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Remembering "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" (2008)


Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is a miniseries that aired for free in 2008 on the internet. It was created specifically as free content by Joss Whedon and his associates during the Writer's Strike to prove a point. Ironically, it has been removed almost completely from the internet, except on Vimeo.

To be clear, I am not a fan of Joss Whedon, and no sane feminist (gasp! the F word!) would be. But I do enjoy this miniseries and always have.

Here's why.

First of all, I LOVE MUSICALS.

I can't stress that enough.

It's odd because most of the films I review here aren't musicals, but I really love them. And the music in "Dr. Horrible" is fantastic.

All the tunes are so catchy that you can't help but sing along -- thus, the name.

I think my favorite songs are probably "My Freeze Ray," "Penny's Song," "Brand New Day" . . . Hell, I might as well just say all of them. I love all the friggin' songs.

"Everything You Ever" when Penny dies* is probably my absolute favorite song because it shows Dr. Horrible's full transition into darkness and it's just so tragic.

Which brings me to the other things I love: the characters!

*If you complain about spoilers on eleven-year-old content, I will just delete your comment and happily skip along.

I am -- or was, since I quit -- a novelist. I specialized in writing long and drawn-out pieces. I never quite could get the hang of writing short things, like short stories and plays, so I have a lot of admiration for people who can.

Despite the fact that "Dr. Horrible" is a very short mini series, the characters are all pretty interesting and well written, just like in any short medium.

Dr. Horrible in particular -- naturally, being the main character -- has a decent amount of depth to him.

Billy/Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) is interesting in that he's actually the villain of the story but sees himself as the hero.

Dr. Horrible is a Nice Guy who thinks he's a nice guy.

He has a crush on a woman named Penny, but instead of approaching her and politely asking her on a date (like an emotionally mature and sane individual), he stalks her at the laundrymat, while creepily watching her fold her underwear.

It's implied throughout the story that Penny actually returns Billy's affections (for whatever dumb reason), which is why she eagerly approaches him on the street to ask for his signature on a petition.

It's really just an excuse to politely chat him up because she likes him (this is how it's done, guys. Notice how Penny is decidedly not being creepy). She has given him an opening to start something, and what does he do?

He ignores her and keeps texting so that he can steal from a nearby van (how is he not the bad guy again?) and when he speaks to her, it's mean and condescending.

I hate to use the term "mansplaining" here just because it's become a sort of meaningless buzzword, but that's exactly what Billy does. He proceeds to explain how the world works to precious little Penny, while sneering on her efforts to help people in an honest way, without stealing or killing.

The way he responds to Penny shows how he sees her. To him, she is a silly little girl who knows nothing and needs things explained to her by a wiser and more logical man. It's a vast amount of condescension, and after watching the scene, it becomes clear why Penny chooses Captain Hammer instead.

Billy probably thinks she chose Hammer for shallow reasons (his physique, etc) when in reality, she chose Hammer over Billy because Billy is an asshole.

Dr. Horrible also can't seem to grasp that he's a danger to Penny. His actions in the first act while running a heist almost get Penny killed.

And yet, he shows a shocking amount of cognitive dissonance by blaming Captain Hammer. It was Billy's actions that led to Captain Hammer's wild antics with the van.

The entire scene is a foreshadowing, depicting how the thoughtless and self-centered actions of both Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer ultimately lead to Penny's demise.

That isn't to say that Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) is perfect.

He starts dating Penny mostly to hurt Dr. Horrible and because he thinks she's pretty. He doesn't really care about her as a person and has no interest in her beyond sex.

He pretends to care about the homeless and pretends to care about Penny. And since women aren't mind readers, Penny falls for it -- at first.

Captain Hammer is every bit as much an asshole as Billy/Dr. Horrible. He's just really good at hiding it.

Through her song, aptly named "Penny's Song," Penny reveals that she's had a very difficult and lonely life.

The song provides a key amount of character development, as it neatly explains why she has chosen to stay with Captain Hammer, determined to see the good in him, even if there's not much good there.

It's because Penny wants desperately to be happy and is tired of things in her life going wrong. She tells Billy how she got fired from a job, and the rest of her song seems to imply that she's had a very hard time.

What makes her so remarkable is the fact that -- even in the middle of her own shitstorm -- she is still trying to help the homeless.

I wouldn't be surprised if Penny hadn't been homeless herself once. So she would understand that what the homeless need isn't some vigilante on a crusade to replace the current evil rulers with new evil rulers.

What the homeless need is kindness, food and shelter, access to mental health facilities, access to rehab facilities, help finding work.

They need to be taken care of because society has failed them. Overthrowing and resetting society is a long, slow process, and what are the homeless supposed to do in the meantime? Be homeless?

Penny understands the importance of helping others through actions of love and care, and it actually makes her the wisest person in the series.

At the same time, however, Penny (Felicia Day) is still a flawed human being.

Upon her death, her last words are, "Captain Hammer will save us."

Right to the very end, Penny is determined to see the bright side, even when things are really bad. This isn't being strong and choosing to be happy (which is a different thing entirely) -- it's a straight-up denial of reality.

She chose to see the good in Captain Hammer rather than leave him and find something better, because acknowledging that he was actually a crappy human being was just too painful.

Think about it. To acknowledge reality, she would have to acknowledge the fact that Captain Hammer just used her for sex and really didn't care about her at all.

So in the end, Penny wasn't so much naive as in denial and striving against all odds to fake her happiness. What she needed to do was acknowledge reality, leave Captain Hammer, and look for the kind of love and happiness she deserved.

During the song "Brand New Day," Penny muses on the fact that Captain Hammer isn't a great guy, and even though he's learning better ("I guess he's really okay"), she should "stop pretending." She's aware of what's going on. She just can't seem to face it.

Dr. Horrible doesn't seem to understand that about Penny. When she has died, he still sees her as a sweet and naive little girl who wasn't remotely aware of the darkness surrounding her, and it's obvious in the lyrics he sings:

"So your world's benign.

So you think justice has a voice,

and we all have a choice.

Well now your world is mine.

And I am fine . . ."

The last line shows that, ironically, Billy winds up living in denial.

A lot of people don't seem to get the ending. They say things like, "Why should we feel sorry for Dr. Horrible? He's a terrible person!"

That's kind of the point.

Dr. Horrible was a terrible person and did terrible things. He tried to justify it by pretending it was for the "greater good," but in the end, his true colors show: it was for himself all along.

The second he is handed power, rather than make Penny's death matter by overhauling "the system" to help the homeless (and, I dunno, maybe create social equality across the board?) he uses his power to steal money from the bank, party, and hang out with fake friends.

He thought having power would automatically mean he could change the world for the better. Instead, power corrupted him. It shows that he was the naive one and was just projecting that onto Penny.

In the very last shot, we see how gaunt and miserable he is. He paid a high price to get the power he craved, only to discover that he didn't have the moral foundation to actually wield it responsibly.

Now he lives in perpetual hell, knowing that he is not the hero, that he is actually horrible, and that he killed his crush for nothing. It is the perfect punishment for him.

We aren't supposed to pity him.

© 2019 Lee

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