Monday, October 26, 2009

Dollhouse: Season 2, Episode 4 – Belonging (2009) – Review

Belonging engages, examines and enthralls – not only that, it also features artistic style and fine performances. At the heart of the episode is the nature of morals, and how they transcribe action within a person (or inaction); do morals only suit us when they are easy, can they be justified away just as easily – these  are among the tough questions that Dollhouse is constantly exploring, and what makes it a captivating series, despite its issues. Here, Topher and Adelle must question their own morals and motivations to why they work at the Dollhouse, questioning their justification and then determining their course of action in the face of what they must do. The episode is also alive with touching moments juxtaposed to violating, if not disturbing, moments – wrenching the viewer in, almost mandating attention – strengthening the viewer’s attachment to the characters. While this chapter does not push the story forward in buckets, Echo still remains on her awakening, it lets us get a chance to see the characters a little better, to know them (which the viewer needs to legitimately take a real interest), while setting up what is to come. Character development, especially that of the dolls, is an issue the writers have been working through, and getting to see the back-story of Sierra give a lot of insight into her and allows us to make more of a real connection. The writing team of Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (co-writers of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) turned out a wonderful script and Jonathan Frakes (that’s right, Commander Riker!!) excels in the director’s chair. Often, on TV, directors coming into a show to direct an episode (aka they are not part of the regular crew or production staff) are limited in their creative options as the show has a set tone and style, and even worse a mandated broad appeal, which leads to episodes being done in a straight forward manner (not to say there is anything wrong with it, rather to say that artistic creativity is stifled a bit). With Dollhouse, though there certainly is distinctive tone and style to the show, the show has an abundance of freedom, which (oddly) comes from the show’s small budget and dedicated, if not small, fan base (as it is made cheap for a specific audience of fans with viewers outside this assumed base being a bonus), as well as Joss Whedon’s desire to push the boundaries a bit. Frakes does take advantage, as he shoots quite a beautiful episode despite the nature of the material. He succeeds skillfully at connecting the emotion on the screen with the view through his visuals (the shot of the silhouette against the painting is perfect). In the darker scenes, there is almost no color (minus the painting); gone is the gloss (righteousness) of season one, welcome to the next in the series of events that leads to the downfall of humanity (the world of Epitaph One). The performances continue to get better on the show; in Belonging, Harry Lennix, Olivia Williams, and especially Fran Kranz are terrific. Episode star, Dichen Lachman, is given more work and handles it admirably, furthermore Vincent Ventresca is strong in his guest appearance (he does scary well), as is Keith Carradine in his brief scenes (but what else would anyone expect having seen him in Deadwood or Dexter). The score of the show continues to be solid and there is a song (which sounds to be) composed by Jed Whedon for the episode that works well. Belonging is about choices, what motivates those choices, and relationships – and to this end, it is phenomenal in its execution. 10/10

Dollhouse can be seen Friday nights on Fox (starting December 4th); episodes are also available on

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