Not often can one drop the names of (feminist thinkers) Andrea Dworkin and Catharine McKinnon when discussing a network show, but that is exactly what Emily Nussbaum did over at her blog Surf when discussing last night's episode of Dollhouse "Belonging." And damn if it's not a great read!
Written by Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen and directed by Jonathan Frankes, this latest episode moved away from Eliza Dushku's Echo/Caroline plot (and even benched Tammoh Penikett's Paul Ballard!) and focused instead on the doll Sierra (played by Dichen Lachman) - her backstory which we had glimpsed at last season (namely, Priya-turned-Sierra was taken to the Dollhouse because she wouldn't comply with a valued 'higher-up' of the Rossum corporation which owns the Dollhouse). Discussing the main themes of Dollhouse and how they relate to the Whedon world, Nussbaum tells us that,
As a quasi-fan of the show myself (during its first season it never quite grabbed me though those last episodes, and Epitaph One - the unaired mythic 13th episode, really pulled all the punches and got me back into the Whedon-bandwagon) I am thoroughly enjoying this new season (trust FOX to pull a Whedon and give us a good thing before killing it off!). This is mainly due to the fact that it has truly embraced its ethical ambiguity and exploited it to advance more (and more interesting) questions than any other broadcast show on TV. Through Sierra's storyline - clearly the one that most mirrors the slavery-motif of the Dollhouse, Whedon & co. crafted one of the most affecting episodes dealing with human trafficking and female consent I have ever seen on TV.
With "Belonging," Dollhouse breached new territory for the show, delving deep into the wounded conscience-addled Topher (played by Fran Kranz) - a character who began as a two-dimensional "nerd" stereotype, at once too smart for his own good and too disinterested to care about his dolls, but who has morphed into the character that most self-reflexibly shows us the limits of the Dollhouse's ethics. In one of the most chilling lines of the series, we hear Olivia Williams' DeWitt tell Topher that
"The cold reality is that everyone here was chosen because their morals have been compromised in some way. Everyone except you. You Topher were chosen because you have no morals. You have always thought of people as play-things. This is not a judgement; you alwasy take very good care of your toys. But you're simply going to have let this one go."