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July 22 2008

Horrible Is As Horrible Does. New Republic's Christopher Orr stirs the pot on Joss Whedon's "compulsive needs" and "deep attraction to the tragic."

[ edited by Whedonage on 2008-07-22 00:18 ]

Uhhh... I haven't seen all of Dr. Horrible yet.
*I appreciate you letting me know someone dies, though.*



*Please note the sarcasm.
Whoa, Joss is getting big enough for his own mass media backlash!
Dan Corson, it's still worthy of a view. Nothing can take away from the actors' performances, and I wouldn't believe everything the author said.

Question, though. Since you haven't watched all of it, have you been viewing Acts 1 & 2 compulsively, or were you waiting for Act 3 before watching them all? I'm doing a study (starting now), that seems to suggest the amount of time people spent watching Dr. Horrible affects their reaction to it. Please let me know your thoughts when you've finished. Thanks.
I'm a long-time, avid Whedon fan and I agree with everything the author of this article quite eloquently writes.
demonica, I ask the question, how did you watch Dr. Horrible? And how many times?

Watching it once-through straight, gives lesser meanings & insight than watching Acts 1 & 2 incessantly, watching Act 3, and then going back and watching Acts 1-3 a couple of more times.

If you haven't checked out the discussion for the layers of this great piece, I would suggest skimming over Act 3's thread (located on side-bar under "The Snitch"). There are many interesting discussions on the takes and devices and layers of Dr. Horrible, and it might change your perception (as it did mine and others).
While killing off characters has become Joss' signature move, I feel that most people still feel like they've been punched in the gut every time a lovable character dies. And isn't that a feeling that makes it worth it? If the character's death hurts you, then I believe it was well done. Dr. Horrible's ending was utterly beautiful, in my opinion. The whole show would not have had such a huge impact on me had it not been for the bittersweet ending.
Including death in drama is like including love or revenge or passion or conflict -- without these things, drama lacks drama. Are Shakespeare's tragedies flawed by the deaths that define their final acts?
I do think you can make a point that Dr. Horrible didn't feel structured as a tragedy until the final act. I also think you can make a point that Joss Whedon's work does use death as a storytelling device a little too often. I would disagree, but I'd understand it.

What I can't quite get my head around is the comment that the only thing worthwhile is thus Captain Hammer's song. Even if you don't like the fact that it ends on a downer,why completely dismiss the other songs and moments. Even the people who didn't seem to like the tragic elements seemed to enjoy their first look at the Evil League of Evil.
I second Valentyn's comments. Obviously Mr. Orr is disappointed over how Doctor Horrible ended, and maybe upset because in musicals no one is supposed to die.
Well, anyone seen West Side Story?
Also, notice how the climax to Part III happened...by chance. Also, remember this musical is bascially a first-issue of a comic book series set to music--and quite well-done.
It's intresting that DH is creating a lot of discussion, first with Penny because she wasn't a "well-developed" character, and now this. I wonder when someone will claim the musical actually reflects the current political climate.
Oops, I think I gave someone a wonderful, awful idea.
Korkster, I watched Acts I and II repeatedly, then watched Act III at precisely Midnight Saturday, watched it twice more, trying to get another perspective-but didn't. I never watched all three in a row. I will definately check out the discussions you suggest--Thanks.
This is great....TNR and whedonesque are probably two of my htree most visited websites...so I am getting a dream crossover here...Missing only a reference to the New York Mets...

Anyway, I agree with Orr's critique to an extent. Much of Joss Whedon's greatest strengths lies in his ability to humanize completely fictional and borderline unbelievable characters. But by consistently killing off some of his more human creations, I think there is a risk that, for consistent followers of Joss's work, future deaths may not have the same effect as they otherwise should have....

That being said, I was still shocked by the ending of Dr. Horrible...so I am clearly probably wrong.
I strongly disagree with Orr's take that the turn towards the tragic in Act 3 was too abrupt. Did Orr not *see* the expression on Billy's face at the close of Act 2? Did Orr not pick up on the melancholic hints of doom to come starting with "I will stop the world"?" So he's upset because all the humor lulled him into a feeling of safeness? Oh, I was lulled, too, but I shouldn't have been, especially not if this is some tired old Whedon trope. We whedonverse watchers shouldn't be surprised by generic hybridity and jolts to the psyche. But why is the mixture of the sad with the funny any more tired in Whedonversia than tragedy in Shakespeare? It's Whedon's thing. Artists have things. Some artists like lilypads (that was a funny Joss comment today in the WaPo, wasn't it?) I'm also amazed that Orr reasons that 40 minutes' length should ipso facto mean frothy entertainment. Since when does length have anything to do with anything? Tragedies have to be long and drawn-out? Do they have to be, oh, at least 60 minutes, say?

I'm having a backlash against the mass media backlash (good one, dreamlogic). I don't believe Joss is infallible so it's not that. I don't know. I thought "Horrible" turned out to be a tragedy with comedic moments. That I could not be sure that that is what it was until the very end only makes it better for me. I didn't think it was a light comedy with a bad, mean ending. At this point, I'm a little befuddled by critiques that revolve around how mean and disappointing the dark turn (that was already presaged in Act 1) is in Act 3. If it makes you feel, isn't that something? The critique I'd find most understandable at this point is finding "Horrible" dull or uninteresting. Fine. If it doesn't move you it doesn't move you.

And death? Not tired in this instance. How on earth is it tired to have death in a show about a super villain? What, trying to get into the Evil League of Evil should be free of consequences? Tired of the death trope? It's the nature of the shows Whedon puts out. Shows about villains and heroes and monsters and vampires and fights with crazed, sick people in space - they shouldn't have deaths? Furthermore, death in the whedonverse has visited all kinds of characters, from the sympathetic to the entirely unsympathetic to all shades inbetween. Not all the humane characters die. It's not a one-note pattern.

I wish this were needless to say, but this is all merely my opinion. We all have different ones (although I'm feeling pretty in sync with Pointy and Valentyn and impalergeneral here, except that I thought the deaths at the end of Macbeth were so damned tired. That Shakespeare, always with the tired old death as plot device thing). You can have your opinion and I'll (happily) have mine. This is not an attack on anyone, including demonica, who agrees with Orr. (I will admit to thinking some snarky-mean thoughts about Orr, but hey, I've never been a fan of his even though like Briands84 I'm a fan of tnr, so I come to his piece with baggage.) It's art. I know that different takes is the way it's supposed to be, no matter how vehemently I may argue my pov. I guess I'm feeling pretty vehement today!
I'm just curious... In last weekend's other big release, "The Dark Knight" (major Dark Knight spoilers follow)

If this is too spoilery to discuss here, I understand if I must remove the comment.

[ edited by floofypooh on 2008-07-22 01:47 ]
Floofypooh...I think Orr's Dr. Horrible critique stemmed from Whedon's history (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, etc...)...Whereas the event to which you refer (sorry for the vague language, I don't know how to black out text) is a much more, to borrow a line from Dr. Horrible himself, a "crazy random happenstance."
korkster, here's some info for your newly launched poll. I watched each part as it was posted and downloaded each as it became available. I watched part I twice before I saw part II and part II once before I saw part III. I've watched part III twice. I loved it and thought each episode was better than the one that preceeded it. (And I thought the first was wonderful, so we're talking increasing awesomeness.) I plan to watch the whole thing straight through, but this pesky thing they call "work" has interfered. Maybe tomorrow.
BrianDS84 said: "I think there is a risk that, for consistent followers of Joss's work, future deaths may not have the same effect as they otherwise should have...."

I agreed with that statement as I read it and then came back to it a few seconds later to re-think it. I'm pretty sure that since I've been sucker punched at least 6 or 7 times by Joss' stories and each time, I never see it coming. And I think the reason I never see it coming is because he waits until the story reaches a fever pitch. Then he raises the stakes and drops the hammer. I assume I'll continue to enjoy the pathos. Its hard to shock me, so when he does it so often, you know he's doing it right.

As mentioned by others, tragedy is part of many wonderful pieces. My personal favorite tragedy is La Boheme. While the death at the end isn't a sucker punch (it takes her like 40 minutes to die), its necessary to make the story complete.

I loved Dr. Horrible. I hope it pulls in outsiders to check out the 'verse.
korkster, here's my info for your poll. I watched the first two acts about five times each as soon as they were posted. For act 3, I was too emotionally wiped out to rewatch it immediately. When I returned to it the next day, I watched it about 3 more times as a separate act. It's still painful, but I love it.

I loved all acts the first go-around and loved them even more with subsequent viewings. I especially loved watching them in one fell swoop, start to finish. I've done that once. It works great that way but I found it also worked great in separate installments.
I would go so far as to say that Penny's death was foreshadowed in Act I when Captain Hammer threw her in the garbage: it was his disregard for public safety that left the van careening through public streets without a driver or the control devise, and it was his disregard of Dr. Horrible's warning about the 'death ray' that led to Penny's death.

Admittedly I didn't see it coming my own self, I thought that I was watching a light romantic comedy that would end in a kiss (I hadn't realized it was going to be a tragedy). But then Joss always manages to surprise me, it doesn't mean I'm disappointed (I'd be disappointed if he didn't surprise me).
More for the poll. I watched 1 and 2 together, since work had me too busy to watch 1 when it first came out. I then watched 3. I intended to rewatch all 3 together, with my parents (who had only seen 1), but got sidetracked going to see the Dark Knight. (BTW, great as TDK was, I liked Dr. Horrible more.)

I was gut-punched with Penny's death, to be sure. Here we were all expecting a light musical comedy, and we got... this. But in reflection, it is the best, most powerful way to end the story. Dr. Horrible may be a likable guy, but he's still aspiring to be evil. He starts out as misguided in his attempts to change things (and maybe rule them a little) by joining the Evil League of Evil, but he's not really a bad guy. He doesn't want to actually kill anyone.

Now Penny is dead, and everything he cared about with it. He succeeded in his goal of joining the League, but his victory is tainted with his loss. Now he has no more reason to cling to his humanity, and can rise to become a true villain, embracing all that is dark within him. If that isn't a great origin story, I don't know what is!
alexreager, I'm also a fan of tragedy. My fave is King Lear.
Agreed with phlebotinin - and definitely with alexreager. The "he's used it so many times it's getting old & we all see it coming" makes perfect *logical* sense, only I *didn't* see it coming & was literally sitting at my computer with my jaw hanging open for a good 45 minutes. So while perhaps it *should* in any rational world be getting tired & predictable, for me at least it still works. Perhaps this only proves the world is not rational; perhaps that is what upsets some people so much. ;)
I have to agree with the author of the article on this one. The death at the end of Dr. Horrible didn't particularly move me, mainly because it seemed so expected coming from Joss. The same abrupt death trick was just used in Buffy season 8 about a month ago, not to mention the other ones mentioned in the article. I agree that Tara, Doyle and Wash all worked beautifully, but these last couple haven't done a thing for me.
I do sympathize a lot with the reviewer, I too thought that it was a comedy. And was surprised to find it was a tragedy.After all, going into Shakespeare, you do know what to expect. "The Tragedy of Richard III" is clearly not going to be a light hearted romp.
The thing about a true Greek Tragedy is catharsis.. And I doubt many got that from this drama. Don't get me wrong. The more I watch it, the more I appreciate it. But to go from such comedy to such despair in 3 short acts is hard.
Lioness, I get your point about Shakespeare's tragedies being advertised as such. But I'd say that Joss's stuff is by precedence advertised as some sort of generic hybrid. You can't be too sure going in what will happen except that you'll get an unusual mix of genres. In the case of "Horrible," that doesn't mean the experience won't be difficult, as you point out. Me, I felt like my chest had been crushed with a giant mallet. The catharsis point is interesting. I definitely didn't feel catharsis at the end of Horrible.

MindPieces, it fascinates me that you felt nothing in "Horrible." Although the death at the end of Horrible moved me a lot, I can't say I was terribly moved by the Buffy season 8 thing. I'm with you on that. I sort of ascribe that to my not being as emotionally drawn into comics as I can get with other art forms. But maybe...I don't know.
Death is a part of life, and it's going to happen to all of us - so why shouldn't it be a recurring theme in Joss's stories? It always results in profound, life-altering experiences for the survivors - but how each deals with it is different in each story. Some people grow up as a result, some fall apart; some harden, some soften; some get a new sense of what's important in life and treat other better than before, and others turn evil. It's the aftermath of death that can direct and define a story.
I do sympathize a lot with the reviewer, I too thought that it was a comedy. And was surprised to find it was a tragedy.

It's odd. I have not been reading this thread, but I was thinking about just this thing on the way home, and realizing that it's as if people are mad that they weren't told ahead of time what to expect.

Maybe it's me, but I tend towards the side of things where I appreciate not knowing what to expect up front. It's freaking rare these days.
I think you may have something there, theonetruebix. Knowing there was a twist in The Sixth Sense, I figured it out about - well, very early in the movie. I'm not saying I'm supersmart, just that I generally get the twist thing early on. It's not really a good thing. (There was a moment in bsg, where a couple of people who'd already seen the eps said just two things, and I suddenly got a major plot point - early.) So I really do appreciate being blindsided. And that's one of the things I loved about this ending.

Not to say at all that everyone who disliked the ending disliked it only for that reason - clearly others did see it coming. Just to say - I agree with bix.
Here's my take on the deaths of so many characters: so far all (or most) of his stories take place in a dangerous setting. Buffy was fighting vampires, demons of all sorts, psychotic loosers, and even one god. How could people NOT die? If no one had ever died, I'd be rolling my eyes and making 'pfft' noises. Angel? Well, ditto seeing as it's the same 'verse, only in L.A. Firefly (and Serenity)? Well, they were smugglers, dealing with crooks of all kinds, flew in space that was rapidly being encroached upon by cannabilistic humanoids with enough brains to fly ships and set boobie traps, and everyone walked around with guns. Nope. No one should die in that 'verse. Everyone should be as safe as kittens. And here in Dr Horrible, Penny is hanging around a superhero that is invincible but doesn't seem to get it that not everyone is, and a wannabe villian that is carrying a DEATH RAY.
If he were writing family dramas or sitcoms, then yeah, I'd be a little more upset that death happens as frequently as it does. But considering the places these characters live, well... not so much. I cheer a little inside everytime one of them walks away (mostly) unscathed.
I must say...I totally saw it coming. Come on. Big showdown between villain and semi-villain (Captain Hammer's only real villainy is being a dirtbag, but he wouldn't slap a puppy or anything) and Penny is present? Obviously it was going to turn tragic. My only reaction was "nooooo!" and that foreboding feeling when you know something you want to end nicely really, probably won't because it's a Joss Whedon production and things in his world end REALISTICALLY, and real life has its ups, downs and happy and sad endings. So I accepted it, and I liked it because even though it was sad, it was realistic.

It didn't make me cry or anything (definitely didn't make me sob for hours like Becoming 1 and 2 and Doyle's death did), but it served its purpose .... I think it was a catalyst for Billy to become Dr. Horrible, and I don't think he did it because he really, truly wanted to be evil. I think Penny could've turned him away from it if she had lived. But because of her death, he dove into evil to escape the pain of it, he made himself numb. Who can't relate to that on some level? After a bad breakup, many of us dive straight into a pint of chunky monkey or new york super fudge chunk, right? And some of us cannonball into lots and lots of alcohol, right? Dr. Horrible dives into his work, into the thing that made him a monster. It's irony to me that he embraces the thing that drove him to commit to actions that killed the woman of his dreams.
Maybe because he believes he deserves to live in the nightmare he created, because he helped to create it.

ETA: look at me with the redundancy.

[ edited by NYPinTA on 2008-07-22 04:07 ]
That brings up an interesting point NYPinTA. Does anybody have a count of how many deaths were in Roseanne while Joss was writing for it?

[ edited by sleeper on 2008-07-22 03:59 ]
We were all warned- just listen to Doctor Horrible and Penny singing, "There's no happy ending..."
As pointed out earlier, Joss puts his characters in dangerous worlds, but this is not all. Orr pointed out that it is Joss's most human characters that are usually killed off (i.e. Doyle, Tara, Wash, et al). I agree, but let's look at this realistically. In a fantasy world, any one of us wouldn't stand half a chance. We wouldn't last a night in a world with vampires and demons, without a slayer to save us. In Joss's world, there's only one way to survive -- become a creature of that world. If that means getting bitten by a werewolf, being a mystical key, going back to being a demon, becoming a supervillain, then that's what you do. If you are humane, innocent, kind, the world tends to chew you up and spit you out. You either are destroyed by it or you harden inside. I think that's the overriding metaphor in all of Joss's work, which blends comedy, drama, and fantasy to create something that can handle any type of story you want to tell. In the end, in battles between gods, it's the mortals who suffer. In Warren's game with the slayer, Tara was caught in the crossfire. In the game between an anarchistic revolutionary who, rather than confront their own weakness seeks to embrace the thing which he is most scared of and a police man with no consideration for actual life because he's never felt pain, the kindhearted who are actually doing good and helping people are stepped on.

On the other end of the scale, sometimes Joss's death is not about shock value or killing off a humane character to make a point. Many of his deaths are about redemption. Redemption, or forgiveness, is a base human need. To make up for what wrong we've done. The ultimate sacrifice is one's own life, and therefore the only ending for redemptive characters in Joss's world, where they have most likely killed hundreds of innocents, either through action (Angel, Spike, Book) or inaction (Doyle). And these are rarely a punch in the face. They are in fact very obvious, but because we see ourselves in the characters, we choose to pretend it's not going to happen this time. That we can get off without having to pay a price.

I think this is why Dr. Horrible's ending is being poorly received. The first 2 acts make us relate with the villain of the piece more than we ever relate to superheroes. Superheroes are the popular, perfect ones. Villains are nerds, scientists. Then, despite the musical comedy ending we expect but know we do not deserve (Penny turns out to be another supervillain, or Penny turns Dr. Horrible away from Evil), we get the ending we deserve. Because we shouldn't be allowed to think we can try to touch Evil and walk away clean. Someone we love will suffer.
Reading this article makes me think they want to go back to the days of Star Trek:TOS where every episode ends with everyone safe and sound standing around the bridge (Except for poor old Ensign Ricky) and nothing ever changes.

No thanks.

Also we're talking about over two hundred and fifty episodes of TV here. It's not like a major character died every week. Dr Horrible was a self-contained story, ALL the big events had to happen in that forty minutes.

[ edited by zz9 on 2008-07-22 06:48 ]
I think this is why Dr. Horrible's ending is being poorly received. The first 2 acts make us relate with the villain of the piece more than we ever relate to superheroes.

I think you're very correct here.
Obviously, Whedon has his reasons for doing this each time, and it's not a question of wanting all media to be safe and happy and consequence free (though I'm starting to wonder what this alleged period was when genre fiction was too upbeat.)

But it's a case of us having seen this before. It's the repetition, the feeling that Whedon keeps going back to this particular tool. Killing relationships (and sometimes the participants) my rile up the fans but it's also a reliable source of drama, and, well, it's starting to look like a crutch.

I don't think DR. HORRIBLE in particular is any the worse for it. The structure works, and there's foreshadowing of something going wrong. But it is possible to do things differently and still have good drama, even conveying existentialism in the process, and I'd like to see Whedon stretch a little in that regard.
The man has a point. But Joss is good.... once we all expect the sweet ones to die, he'll adapt his character killing.

When Tara died, it was like having a rug pulled out from under me. When Penny died, I wasn't all that surprised. However, I didn't sit there and go, "Oh man, that sucked because it was so predictable." I still felt for a sympathetic character.

I was going to say here that Joss may have to adapt his game a bit to stay fresh, but that the author of this article is a bit premature. I'm not sure if that's true, either, now that I really think about it.

As people have said, the format of Dr. Horrible is part of the issue. In a series like Dollhouse, even if we know someone is going to die, one can't help but attach to the characters over a period of time. There's still drama because we're asking, "When will someone die?" With something as short as Dr. Horrible, and with only 3 characters, as soon as a deathray comes into play, and we know it's the end, death starts to feel less like drama and more like a manipulative magic trick...

Now I'm starting to ramble. All I'm trying to say is, Joss changed Hollywood storytelling. I'm not sure anymore if he can just keep truckin as is or if he's eventually going to have to start reinventing himself like Bob Dylan. Time will tell. He's not at that moment right now, but the time will come, and I think this issue will be one of the issues he'll have to confront.

Not that he hasn't constantly evolved as an artist, just sometimes you reach moments where you have to undergo more drastic reexaminations of everything you do. Those that fail to do that become Woody Allen or Oliver Stone. The Coen brothers, I think, are really interesting because they seemed to hit a wall like that, make several bad films, and then push through it.
My opinion of Act III changed after repeat viewings of Acts I and II.

Original I was disappointed / upset at what seemed an abruptly dark turn in Act III -- not just the death but the vicious, scathing attitude of Dr. Horrible himself.

But when I reviewed Acts I and II, I was reminded that they showed him progressing in this direction very clearly. The (read: "my") problem was that Acts I and II included so many FUN and FUNNY elements that my brain had sort of dismissed the darker elements as just temporary rants rather than truly tragic turns of the character. So now -- viewing all three Acts together -- I think the full arc is consistent.

(But I miss the funny in Act III !)
If you are humane, innocent, kind, the world tends to chew you up and spit you out.

Except that's not always true. Joyce died because of a brain anuerism, not because of the world she lived in. Doyle was half demon- part of that world. Same with Cordelia. Anya was most definitly part of that world. Was for over a 1000 years. Hardly an innocent. Tara was a witch, also part of that world. (Just not as powerful as Willow.) Kind,yes, but so aren't many characters that don't end up dead. Wesely stopped being innocent a long time before he died. And Jenny Carpenter was also a witch. Part of the clan that cursed Angel, then took it back and let Angelus loose. Hardly an innocent. There really isn't one person on the show that was completely innoncent and didn't take on parts of the world they lived in before circumstances of living in that world killed them. Not that I am saying there isn't any kind of pattern, but the one I see is completely logical and does not feel like a trick or an overused plot device when it happens.
I have to disagree with this article.

Yes Billy was a sympathetic character, but behind all the charm and the comedy...well he was slightly psychotic. He talked about 'cutting off the head' of the human race, ruling the world...stalked Penny and was willing to kill Captain Hammer to get into the ELoE.He wasn't a sane man. The Dr Horrible part of his psyche was taking over from the very beginning.

As I said in another thread - this is a supervillain origin story. There *had* to be a death for him to get into the League...he thought it would be Hammer's...but it ended up being the woman he loved(or was obsessed with...either or). And the tragedy is that he used that death for his own ends. He got into the League..got everything he wanted. Or did he judging by the last shot.

People would be complaining if it was a happy ending...so you can't please everyone. The Billy side and the Horrible side were always going to be in competition. Horrible won out.
"ending a musical comedy about a bumbling supervillain on a note of existential despair is something short of entirely satisfying".

Speak for yourself, New Republic guy. For me, ending a (insert description) on a note of "and they all lived happily ever after" would be "something short of entirely satisfying".
Obviously, Christopher Orr is not familiar with that most marvelous of all Joss-quotes, "I don't want to make safe shows about lawyers. I want to invade people's dreams". Or he doesn't get that a very large number - dare I say a big honkin' majority - of Joss's loyal fan base, wants exactly that, to have our dreams (psyches) invaded.

Some really great posts on this thread, I love the points made by phlebotinin, NYPinTA and zz9.
But my "damn, I wish I'd written that post" award goes to PuppetDoug.
That was just eloquent. And elegant. :)

[ edited by Shey on 2008-07-22 13:54 ]
In my opinion Penny's death was perfectly done. The look on Dr. Horrible's face as the cameras started flashing and everyone started asking him why he killed her. NPH nailed it. My heart entirely broke but not for Penny, for Billy. For a person who was on the cusp and has just completely fallen over the edge.

I'm in love with the angst though always, so while a happy ending would have been enjoyable, I live and breath for the tragedy in film, books and tv. The last couple minutes of the whole series were my favorite to watch.

But that's just me!

[ edited by meimei42 on 2008-07-22 14:44 ]
I'm a long-time, avid Whedon fan and I agree with everything the author of this article quite eloquently writes.
demonica


As do I. And korkster, I did read the monster Act III thread, but it didn't change my opinion either.
First, thanks to all who participated in my short-lived poll. :)

As was expressed in the Act III thread, there is a shift of shock and hurt (a bit of disappointment) in the first 60 comments or so, to more... clarity after seeing the show in all of the show as a show.

Both demonica & phlebotinin watched Acts 1 & 2 repeatedly before Act 3. This gave them time to get attached to the characters and to allow the "comedy" of the show sink in. (As did I, BTW.)

Upon viewing Act 3 (only), you only see the climax of the piece and what seems to be a sudden shift in the story-telling.

Without seeing DHSAB as a whole, the viewer may get "wiped out" and feel "painful" about the shock of seeing a tragedy where they once saw a comedy.

When you watch the acts in "one fell swoop", you can actually see the foreshadowing of the piece, as mentioned above in this thread. From Captain Hammer tossing Penny into the garbage (little regard for public safety) to Dr. Horrible turning his back on a "fellow Laundromat person" to work on his schemes... you can actually see that there were subtle hints that the end would be as it is.

embers confirms the foreshadowing, but was also "didn't see it coming" and "I thought that I was watching a light romantic comedy that would end in a kiss (I hadn't realized it was going to be a tragedy)". I don't know how many times embers watched Acts 1 or 2 before Act 3, or if they were watched as one whole piece, but as was expressed in the Act 3 thread, the shock of being surprised (as stated eloquently by bix) threw a lot of people off.

AnotherFireflyfan also watched Acts 1 & 2 and was absorbed before watching Act 3, which lead to the "gut-punched with Penny's death". It was the "expecting a light musical comedy" and getting something else in return that is throwing some viewers.

Where the viewers seem to disagree on the ending seems to correlate to the frequency of watching Acts 1 & 2 before watching Act 3. The more 1 & 2 were seen, the more the ripped out heart feeling sunk in. The less they were seen, the more detached one is from the piece and may see the "Joss trick". By seeing them as a whole, you are neither gut-wrenched or detached, but view the story with all of it's foreshadowing and hints that make the show great.

As Lioness said, The more I watch it, the more I appreciate it.

I think SteveP said it nicely:
My opinion of Act III changed after repeat viewings of Acts I and II.

Original I was disappointed / upset at what seemed an abruptly dark turn in Act III -- not just the death but the vicious, scathing attitude of Dr. Horrible himself.

But when I reviewed Acts I and II, I was reminded that they showed him progressing in this direction very clearly. The (read: "my") problem was that Acts I and II included so many FUN and FUNNY elements that my brain had sort of dismissed the darker elements as just temporary rants rather than truly tragic turns of the character. So now -- viewing all three Acts together -- I think the full arc is consistent.

(But I miss the funny in Act III !)
SteveP | July 22, 11:40 CET


By looking at the layers, and seeing the hints (or evidence), it gives you a richer view of DHSAB. And, I too, find it hard to laugh as I once did, but I'm pretty sure it's because I know what's going to happen now.

MindPieces & library hooligan, I know you agree with the author on this, and you may or may not have read Act 3's thread, but I don't know where to include you in the poll because I don't know how you viewed DHSAB... or if you've re-watched them since viewing. As mentioned before, since you know the ending you can actually pick out the pieces and moments that build up to the downfall... which is different from Joss' usual un-expected deaths (which may be argued that they aren't so un-expected). Of all of his deaths, I would say that Penny's is very different from the ones he's done before, as mentioned in the interview posted yesterday(?).

And, Shey, I would have to say that Joss was very successful in:

"I don't want to make safe shows about lawyers. I want to invade people's dreams".


I know mine is... I just can't get that guy (Joss) or Dr. Horrible out of my head! Someone maternal! :)
Pointy, I've been meaning to ask you...

I know that you deal with rhymes and possibly Shakespeare. And, I haven't done the work yet, but I was wondering if anyone's has analyzed the rhythm of the songs themselves? It seems the patterns of the verses shift (as expected) when a character takes on a new hurdle... or, for example, the defeat of Billy & the emergence of Dr. Horrible. In that last song, does the rhyming pattern change? I was just curious. :)
Korkster, I think I'm blowing your trend--I watched Act I twice and Act II once, and then Act III. I did re-watch Act II and III with my husband after the initial viewing, and frankly didn't like it any more. (Appreciate the drama and tragedy and funny lines and good songs, yes. Like it, no.) So I'm also not sure where I fit in wrt your poll? But I'm starting to think this is just personality-related--I tend to love everyone until they tick me off, and then I don't forgive. Apparently this applies to people I don't know who make tv shows as well as people I actually have contact with.
Are you saying Joss ticked you off, library hooligan? Please clarify.

And, no, the polls aren't for everyone. I would be interested if you liked Acts 1 & 2 more before watching Act 3, and now just can't get into them.

ETA: Spelling.

[ edited by korkster on 2008-07-22 18:18 ]
Actually when I google for the quote, what comes up instead is this:

"I'm not an adult! I don't want to create responsible shows with lawyers in them. I want to invade people's dreams."

It's from a 2002 NY Times interview.

The original point is still accurate though. Joss likes to drag people out of their comfort zone, and that makes many fans... uncomfortable.

ETA: correct origin of quote

[ edited by AlanD on 2008-07-22 18:45 ]
I'm not ticked off at Joss personally, but at Dr. Horrible and its writers generally, kinda. I did not like the comedy/tragedy bait and switch one bit. And you're right on, I was completely in love with Acts I and II, bought a t-shirt and everything, and Act III pretty much ruined my enjoyment of the whole thing. Again, I can appreciate it, but I don't like it anymore. But I'm aware I'm just a statistically insignificant outlier. ;)
Joss likes to drag people out of their comfort zone, and that makes many fans... uncomfortable.

Because people like to know what Viewing Chip to insert into their heads prior to watching something. The one with all the pre-programmed responses to appropriate stimuli for the genre at hand.

Unfortunately for that behavior, Joss occasionally likes to blow the circuits in those chips by not playing by those proper patterns.
library hooligan:
I'm just a statistically insignificant outlier. ;)


You're not insignificant, lh. Everything's a scatter plot, and it just demonstrates that nothing is as nice and neat as we pretend it to be.

I think you have the same problem I do with the piece. I was infatuated with Acts 1 & 2 also, did the whole works, and it was my "lifter" to an utter dismal week. And then to finally get to the moment of climatic tragedy, destroyed a small bit of me. Definitely packed a gut-wrenched, heart-ripped, numbing sort of feel. I felt sick afterwards. And, to be honest, it took me a couple of hours before I could watch it again.

As you say, rewatching Act 3 and then all of it in it's entirity (?) made me appreciate it more. I got all of the subtle messages that I was blind to when I first began the trek. I refer to my feelings to DSAH unfolding as it did as such:

It's like going to a party with your best friend, entering him/her into a beer drinking contest, and cheering/encouraging them on to chug the beers. Then your friend dies. And you encourage him/her.

That's how I felt about it (& still kind of do). It's not really that Penny died gave me such an unhappy... but that I push my friend Billy (from Acts 1 & 2- very strong relationship) to kill her. And now he's severly unhappy. And it's partly my fault for not stopping him.

Where was I? Oh. Yes.

After reviewing and participating in the Act 3 thread, and seeing how the actors/reviewers watched the show, they watched it once-though, all the way. To them, the hints weren't blindly ignored (like I did). I also got to discover the many layers to DHSAB, which is comforting in a way.

I definitely appreciate it more, and I like it more because it's not the writers' fault that I ignored the signs (I did that on my own). Because of this experience and analysis, DHSAB is now my favorite show and literary work- very well done and there's a lot to play with... as a whole. But it also carries another meaning for those of us who watched it act by act, the sucker-punch of blind happiness, if you will, that no one else will get. Ever.

Can I laugh as much as I did when I was still innocent to Act 3? No, but that's what makes me love it more.

Was this helpful, in any way? I'm trying to explain, but I've never been good at using words.
I did not like the comedy/tragedy bait and switch one bit.

library hooligan | July 22, 18:31 CET

Now that you mention it... this explains the foreshadowing of Moist's date with "Bait & Switch"... "I kinda thought I was supposed to end up with Bait, butů"

I hear ya.
BTW I love Act III. I watched Act I three times and Act II twice and then Act III twice before watching it all as a whole quite a few times (watching it right now at work on my video iPod!). And I was initially just shocked at the ACT III ending (although watching the transformation of Dr. Horrible still sent a shiver down my spine that first time) but watching it as a whole just made me love the drama of it all that much more and it didn't seem so abrupt anymore. Maybe because I knew what was going to happen or maybe because in the context of the whole episode the ending fit better rather than in just that one piece.
I think you use words just fine, korkster. :) (My emoticon doth smile.) And I do see what you're saying. I'm about to go on vacay for a week, so we'll see how I feel about it next week, with some distance. (It took me about 6 months to be able to watch Serenity again after the premiere night though, so it may take longer than a week...)
I've joined this a bit late but to add my two pennies worth: my first viewing of Act III left me feeling dispirited and almost underwhelmed. Watching it as part of the whole episode it appreciated it much more than I had the first time round. Dr Horrible's final song in Act II is much darker than the rest of the act and is a good lead into Act III. From skimming the thread many people seem to be agreeing with this.

In terms of the article - Joss has gained a reputation for character deaths and I agree that from a certain perspective it could appear to be done simply to shock the audience. Seen in context however I think all the deaths do add a lot to the story being told and the fact that we get so upset by the deaths shows how well Joss and co build these characters.

ETA: fixed spelling

[ edited by DreamDancer on 2008-07-22 19:18 ]
Thanks, lh. Enjoy your vacay!
"Romeo and Juliet" opens with wackiness.
The short answer to your question about the rhythm and rhyme scheme of the last song in Act III, Korkster, is: I don't know. While I love word rhythms, I'm bad at breaking them down into metric feet and basically just tap them out. Yes, like a Bad Horse. I think the music had a lot of subtle stuff going on in the harmonies as well as the rhythms. I got a special kick out of the gorgeous three(?)-part flourish of "We've got a problem with her." How often do you get witty harmony? Not that.
Thanks, Pointy.
Oh, Korkster, I just reread your question and realize that it was about the entire score, not just the last song. That doesn't change my "I don't know." In fact, it expands the scope of my non-knowledge.

Great post, PuppetDoug, like Shey said!

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