Every time I see a new Dollhouse episode, I go into it with the kind of high expectations that can only be cultivated by years of seeing the caliber of material that goes into a really good episode of a Whedon series. I turn a blind eye to the year spent suffering through season six of Buffy, choosing instead to look fondly back upon “Once More with Feeling.” In my memory, there was not a single episode of Firefly that was anything less than captivating and wonderful, even if Fox did just about everything it possibly could have done to ruin the series.
So when my young, naïve self of a week ago finished “Belle Chose” with a foul taste in her mouth, she was quick to lash out at what seemed an imperfect episode: sure, it had some great moments, and it was great to see someone other than Topher get to be funny, but in the end, it just wasn’t Whedon caliber. “Belonging” this week shares no such weakness.
Dollhouse has been hinting at Sierra’s origins not being aboveboard since “Needs” last season, when Victor, Sierra, November, and Echo were imprinted with their own personalities and allowed to find closure for whatever seemed to be causing them to behave in manners that could be dangerous for the Dollhouse. In this episode, we see more of the man responsible for Sierra being in the Dollhouse in the first place, and it isn’t pretty: Nolan Kennard, spoiled rich benefactor of the Dollhouse, who was obsessed with Sierra, got rejected, and then drugged her into a state of paranoid schizophrenia.
We discover that Sierra has been going on engagements wherein her imprint is herself – Priya – but with one crucial difference: she is actually in love with Kennard. Upon returning from one such engagement, Echo brings one of her paintings to Topher, setting off the chain of events that eventually leads to Topher making the discovery that Kennard had fooled the Dollhouse into accepting Sierra as an active. DeWitt confronts Kennard and he gives her an ultimatum: “Imprint her and have her to me by the end of the day and I’ll see to it you keep your job.”
With no other choice, Topher (in the midst of his first ever moral crisis) imprints Priya and sends her off to Kennard, where she confronts him about his kidnapping and repeated rape of her. They fight, and she wins – even without any special ninja skills – when she kills him by stabbing him repeatedly in the chest with a steak knife. Topher discovers her cowering in a corner covered in Kennard’s blood; not a moment later Boyd Langton walks in and they begin the cover up, wherein we see some hints at Langton’s having a troubled past, some kind of criminal connections, and an awful lot of hydrochloric acid. Langton and Topher dispose of Kennard’s body and then bring Priya back to the Dollhouse.
While all of this is going on, Langton confronts Echo about having observed that she has regained her ability to retain memory while in her blank state. She tries to lie, but Langton presses her – warning her that ‘waking up’ the other actives is only going to end in trouble – and she tells him that a storm is coming. Langton warns Echo to be careful about giving too much away. Others will not look as kindly upon her newfound abilities as he does.
At the end of the episode, a re-imprinted Sierra rejoins Victor, who has been waiting in the same place for her in the kind of heartbreakingly devoted fashion one might expect to see from Fry’s dog, and they head off to sleep snuggled in the same floor cubby. Echo opens her book to discover an all-access keycard folded inside a note that refers to the earlier conversation about the storm coming in the dollhouse.
This was my favorite episode of Dollhouse yet. It was wonderfully written and acted, and disappointingly it comes right before a hiatus that will take us all the way through November sweeps (after which it will be back, airing two episodes back-to-back each Friday during the month of December).
This doesn’t bode well for Fox ordering a third season of the show, though they don’t appear to be setting the bar very high for sweeps anyway: instead of new content, they are reported to be showing repeats of Bones during the Dollhouse slot. The optimist in me suggests that if the ratings actually drop in the Friday death slot because of Dollhouse not being on, there might just be hope for the series yet. Meanwhile, Dollhouse continues to show some pretty decent numbers when non-traditional viewing methods such as Hulu and DVR come into the picture, so it looks like fans of the show will have to continue anxiously waiting for a verdict still.
I love you, Dollhouse. Let’s never fight again.