After the terrifically intriguing phantom finale of the first season, "Epitaph One", it seemed for a few episodes as if Dollhouse is up to the old gimmicky tricks of early season one, pre-"Man on the Street", notwithstanding Victor's (Enver Gjokaj) marvelous turn as Kiki in the third episode. But the fourth, "Belonging", delivers the kind of enhancements we've been expecting, in this case to the character background of Topher (Fran Kranz, Welcome to the Captain), as well as forever discarding the idea that any of them have any absolutely moral choices at their disposal, whatever Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett, Battlestar Galactica) might wish to believe.
"Belonging", then, is a microcosm of the principal themes of the show's story as a unit, emphasized in these episodes as ought to have been done in the first season. First, Whedon clearly isn't interested in providing a righteous path to any of the characters, however well-intentioned they may be; in the end, even Echo and Caroline (Eliza Dushku, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tru Calling) have plenty of blood on their hands, no small part of it of "good" people. Second, the decision to present "Epitaph One" as an inevitable conclusion of the events of the series richly flavors the events throughout the remainder of the series.
Beginning, I assume, around the time of Fox's cancellation announcement, the story freefalls toward the state of affairs in "Epitaph One". We see our heroes, all of them at one time believing they were doing good, become increasingly desperate to limit the shockingly dystopic trends underlying the future development of their society, knowing that they were every bit responsible for the end of the world. There are no quick fixes; even the big action in the penultimate episode can't fix a damn thing. The timing of these episodes is impeccable, and some of the credit must go to the assuredly blameless network this time.
Aside from elements of the first few, the only real weak spots are the last two. With its sharp distinction of protagonists and antagonists, "The Hollow Men", while perhaps necessarily, does a disservice to the tone of the rest of the series. As for "Epitaph Two: Return", the obvious if unfair comparisons to "Epitaph One" do it no favors, and the episode overall carries one too many Whedon finale tropes.
The production budget was lowered this season to save it from the fate of sister cancellee Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but you won't notice. The standing Dollhouse set is just as gorgeous as it was in season one, its fine detail really coming out on Blu-ray. If you mind the extra reliance on bottle scenes over imprint-of-the-week scenes, you're watching Dollhouse for something other than that for which you ought to be watching it.
If you are the sort to giggle with glee when you see one of the Whedon stable actors show up, you're bound to do that several times this series. A similar situation is also effected for Battlestar Galactica fans.
Dollhouse is a unique experiment in moral ambiguity on mainstream network television, and given its lack of commercial success, not to mention Whedon's likely Avengers-driven success in film directing soon to come, we're not likely to see anything else like it anytime soon. So if you're accepting of the abandonment of the visceral on display here, Dollhouse is really the only game in town.