Friday, October 23, 2009

Paint it black

Dollhouse - "Belonging"


This secret we have...can you keep it?
I can keep it --but I don't know if I can live with it.

The origin of the active Sierra (Dichen Lachman) is revealed, and like many things in the Dollhouse, it isn't what you would expect. And Boyd (Harry Lennix) investigates Echo (Eliza Dushku).

Kudos to writers Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon for a finely crafted episode. They go dark, but also remember to include humor at appropriate moments as a release. It turns out that Sierra was actually Priya a struggling young artist from Australia who sold her abstract paintings on the Venice Beach walkway. She catches the eye of Nolan (Vincent Ventressca) who isn't just one of the idle rich, but a VIP and a medical researcher (and all around scumbag) in the Rossum Corporation, the parent organization behind the Dollhouse. He becomes obsessed with Priya and simply won't take no for an answer. Being a man of shall we say "pharmaceutical means" he manages to drug Priya so that she exibits schizophrenic behavior and is confined to a mental hospital. Priya is brought to the attention of the Dollhouse and becomes Sierra. Soon afterward, Nolan engages Sierra's "services" through the Dollhouse.

Even though the dolls are mind-wiped after their engagements, fragments of memories and feelings remain, and Sierra has been displaying her anger with Nolan in her paintings - simple, crude depictions of things like birds, but always with a large black area. Echo brings her latest painting to Topher (Fran Kranz) who starts looking into Sierra's engagements with Nolan. Later, Nolan threatens to have Adelle (Olivia Williams) fired (and worse) if she doesn't permanently hand over Sierra to him, so she orders Topher to proceed. He does, but not in the way Adelle envisioned.

Meanwhile, Boyd catches Echo reading a book, something Dolls aren't supposed to do in their child-like state. When confronted she tells him that she recognizes some of the words. Also, and more importantly, she tells him that a storm is coming and she wants everyone in the Dollhouse to be prepared for it. Boyd does something unexpected with this information at the end.

Dichen Lachman gives a great performance as Sierra/Priya. She's smart, sexy, funny, confident - you can see why Nolan would want her. Her final scene in the episode with Fran Kranz stands out as some of the best work in a Joss Whedon show, and that's saying something. Kranz shines in this episode as well, showing subtle layers to his performance in both the dramatic as well as comedic moments. Topher has mainly been the "funny guy" in the series, but after this episode we know he is so very much more than that.

I want to call particular attention to Mychael Danna and Rob Simonsen who scored the incredible music in this episode. I especially liked the last scene between Topher and Sierra in the imprint room, where the quotes that appeared at the beginning of this review are spoken. Where the music starts and especially stops is very important in any dramatic piece, and that applies to this sequence. Great, great work here - the writing, music, acting, directing, editing. This is what the Emmys look for (or should).

This episode was directed by Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: The Next Generation's Cmdr. Riker), who really shines when given strong, emotional material. They say film is a director's medium, while TV is a writer's medium, but Frakes puts the lie to that adage. A strong script like this could easily have been sabotaged by the wrong director. Frakes understands how to get complex feelings and emotions across - when to use a close up, when to move the camera, and when to just sit back and let the actors do their thing. His work with Lachman and Kranz here was stellar (no pun intended, TNG fans). I hope he can work in the Dollhouse universe again, and soon (a re-teaming on another script by Miss Tancharoen and Mr. Whedon would be most welcome).

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