I am late to the party, I know. Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog came out very nearly ten years ago, and the window for timely analysis is long, long past. But I was listening to the soundtrack in my car the other day, and something crystallized for me.
[SPOILERS for a ten-year-old movie ahead. Also content warning for discussion of violence against women, which is also kinda a spoiler for Dr. Horrible in itself.]
I was never satisfied by the ending. There was a lot of eyerollery at the time about Joss Whedon’s predictable pattern of brutally killing off beloved characters, and I’m sure that was part of it, but it never entirely resonated with me. I mean, it’s a tragedy, that’s the whole point, right? Captain Hammer is functionally destroyed, Penny is dead, and Billy has the emptiest victory imaginable. I was annoyed that Penny really doesn’t have much in the way of agency in the plot, but that wasn’t quite it, either.
What I realized the other day was this: it’s not how this particular story goes. It’s wildly unrealistic, and the show doesn’t give any explanation or justification for why. That’s why the ending doesn’t work – it’s not the ending that I know happens.
Come on, folks, you all know the tune. Sing it with me: shy, nerdy, yet wealthy and privileged white man can’t get a woman to go out with him. He can’t bring himself to communicate directly with her about it, but still takes it incredibly personally when she dates the openly interested and unmistakably flirty jock. He gets mad and acquires some deadly weapons, singing all the while that “you’re gonna die”.
Who is he singing to? Not Captain Hammer.
No, he doesn’t go after the perceived-higher-status male rival. He goes after the woman, and possibly any other women who happen to be nearby. Penny’s death, in the real world, is intentional. It is in fact the desired outcome, however empty and remorseful Billy might feel afterwards. It happens all the time – to the point where I could probably link every word of this essay to a different incident in the US since Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was released.
And the show does not address this even tangentially. Honestly, even a few lines hanging a lampshade on it might have made a serious difference in how I read the ending. As it is, it just feels to me like it was made by people who sympathize with Billy to the point where they refuse to acknowledge just how toxic and murderous that mindset really is.
I’m entirely sure someone else, at some point in the past ten years, came up with this analysis and I’m just duplicating effort (and I’d love to see other essays on these lines, if you have them!) But man, it was a relief to figure out what had been bugging me for so damn long.