Friday, October 24, 2008

Dragging some more meaning out of "Dr. Horrible"

I have the Dr. Horrible soundtrack on my iPod now, and as I listened to the music again after all these months, I realized that the story had and continues to have a meaning that really resonates with the things that have happened in my life. As I've not written on my personal blog in a few weeks (but I'm still active on, so keep an eye on that too!) it's time to indulge my inner geek with another look back at this wacky little web movie.

This post WILL contain spoilers, but really the movie has been available for months -- what's taken you so long? Go watch it, I'll be here when you get back.

(spoiler space)

Dr. Horrible is a story about change and transition, and it is relevant to me because it was released at almost the precise moment in my own life when a period of major transition started to happen. It's still happening, and if anything the changes are accelerating. My friends will understand what life experiences I'm talking about, and I don't feel like I need to get very detailed. I'm just talking about the movie.

For a while after watching the ending, I just hated it. It made me mad, because Joss Whedon "pulled a Joss Whedon" and killed a major character as usual. In the last scene, Billy appears on camera for about three seconds looking completely lost and forlorn. And I concluded: "He's going to be miserable for the rest of his life, he'll never get over that loss."

But as I've gone and revisited it, the meaning has changed in my mind. Let's not forget that Billy's loss is Dr. Horrible's gain. The Doctor WON. He really did. He achieved his lifelong dream, acquiring fame and respect, no longer being a joke or a dork or a failure.

Just compare the very first moment of the movie - where Billy gives this pathetic and unconvincing giggle as his signature laugh - to the scene where Dr. Horrible freezes Captain Hammer and lets out a full throated villainous cackle. That was a great moment: the scared little joke of a kid has been overtaken by his inner darkness. It's darkness that he was striving to achieve, and he did it.

Far be it from me to say that it's admirable to achieve your lifelong dream of committing crimes on a vast scale and making people fear and run from you. That's totally against what I believe in, duh. But this is the Whedonverse, where values and priorities are sometimes mixed up and turned upside down, and you just have to accept them in context. Captain Hammer was a braggart and a bully, and Billy was an abused underdog who just wanted to make something of himself. That's the way it goes in this story, evil is the new good. Swallow your disbelief and move on.

Let's face it, Penny was a sweet girl -- and I would GLADLY groom Felicia Day any day of the week -- but she was absolutely wrong as a potential partner for Dr. Horrible. Not only was she sweet and caring, which are decidedly Non-Evil character traits, but she also revealed herself to be utterly shallow with her last line, when she still couldn't see through Captain Hammer's persona of coolness and realize that he was a huge dick. Sure, she looked uncomfortable during her scenes with him, but she had plenty of chances to drop the Hammer, and she still chose him in the end.

So Billy looks fleetingly unhappy in the end, and he's got some pain. So what? "Billy" is not the character he wanted to be at all. Billy wanted to be Dr. Horrible right from the start... and he got it. He won.

And is Dr. Horrible destined always to be unhappy and in pain from his inner Billy? I think not! He'll meet other girls. EVIL girls. If power could be an aphrodisiac for a gargoyle like Henry Kissinger, it's gonna work wonders for the doc, who looked totally in his element when he donned the new and improved Evil Suit. Just look at how quickly Captain Hammer's fickle groupies dumped the guy and switched to holding up a picture of Dr. H during the last song. This is not an ending that shows a guy emotionally ruined; this is the triumph of evil -- which in the upside down universe, is good.

I can't help it, I like the ending now. And "Slipping" is a great song that signifies that victory, a victory not quite complete yet, but about to become reality. It's really all about Billy's new winning attitude.

Furthermore, I suspect that my new perspective on the movie IS exactly what Joss and the other writers had in mind. After all, they were going through a major life-changing experience too. They had been poorly treated by the studios, and had taken a very risky stand which involved losing their income for several months. That's a scary thing to do, but it was done with the understanding that it was an investment to ensure that they, and those who came after them, would be better off in the long term because of the writer's strike. Change always means loss, and loss is scary, but it is hopefully a localized loss that will lead to a net gain.

In unrelated (?) news -- wish me luck on my job search. I'm a little scared myself after an impersonal layoff that I couldn't do anything about. Yet I do believe that I'm going to come out ahead, better for the experience, and it won't take very long.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Biden-Palin debate at the Alamo Drafthouse

Keryn and I watched the debate last night at the Alamo Drafthouse, an Austin movie theater chain that serves food and beer. Since, as I expected, the theater was mostly full of cheering and heckling Democrats, the evening was a fun one. There were a few scattered Republicans, and we happened to be sitting near some of the loudest -- a young couple, looked about college age, the girl was wearing a Palin shirt which my sister noticed immediately. Keryn apologized in advance for the expected rowdiness, and they said "No problem, you get used to it as a Republican in Austin." They acknowledged that everyone can yell as loud as they want without anyone's feelings being hurt.

I had pizza, Shiner Bock, and pecan pie a la mode. We also got a large bowl of popcorn, which we would have liked to throw, but there were too many people in the theater of course (it was sold out). We also received free bingo cards when we came in, with randomized spaces saying things like "Ahmadinejad," "Promise not to raise taxes," "Fannie and Freddy," "Hand chopping other hand gesture," and "Palin cries." I didn't expect that Biden would be the only one to cry, but he was.

The screen was tuned to CNN, so we got the little graph showing instant feedback about how undecided voters said they were feeling. I found it kind of mesmerizing on the giant screen, like one of those screen savers you can't stop watching. Biden got very positive results.

Anyway, there was lots of shouting and applause -- when Biden said something good most of the theater erupted, and when Palin said something quasi-Reaganesque there was a little smattering of claps. People audibly groaned every time Palin said "Nukular" or "Maverick," so there was an awful lot of groaning. At one point when global warming came up, the Republicans were shouting at Biden "That's not true! Read a science book!" and I said "There's scientific consensus that he's right in all the peer reviewed journals!" I think that was the closest I came to a brawl. The Democrat on my left started picking up on the way that Palin says "also" all the time, and starting repeating the word in the same accent every time it was said.

I managed to finish the Bingo game pretty near the end, with the square "Biden tries to tell a joke but fails badly." I didn't actually think he had done that, but Palin SAID -- I'm quoting from the transcript -- "In my comment there, it was a lame attempt at a joke and yours was a lame attempt at a joke, too, I guess, because nobody got it. Of course we know what a vice president does." I thought that was good enough to count for the bingo.

My assessment: Palin did not fall down or visibly injure herself. She parroted a lot of lines that Republicans love, including numerous ripoffs from Ronald Reagan. By virtue of this, Palin did better than expected. You can't judge how well she did based on my biased audience, but the voters being graphed on screen also seemed to favor Biden by a lot.

At the end, obviously the little reaction machines got turned off, because the line dropped all the way to the bottom of the negative scale. At least that's what it probably meant, but I also like to pretend that the audience just really hated it when Wolf Blitzer started talking.