For two acts, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was a musical comedy, but the conclusion of the second act seemed to indicate that things were about to take a turn towards the murderous. There was also a moment wherein Penny (Felicia Day) seemed to indicate that she knew something more than she should (As she recognized Bad Horse as “the thoroughbed of sin”). All of this was leading into a final conclusion that seems like it would prove quite good.
[To Watch Act III, click on the above image or here]
And it was good, but very tonally different than what we saw before it. As opposed to evolving into absurdity, it was instead, like many Whedon stories, a turn towards a dour and almost tragic final moment. It seemed impossible that Whedon could wrap up an entire story like this in forty minutes, resisting that type of serial character development he loves so much, and here is no exception: if the series dies in the here and now, this being its only moment to shine, I’m going to be extremely depressed more than anything else.
Which, when you think about it, is an odd point to leave on for a satirical musical comedy piece.
There’s a lot more singing and acting in the final act, in fact it’s closer to an Opera in a lot of ways. The opening number is a lot of fun, especially the introduction of the chorus of sorts (including former Buffy writing David Fury as a newscaster and a fantastic harmonizing trio of Hammer Groupies). It does a great job of combining the various threads, from Horrible plotting to kill Hammer to Penny’s idealism. It’s the kind of traveling group number that works, especially the little bits from the Groupies (My favourite was “We have a problem with her!”)
And Nathan Fillion is the real star here, as he does an outright amazing job with both his own solo song and his eventual breakdown following feeling pain for the first time. His great opening cue card (“I hate the homeless…ness problem in this city”), combined with his obvious embarassment of Penny during his song. “Everyone’s a Hero in Their Own Way” was also a charming number with some great self-indulgent moments that Fillion played so well all the way through. The character is just really compelling, and while he was there mostly for comic value when it’s that consistent who needs depth?
But this story does belong to Neil Patrick Harris, and his post-freeze-ray number is a great one reminiscent of many threatening songs from musicals. Harris is perfect at really getting into these numbers, but then so easily slips into the great little line helping the reporter spell his name in between “Burn!”s. But his character’s path is complicated: killing Hammer goes too far, but leaving him alive kills his entire purpose. So, Whedon has the tables turned, and neither Hammer nor Horrible dies.
But Penny, shockingly, does. I totally wasn’t expecting this, especially after we seemed to get a sense that Penny knew who Bad Horse was in Act II. Killing Penny is just cold, damn cold – it sends Horrible into the Evil League of Evil (Complete with a Fake Jefferson and a Dead David Bowie) to wreak havoc on the entire city, but with a completely broken heart in the process. That final song, and especially the final shot, are just completely heartbreaking for me: I would go so far as to call it tragic, a villain who lost that he loved through his own actions and his to live with being famous for doing it.
It’s not that the ending was bad: I loved the view into the Evil League of Evil (Especially Bad Horse, who just looks evil for a horse), and I really enjoyed Hammer (After feeling pain for the first time) heading into therapy. But it just seems like a really depressing final moment for this character, drafted into a live where he has to pretend not to feel. Compared to the earlier light-hearted nature of the story, this came out of left field for me – yes, Whedon is certainly not one to let his heroes off lightly, and this does fall into the category of introspection into the emotional struggles of supervillainy, but for a project with a title including the word “Sing-Along” it seems a bit more on the depressive side than I expected.
So, I’m really hoping that the success of this (In whatever form it is released, and in internet hype) will enable them to make more of the same nature – while it might not be enough of a concept to support an entire series, a few more short 39-minute segments like these would have plenty of material. I refuse to have Dr. Horrible travel off into the sunset on this emotional beat, it’s just too much for my conscience to handle.
Sometime over the weekend, I might take a look at the project as a whole from more of a broader standpoint, but for anyone else watching: what did you think?