I'm back with reviews of Instinct and Belonging.
I touched on this briefly in my review of Belle Chose, but I have a hard time figuring out why this episode was left out-of-order when Season 2 was released on DVD, because Echo's character arc and the evolution thereof really doesn't make nearly as much sense as it does when this episode is viewed in the order it was shot as opposed to the order in which it was originally aired.
This episode is really the first opportunity we have to see Paul actively filling his role as Echo's handler, but we really don't see him serving in that capacity in the same fashion as we'd seen Boyd and other Handlers do in previous episodes. In fact, most of Paul's role as Echo's handler in this episode is conveyed through his interaction with Topher and in his conversation with her at the conclusion of the episode, which really isn't so much about their relationship as it is about his goal of taking down the Dollhouse from within and freeing her and everyone else.
As I was watching the episode, it dawned on me that this is really the first episode of the series not to feature a 'B' plot, which actually makes a lot of sense and works very well given the structure of the episode and its 'A' plot, which is entirely driven by and focused on Echo, with Eliza Dushku delivering what I think is her best performance of the series to date, with a standout scene sequence for me being her confrontation with Nate Jordan in his kitchen as the 'wiped' Echo.
Ratings-wise, I give this one a 9.7, and reiterate that I'm really not sure why it wasn't restored to its proper place on the DVD because it wouldn't have been nearly as good or resonant had I watched it in the order in which it was originally aired.
I said back when I reviewed Echoes that I'd fallen in love with Topher Brink's character, and this episode only reinforced that. Fran Kranz knocked one out of the park with his performance in this episode, proving that he's more than just the 'funny guy'.
Dichen Lachman was also excellent in this episode, particularly in the shower scene with Victor and in the episode's closing moments with Topher.
Previous episodes of the series have dealt with and featured interconnected story threads or character elements, but not to the same degree as this episode, and never without an accompanying 'Previously on Dollhouse' recap segment. I was particularly struck by the very subtle reveal that Sierra being chosen to be the 'avatar' for Topher's birthday companion in Haunted wasn't as random as it might've seemed; there's a bond between the two of them that, like Sierra's connection to Victor, goes deeper than anything that the Dollhouse's technology can reach, and this episode makes that crystal-clear by showing us that Topher is actually more or less responsible for her being in the Dollhouse in the first place. The episode also evoked for me echoes (no pun intended) of the scenes between Saunders and Topher in Vows, and Topher's connection to Siera as explored and revealed in this episode actually seems to be on many levels the antithesis of what we see with regards to him and Saunders/Whiskey in that episode.
If there's one thing I disagreed with about the episode, it's Adelle's insistence that Topher has no morals; I don't think it's consistent with what we've been shown about his character through the course of the first season and the first 3 episodes of this season, and, if anything, is totally at odds with the depiction of his character in those 15 episodes.
The 'B' plot involving Echo was seemingly inconsequential and unconnected to the rest of the episode, which was about revealing Sierra's past and exploring her connection to Topher, but this isn't the first time that an episode of Dollhouse has featured a 'B' plot that didn't seem like it had much to do with the 'A' plot yet still managed to tell us things that are important in the grander scheme of things, which is exactly what happens here. The most significant things for me about Echo's role in this ep are the fact that she instigated Topher's investigation into Sierra's repeated engagements with Nolan, and that she revealed the fact that she's more or less lucid to Boyd.
I was also struck with the thought that, as originally aired, Echo's role in this episode really needs to be viewed directly on the heels of her character arc in Instinct, which only adds to the confusion as to why the correct order of things wasn't restored when Season 2 was released on DVD and Belle Chose and Instinct were left out-of-order.
I'm giving this ep a 9.8, and it's currently my favorite of the season.