Dollhouse 2.4: "Belonging"

A lot of fans have been waiting semi-patiently for this show to address its truly dark core scenario. It’s been touched upon in the past, significantly in “Man on the Street”, “Epitaph One”, and “Vows”, but this episode finally brings it front and center. Everything that is wrong with the morals in “Dollhouse” comes into clear focus, and while there are some semi-heroic actions along the way, it’s clear that self-delusion is still in full effect.

The hints about Priya/Sierra and her background were already dark enough, just from what was seen in “Needs”. Priya had obviously spurned a rich man’s affections, been forced to become a Doll, and then hired for a series of sexual engagements by the man she spurned. So much of what the Dollhouse provides is clearly rape, but Priya’s situation was a particularly hellish spin on it.

Now the rest of the story emerges, and if anything, it’s even worse. Priya really never had a chance to prevent what happened to her. It wouldn’t have taken much for her to be overpowered and drugged, and once that took effect, the deck was stacked against her even more. It’s tragic to see how she was trying to communicate the truth behind her mental condition to Topher, but it just wasn’t getting through to him. It’s almost as if the mindwipe at the Dollhouse was a blessing in disguise, stripping away the awareness of what was being done to her.

But it does make her overall experience in the Dollhouse even more disturbing. It’s easy to forget that she was first brought into the Dollhouse in the series premiere; it feels like she was there for a bit longer. That means that within months of becoming an Active, on top of serving the desires of her rapist, she was also being sexually abused by her handler.

The implications don’t escape Adele, and her reaction is rather interesting. She sees a serious problem with what was done to Priya, as anyone with a shred of moral fiber would. (Even Topher sees the moral bankruptcy of it all. Topher!) But as the Rossum executive rightfully points out, the line is being drawn awfully fine in this case. Setting aside the knowledge of how Priya came to be in the Dollhouse, Adele was still happy to let a repeat customer do whatever he wanted with her.

Adele’s self-delusions have been apparent from the very beginning. She convinces herself repeatedly that the Dolls are performing a necessary and even altruistic service, yet the sex clients alone must represent a substantial percentage of the business. And considering that she was using Victor for her own personal satisfaction for a time, she can’t be blind to what happens. That finely drawn line is an illusion.

Adele also seems to employ quite a bit of transference, along with Boyd. Adele rips into Topher about his complete lack of morals, and how he love to play with the Dolls and use them as unknowing subjects for his experiments. Topher is amoral most of the time, but Adele seems to cut a little deeper in this episode, perhaps to make herself feel better in comparison. As long as Topher is more depraved, she can hinge her self-delusions on the scale of moral relativity.

It’s hard to say how this experience will change Topher. After all, his confrontations with Whiskey in “Vows” seemed to have little or no effect, given how he jumped at the chance to play with Echo’s body chemistry in “Instinct”. This situation was much worse, so one would expect that there would be some lasting consequences. Could carrying this secret around for Priya be one of the triggers for his eventual mental breakdown?

I also wonder if Boyd’s decision to help Echo with her development and eventual resistance is a product of his own guilt. Part of it may simply be due to his time as her handler, but Boyd has always been positioned (along with Paul) as someone who might eventually help Echo bring down the Dollhouse. Is he allowing and fostering Echo’s development and Victor and Sierra’s relationship for those reasons?

It could be that all these irregularities, and Adele’s decision at the top to allow them to continue, is meant to be a plot point. After all, many of these incidents have involved influential members or associates of the Rossum corporate hierarchy. If there are other Dollhouses and a higher reporting structure above them as well, then Adele may soon find herself fighting to retain control of her house. That would introduce a significant external pressure on Echo to become the resistance leader “Epitaph One” suggests she will be.

There is much more to the episode than the moral aspects I’ve mentioned here. The brutality of Priya’s objectification is unforgiving, and Boyd’s solution to the overall problem is graphic as it is pragmatic. It all adds up to one of the best episodes of the series to date.


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Dec 2, 2009 9:28AM EST

It was a terrible show - terrible in the way that it was hard to watch and to imagine the horror - but to an extent, isn't that what the concentration on the sexual aspect of the dolls has been about all the time. Their minds are locked away somewhere while their bodies are being raped, over and over again.I think this was why so many people turned away in the beginning - the idea is actually horrible.But I liked the ending. I liked Topher, I liked Boyd, and I liked Priya. Nice not to have an Echo centered plot.

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