Dollhouse: Sierra’s story

KT thinks Dollhouse belongs on her TV.  (Be sure to check out Raked’s post on this episode, too.)

DOLLHOUSE:  2.04 “Belonging”

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful girl.  She sold paintings by the seashore, and when a rich man came by and saw her, he fell madly in love with her and offered to make her a princess.  She said no.  That’s the story as Priya’s friend on the beach might tell it.

Last season’s “Briar Rose” suggested that princes are kind of useless, and that sleeping beauties have to be active in rescuing themselves.  (Or if you really want to get things done, go to a psychotic mastermind?  …Or not.)  But here the prince is worse than useless, he’s downright malicious.

Perhaps malicious is the wrong word for Nolan.  I don’t have a strong read on Nolan’s motives or self-justification other than that he can get whatever he wants — he both has the means to do it and lacks the self-control not to.  Although dangerous and scary as hell, that’s not malicious, that’s being a spoiled three-year-old.  As he was characterized, Nolan wasn’t so much a person as a force of nature, an embodiment of Desire.

At the disastrous art show, someone suggested that artists have power in a way that money and connections cannot buy.  In usual Dollhouse fashion, the episode goes on to make a simple statement turn cartwheels.  On one level, Dollhouse itself is created by artists, to whom we give power simply by letting it take us on a journey of the imagination every week. Within the show, the notion of the artist’s power becomes  the bitterest dramatic irony since we know that Nolan will have nearly ultimate power over Priya for a full year.  But as we find out, Sierra’s paintings lead Topher (with a push from Echo) to dig up the truth, suggesting a communicative power to art that transcends even memory.

Priya’s love of birds seems to not require memory, either, and you’ve probably come up with all the same associations I did.  Free as a bird — which she is not, though we have a lovely glimpse at the beginning of a time when perhaps she was.  But the Sierra we know is a caged bird.  She’s as good as owned by Nolan and by the Dollhouse; she’s a toy of which Topher is particularly proud.  That’s what the title tells us, that she belongs to them, but there’s another level to belonging — the warm, fuzzy kind in which you have a place where you fit in, where you belong.  And while Dichen Lachman absolutely belongs where she can act her heart out, the implication that Sierra belongs in the Dollhouse seems a cold, hard sort of reality.  And yet, as Madeleine suggested two weeks ago, Priya comes to see dollhood as a welcome escape — especially because of her unwipable love for Victor.  They seem to belong together.  As soon as he’s introduced as an Italian art dealer there is a connection between them; even as the restored Priya she knows she loves him, though she can’t remember who he is.

[Continue after the jump]

We knew from last season’s “Needs” that Sierra has a heartbreaking backstory, and knowing all the details didn’t take away from that at all.  And as if to contain all of Sierra’s tragedies in one episode, Topher and Adelle referred twice to Hearn, the handler who abused Sierra until Mellie took him down in “Man on the Street.”  And did anyone else catch their implications that the previous Sierra died in the line of duty? I think that’s been hinted before, but never explicitly stated.  I’d love for that story to come out eventually.

With regard to structure and pacing, I think the episode’s one flaw was in issuing the ultimatum that Sierra might leave permanently.  Despite Joss’s willingness to go for the shocking, permanent game-changing goodbyes, Sierra’s departure would leave the Dollhouse increasingly empty — November’s outside, Whiskey’s out there, Alpha’s Out There Somewhere — and that aspect of the episode didn’t convince me it was serious.  That weakened the middle of the episode for me by giving it a little more “how will they untangle this one?” and a little less real anxiety.  On the other hand, there was plenty to love, and I could write another post on the structure of this bad boy.  This is good stuff, worthy of much re-watching.  And dude.  Dichen Lachman is a star.

Raked talks in depth about Topher in her post, so let’s run quickly down the rest of the cast:

We saw blips of Victor as a soldier in “Echoes” last season, but at the time, it was hard to tell if he was remembering his life or a previous engagement.  Combined with his freak out over taking charge, I’m thinking it was PTSD that lead him to the Dollhouse.

Boyd.  I hope Topher’s unanswered question about how Boyd knew how to clean up Nolan’s murder is a hint that we’ll delve a little into Boyd’s dark past.  He’s a smooth operator.

So is Echo — or at least she’s trying to be.  I wonder what she’s reading.  And did anyone get a screencap of what she had etched in the roof of her sleeping pod?  Also, I love that Echo apparently has always been Sierra’s mother hen — I love the idea that walking in on her imprinting process was what made them “a little bit bison.”  However:  do other actives wander in to chat with Topher like that?

I wonder if Adelle will ever discover what happened here?  Boyd was very convincing.  Plus, wasn’t it Adelle overhearing Boyd and Topher’s discussion that really set off the problem with Nolan?  She seemed uncharacteristically unsubtle this week.

No Paul, no Madeleine, and no Saunders.  I miss them, but I love the depths Dollhouse can plumb when they pull out a few characters and really focus on them.

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6 thoughts on “Dollhouse: Sierra’s story

  1. I agree. I miss Saunders (especially since she opened the season with such a fantastic bang) and November. But the promos show Madeline launching December Dollhouse in a big way.

    This episode turned in the best performances by Lachman, Dushku, and Krantz. In a perfect world this ep would have an Emmy nomination for writing and acting.

    It was interesting that Victor and Priya were attracted to each other while Victor was a doll (and supposed to be “helping” Nolan seduce Priya). So we have a case of previous feelings breaching the tabula rasa state (sierra victor love) and a new evolving conscience (echo can speak figuratively now “taking things into your own hands” “but they’re in my shirt”).

    It interests me to see Topher’s breakdown in this episode knowing his future in Epitaph One. You’d think this episode would weigh heavily on Topher. How does he go from such moral realizations here to Epitaph One?

  2. Writing and acting award-worthy, yeah. And it was visually stellar, too — kudos to Jonathan Frakes, who directed this one. The shot of Priya’s silhouette standing up in front of her painting was particularly haunting.

    Good point about Echo speaking figuratively. Boyd pointed out that she’s learned to lie, but I hadn’t thought to put her figurative language into the same category until you said that. Echo’s gotta be careful with her Omega-powers.

    I’ll look forward to more Madeleine in December! My bet is that either she or Saunders is feeding information to Senator Perrin. I’m looking forward to Saunders’ eventual return as well, now that they’ve set her up with this intense philosophical, almost theological crisis.

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