Belonging is a rare episode of Dollhouse which focuses on the supporting cast, especially the character of Sierra. It fleshes out her backstory, which which was first explored in last season’s mediocre episode Needs.
The episode starts with Topher. He looks like he is in bad shape and keeps repeating, “I was just trying to help her” over and over.
The scene abruptly switches to one year ago. Priya, who we know as Sierra, is selling paintings at the beach. Priya is talking with a nearby vendor, who notices that Priya has an admirer. This admirer is Nolan, from the episode Needs. He ultimately walks over to talk to Priya, and offers to commission a painting from her.
Flashing forward, Priya is at a party being hosted by Nolan. She is obviously uncomfortable interacting with the idle rich who are in attendance. Echo and Victor are both there as well, obviously imprinted with personalities designed to help funnel Pryia towards Nolan. In fact, all either of them can talk about is what a wonderful catch Nolan is.
Nolan is across the room talking an executive of the Rossum Corporation. Nolan obviously has some business relationship with Rossum, which is why he gets some leeway with how he uses the Dollhouse. The executive wonders why Nolan is bothering with this elaborate seduction rather than just have the Dollhouse make the perfect woman for him. Nolan scoffs at the idea because he doesn’t want “a Doll”, he wants Priya.
Despite Victor’s tendency talk about Nolan, Pryia is obviously attracted to him right from the start. Bored, Priya decides to leave the party with Victor. Nolan notices this and tries to stop her. When she won’t listen to his pleas, Nolan gets violent. Priya strikes him and tells him, “Nothing in this world could ever make me love you.”
Back in the present day, Sierra is leaving her most recent engagement with Nolan. He kisses her passionately, before taking a picture of her. After Sierra leaves, Nolan dumps the picture in drawer, filled with a pile of photos he has taken during their previous engagements.
Back at the Dollhouse, the Sierra and Echo are painting. Sierra is painting a bird, which was a motif of her art as Priya. However, Sierra is painting a big black blotch next to the bird. This concerns both Echo and Victor when they notice it.
Echo brings Topher Sierra’s picture. Echo tells Topher that Sierra always comes back sad after her visits with the “bad man”. When Topher pleads ignorance, Echo informs him that he simple isn’t looking hard enough.
Echo’s talk obviously has some effect because shortly thereafter Topher is questioning Boyd about Nolan. Boyd seems bemused that Topher is concerned about this particular client. Topher confesses that Sierra is a special interest to him because she was a paranoid schizophrenic when she came in. She was an interesting case and he was pleased because he was able to “help her” using his technology.
Boyd seems more concerned with the fact that Echo is the one who brought the painting to Topher’s attention, as he obviously sees that Echo is developing beyond her default state. When it becomes equally obvious that Topher is not going to pick up on his true concerns, Boyd tells him to check into Dr. Saunder’s files on Sierra.
Dr. Saunders did notice the dark shapes on Sierra’s paintings. Unfortunately, she seems to have brought her own prejudices to the table, as her report concludes the dark shape represents Topher Brink.
Echo stumbles upon Victor gathering up all of the black paint because Sierra “doesn’t like that color.” He wonders if it is wrong, but Echo tells him to “take them all.” Boyd notices this from the balcony and does not seem happy about it. He seems even more concerned later when he notices her reading a book.
Topher is investigating Sierra and realizes that she was not psychotic when she was initially brought in. Instead, she was on drugs that made her appear to be psychotic. He tells Boyd and Adele about the situation.
Now that she is aware of the full situation, Adele brings Nolan in and hypocritically berates him as a “raping scumbag.” She tells him he will never lay a hand on Sierra again. Nolan is unfazed by this and tells Adele that she will imprint Sierra for him permanently, if she wants to keep her job.
It appears that Nolan is right to be confident, as Adele receives a dressing down from her superior Mr. Holland. When Adele refuses to permanently imprint Sierra on moral grounds, Mr. Holland casually confronts her with her Ms. Lonelyhearts indiscretion with Victor, the hypocrisy of her high moral ground in the first place, and ultimately threatens her with an “early retirement”.
Sierra comes upon Victor attempting to wash all the black paint down the drain in the shower. When Sierra asks Victor what he is doing, he admits he is doing it because she “doesn’t like that color”. She takes the opportunity to playfully paint some of it on his face, saying he looks like an Indian chief. He reciprocates, but unexpectedly has flashbacks to being in a war. Victor collapses in the shower while Sierra tries to comfort him.
Topher is, somewhat surprisingly, very opposed to permanently imprinting Sierra. A somewhat drunken Adele tells him they have no choice. She also tells him that everyone in the Dollhouse was chosen because their morals were compromised in some way, everyone but Topher. He was chosen because he has no morals. Adele tells Topher that he has always seen people as playthings. While he has always taken good care of his toys, Topher will just have to let this one go.
Boyd is searching Echo’s sleep pod and finds where she has hidden a book. More importantly, he sees she is using a leaf as a bookmark. Not being a fool Boyd quickly realizes this means that she can remember things. Boyd’s investigation is interrupted by a phone call from Adele. She is concerned that Topher is not going to follow orders and is dispatching Boyd to make sure Topher does as he is told.
Boyd leaves immediately so he doesn’t notice that Echo has scratched notes to herself about her previous engagements.
Nolan comes to pick up his newly permanently imprinted Sierra. He takes her home, where everything seems to be going well at first. However, it is soon revealed that Topher has imprinted her with her original personality and Pryia is there to get her revenge.
Boyd confronts Echo about her reading. She initially makes up some lame excuses but Boyd bluntly asks her when learned how to lie. Boyd cautions her that she is playing a dangerous game, pushing the other actives and staff into action. While he is willing to turn a blind eye, others might notice and take action. Echo makes no excuses. She says that a storm is coming, and everyone will have to wake up if they want to live through it.
Back at Nolan’s penthouse, Pryia taunts Nolan. She talks about how she doesn’t remember anything about him, but that she somehow managed to fall in love with someone else, even in her brainwashed state. Nolan gets violent and the two struggle. In the end, Pryia stabs him to death with his own knife. Standing up, her shadowed form appears as a “black blotch” against the painting Nolan initially commissioned for her.
Topher receives a call and rushes to Nolan’s penthouse. He finds Pryia bloody and sobbing in a corner. Boyd arrives onsite, having intercepted Pryia’s call. Boyd quickly and efficiently begins covering up the crime and disposing of the body. This eventually brings us back to the opening sequence where a horrified Topher is using a hacksaw to dismember Nolan and dump him in a bathtub full of sulfuric acid while repeating, “I was just trying to help her.”
Boyd calls Adele and tells her that Nolan has apparently left the country, but for some reason has not taken Sierra with him. Adele seems suspiciously unsurprised by this turn of events.
Back at the Dollhouse, Pryia is obviously traumatized by her experience. She sees Victor walking below Topher’s office and realizes that he is the man she loves but has never met. In the end, she submits to being wiped but asks Topher to “delete this day, if you ever bring me back”.
Back in the sleeping pod area, Echo finds Boyd has returned her book. Instead of a leaf as a bookmark though, it has an all-access keycard with a note that says, “For the storm.” As the shot pans back, it shows Sierra and Victor are lying together in one of the pods.
This was probably the best episode of the season so far. Some of the high points:
I loved Adele’s hypocrisy in this episode. She really seems to drink her own Kool-Aid about the Dollhouse and is always devastated when the reality of what they do is thrown in her face. She also seems to have a disturbing tendency to turn to drinking when this happens.
Harry Lennix reminded me why he is my favorite actor on Dollhouse. Probably my favorite scene in this episode is when Boyd questions Topher about Echo giving Topher the painting. Topher completely doesn’t realize what Boyd is concerned about, but as viewers we do. Harry Lennix conveys a lot in that scene just using his tone and body language.
Unlike the previous three episodes I was pretty happy with Eliza’s portrayal of “default” Echo. Hopefully this is a precursor of things to come.
Victor taking away all of the black paint was an awesome scene. The shower scene was also well done. His flashback to the battlefield makes me wonder if he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and, like Sierra, he was taken out of a mental institution.
The scene of Topher freaking out while Boyd has him dismembering Nolan’s corpse is also a great one. Although Topher makes a good point that this kind of work seems disturbingly routine to Boyd.
The ending scene where Echo discovers a keycard in her book was well done. Although I am not why she needs it since she already seems to be able to walk in and out of the facility at will.
I thought Topher’s concern for Sierra’s well-being was a bit of a stretch. This is the same guy who told Boyd in season one to think of the actives as pets, not children, because if your child talks, you are proud, but if your dog talks, you freak out.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for character development. I just think this was a bit too much a bit too fast. I might of been more willing to make the leap if he was initially interested in Sierra’s case because he realized he had made a mistake on reading her brain scan and was only drawn into it emotionally once he found out how horrific her situation was.
While this wasn’t as good as Epitaph One or Briar Rose, this was a very strong episode. I was initially going to give it a 4.5, but what the heck?
5 out of 5 dolls