Which is a longwinded way of saying "Here there be spoilers."
Now, I think the vast majority of us will agree that, as a whole, the DHSAB project was excellent. (Who knew Neil Patrick Harris could sing? Not I.) I believe we are also in similar agreement that Acts 1 and 2 were near-perfect.
The problem, however, comes with Act 3.
Really, at this point anyone who is surprised by Joss brutally slaughtering an innocent, beloved character has only themselves to blame. And yet, the interblogwebosphere is aglow with thousands of flames, as if an oilfield of fandom was ablaze with thick, viscous clouds of "OMG HOW COULD YOU JOSS" or "Her death totally undermines her status as a strong feminist character" or "Blah blah blah rattle pootie tootie" rising into the sky, their acrid odor choking all observers.
As you may have guessed, I too have some problems with the execution of Act 3. I also think Joss fumbled a critical scene -- but not in the way you think I think he did. My thoughts, let me show you them:
Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is, fundamentally, about loss of innocence. Some salient points, below, and then my rewrite of the scene.
- Our protagonist is named Billy -- not Bill, not William, but Billy, a child's name.
- His alternate persona, Doctor Horrible, dresses entirely in white, the color of purity. (If you wanted to get really fancy, you could mention that while he has black goggles, they sit, unused, on his forehead instead of being worn properly. This is indicative of the dark future which looms over him but has yet to claim him.)
- Captain Hammer, however, is dressed in blacks and browns, shades associated with corruption.
- Based on all of this, and the way both interact with Penny, it could be reasonably inferred that Billy is a virgin, and Captain Hammer clearly isn't. Billy = white gloves = innocent; Captain Hammer = black gloves = not at all innocent. In fact, it's hard to find a single redeeming quality about ol' Hammer.
- At this point we can see the beginning of Billy's change to "true" evil. The man who in the first act refused to fight someone in Dooley Park "because there's kids there" is now opening wondering, in song, if "throwing poison in the water main" would change anything in the way the human race behaves. He even states outright that "It's plain to see/ evil inside of me/ is on the rise."
- Instead of objecting to murder on moral grounds, his arguments turn toward style. "Killing's not elegant or creative." He's already on the slippery slope.
- And then, during the confrontation with Hammer in the laundromat, you can practically see the change come over him as he decides that, yes, murder is his style after all:
It's a brand new day
And the sun is high
All the birds are singing
That you're gonna die
How I hesitated
Now I wonder why
It's a brand new day
- This is also the first time that Billy self-identifies as "evil".
Given all that has transpired in the previous acts, two things are clear: One, Billy fully intends to kill Captain Hammer; and Two, he has to psych himself up to do it. Billy is not at all cool and calculating when it comes to murder, which is possibly the entire point of the "Slipping" song -- he's getting into character, as it were, working up the necessary rage toward his enemy -- otherwise, he'd just kill him and have done with it all.
But then there's that scene where shrapnel from the exploding death ray kills Penny, and while it's powerful, it doesn't organically complete the arc of character development we've been evolving throughout the previous acts. No, Billy is all set to kill his nemesis, the freeze ray malfunctions, and suddenly this story about loss of innocence and the conscious embrace of evil has its biggest moment subverted by malfunctioning equipment.
That's a cheat. The story of Billy and Penny deserves better than that. Here, then, is how I would have done it:
Billy: (singing) It's gonna be bloody/ Head up Billy buddy/ There’s no time for mercy/ Here goes no mercy...[At this point, Billy goes into another verse of "Slipping". I won't pretend that I can write believable lyrics, but they should convey the mixed emotions he feels. Because, whatever he does, he loses. If he does as Penny asks, then the woman he loves go off with his greatest enemy, and he doesn't get into the E.L.E, and Bad Horse will probably kill him. But if he kills Hammer, then once again he loses Penny, and worse, she hates him for the rest of her life.
[Enter stage right Penny, who runs between Billy and Captain Hammer]
Penny: Billy, stop!
Billy: Penny, what are you.... wait, Billy? How did you... ?
Penny: [indicating the goggles on his face] Well, it's not like you wear a mask.
Penny: And you have a video blog.
Billy: (interrupting) I get it!
Penny: But even though I knew you were Dr. Horrible, I was still your friend. Because I could see the good inside of you. You have a good heart, Billy, you're just misguided. I hoped that, by being your friend, maybe I could turn your villainous impulses into something more constructive. More... good.
Penny: But if you kill Captain Hammer -- if you commit murder, Billy -- then I can never, ever be your friend again.
So, mad with passion and obsession and regret, he makes the only choice he feels he can make. It isn't a logical choice, of course -- the lyrics and the singer must make this clear -- but it the choice of a man with thwarted desires and a broken heart and more than just a little anger.]
Billy: (resuming his place after the song) I'm sorry, Penny. I'm really sorry it has to end like this. But... I'm Dr. Horrible, after all.
Penny: What do you...
[Billy SHOOTS HER DEAD.]
[Penny slumps to the floor. Billy takes aim at the still-frozen Captain Hammer. The Freeze Ray shuts down. The scene continues essentially as it did before, just minus the last words with Penny. After Captain Hammer flees the scene, the reality of the situation sinks in, and Billy picks up the lifeless Penny while singing "Everything I Ever."]
With this, the final scenes become more poignant and more relevant:
"Now the nightmare's real." Yes, but whose nightmare?
"Now Dr. Horrible is here." With the death of Penny, Billy is gone... only Dr. Horrible remains. He sheds his virginal white and garbs himself in red and black, the colors of death. For the first time, he puts the goggles over his eyes, covering the traditional "windows to the soul" with opaque black glass.
"And I won't feel...." Because he is a true villain now. Instead of having been granted his wish through comic misadventure, the conscious choice to kill Penny -- even in the heat of the moment, even if it was a decision he would not have made were he thinking clearly -- cleanly and logically closes the character arc. He's no longer pure.
As the chorus intones, he has "Everything he ever [wanted]."
"... a thing." And yet, in that same instant, he's lost everything. Innocence, purity... his soul.
I do not need 20+ posts telling me "ZOMG U GOT IT WRONG."
At this point, you're just rehashing the same old points over and over again.
And nothing you say will make me change my mind, either.
I respect your opinions. Kindly respect mine.
SECOND EDIT, MARCH 2011:
Enough is enough. It's been three years, and I'm still getting hate mail about this post. I'm mature enough as a writer to take criticism of my work, but I'm tired of the personal attacks. Therefore, I'm closing comments. If you want to see the kind of abuse I've been getting, go check out Unholy Ram's comment, which has been left as an illustrative example.