Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dr. Horrible Series: Chapter 4, The Final Chapter - Archetypal Gender

Now, I have previously stated that Dr. Horrible is “birthed” after Penny’s pivotal death, however, that is a bit too simplistic. If his first pivotal decision is whether to continue in his mission to steal Wonderflonium, his second is the transformation after his confrontation with Hammer over Penny. This transformation is divided into two parts and demonstrated through two different musical numbers, “Brand New Day” and “My Eyes”.

“My Eyes” is a duet between Billy and Penny about their two very different experiences of life after the Wonderflonium heist. Penny is on a date with Captain Hammer, Billy is pouting and stalking her while she is on that date. This is also one of the moments I alluded to earlier, where Whedon hints at the audience that perhaps this story is not quite as light and happy as we might thus far believe it to be. As Billy walks through the streets of L.A., the darkness all around him speaks to his state of mind; “it’s plain to see / evil inside of me is on the rise,” he sings as he sinks away from the light and into the shadows. In contrast, Penny is consistently hit with bright light, often warming sunlight. This dualism is most striking in the two screen section of the duet when both Penny and Billy are on screen in different settings; Penny’s light, Billy’s dark.

“Brand New Day” is also cinematically interesting for many reasons; one being that it is the first time we view Billy from a cinematically “powerful” point of view. Up until then we have related to him on a peer (eye line) level, but as he confronts Captain Hammer the camera is positioned to look up at him, as it was for Hammer on our introduction to him. When we transition to Billy as giant Dr. Horrible there is the added elements of the sunlight glinting off his goggles, we literally “see the light” along with him (an interesting technique which is re-deployed later on in the finale when Dr. Horrible is revealed with the Freeze Ray before he tries and fails to kill Captain Hammer). Coupled with the aggressive, confident lyrics we know the change he alluded to in the earlier song “My Eyes” is indeed underway.

This is also the scene where Billy’s objectification of Penny takes a different turn, as he sings from his imposing super villain chair “she may cry but her tears will dry / when I hand her the keys to a shiny new Australia”. Such a common, sexist, perspective; give women something just shiny enough and they will come to terms with anything. This is not at all far off from Captain Hammer’s arrogant assumption that showing Penny around “the command center” will be the “time of her life” needed to seduce her and attain for himself “what [Billy] wants”. That it is this declaration of ownership of Penny that sends Billy into the fury of his “brand new day” is telling as to his feelings for Penny; she is an object to be had, not a person capable of making her own decisions. To sum up, what the two male characters have in common says a lot about Whedon’s view of archetypal masculinity, which is clearly not very flattering.

So, if Joss Whedon set out to critique mainstream portrayals of masculinity, he did it very well. If Dr. Horrible is meant to be a critique of the power structures we currently operate under through music and comedy, it has done so in an original and intelligent way. It is my argument that this was exactly his goal. Choosing to do so within a medium that provides the opportunity for a level of creativity often stifled in Hollywood has proved the viability of that medium, and I sincerely hope other filmmakers will take up the challenge to turn their own oppositional gazes (hooks) on the industry within which they work and produce their own web content. Perhaps those of us on the outside of that hegemonic network have finally found an effective and easily distributed way to make our voices heard.

Perhaps Penny’s death is not in vain.

P.S. Hubby thought it odd that Penny knew who Bad Horse was, and suggested to me, "perhaps she has an evil twin who is in the ELE". How awesome would that be?? And very appropriate to the "comic book" genre Whedon was pulling from!