storm is coming” comment from Echo – is this “Fringe” or something? I just don’t see how a ‘storm’ or any sort of apocalyptic happening can be on the horizon, unless, of course, the show moves into a very different direction from where it now stands. I hope it does, but I just can’t see it elevating to an epic tale. And trust me, I know nothing of where the show is heading from this point.
  • Did my eyes deceive me, or did Boyd secretly give Echo an ‘access all areas’ security pass!? For one thing, such means of accessing every nook and cranny of the dollhouse are not necessary – you just walk right in or out of any door without any problem. Hasn’t Boyd been watching the show? All joking aside, it  does at least give me a sense of where Boyd’s head is right now. For far too long his been taking orders from a corporation that is just wrong on so many levels. I don’t particularly care for Echo, but I kind of care for the for freedom. And since Boyd still cares, it means that season 1 Boyd is still in there somewhere. Unless, of course, my eyes deceived me.

Best Character: Sierra/Priya

Episode Rating: 7/10

wiesengrund January 26, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Glad you liked the ep. It was also my season 2 favorite at the time it aired.

Re: direction. I take it you haven't seen Epitaph One?

Re: Topher's sudden morals: I think it's a theme that has been gradually established over the course of the show. It has been both pointed out by Echo (for instance when she offers herself for help in "A Spy in the House of Love" or when she touches his heart in "Omega") but also by some developments on his own: For instance, he cares about Boyd and warns him that he's gonna tell Dewitt about the chip in "A Spy…", he seems to at some level genuinly care for the girl in "Briar Rose", he is visibly uncomfrotable with Victor being imprinted with Dominic in "Briar Rose" and he loudly tells Saunders in "Vows" that she doesn't know him, when she confronts him with "You don't care!". (It is still open for debate if he programmed Saunders with "too much computer skills", as she seems to think, so that she is able to hack his computer and find out that she's a doll, also a morally very intersting action, in light of "Belongin".)

So, for me the "Belonging" was just exploring explicitly something that was already hinted at over course of the show. Nice character development.

Roco January 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

I’ve seen it – though granted I may need to watch it again to remember all of the details, but are they actually counting Epitaph One as canon now? As in..that’s the future that ‘will’ happen?

I agree that Topher’s moralistic side has been developed for a while – although I’d say that 2.04 was the first episode were I really believed that it meant something, both to him, and to the direction of the show (fingers crossed, at least).

Amberlee September 16, 2011 at 10:13 pm

I was looking evryeewhre and this popped up like nothing!

Page 48 January 26, 2010 at 9:22 pm

The absence of Ballard was refreshing indeed.

I think Topher has been listening to the self-improvement tapes (mp3’s) on the subway every morning on his way to work. Must have picked them up during the off-season. It’s nice to see our Topher maturing into a semi-responsible adult. And, without giving too much away, Topher’s best days, IMO, lie ahead in the not too distant future. The same can be said for the show itself.

Redemption is better late than never, I suppose, but pity it took cancellation to get this party started.

Roco January 27, 2010 at 10:12 am

At this stage Topher is probably my favorite character (although I still hold out hope for Boyd). Can it really last?

Phoenix January 27, 2010 at 10:40 am

I still feel all sad that I’m practically the only Ballard fan in the world (heh). In any case, I’m particularly glad that you pointed out the case of Adelle DeWitt’s hypocrisy — she’s so caring toward the dolls, and so horrified at what Nolan did…but Priya never signed up to *be* a doll. Sure, on some level what the Dollhouse did was beneficial to her in the long run (or, if she was actually schizophrenic it would be), but that doesn’t stop it from crossing that thin line the Dollhouse treads between slavery and chosen servitude.

I love Victor/Sierra, really, and I actually almost cried at this episode when I realized that he was still sitting there for the entire day, waiting for her. I was far more interested in the Echo B-story than you, but still, Sierra and Victor carried this entire episode and they did it wonderfully.

To address a couple of your concerns:

1) They found out the show was going to be cancelled by the ninth or tenth episode. At that point, they were already trying to wrap the story up. Here’s the thing: Fox was actually quite kind and gave Joss and Co. the chance to finish the story. I’ll warn you: the rest of the second season is very rushed, because it’s telescoping Whedon’s initial “five year plan” into one half a season, but it’s still very good. “Epitaph One” is now completely cannonical (minus one retcon you’ll see in a few episodes) and the overall series finale airing on Friday is titled “Epitaph Two: Return.”

2) That *was* an all-access card. Echo may be able to walk all over the main floor (and, apparently, the garage) without interference but she now has access to everywhere that requires a swipe card (DeWitt’s office, the Rossum office above the Dollhouse, the weapons locker…)

3) The “storm” that Echo is referring to is the Rossum Corporation. If you remember in season one she gained back some of Caroline’s memories of Rossum, and Echo is vaguely aware of who she’s really fighting against. This gets fleshed out in the next episode, but trust me: something bad *is* coming.

Glad that you enjoyed the episode, and I hope you’re ready for a thrill ride because “Dollhouse” is about to gain some “Alias” like tendencies and it gets *really* gripping.

Roco January 28, 2010 at 11:03 am

That’s what gets me about Adelle – she only seems to see the pereived sense of ‘good’ that the DH does for these people. It does make for some interesting ethical and moral debates over what is *good* for us, and whether there *has* to be a conscious choice on the part of the individual. But as you said, slavery (which is what it is) isn’t right on any grounds. Human choice should be a given, but I guess the DH want to play God 😛

1) Thanks for the warning. I’ll *try* to overlook any elements that feel rushed, although I can’t promise to not mention it if it’s overly distracting 🙂

2) Intereeesting! Oh Boyd, what have you done!

3) Hmm, I guess the ‘storm’ is not the kind of supernatural/end-of-times event that I had perceived then? I am intrigued now though..

Thanks for the feedback Phoenix!

David F January 28, 2010 at 7:41 am

One of my favourite episodes ever of dollhouse along with Epitaph One and The Left hand, and easily the most emotional. Dichen you are amazing and well done for trying to catch up, thats some integrity from you even if i think you try to dislike the show sometimes.

Roco January 28, 2010 at 11:06 am

Dichen was indeed good in this episode – which actually makes me realise how sparingly she’s been used up to now..

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