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"Belonging" is the fourth episode of the second season of Dollhouse and the seventeenth episode overall. It was written by Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon and directed by Jonathan Frakes. It aired on October 23, 2009.


Sierra is forced to face her past as her connection to the Rossum Corporation leads to obsession and murder.


The episode starts with a blurry shot of Topher panicked and covered in blood, repeating over and over, "I was just trying to help her." There is then a flashback to one year before: Priya is working on the beachside selling paintings. Nolan (first seen in "Needs" as Sierra's abusive client) talks to Priya about her artwork, and encourages her to make him a piece. She agrees, with another artist encouraging her to pursue Nolan romantically.

Later, Nolan is entertaining guests in his home, showing off the commissioned piece by Priya. Echo is on the engagement, talking Nolan up, and Victor is programmed as an Italian art dealer to further enhance Nolan's reputation. This backfires: Despite Victor's praises of Nolan, Priya is far more interested in Victor, who seems to understand and share her artistic passion. Confronted by Nolan at his front door, Priya rejects his increasingly threatening advances and leaves.

Back in the present day, Sierra is leaving Nolan's place after an engagement. He takes a photo of Sierra with Priya's Polaroid camera, and leaves the picture in a drawer alongside multitudes of others from prior engagements.

Back in the Dollhouse, Sierra is painting. She paints a bird surrounded by a threatening black shape. Victor points this out, and Sierra says that, although she doesn't like the color black, she uses it "because it is always there". Echo senses something is wrong, and ultimately takes the painting to Topher, telling him Sierra is being affected by a bad man. Topher initially rebuffs this but, at Echo's insistence, decides to look into it.

Topher goes to Boyd and asks about the client. Boyd is amused at Topher's interest, but gives him information anyway. Topher mentions he helped Sierra, as when she came to the house she was a paranoid schizophrenic. Boyd is curious about Topher's request, and Topher mentions Echo gave him the painting saying something was wrong. At Boyd's direction, Topher examines the absent Dr. Saunders' notes: she initially came to the conclusion that the black "blob" was Topher himself shown as a symbolic force of darkness. Meanwhile, Victor is taking all the black paint from the tables so Sierra would not have to use them anymore. Echo helping Victor in this matter has raised Boyd's curiosity.

Topher has his doubts about Sierra/Priya and he re-examines Priya's original brain scan. He comes to the conclusion that Priya was made to look like she was a paranoid schizophrenic by the psychological drugs that were in her system. In a second, previously uncharacteristic surge of ethical concern, Topher tells Boyd and debates whether to tell DeWitt—who overhears. DeWitt summons Nolan and threatens to banish him from the Dollhouse's services; he responds by demanding Sierra forever, saying that if she fails to deliver, he will use his Rossum connections to have her fired. In the Dollhouse, Boyd continues to supervise Echo and notices her pulling a leaf off a plant.

DeWitt converses with Mr. Harding of the Rossum Corporation. He tells her to do as Nolan says. She protests, but Harding points out her past indiscretions with Victor under the pseudonym "Miss Lonelyhearts". Harding says that her use of Victor for personal reasons is the least of her indiscretions, and tells her once again to do as Nolan says. Back in the Dollhouse, Victor is trying to wash away all the black paint in the shower. Sierra spots this and they share a moment where they paint each other's faces with the black paint. However, Victor has a flashback of his time as a soldier upon seeing Sierra's face, and collapses with Sierra holding him, saying that he doesn't want to take charge.

DeWitt orders Topher to imprint Sierra. She tells him that everyone in the Dollhouse was chosen because they were morally compromised, but Topher was chosen because of his lack of morals: he sees people as toys, and will need to let this "toy" go. Adelle then calls Boyd to make sure the order is done. Boyd searches Echo's pod and finds the leaf used as a bookmark for a novel she has been reading. He leaves to carry out Adelle's order. However, as the pod closes, it is revealed that Echo has etched phrases into the inside of the glass in order to help her remember.

In a flashback, the Dollhouse is looking for a new Sierra. Adelle tells Topher that a 22-year-old paranoid schizophrenic is the target. Topher goes to a mental health facility (run by Nolan) to take Priya to the Dollhouse. Priya states that she has been kidnapped by the facility, and is being poisoned in order to make her crazy. Topher thinks this is a part of her condition, and takes her into the Dollhouse where she becomes Sierra. Back in the present, Topher then imprints Sierra "for the last time" and sends her to Nolan. As Topher puts away the wedge that contains Priya's original memory, Adelle tries to comfort Topher by telling him he had no choice. Boyd is now having a confrontation with Echo. He asks her about the leaf acting as a bookmark, as well as the book she has been reading. Echo tries to shrug this off, but Boyd asks her when she learned to lie. Boyd tries to warn Echo about her behavior and how she is pushing the staff and other Actives. Echo replies that a storm is coming, and the actives need to wake up because she wants everyone to survive.

Sierra is now at Nolan's place. However, she soon reveals that she is not his fantasy imprint but rather Priya, aware of what he has done but without the specific memories of her imprints. Nolan tries to rationalize gaslighting her by drugging her into insanity and helping to force her into the Dollhouse against her will so that he could sexually assault her repeatedly by claiming that in all of her imprints she enjoyed every second they had together. But Priya mocks him, calling him out for his brainwashing and saying she doesn't remember any such time when she liked him, and is actually in love with a person she has never met. The confrontation begins to get heated, and Nolan tries to kill Priya. However, Priya knocks him down, making him drop his knife, and grabs it before he can reach it; enraged, she kills him with multiple stab wounds. Topher and Boyd arrive shortly thereafter and begin covering up Nolan's death. Boyd instructs Sierra to pack a suitcase of Nolan's belongings as if he had run away, while he and Topher dispose of the body. Topher says he was just trying to help her (start of the episode) and Boyd replies that he had a moral dilemma. Boyd calls a friend in the police department to make Nolan disappear and then tells Adelle that Nolan left in a hurry and never took Sierra with him. Adelle seems pleased, and leaving it ambiguous whether or not she can see through Boyd's cover story.

Priya, back in the Dollhouse, is talking to Topher. She expresses her frustration at the nightmare she has been living and how Topher was supposed to help her. Topher apologizes and tells her he was deceived. She spots Victor and asks if her love for him is real. Topher says it is and that he loves her back. Priya then voluntarily gets into the chair to be wiped. Topher expresses his regret in not just letting her go free, but Priya says she would have gone to confront Nolan anyway. She then asks Topher, that if she is ever to be awoken again, that he not bring back memories from this day. Topher promises to do so. Priya asks if Topher can keep their secret. Topher says he can, but he's not sure he can live with it. He then wipes Priya's memory, and Sierra goes back to her Doll state.

In the final scene of the episode, Echo is seen in the middle of the pod room. In her book she finds an all access pass given to her by Boyd with a note saying "for the storm." Sierra and Victor are sleeping in one of the pods together.


Main cast[]

Recurring roles[]

Guest starring[]

  • Clyde Kusatsu as Dr. Makido
  • Carlease Burke as Pam
  • Mike Cochrane

Background Information[]


Principal photography went from August 25 to September 3, 2009.



""Belonging" is the most touching, heartbreaking episode that Dollhouse has produced to date."
E! Online Recap

""Belonging," which airs Friday, is one of the most emotionally compelling hours the show has ever done. Writers Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon give Dichen Lachman, who plays Sierra, a lot to do in this episode. Lachman does simply fantastic work, but every cast member brings his or her A-game. (...) "Belonging" is an hour that plunges headfirst into the moral quandaries and compromises that reside at the heart of the Dollhouse. It doesn't shy away from the queasier questions about what the dolls are doing during their working hours. It asks pointed questions about who has power, how that power is used and the consequences of using power. But at its heart, "Belonging" is an episode that serves as an "origin story" for Sierra, and as such, it's very affecting."
Chicago Tribune Recap

""Belonging" is (in a very unpedantic way) a genuinely radical feminist plotline, a truly unsettling metaphor about "false consciousness," the social condition that results when someone is convinced to crave something they don't in fact want at all. The moment one Dollhouse character shifts from one type of slavery to another is almost too hard to take."
New York Magazine

""Belonging" isn't just a platform for Lachman to play at least three different versions of her character. It's one of those episodes that delves into the most compelling and disturbing aspects of the series, specifically the point at which the show's treatment of female characters branches away from the way the Dollhouse itself exploits women. As we learned last season, Sierra was basically sold into slavery in the Dollhouse and in "Belonging," we find out how and why. In the early going, Whedon and Dushku declared that part of the show's goal was to make viewers uncomfortable and "Belonging" is one of the rare times that the show has achieved that objective."
HitFix Recap

"It’s easily the most compelling, surprising and emotionally turbulent episode so far this season, always challenging one’s perception of what’s real and unreal, of who’s a hero or villain or merely a tragic pawn in a deadly game."
TV Guide Recap

"This is I think the best of the second-season episodes so far. Soon after it begins a piece of information sets in motion a crisis far greater and far more interesting than any active's malfunction."
Ain't It Cool Recap

"Though loaded with well-orchestrated twists and turns—it was scripted by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, the writing team responsible for “Epitaph One”—the episode goes deep into the fundamental ickiness of the Dollhouse itself and the complicated people who operate it and are offered up for hire. I know some have expressed frustration about all these slippery identities and nobody on Dollhouse being as they seem (hello, Zack Handlen) but I think episodes like “Belonging” (and certainly “Epitaph One”) go a long way toward expressing the tragic insidiousness of a place where everyone is a victim of some kind or another."
The A.V. Club Recap

"This episode certainly delivered a lot to chew on. In many ways, it is superior to almost every other episode of the show so far, and certainly has some of the best material Dollhouse has yet delivered."
IGN Recap

"It's somewhat ironic that upon news that Dollhouse is going on something of a hiatus and will likely not be back next year that it delivers one of the best episodes of its run."
TV Squad Recap

"The episode was great, to say the least. Despite her reluctance to play herself on-screen, Lachman broke out here. The episode also added even more to the lore of the romance between Victor and Sierra."
LA Times Recap

"Best episode of Dollhouse ever. Major, serious kudos to Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon for tapping into the true potential of this series as they delivered a compelling back-story for Sierra"
Cinema Blend Recap

"Everyone who's been complaining that Dollhouse pulled a bait-and-switch, showing us a post-apocalyptic world at the end of season one, then failing to revisit it in season two: quitcher bitchin'. We saw the roots of that dystopia last night."
io9 Recap

"For me this episode confirms that even with the best intentions, the idea of the Dollhouse is too traumatic and dark to be dealt with in a primetime show. The need for TV ready confrontations and drama don’t allow for the real human pain and conflict which the situations throw up."
The TV Critic review


"Belonging" reached 2.15 million viewers, a 1.3/2 Rating/Share, a 0.8/3 Rating/Share in the 18-49 demographic and a 0.9/3 Rating/Share in the 25-54 demographic.

The episode received a 1.3 Live+7 Rating/Share in the 18-49 demo, which is a 57% past airdate demo increase via DVR (that's the biggest percentage increase for broadcast TV shows of that week). 36% of all demo viewing happened past airdate via DVR, that's the biggest percentage for broadcast TV shows of that week.


  • This is the first and only episode to share the same title from another Joss Whedon show. An episode of Angel is also called "Belonging".[2]
  • Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) does not appear in this episode.
  • Keith Carradine is billed as a Special Guest Star.
  • Judging by DeWitt's reaction, "termination" likely isn't a simple losing of her job, but possibly her life, or her freedom by being sent into the Attic.
  • Written on the glass of Echo's chamber:
The attic is bad

I was trained to kill

My son killed me

I am a believer

I have a right to survive

My husband bought me a house

Blue skies

I love my baby

The baby isn’t mine

I like ?pain?

Women are whores

?I tried to make shape?

Where is Caroline

I am nobody

Friends help each other

I was blind

Shoulder to the wheel

Ghosts aren’t …

Mountains are safe

Topher makes me …

Dominic was bad.Boy…

November is …

Victor loves Sierra

Sierra loves …



  • When a screener copy of "Belonging" and "The Public Eye" was sent out to TV critics in October 2009, the following letter from Joss Whedon was attached to it:

We're back! With two brand new, never-before-sent-to-reviewers episodes of DOLLHOUSE, the show that's sweeping an unbelievably tiny portion of the nation. This is the year we all just get to have fun: twist the premise, go farther, darker, sillier ... make the whole world our Dollhouse. It's a party, and you're the first to arrive, which means the food's not ready and we're not dressed and who shows up to a party on time anyway? Losers. I mean, best friends ever. ... We really hope you enjoy these. ... Thanks and see you on TiVo! --joss
Reproduced by Sci Fi Wire


"I would no sooner allow you near one of our other actives as I would a mad dog near a child. Given that you’re a raping scumbag one tick shy of a murderer. I can't recall, do you take sugar?"
―Adelle to Nolan
"It's about the power. There's a ton of money in this room, but that's not power. Nolan's a medical genius, shortlisted for the Nobel — That's power. Art is power, because they can't make it. So what if you make Nolan all cute and nervous? Why not ride that a little? Make them think they have the power. Our time will come."
―Imprinted Echo to Priya
Topher: "Aren't we supposed to care for these people? Dr. Saunders would never have allowed...—"
Adelle: "Which Dr. Saunders would that be? The avuncular physician so brutally cut down not five feet from where you were standing? Or the last woman to whom you gave a permanent imprint? The other wounded flower you restored by offering her a new life? Who apparently found you so unbearable, she had to flee the city. Is it that one?"
— Topher and Adelle

Nolan: "What, and you, uh, came to get revenge for a year of loving every minute of it?"
Priya: "Did I love it? Must not have been very memorable."
— Nolan Kinnard and Priya Tsetsang


  • Just as they did with 1x13 "Epitaph One", writers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen wrote a song for this episode too: "Drones". This time Jed sings, and it's heard in the middle of the episode.
  • The song that plays at the end is "Traveling Woman" by Bat for Lashes.

Promotional Photos[]

External links[]

Notes & References[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Seidman, Robert (October 24, 2009). Updated TV Ratings: Dollhouse hits low note; Medium wins with adults 18–49. TV by the Numbers.
  2. There is, however, already an issue of the canonical Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 (#24: "Safe") that shares the title with an episode of Firefly.