Last Friday's "Belonging": The Best 'Dollhouse' Episode Yet?
Last Friday's "Belonging": The Best 'Dollhouse' Episode Yet?
Days before the latest episode of Dollhouse aired, critics were already saying that it was the series' best yet.  A bittersweet thing, really: it's the last episode before Fox sits the endangered show out for the whole of next month, adding more fuel to the is-it-canceled? fire that's been brewing for the past couple of months now.

I tuned in Friday night, and yes, it is one of the best, if not the best.  And the many others who tuned in with me must agree, or else Dollhouse wouldn't have hit Twitter's trending topics for the first time in, well, forever.

There have been a lot of explanations, really. Some say it's because the focus was on Sierra--and one with a very tragic back story, at least much more than Echo's past as Caroline, the impulsive student activist who pissed someone off. Some say it's because the episode was an ensemble project rather than a one-man job, thanks to more prominent roles for Topher and Boyd.  Some say it's Jonathan Frakes' direction. I'm sure I missed other reasons--maybe the general sentiment is because the show's really, really close to cancellation, that some desperate love has to be given out.

The best thing about "Belonging", however, is the fact that the episode represents a turning point for so many plots on Dollhouse that have been slowly plodding forward since season one.

We all know, from the very beginning--and more so lately--that Echo can remember things, even if her head's been wiped clean of past engagements.  It doesn't need to be established, but in past episodes we've seen that point reiterated again and again, to the point that it seems things aren't going anywhere.  So that twist being put on the back burner gives more time for stories that we've been curious about for the past 16 episodes.

Surely most of us have seen "Epitaph One", the episode many consider to be Dollhouse's best yet, because it put the show's entire premise in a different direction--taking the show's themes of freedom and choice and amplifying them, giving us a glimpse of much bigger things at stake.  Without giving anything away for those who haven't seen "Epitaph One," (and you can if you rent or buy the DVD set): the events that lead to the future-set episode are still unknown. Why Topher and Adelle suddenly have a different stance, for one.  "Belonging" planted that seed. We are heading there.

The Dollhouse's moral implications have long been established, but only in this episode was that elusive question finally answered: "What do we do with it?"  Thus, with Adelle forced to send Sierra on a permanent engagement, and Topher sabotaging it by imprinting the original Priya personality, we get the sense that beyond the prestige or the satisfaction, they can feel bad for what they're doing, too, and they're not willing to bring their nefarious whatnot any further.  And with Boyd pitching in to clean up Sierra's (and Topher's) mess, we get the sense that they're willing to do anything to stop their jobs from being more dangerous than they already are, and everyone at the Dollhouse--including the doctors and the handlers--is just a bit more human than they'd like to let on.

It helped, of course, that Dichen Lachman and Fran Kranz turned in very good performances, ones that bust those initial conceptions: Sierra is just a pretty face; Topher, a socially-inept geek, and pushed the whole show forward. It was a shame that these two were relegated to background tasks as the Echo-Paul story took center stage, and now that we're more or less done with that, we can look at the others, and we realize that their contributions are much more crucial than we might have realized. For one, I felt terrible for Topher, realizing that his actions in this episode was the starting point for everything--in the end, after all, he'd go insane.  And all that Dichen can do was kept behind the hot-chick curtain until now--remember, she did loads of this in Australia before.

But in the end, how good "Belonging" is served as a bittersweet footnote to what, more or less, seems inevitable: Dollhouse is on its way out, and we might never know the full extent of the complex problems and plotlines that we've seen on the show so far.  Surely there's a lot more in store: the next two episodes that feature Summer Glau (which will air back-to-back on December 4) hint that we'll continue towards the direction "Belonging" bust open. Right now, the best we can do is make the most out of what we have and will have--thank heaven for small miracles--and then be amazed, at least one more time.

- Henrik Batallones, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Image courtesy of Fox)