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July 24 2008

Deconstructing Dr. Horrible. A blogger provides her interesting, well-written, and original take on the production.

I have to ask, is this particular LJ'er ok with this link being posted here? Not everyone in LiveJournal likes wider exposure.
I don't know the individual, but her posts aren't "friend's only" and I accessed the blog via a link somewhere on tvtropes' Dr. Horrible page... If you feel it should be taken down, my feelings won't be hurt, but it's an awesome read.

[ edited by QingTing on 2008-07-24 15:08 ]
Yes, thanks for posting. I have a feeling it may not be too popular, but the author makes areally good point about some of Joss's weak points as a writer. (Yes! He really does have a few!)
Great analysis! Actually, I guess I might just scrap the article on Dr. Horrible I started writing and instead provide a link to this one. Or I could steal most of it and call it "quoting", like they do at the university ...
Just to say, a couple of people asked the writer whether they could post links to her blog and she said sure, so I think you should be OK there, QingTing.
I can't read it all because I'm at work but I've already found an obvious typo. Sheppard Book is all about the eye candy. Anyone who doesn't think Ron Glass is sexy hasn't looked close enough. Or smelled him. Ron smells good.

Hoping to get back to this before it falls off the front page. Yes, I'm talking to you Already-At-Comic-Con types. It's fun to read all the different interpretations of Dr. Horrible. And it's totally political.
Oh, I do not agree with her perspective. I think she's not looking at it head-on, and thus hers is a parallax view. To call Billy a bad name just because he's nervous about talking to a girl is a pretty harsh treatment. I think she missed seeing the conversations between Penny and Billy in the second act. And for another, I don't think it's PENNY that's the OBJECT of the fight between Hamemr and Horrible. Billy respects her, adores her, and would be wiling to accept her influence on his life in a heartbeat. As a matter of fact, I think she influenced his life before he even talked to her. But Hammer, all he first sees in her is a piece of strange, and THEN he sees an opportunity to belittle Billy through his manipulation of Penny's effections for him. Even in the third act, Hammer's still the same shallow beastie he was in the first act- his emotional journey begins when the do-not-bounce wonderflonium gets bounced. But I* don't think Billy ever saw Penny as an object. I think he had a lot of respect for Penny.

Another thing I think I should point out is that this is essentially a comic book set to music, and she's trying to deconstruct it as if it were a Shakespearian morality tale. I'm not belittling the comic genre, no! But it's a very simple story, with very simple characters presented in a very simple way in a very simple format. The devices used to deliver the character's emotions are pretty basic and most of the subtlety lies in the music- which uses a whole different set of devices to express a little more emotion in a little different dimension. We WANT Billy and Penny to be together because of the way things have been presented- Hammer's a douche, Billy's a nice guy, Penny deserves better. The scene with Penny in the Laundromat looking for Billy, with two frozen yogurts- gives us reason to hope. Tons of exposition expressed in a two-second scene. Simple!

But, she's definitely seeing what she wants to see, and that's fine. Viewer interpretation is what it is. I really enjoyed the piece, and I won't try to second-guess anyone else's interpretation of it. I just think it is what it is and it's great, with no social or political statement to make outside the sphere of containment that holds the three main characters.

Whoops. Rambled. Sorry. Back to the kiddie pool!
I can't read it all because I'm at work but I've already found an obvious typo. Sheppard Book is all about the eye candy. Anyone who doesn't think Ron Glass is sexy hasn't looked close enough. Or smelled him. Ron smells good.


I thought the same thing. Except I haven't smelled him. I think Firefly had the most beautiful cast ever, but I don't think that any of them were one-dimensional.

I agree with her take on Penny, but I think she dismisses Billy unfairly. I feel that he is a sympathetic character. I spent the days between acts 1 and 3 trying to figure out, not how he could defeat Captain Hammer and get Penny, but how he could be saved. In the same way that female characters are more than just a vagina, Billy is more than just a penis.
From my perspective, I've noticed that Mr. Whedon (the Joss one) tends to place "depth" where he feels its important. If people want to delve deeper in other places, they'll just have to use their imagination and be satisfied with what *they* create as an addendum to what we are given.
I wasn't expecting much when I clicked the link, but this isn't bad.
If you feel it should be taken down, my feelings won't be hurt, but it's an awesome read.


If the author is ok with it linked elsewhere then that's fine. It's just in the past LJ posts have gone friends locked due to Whedonesque coverage. And yes it is a very interesting read. It's fun to see the explosion of Whedon fan coverage since the debut of Dr. Horrible, it's amazing what a four year drought can do.
Except though, there isn't much original about her analysis. Those are all points that have been covered in may peoplesí posts here. Not that I disagree with everything she is saying. Except this: "...the blind adoration of anything Whedon..." meaning fanboys (or fangirls). Did she accuse anyone of it? No. But the fact it was even brought up bothers me, because it means it's there in her head. The terms irks me because whoever uses it might as well be saying, ďSee? Iím the one thinking clearly, where as anyone that doesnít agree with what I didnít like about this piece is obviously under some spell and is not thinking clearly at all. So, Iím right, they are wrong.Ē Itís never just a different opinion that they have, but itís one that is somehow superior to anyone else and who in the hell has the right to claim that?

And the fact that the story has many levels really has not been lost on anyone. Why else would we still be talking so much about it?
Hey Warren Ellis just wrote about it on his Bad Signal.
Heh "Appointment Internet", like it. That guy should be a writer or summat ;).
I thought this was an interesting read. For my part I just enjoyed Dr. Horrible and beyond that haven't put much thought into it, however its been nifty reading everyones take on it from feminist to racial issue. I thought it was just a cool little webisode and its almost like the world is made or broken by Dr. Horrible and the message it did or didn't put out there! LOL.

I agree with a lot of the points in this blog (except for the Firefly stuff, because I felt that Joss was going for something specific with the ladies of firefly. But that is just my humble opinion.) Anyway, I liked how the author talked about Penny's role in all this because it was interesting that she was saying the exact opposite of what a lot of other people were saying about Penny. That she wasn't a damsel in distress so much as she was doing fine until these two came into her life. I kind of like that. Might not have seen it that way on my own, but it makes sense in my head.

I didn't really agree so much that Billy was an unsympathetic character. I think he was like anyone else. Human, flawed, not anywhere near perfect and obviously the one we're supposed to identify with. He wanted social change and the only way to go about that to him was to become part of the ELoE and rule the world. Which, who hasn't felt like if they could just rule the world it would be a better place? (anyone who tailgated me like the jerk this morning would soooo have their a$$ handed to them)

I really liked this because it had interesting opinion about the issues without taking away from the fact that this little web musical was really good (which is what I totally agree with above everything else) even as imperfect as it was.
I had pretty much the same reaction to Dr. Horrible as she did. I may find Dr. Horrible himself more sympathetic on a purely emotional level, which I think was intended. The brain portion of me saw him pretty much as this blogger does.

I agree that Shepard Book is a sexy guy, though.
Wow, she combines the really insightful and thoughtful with the kind of oblivious and way off. I wish I had time to say more than: That was intellectually stimulating and I'm glad you wrote it.

ETA: One of the tragedies in the show is that Penny doesn't realize that she is the hero. She dies saying Captain Hammer will save us not realizing that she's responsible for starting to save him. Of the three main characters, she is the one who's fixing an actual problem by taking practical steps, the one doing the heroic work of rescuing people every day. Captain Hammer and Dr. Horrible just, on-screen at least, get in each other's hair.

[ edited by Pointy on 2008-07-24 20:56 ]
I can't find Warren Ellis's comments on Bad Signal. Where should I be looking?
I think I agree with the writer. Billy is a very likable protagonist, but he is also clearly a stalker (see the photo?) whose murder plot is inspired directly by his rival saying that he is going to sleep with the girl he's crazy about. This isn't to say that Billy is unsympathetic, because he is, but the Act Three events seem to me to be pure tragedy and punishment for his putting Penny in harm's way by making her the centre of a feud with the Cap. He nearly kills her in Act One while in the process of getting his freeze ray up and running, because he assumes that he will be able to impress her from the ELE. I think this is a brilliant piece of writing, making Billy be the bad guy while letting him continue to believe that he isn't (while he states loudly that he is! oh boy).

Penny is the most clear-headed of the three central characters, really: she is trying to help people; she goes out with a guy who treats her well, on the surface, and then leaves his side when he starts objectifying her openly ("We've totally had sex!"). She was never really a damsel to begin with, except that both Billy and the Cap treat her as if she was; she was doing perfectly fine. And honestly if someone pushed me out of the way of an incoming vehicle I would be impressed to--and if it was (turning the genders around) an attractive woman who was clearly interested in me, I would need a sec to catch my breath, too.

I identify a lot with Billy actually (and, in fact, that's my name...:P), which is why this hits home with me. But I've been guilty of a lot of the same things--not trying to kill rivals, but being bitter that girls I don't have the courage to talk to go out with other guys who I perceive as shallow. And honestly it's hard to know the way out besides just trying to talk to people and trying to let go of the persecution complex.
Oh, right, as far as Firefly, I think that mostly all the characters are, to some degree, a "type," at least as introduced, but I think every character, male or female, is is sexy to a degree, except for River. I suspect that if a (sympathetic) male talked about a female character in quite the same way that Kaylee talked about Simon, they would be calling foul about objectification, for example. And no, I'm not criticizing Kaylee, but she definitely fetishizes and objectifies Simon a little bit--which I think is true of most cases of attraction at first sight. (OK, Wash does talk that way about Zoe a little bit, but it's clearly in jest and she is clearly in control of the relationship.)

The most problematic area of Firefly in terms of gender dynamics are the apparent lack of male companions (and the fact that the "boy whores" in "Heart of Gold" are apparently only to service male clientele). I think that is something that the show would eventually explore (and "Shindig" and "Heart of Gold" demonstrated that there is still some degree of sexism in the 'verse), but it is a bit of a shame that it wasn't brought to the forefront right away.
William, I agree with the article (and you) insofar that Billy has some unsettling stalker qualities and is at no point an unambivalently nice guy. But I can't see how he nearly kills Penny in Act I. Do you mean during his wonderflonium heist? There, the blame would have to be put solely on Cpt. Hammers shoulders - he damaged Billys device and then carelessly jumped off the car to let it go its random way.
Grr. Argh. Comics are a MEDIUM people... not a GENRE.

Just sayin'.
Grr. Argh. Comics are a MEDIUM people... not a GENRE.

Depends. I'm not sure how it is in English, but in German, "genre" can be either the word for a certain type of story (romance, gothic horror, western) or for a certain type of literature (the novel, poetry, plays). Even movies in their totally are often referred to as a "genre" as opposed to the genre of literature, for example.

I prefer using "genre" to designate the type of story, but I believe that you can talk legitimately about comics as a genre.

In the end, it's difficult to draw a line anyway. The medium you are using always influences the type of storytelling.
I agree in principle with this blog. And I do agree that the social commentary dial for Dr. Horrible was set on "High" when Maurissa & the Whedons were writing it. It may have been a funny silly show, but it wasn't merely a funny silly show.

Penny is the true sympathetic character in the piece. She is genuinely trying to help people, with no ulterior motives that we know of as an audience. Although presented in a sympathetic manner as the protagonist, I don't believe Dr. Horrible is really a sympathetic character: more subversion and mis-direction from Joss & team. Do we feel sorry for him at the end? Maybe a little. But I felt far more sympathy for poor Penny than for the horrible Doctor.
Penny is Everywoman (& man) in this morality tale. She is betrayed by her friend from the Laundromat, who doesn't even have the emotional strength to actually *warn* her about the real Captain Hammer. She is betrayed by Captain Hammer the jerk, not just because he is a jerk, but because even to the end, despite her growing awareness of his jerkitude, she still has faith in him as a hero.
From Penny's point of view, this was exactly like a Greek tragedy - she should only be Greek.
Its weird because I felt more sympathy for Billy than Penny when she died. Maybe because of the change I saw happening right there before my eyes? I don't know...
I did, too, meimei42. Only after mulling it over for a while did I think that the tragedy was that the one really making the difference for the better in people's lives, the one starting to rescue Capt. Hammer from his 50-foot ego, didn't realize that she was the genuine hero. Nor did anyone else.

ETA: I think Act III is a big social commentary on how people overlook real heroism -- or even reject it ("we've got a problem with her") -- in favor of people who succeed at projecting their ego on a large stage.

[ edited by Pointy on 2008-07-24 21:34 ]
Heavy sigh. You guys are way too smart for my own good. This is probably a result of my diving head-first back into the kiddie pool so often.

I think it was what it was and what it was was fun to watch.
Certainly there are Whedonesque ( no, not you ) touches- who else could have reduced Fillion to snivelling on a therapist's couch and had him enjoy it? Who else could have pulled off having an Evil League of Evil, called the Evil League of Evil , and headed by a horse?

But, excuse me, can someone answer these questions:

Where's the deep biting message in the Cowboy Posse that delivers Bad Horse's missives?

( Where can I get a Bad Horse RINGTONE>?! )


What's the social significance of a henchman called Moist?

What about Bait and Switch? Or The Pink Pummeller? What about Raven?! ( Oops, sorry. That last just slipped out )


No, I don't think this was designed to deliver any cutting social commentary or significant deep hidden meaning. I think it's a fun farce that doesn't require a lot of thought.

Diving back into th-ouch. Um, WADING back into the kiddie pool now.
She is betrayed by her friend from the Laundromat, who doesn't even have the emotional strength to actually *warn* her about the real Captain Hammer.

Bot how could Billy have warned her? "Hey, Penny, your boyfriend is a jerk. By the way, would you go out with me?"
I don't think it works that way ...

The problem, IMHO, is not that Billy betrays Penny, but that he doesn't really try to build a more real, human relationship with her. He treats her as a prize in his battle against Hammer.
Billy could have warned Penny by letting her know that her so-called wonderful boyfriend was bragging about how he was going to nail her.

Though I guess it would have been hard to do since they were already walking out of the laundromat right after he found out. By the time he saw her again it would be too late to stop that.

He could have been a sympathetic shoulder to cry on though. She obviously needed him seeing as how she was waiting for him with frozen yogurt. That scene just breaks my heart.

Anyway, I'm glad I've finally read where people are calling Penny a hero instead of complaining that she wasn't strong enough. I don't know why so many people seem to think a girl - in the entertainment medium - isn't strong unless she can kick ass.

I mean I'm a girl but I get so tired of hearing that Joss didn't make her strong enough so he's not a good feminist comments. Joss writes people who are real. There are all different types of girls in real life and they should all be represented in entertainment.

Okay, getting off my rambling soap box now. I'm too tired to form coherent thoughts after a hard day of work. I've been up since the crack of why am I awake. I need to recharge the brain so I can be all intelligent and stuff.
I need to recharge the brain so I can be all intelligent and stuff.

I tried that. It doesn't work well. I'll never need a hair perm though.
This was actually a quite good analysis, I thought, despite it's slapdash sort of approach.

I think it's true that what's intriguing about Billy is that he is emotionally sympathetic but intellectually and politically disturbing. The thrust of the story is that it makes that clear. (The fact that we don't want it to be true, that we want him to continue to be likable, indicates how emotionally appealing, and easy to identify with, he is. Which is to say, continuing to like him is a form of denial about what his character says about the rest of us "nice guys.")

All that being said, it was a good analyis, but it wasn't a deconstruction.
Nice deconstruction. Yes, neither Horrible or Hammer are good, nor sympathetic characters, they're just two types of egocentric, macho jerkiness.

A word to those who seem to think "Dr. Horrible" a simple flip (good guy is bad, bad guy is good) on the classic superhero story. Joss does not do simple. All his work is multilayered (like one of those Russian dolls, where you pull the outside apart and there is another different doll inside, and another inside that, and another). No light and fluffy simple stories from Joss. Of course it has layers of social context. While Joss obviously attempts to add these layers to his work, it is likely part of his genius that some of it may come about subconsciously. I think true genius is as much an intuitive process as a conscious one.

As for Billy/Horrible being a sympathetic character. NPH is a likable actor for one. Also it's told from Billy's/Horrible's point of view and he sees himself as sympathetic. He has feelings we, as an audience, can empathize with. Who'd have watched if he saw himself as a psychotic, power hungry creep, well on his way towards real evilness (which is essentially what he is, but he doesn't see himself this way). Most people see themselves sympathetically in spite of their flaws. Think about his choices at every juncture. Does he ever make a choice that could be considered normal or good. No, he always makes the choice that continues his descent towards evil.

"Can't talk to Penny, I've got Wonderflonium to heist. ... Penny's going on a date (which might involve sex) with Captain Hammer, I'll have to kill him. ... Let's stalk Penny while she's on her date, so I can drive myself into more of a rage. ... I can't do laundry today (while Penny's waiting for him with frozen yogurt), I've got a death ray to build. ... Let's take a load of lethal weaponry into a peaceful, homeless meeting where I know Penny will be. "

Way to a girl's heart, there Billy Buddy. If anyone thinks these are the choices a sympathetic/good character would make, I don't think you understand Joss nor have a very healthy outlook about relationships.
Ok, then. I told you I hit my head on the bottom of the kiddie pool a few times, right?
Does sympathetic mean the same thing as good? I didn't think so, but a lot of people seem to be saying it does.
Good point NYPinTA. Just checking in my Webster's Collegiate, one meaning seems to infer that it involves kindness or compassion, but I suppose if you're so inclined you could have sympathy towards a homicidal maniac. I've tried to resolve this problem in my posts by separating them or listing them together.
Hasn't Joss himself been quoted as saying (concerning his creations) "bring your own subtext"? The stories lend to interpretation, which is a large part of their charm.
Hera, I agree, bringing your own subtext to the Whedonverse is part of the fun. But for those who seem to need to see everything in a good/bad, innocent/evil, black/white subtext, Joss deals in grey areas. That's one of the qualities that sets him apart from the herd.
And yet you seem intent on seeing Billy in black and white, good/bad terms. This is puzzling bjarmson and frankly the tenor of your posts is that you've grasped Joss' true intentions whereas those that disagree with you have totally missed them (and/or also don't understand what constitutes a healthy relationship). Slightly arrogant surely ?

I prefer using "genre" to designate the type of story, but I believe that you can talk legitimately about comics as a genre.

You can by the strict letter of the definitions Jakob Schmidt but in common English usage, comics (like film, painting, music) are just the medium used to express stories of different genres (so in comics "superhero" is a genre, "sci-fi" is a genre etc.).

Unless you make the distinction clear upfront, most native English speakers are probably going to be confused if you use the terms interchangeably.

... but I suppose if you're so inclined you could have sympathy towards a homicidal maniac.

Anyone else a 'Dexter' fan here ? Literally a sympathetic homicidal maniac. It's very easy to sympathise with all sorts of characters so long as they're portrayed sympathetically. As Billy is. Of course you can ignore the portrayal and all too apparent motivations and simply look at the events and actions (just as you can ignore mitigating circumstances in a trial) but ultimately I think that's over-simplifying, throwing the baby out with the narrative bathwater. If we were judging Billy in a court of law, he'd be guilty of numerous crimes (stalking, attempted murder, robbery, conspiracy etc.) but we're not in a court of law and the entire 3 acts are about his tragic fall from potentially decent human being to (possibly) lost cause. If he's a lost cause to start with there's no arc, no dramatic tension, basically no story.

Joss himself has described Billy as "a sweet guy" so it seems fairly clear we're not meant to view him in black and white, good or evil terms but as the flawed, complex, tragic character that he is. Like a lot of people, he has aspects of 'creep' and aspects of 'hero'.
Strong flavors of awesome, slightly bitter undertone of true creepiness, with with an overall vulnerability that's sweet. Quite bright but just a little bit stupid too. It's really quite endearing. I want him to achieve... but I really don't, too.
Jacob, Billy illegally took control of a huge van without actually driving it. He's taking a pretty big chance already. Then after Captain Hammer destroys his control, he doesn't scream or yell that there's a truck driving madly, but tries to regain control of the device itself, which is admirable but insufficient. The truck would have stopped before it hit Penny, it's true, but I don't think he honestly could have known that for sure. I'm not saying Captain Hammer isn't at all responsible, but I think it's mostly Billy's fault that Penny (or any bystanders) came into harm's way at all.

I found Billy sympathetic in the sense that I sympathized with him, but not "good" at all. There definitely is a fall from potentially nice guy to fairly irredeemable, but it's pretty much all there in act one, if you want to look for it.
Billy is a villain who may seem good, but is actually bad.


you know...


like pie.

[ edited by Litwal on 2008-07-25 02:23 ]
Dammit, Litwal. I was just going to make the same comment.

He's got layers, and on the top he seems evil, but deep down he's nice, but deeper down he's evil...

(and, if he's cake, there could be another layer below that... you never know!)

Billy is a villain who may seem good, but is actually bad.


you know...


like pie.

So that would make him a creme pie...

[ edited by NYPinTA on 2008-07-25 03:16 ]
Sorry to come across all arroganty, Saje. I got tired of reading posts saying Billy was a nice guy who deserved to end up with Penny, when his every action (other than the Act II scene where he and Penny actually talk to each other in the laundromat) points to the opposite. As to what point(s) Joss was trying to make, who knows unless he actually tells us. To think he wasn't layering in social context, that this was just a total bit of fluff tossed off to while away the strike hours, would be totally out of sync with his other work.

But the consensus among those who are reflecting on what Joss was trying to say seems to be Horrible and Hammer are both jerks, Penny is the only character worth caring about and deserved better than getting caught up in their juvenile pissing contest. This was served up in Joss's usual mix of hilarity, tragedy, and social context. Isn't it nice, after a long drought, to have some new Whedonverse material to mull over.
But the consensus among those who are reflecting on what Joss was trying to say seems to be Horrible and Hammer are both jerks, Penny is the only character worth caring about and deserved better than getting caught up in their juvenile pissing contest.

I said she was the only real hero. That doesn't mean no one else matters though. Lots of characters are sympathetic without being heroic. Look at Jayne!
I think the consensus between Penny's ears would be that everyone's worth caring about.
William: of course Billy is potentially putting people in danger with his wonderflonium heist. But we get into nearly-killing-someone-territory only when Hammer has appeared, escalated the situation and then (at least momentarily) abandoned the dangerous situation he at least partly created. And I think that trying to regain control of the van was actual a more sensible course of action by Billy than yelling at Penny to get out of the way - Penny sees the danger quite early, but freezes, so it might have done nothing good at all to try to warn her.

Anyway, I don't want to splitting hairs. Just trying to point out that typically, Horrible and Hammer create the dangerous situations for Penny together, which again is one of the points made in the article linked above.
I'd even say that both of them seem "redeemable" - their problem is that they obviously believe that the way to go is to adapt stereotypical roles (the hero/the villain). Hammer is more succesful in this (so much that we don't even learn anything about his "normal" alter ego, if he has one), while Billy is still struggling with all the implications of what he is and what he strives to be. I believe that's what makes Billy sympathetic - even if one can't relate to his actions, one can certainly relate to his inner struggle.

I have to admit I totally identify with him, even though I never stalked someone or tried to steal wonderflonium ...
I agree with a good bit of this LJ post.

However, I do find Billy to be a sympathetic character because I'm a nerd with poor verbal skills that resorts to blogging and singing to make up for it. Also, I like girls.

Being sympathetic isn't the same as making excuses for someone's poor choices. Sympathetic villains are my favorite villains because they make you see how anyone can become a villain just by making bad choices.

As for authorial intent, I quote Joss:
But, yeah, Penny is not the feminist icon of our age. And yes, she does exist in the narrative as part of Doc's fate -- but everyone in the story is there to move the story. Is she less real than Hammer? (Is ANYTHING?) We gave her a cause so she wouldn't JUST be the Pretty Girl but the fact is, neither Doc nor Hammer gives her the attention she deserves -- Doc's crush comes before he has the slightest idea what she cares about. Which is not uncommon. It reminds me of "Sweeney Todd," the Judge and Sweeney singing "Pretty Women" -- a beautiful duet with no insight whatsoever. Just images.


Which I took to mean that while Billy may seem more deserving (and he may think he is) because we can sympathize with him more than Hammer (and he may think the world should), he really didn't treat her any better than Hammer did.
That's a nice take IMO GrrrlRomeo. Personally I saw it as just realistic. A lot of people have crushes on folk from afar without actually knowing them in any substantial way (and we've all probably been in the unfortunate situation where you actually start talking to someone you've fancied for a while only to find out they're not exactly your cup of camomile ;).

Sorry to come across all arroganty, Saje. I got tired of reading posts saying Billy was a nice guy who deserved to end up with Penny, when his every action (other than the Act II scene where he and Penny actually talk to each other in the laundromat) points to the opposite.

Fair enough, just improves everyone's day if we don't assume only we know the One True Way and those that disagree with us are fundamentally misguided or in some other way deficient ;).

Re: his "every action", what about when he clearly hesitates when he could have killed Hammer ? What about when he tries to warn him about the death ray ? What about not wanting to meet/fight in the park because "there're kids there" ? What about, in general, the way he's clearly conflicted about actually being evil ?

If we're talking deserve ? No, Billy as he ended up and even arguably (though I personally don't agree) Billy from his Act I behaviour didn't "deserve" to end up with Penny. But then Act I Billy didn't "deserve" to end up a despairing shell of a man either (in fact i'd say Billy all the way through didn't "deserve" that). Putting him into an "evil" box may make it easier to deal with what happens later but it's just not accurate, at any point in the 3 acts IMO. Was he a totally flawless man ? Absolutely not. Was he even an actively good man ? Almost definitely not. But he wasn't an "evil" man either, he was a victim of circumstance and (more importantly IMO) his own tragic flaws and character weaknesses.

But the consensus among those who are reflecting on what Joss was trying to say seems to be Horrible and Hammer are both jerks, Penny is the only character worth caring about and deserved better than getting caught up in their juvenile pissing contest.

That's not the consensus I gleaned from the 1000+ comment thread about act 3 (which, believe it or not, was chock full of people that were reflecting on what Joss was trying to say - who here has ever claimed that "this was just a total bit of fluff tossed off to while away the strike hours" ? I call straw-man ;). In there most people saw Billy as a mix of characteristics, just like all of us and certainly worth caring about. One of the reasons he's sympathetic is his aims are, in their way, noble - he wants to fix the world, just like any right thinking person does. The problem comes with how he goes about it.

ETRemove some pre-caffeine condescension. Just some, mind you ;).

[ edited by Saje on 2008-07-25 10:42 ]
Just a legal note on the van nearly killing Penny. If she had been killed in the process of Dr. Horrible's crime, in the US he would be guilty of 1st degree murder. Did he plan to murder her? Obviously not, but he did plan to break the law, and in the process, people were put in harm's way. Legally, it doesn't matter that it wasn't his intetention that anyone be hurt, he still set up the situation.

Similarly, if I were to rob a store with a fake gun and the police were to come and shoot at me when I refused to surrender and seemed to be threatenting people with my "weapon," and a by-stander were to be killed by a stray bullet, I would be guilty of 1st degree murder, nevermind that I was technically unarmed. I set up the situation that brought the police, I forced them to treat me as armed and dangerous. In commiting my crime, it was my fault that anyone needed to stop me.
He has a freeze ray, QingTing. He is above the law. Or slightly to the left and below it, I forget which. I think my point is that in superheroland, the rules are all bendy and strange. I'm not sure our legal system applies. I would at least venture a guess that they act really strange around Captain Hammer.

ET spell correctly.

[ edited by Sunfire on 2008-07-25 15:21 ]
"Sure he's an assault and batterer but he's our assault and batterer".
"He's a jerk but in that sexy, hair-blowing singing on top of a van making a bad situation worse way. We [heart] him and want his autograph. As soon as he finishes beating up that little guy in the goggles. We can wait."

[ edited by Sunfire on 2008-07-25 15:29 ]
LMAO @ Sunfire

Nathon Fillion makes everything act really strange. I'm thinking it's his superpower.
"One of the reasons he's sympathetic is his aims are, in their way, noble - he wants to fix the world, just like any right thinking person does."

Saje, I cannot believe you are this naive about what constitutes noble aims. Look at actions, not ideals. We're into means and ends territory here. The Nazis just wanted to fix the world, The Islamic terrorists just want to fix the world. George Bush and his cronies just want to fix the world. And they all seem to think violence and lethal weaponry and megadeath are a legitimate means to that end. Sure Billy expresses noble sentiments (its his POV, and he considers himself noble), but consider his final song, in particular these words: "Now the nightmare's real. Now Dr. Horrible is here to make you quake with fear, To make the whole world kneel. "

Truly noble sentiments. What exactly constitutes "right thinking?" I'd argue Joss doesn't think its the way either Horrible or Hammer go about resolving problems.

On the other hand, Penny also wants to fix the world, in her own small way, and does not once resort to violence. In Act I, she's even appalled with Billy's idiotic "chopping the head off" metaphor for solving the world's problems. She's the noble character. She's the hero of this tale. That's why she dies. Only her death gives this story weight and dignity, and raises it far above mere escapism.
Look at actions, not ideals.

But, to me, that's the point. His ideals are noble. (At least to him.) The world is a mess. And he just wants to rule it, because he thinks he can make it better. He doesn't just want power for powers sake. Or money for the sake of having things.
However, his actions? Totally wrong. And he pays for it. His wrongness in going about things caused Penny's death.
And without Penny, his life is his nightmare. And Dr. Horrible, the true Dr. Horrible is let out to make everyone quake. Before that, he was just role playing. That's why, I think, none of his gadets really worked, and why Captain Hammer was always able to thwart him. He didn't really want to be evil. Not really, so he self sabotaged his plans, but could still tell himself that at least he was trying.
Is he creepy, wrong, an idiot, and eventually totally evil? Yep. Do I still feel sympathy for him. You betcha.

[ edited by NYPinTA on 2008-07-25 21:35 ]
Look at actions, not ideals.

Yes, that would be why I said "The problem comes with how he goes about it." in my post. Pretty sure it still says it if you scroll back up. But are you claiming motives don't matter at all with regards to how you judge people's actions ? So someone causing an accidental death is morally the same as someone committing pre-meditated murder ? Now it's me that can't believe that you are that naive.

And just in case you genuinely don't know ? You're doing that thing again where you're not naive and I am just because we disagree.

And again you persist in merely quoting words and relating acts without considering the tone in which the words are delivered or the circumstances preceding the acts. Let me turn it around, do you genuinely believe Billy's happy when he says "Now the nightmare's real. Now Dr. Horrible is here to make you quake with fear, To make the whole world kneel." ? Does he really look like a guy that's actually reached the point he wants to be ? Because I think that's a very simplistic reading of what we see.
"And just in case you genuinely don't know ?"

You're both taking my comments in ways I never expressed ("So someone causing an accidental death is morally the same as someone committing pre-meditated murder ?"ósometimes it might be) and obfuscating those things I did say. And I might say to this point, ie. accidental death, is a death accidental if caused when one is drunk on alcohol (or power fantasies and starts blasting a death ray)? Quite a different matter when assessing blame, as someone in a previous post has mentioned.

"And again you persist in merely quoting words and relating acts without considering the tone in which the words are delivered or the circumstances preceding the acts."

Quite the contrary, I've done nothing but. If you will recall the only time Billy shows any remorse during his last song (check out the complete lyrics) is the final "a thing." The rest of the song is one long gloat on his part, which both his tone and face reflect. Sure he's unhappy at Penny's death, but IMHO it's because he's feeling sorry for himself rather than Penny. I see no prior evidence he has any ability to have real feelings for anyone but himself. His whole "Billy & Penny relationship" is essentially an infatuation fantasy. He only has two real conversations with Penny. The first is initiated by her, but he's too busy with his Wonderflonium heist to pay attention. The second, at the laundromat, he is just beginning to make some real effort at contact, when he learns Penny is going on a date with Capt. Hammer, and proceeds to drive himself into rage. This is a relationship?

Feel sympathy for him if you want to, but whenever he has a chance to step off the path toward evil, he refuses to take it. Sort of like an alcoholic (a powerholic), or merely someone speeding. If you can't stop drinking, or slow down, and you "accidently" kill someone while drunk driving, or speeding, it's considered vehicular homicide. No amount of remorse or crying over it (whatever your tone of voice) will change that fact. Sorry, I can't sympathize with him any more than I can with Hammer. Just because you're quiet and introspective, doesn't mean you can't be as much of a misogynistic, egotistical jerk as a loud, blockheaded jock.
You're both taking my comments in ways I never expressed. No I'm not. I just don't agree with you.

You keep saying he isn't a sympathetic character. No. It's just he's not a sympathetic character for you.

Feel sympathy for him if you want to. Didn't realize I needed permission to do so, thanks.
I think most people (real or fictional) are "sympathetic characters" to at least some extent if we are given the opportunity to see enough of them. Billy's smart, shy, kind (he's befriended Moist - who can't be that popular, he's concerned about the safety of children), and bullied. A lot of people could have sympathy with that. A lot of people have fleeting fantasies of being the one in power, and they can have sympathy with a character that is standing up and trying to take that power. It doesn't mean they approve. It means they understand. It means they can see a path that might lead from where they are now to where he is, even if it's a path they would never take.

Also, he went into the second conversation with Penny with the knowledge that they'd already been on a date (he followed them, remember?). He didn't work himself into a rage. In fact, he wasn't worked into a rage until after their third conversation, when Hammer told Billy that he was going to fornicate with Penny just cuz Horrible wanted her.

[ edited by QingTing on 2008-07-26 04:37 ]
Exactly QingTing, well said.

bjarmson: You're both taking my comments in ways I never expressed ...

Oh ?

"Saje, I cannot believe you are this naive about what constitutes noble aims. Look at actions, not ideals." (my emphasis)

combined with comments about Joss' aims or how Dr H isn't just "fluff" as if anyone here has claimed it is.

So, no. We might be taking them in ways you didn't intend but we're taking them exactly as expressed. That's what happens when you only have someone's words to go on rather than the tone of voice, body language or intentions of the speaker. See, motivations make a big difference in how you judge someone.

And on the "look at actions" point, I notice you haven't responded to my comment "... what about when he clearly hesitates when he could have killed Hammer ? What about when he tries to warn him about the death ray ? What about not wanting to meet/fight in the park because "there're kids there" ?" - even on your own terms your argument seems pretty shaky to me.

"Quite the contrary, I've done nothing but."

As a counter-example i'd refer you to:

... but consider his final song, in particular these words: "Now the nightmare's real. Now Dr. Horrible is here to make you quake with fear, To make the whole world kneel. "

Truly noble sentiments.
(my emphasis again)


And I might say to this point, ie. accidental death, is a death accidental if caused when one is drunk on alcohol (or power fantasies and starts blasting a death ray)? Quite a different matter when assessing blame, as someone in a previous post has mentioned.

No-one was "blasting a death ray" at anyone except Captain Hammer, again "look to actions". And an accidental death is one caused unintentionally (over here your example is called "death by dangerous driving" specifically to separate it from homicide - though in reality it can carry similar penalties depending on the circumstances). Every choice we all make could lead to someone's death but making poor choices doesn't necessarily make someone evil, it just makes them flawed (and it certainly doesn't necessarily make them unsympathetic).


Sure he's unhappy at Penny's death, but IMHO it's because he's feeling sorry for himself rather than Penny. I see no prior evidence he has any ability to have real feelings for anyone but himself. (yep, my emphasis ;)

Thank-you. At last we see a clear acknowledgement that we simply disagree on how we each interpret Billy's facial expressions, tone of voice, body language etc. rather than the oft-repeated idea that those that disagree "don't get it", or that you know what "the consensus among those who are reflecting on what Joss was trying to say" is (where presumably we don't) or that we're/i'm "this naive about what constitutes noble aims".
Heh. I feel like a real Whedonesquer now. I posted my first front page link AND Saje tossed me a "well said"
Congrats, QingTing...on both.

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