Friday, February 20, 2009

Dr. Horrible Series, Chapter 2: The Death of Penny (and Billy)

Read Chapter 1 first!

To pick up where we left off... In a very literal way, Penny’s death creates Dr. Horrible, because her death is the death of Billy. “Here lies everything / the world I wanted at my feet / my victory’s complete” he sings over her body. The tears in his eyes and pained, stunned expression on his face draw the audience through a flashback of former scenes in our minds; Billy fantasizing of ruling the world together with Penny, Billy considering forgetting about the Wonderflonium and pursuing her to continue their conversation, the two eating frozen yogurt together at the Laundromat. Whedon doesn’t have to create a traditional montage to make the audience relive these moments because Neil Patrick Harris’ brilliant acting coupled with the moving score do it for us. The incongruence in the words mimics our own stunned surprise.

If his victory is complete, how can the world he wanted be at his feet?

It can because the world he wanted was symbolized in Penny; change, hope and goodness. These are the things he’s been saying are missing from the world all along; “any dolt with half a brain / can see that humankind has gone insane / to the point where I don’t know / if I’ll upset the status quo / if I throw poison in the water main”. In tragic irony the death of the world he wanted catapults him to the victory he was working for.

A death is just what Bad Horse has asked for, and so Dr. Horrible has attained the goal he has been seeking throughout: admittance to the Evil League of Evil (“ELE”). This victory is a transformation (both figuratively and literally before our eyes); Dr. Horrible dons a new outfit (blood red, significantly) and finally pulls down over his eyes the goggles he has been wearing throughout but never actually used.

Billy is dead.

Or is he? The final shot leaves us with some ambiguity here, with Dr. Horrible finishing the last word of his song back in his apartment, on his blog; he is Billy once again, looking sad, stunned, and alone, not victorious at all.

This scene once again mimics the audiences’ feelings, as we sit at our own computers and sift through our feelings at the films end. It is impossible for us not to feel somewhat torn as well, as we have been identifying with Billy throughout the film. We start and end with him addressing “us” directly through his blog, the story unfolding from his perspective, and the camera almost always at an eye-line view, often in intimate close-up shots of his face; our “gaze” is sutured to his (Mulvey).

So, are we meant to be sad for the loss of Billy’s hopes? Or should we be happy for Dr. Horrible’s resounding victory over the loathed Captain Hammer and entry into the ELE? This brings us back once again to the possible metaphoric message in the ending, but first I think it is important to interrogate what the dueling Billy/Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer represent as symbols of masculinity.