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.


  1. Great analysis, Kazim. I also enjoyed Dr. Horrible but was soured by the ending. Your post has helped me see it in a new light.

  2. 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."

    If the show is to be taken as finished, I agree. I also agree that 'Dr Horrible' won.

    However, I heard that Joss Whedon wanted to make more of these, so I assumed that this was setting up the characters in a position for further adventures. Once 'Dr Horrible' is privy to all the Evil Leauge of Evil's evil plans, do we really think that 'Billy' will allow them to go ahead? This is the same man who has a first-aid poster on the wall of his evil lab! We saw the Dr & Moist robbing a bank, but he's done that before (or 75% at least). Once he's called on to do something truly evil, Billy may rise to the surface and have to stop the leauge, at the cost of the Dr's hard earned status.

    Also, by this time Cpt. Hammer should have enough therapy to be a force for `good` again and start to harras Dr Horrible just as he's trying to be good. The possibility for hijinx is huge.

    However if J.W. is not in fact going to use the characters again then all my speculations are for naught, and it's the end of 'Serenity' all over again (I'm convinced Whedon wrote that while sobbing "If I can't have them, no one can!").

    Good luck with your job hunting Russel.

  3. Saw you commented on my blog being "boring." What topic would interest you for me to write about from the Christian perspective?

    I am up for anything really.

    I have never heard of DOctor Horrible btw.


  4. I don't know. Why are you so concerned about starting a conversation with me if you don't know what to talk about? It's clear that we don't have many common interests, and surely there are other people who share your Bible hobby. It's nothing PERSONAL that I find the Bible boring, you know, just a matter of taste. If you're just interested in striking up a chat, then suggest a topic and I'll let you know if I want to have the discussion or not. You're the one who contacted me, so I shouldn't need to do all the work. :)

  5. First, your post had one great effect: because I *hate* spoilers, and like your blog, I stopped reading at your spoiler space, and went and finally watched (bought, actually) DHSAB. Then finished reading your post.

    My first impression was similar to gav's: It seemed incomplete. The Doc still had some growing to do.

    But it showed one life-transition (to a mad genius) start to finish. Billy Doc had two pressing goals, threatened by an outside force (C.H.): one was a tie to humanity, the other a lifelong goal for reknown. The series was the point where he had to bite the bullet, and commit to one or the other.

    "... the meaning has changed in my mind. Let's not forget that Billy's loss is Dr. Horrible's gain. The Doctor WON."

    Exactly, the doctor won, at Billy's expense. Given that Penny wasn't going to embrace evil, at most *either* Billy *or* Doc could win. They were two conflicted goals playing out their conflict in one character. In a more Hollywood, less Whedon piece, the winner would likely have been Billy. The point wasn't that we cheer for his losing his humanity, but I'm still glad it wasn't Hollywood -- evil isn't good, but it is better for the story.

    And I think Penny *did* see that Captain Hammer was a dick. She figured out / distanced herself from him during his speech. But in the end she knew that, even as a dick, he was about saving the day. Her utterance was less about who she was, and more about that moment needing her to not accept Billy, and push him over the brink.

    So the ending, to me, *was* about Dr. Horrible being emotionally ruined. Deadened (at least to romance). Joss was projecting that, yes, Doc is done with romance for the forseeable future to focus on his career of evil, sort of drowning the pain of his loss in his work. It's practically emo angst. (Something Dead Bowie could relate to.)

  6. I like that analysis. I believe it's right on except, Billy was delusional. He was simply a geeky young man who had a crush on Penny. Captain Hammer was simply the arrogant A-hole she was dating. The story was told from Billy's point of view. So when she was cringing at Captain Hammers comments and easing away from him at the end. That is just how Billy saw it. Ultimately, when Billy thought she was done with Hammer after making an ass of himself Billy went to her to comfort her, only to find out she did not see what Billy saw. That hurt him so he imagined her death. The last scene at the end with him sitting in front of his computer wearing regular street clothes suggests this to me. His whole super villain persona was created in his mind because of his hatred for people Captain Hammer, girls like Penny who rip his heart out, and the world in general.

  7. My original interpretation was that in the beginning, Billy was his reality and Dr. Horrible was this character that he portrayed representing who he wanted to be. We never see Billy on the blog. In the end, he becomes Dr. Horrible and Billy becomes the character.

    But I also noticed in that last shot, the set is completely different. The Dr. Horrible lab is just a little area and is not nearly as sophisticated as it had been and you can see his normal kitchen. It's almost like a prequel moment. So Scott's interpretation might have some merit.

  8. Anonymous5:45 PM

    Hi, kazim. I think you hit the nail on the head with your analysis. I admitt, I was confused by the ending. Actually, for a few minutes I thought that the little 3 second scene showing Billy, sitting in the living room of some ordinary-looking house, signified that it was all some twisted daydream. But that just shows how lost I was... Anyway, there is one thing I disagree with you over. I don't really think that Penny was shallow, I think she was just desperate to have a "happy ending," since (from the sounds of things) her life has been a pretty crummy one so far...
    Um... That's about it I guess. Thank you for making this post, it cleared some things up for me. ^^ I'm just kind of sad that I couldn't come to these conclusions myself.
    (And is it also sad that I was crying by the end of the movie?? lol)

  9. Anonymous5:48 AM

    I don't believe you have it right , I think the whole attitude through the whole movie was that billy was an under dog , never appreciated , so he took on the persona of Dr horrible , but even as Dr horrible he was treated as an under dog , and tho he was being an evil villain , he was actually good , and he wanted to be good , and he saw penny as his way put of being evil and being good , but when captain hammer took her he became more evil trying to get her back until he lost her. one of my basses for this theory is when he's talking to penny
    penny:"sometime people are layered like that , there's something underneath different to what's on the surface"
    billy:" and sometimes there's a third deeper layer, but that one is the same as the surface one"