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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"I'm the go-to girl for dirty deeds done dirt cheap."
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August 01 2008

Matt Roush Talks Dr. Horrible. In today's Ask Matt article, Matt answers two questions about our favorite web musical.

I agree with Matt's reaction. The ending is probably predictable and a letdown, if you ever really saw it coming. But you really just don't. The show is too much fun until then, and you expect Billy to "lose" and be left with some humorously pathetic fate. Not to actually become evil. It takes a cliche and dresses it up in new clothes, which is much harder to do than it's been getting credit for.
You know what Dr. Horrible reminds me of? Shakespeare.

All of Shakespeare's comedies are barely-averted tragedies. Even the ridiculously light and fluffy "Much Ado About Nothing" almost ends in Bennedick killing his good friend and everyone dying unhappy; "Measure for Measure" is so dark it's almost filed in the wrong category. And all of Shakespeare's tragedies have some real humor in them -- Romeo and Juliet in particular, where until Mercutio dies, it's practically a laugh riot. Even Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear have lots of sly digs and bad puns. You just don't know until the end which one you're dealing with (although the Bard usually blew the plot by calling all his plays "the Tragedy of X" or "the Comedy of Y").

Dr. Horrible (and, for that matter, most of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly) is the same way. Toying with both, then settling into one.
You know what I love about whedonverse stuff? You're bee-bopping along, having fun- laughing your a** off because the dialog is so good (like the first season of Buffy, and the beginning of Dr. Horrible) and when the end comes along- (even if it may be predictable like in Dr. Horrible) your suddenly gutted. And for the life of me, I was having such great time on the ride, but I can't pinpoint when I started to care so much about the characters? When did it shift from being just a great ride? How did Joss do it? It sneaks up on you somehow.

It happened that way with Buffy. I kind of liked the movie. So I watched the show- it was funny, then it was good, then she dies and takes down the master and comes out the other side a new person and I can't figure out how these people became so important to me.
Penny didn't die because she had sex...the sex was barely even mentioned, and almost always by Captain Hammer. She died because innocent people die when there's a power struggle - it's what happens, what's wrong with depicting that?
I can and in many ways do agree with the bashing of the use of cliched endings, in two ways. And as I've said ebfore, it's a major reason I'm no longer an obsessed fan but a casuall follower of His Purpleness.

But it's a bit out of place, almost to the side to the point, in fact, in discussing this production.

First, it's basically a new thing. A prottype of a new car model, on the first test drive, has only the driver in it. The first Shuttle flight carried no cargo. Why expect what amounts to being a new medium to have a really originals tory first time out?

More importantly, as I understand, Joss pulled a great mislead on the viewers. So it was, in so many ways, an original and unusual piece. (And probably more likely to succeed than the "paper movies" of the early 70s) so, Joss delivered, despite the ending, more than we logically should have expected.

"Yah vell," as my people say.
CaffeinatedSquint is right. Dr. Horrible is not about the destruction of a good woman who decided to get naughty. It's about two people so interested in themselves and proving their ideals that they failed to pay attention that the only good person in the film was going to be destroyed.
CS: For some reason, some people are totally hung up on the sex. Go figure.

It occurred to me... why do we think that Penny had sex? Because CH said they did. But he isn't the most credible source. He is written as an immature teenage boy, which as a group are notorious for exaggerating their sexual prowess. When Penny makes that face, it is not out of embarrassment about having sex, but because she is thinking of how CH will never have any, after lying during a major press conference focused on the homeless. (Not saying it did happen this way, but it is very possible.)
OneTeV, my interpretation of Penny's face at the award ceremony was not that she was embarrassed she had sex (which I assume she did, because I wouldn't think Penny would let him lie), but that Captain Hammer had aired something very private in public.
Yeah, I'm not buying the "Penny was killed because she had sex" tired argument. It simply has no credibility. And I may scream if I see the (even more tired) "woman in a refrigerator" silliness one more time. There is no there there.
OneTeV, in fact my current favorite pet theory is that all Captain Hammer and Penny have done is make out a bit, but he's so stunted developmentally that he thinks that's sex. And to him "the weird stuff" is what the rest of us ACTUALLY refer to as regular sex.
We should have asked these questions at the panel. Oh, well. Probably would have left it in mystery.
T1TB: Wabuh? There's something after making out a bit? ;-) I do like your answer, makes CH more of a doofus.

CS: Why would Penny confront him during the speech? That would distract from the important issue of the shelter. (No way the press would talk about that, if they could report about a domestic squabble with CH.) I had always assumed that Penny would wait until they were alone (not in public to make a scene), and then grind him to a fine powder to be spread on a compost heap.
TamaraC, I'm sorry if this has been gone over a thousand times here since Part III went up (I missed the immediate reaction because I ::sob:: couldn't watch it in time), but has there been inappropriate use made of the Women in Fridges thing, or what has turned you off? Does the whole idea bother you or do you just feel it shouldn't be applied to this? In a non-creepy way, I always enjoy seeing your comments and feel they have a certain voice of reason quality, which is why I would like to hear your perspective, although I'll understand if you'd rather avoid the whole subject.

Oh, and I love the other theories, but I did figure they had sex--they are grown-ups, it's not that weird.
makes CH more of a doofus

And any theory that does this simply MUST be true!

Or, you know, not.
siwangmu, there was a small back lash by some identifying as feminists when act three aired. I heard the woman in the fridge phrase many times to the point that it no longer meant anything to me. I think it is a legitimate criticism of some works, but it runs the risk of being easily ignored as foaming at the mouth when it is applied to everything. For something to have meaning and impact, it needs to be used judiciously and sparingly. Some kneejerk responses by some identifying as feminists can make this feminist want to smack them all upside the head. :) I'm sure there is a catchy and overused feminist literary critique name for that response as well.
While Penny is obviously a victim of Billy's bad choices (embracing evil, choosing ambition over love), I think she has a role in her own death.

Just as Billy could have chosen Penny over evil on several occasions, Penny had many opportunities to reject Captain Hammer. She knew he was a flake. It was easy to observe that he just wanted to get into her pants. She knew she had a developing connection to Billy. Still she falls back into Hammer's arms again and again. She seems to be so overwhelmed by her loneliness to really read Hammer's intentions.

Just like Billy's final moment of mercy, Penny started to embrace her true feelings about Hammer after it was too late. So no, she doesn't deserve to die for having bad taste in men. But she put herself in a bad situation because of her shallow connection to Hammer. Even at her death, she has some ridiculous faith in him.

Also, I think there's something to be said about a girl who sings about find good in everyone's heart, and keeping it safe. She completely failed to save the ultimate lost soul right before her eyes.
TamaraC, thanks for that awesome and tempered explanation. I've always enjoyed reading WiR talk because I never ran into that much of it, just remembered that site every few years and reread the sad/funny "creator responses" section. And thought it sad/funny in its own right that there's an actual story that inspired the name.

But I wouldn't dismiss or condemn Dr. H. on the basis of its potentially belonging on the list (I am a comic book fan, many of my favorite stories are on that list), and I think your "judicious and sparing" criterion is one to save and live by. So woo.
Well, you're welcome. I think that is the first time anyone has classified anything I have said or written as tempered. :)
Wait, what? Hold on, let me go get a drink of coffee and re-read that comment again.


Arsenal- I agree and it's almost comically ironic that Penny totally missed the opportunity to help the needy soul in front of her, due to being so hung up on the big picture. Not helped by being somewhat overwhelmed and distracted by the attentions of Captain Hammer. The moral of the story must go back to 'Angel'- all that matters is what we do.

And yeh, they totally had sex.(CH was even up for a second round, remember?)

I wonder why, as a society, only the female character is focused on as being the one 'punished' for having sex. Why don't we equate sex = punishment with Captain Hammer? (And why am I still asking this question almost a decade after I asked the same thing re: Buffy/Angel?)
Why is it Penny's responsibility to "save" Dr. Horrible/Billy in the first place? Billy stopped seeing Penny so he could work on his revenge. Penny put herself in a bad situation? How? Unknowingly inspiring jealousy and immaturity in two men by being sweet and pretty? The only thing she's guilty of is not fully comprehending how much of a jerk Captain Hammer was earlier. Not that Dr. Horrible was much better. I don't see how she had a role in her death any more than getting out of bed and leaving the house would. I'm not saying she's perfect, but I don't understand how she gets blame here.
I skipped most of the backlash against Penny for having sex thread. Mostly because it's a pretty silly idea to me. But I think because I skipped it, I never saw any posts that put forth the idea that in a way Penny has to share the blame for her own death. And, well, wow. Really? For dating a nice looking guy that everyone respects and admires that she thought saved her life? Who wouldn't? And so it took her a few days to wake up to the fact he's a jerk. Honestly, that's a lot quicker than a lot of my friends have recognized the jerkiness in some of their dates. (Oh alright, and me too.) (No. I'm lying. I have great taste in men.) (Fine. That's a lie too.) But the way I saw it, Penny was a hero in the ultimate way, by looking at the world and trying to make it better by just getting involved, while some guy playing hero and another guy playing the villain are too busy in their reindeer games to notice the actual people on the playing field. Until one gets hurt. Ok. Two. Cpt. Hammer did sustain some pain. (F-ing baby.) It wasn't until then that it all became real... in more ways than one. Billy stopped playing. Who knows what Cpt. Hammer will do. He might give up playing the hero, but I doubt it. Regardless, Penny was a casualty of their game, one that she had no active part in and for me, that doesn't equate to having a hand in her own death any more than it does the guy walking down the street a couple of punks decide to shoot for fun because he wore the wrong color shirt that day.
PS what does 'woman in the fridge' mean? I've never heard that before.

ETA: nevermind. Google came to my rescue.

[ edited by NYPinTA on 2008-08-02 05:49 ]
I agree with you, NYPinTA. It seems that people keep expecting her to be a symbol for all womanhood, when really she is a singular woman, with her own agenda. I never got the sex thing either. Didn't think that turned out badly.

If anything, her demise was met because she heard her name and recognized "Billy buddy"'s name and stood up. That's it. So she dies to not ignoring her name. [sarcasm]What a whore![/sarcasm]

[ edited by korkster on 2008-08-02 07:43 ]
It was a Penny Dreadful.
A bun Penny ? C'mon, everyone likes buns.
Okay, I may be too *aggressive* in blaming Penny for her own death, but my point (which got lost in the mix) is that there are flaws in her character that have absolutely nothing to do with having sex. If one is going to pinpoint an aspect of her character that led to her death it wouldn't be the woman-in-fridge nonsense.

The truth is, she died because she got caught in the middle of two immature men and their juvenile feuding.
Joss lives to kill our darlings - it's his Raison d'Ítre - nothing new there.

Now who will be the first to be killed in Dollhouse? Sierra I think, that might be worth a flutter.

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