Finale: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – “Act Three”

“Act Three”

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?

17 Comments

Filed under Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

17 responses to “Finale: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – “Act Three”

  1. thepeebles

    I started to suspect the ending when i remembered that whedon likes to kill off the nice characters, but I echo the feeling of depression.
    I want an alternate ending on the DVD. I want some other evil person to try to bring Penny back… I want it to end like the comedy he said it was.

  2. annx

    Look, I know the ending makes sense. But my problem with a lot of Whedon’s stuff is – as you have mentioned – it feels tonally inconsistent. He does light-hearted well, he does tragedy well, but shifting from one to the other – not so great. And because he doesn’t control the tone of his work, there is a element to it that feels like “Ha, Ha SUCKERS!, when he suddenly goes to the dark place.

    I really respect the guy, but I really think he should have made either Act I and II darker, or lightened up Act III.

  3. Annx, I agree – it reminds me of the various deaths in Serenity, actually (Let’s avoid spoilers, but if you’ve seen it you know what I mean). While the first one you could see as a real purpose for driving the plot’s dramatic action, the second just felt like he was pushing things too far.

    And that was in a far more serious piece of storytelling: here, with such levity in the previous Acts, it does come out of nowhere. You’re right that, while it “makes sense,” it just doesn’t feel satisfying or right considering the attitude in which most of us went into this process.

    I kind of feel like I got punked – I actually wonder, thepeebles, if there is an alternate ending kicking around or whether it was just always intended to be such a downer.

  4. Lion Rampant

    Did anyone else dislike Penny’s last words? It makes Billy just feel like Captain Hammer won again. I don’t know the ending was good but different.

  5. drksyde

    I loved the first and second acts, but the quick turn from what seemed to be campy sing-along humor to depressing opera gave me a mad case of whiplash. As much as I love Joss, he’s always had a problem with gradient. When the foreshadowing of someone having to die comes from a chorus of cowboys, it’s really hard for me to take it seriously.

  6. i floved the change in tone, mainly because i didn’t expect it at all. obviously i’ve learned nothing from my years of mutant enemy fandom

    i’m completely satisfied with the 39 minutes we got

    and that final shot – wow.

  7. Did anyone else dislike Penny’s last words? It makes Billy just feel like Captain Hammer won again.

    I can’t say I was a fan: it even further cemented the blind idealism being absolutely crushed. I always felt Penny was too quick to just accept Hammer’s heroism, and for her to die on such a perspective is just a bit too dark for my tastes.

    And drkysyde, totally agree on the issue of gradient – when I think back to the end of the First Act, for it to get to this point seems like such a huge shift. I’m actually curious, for when it’s not 5am and I have a better grasp on it, what it will be like to watch all three episodes as one piece – will it be even more off-kilter, or perhaps less? I’ll be curious to see.

    And para, no matter my complaints, the final shot was really well constructed and played…just not what I expected, or maybe even “wanted.”

  8. I guess I’ll be the lonely voice in the crowd to say I absolutely hated it. I won’t mince words. I loved the first two with a passion, and went to watch chapter III at 12am, the second it was available.

    It wasn’t just a tone shift; It was like it was a segment from a completely different series.

    It wasn’t filmed poorly, or acted poorly, it just fit poorly. It was dissonant and disjointed.

    Damn. At least I have the first two episodes. I can’t get those songs out of my head. Especially “It’s a Brand New Day.”

  9. matzo ball soup

    am i the only one who absolutely loved the last act? i really thought it was the proper ending, although a little depressing, and had its fair share of humor as well. the transition to a darker tone started in the 2nd act, so i thought it was pretty well paced, too. I felt like it was a good conclusion that fit everything together so nicely, if anything i loved this act the most.

  10. While the ending is growing on me, just being recently introduced to Dr. Horrible, I have one thought to throw out there into the mix. While I personally hate the idea of a Dallas like it was all just a dream ending do people think that type of ending might have been what Whedon could have been hinting at… Just a thought.

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  12. mothergunn

    I’ve watched all three acts multiple times and I’ve always loved the ending. I never really cared about Penny as a person. Honestly, I only cared about how she interacted with the other two leads. That’s what makes the ending so tragically appropriate: Dr. Horrible could never get into the Evil League of Evil because he wasn’t truly bad and Penny’s death was what it took to push him over the edge (how else would he have gotten in otherwise?). Of course, he wouldn’t be allowed to feel a thing if he’s going to exhibit the level of commitment Bad Horse is demanding. And Captain Hammer is too busy crying about himself to even notice that Penny’s dead or that Horrible got away.

  13. Cammie

    I didn’t think the ending was out of place, because this was how I saw the Acts as:

    Act 1- Lighthearted and funny
    Act 2- Slowly growing more darker in tone, with Dr. Horrible’s growing anger and darkness (as he mentions in the first song of Act 2)
    Act 3- Depressing

    I didn’t know much about Joss Whedon before I watched this (I’ve watched a couple of Firefly episodes with my brother, but that’s it), so the sad ending actually shocked me. I wasn’t expecting it at all. Even with the pipe in her chest, I was still thinking, “She’s gonna live, right?” I guess I’m just that used to the traditional American Happy Ending.

    I really don’t like Penny’s last words though. Penny dying was sad enough for me, why did they have to add those words to make it worse?

  14. It's a name!

    I am going to have to agree with the people who liked the ending, mostly because of this:
    I really like stories that seem to have a point. Comedy is all very fun, but it usually turns out to be disappointing if there is nothing driving that humor. The sudden switch from levity to murder was very well written.
    “My Eyes” (Or “On the Rise”) shows how Penny and Billy are split in their ideas of life in general, which added to the idea that they *wouldn’t* end up together after all. Billy/Dr. Horrible even states in the song that he feels like he is becoming darker, and as it is really his story, the shift in mood only follows this feeling.
    The finale song was the best of all. I enjoyed that Dr. H. changed from a lovesick puppy with dreams too big for his webcam to a determined villain in such a short story. The final clip in which Billy is sitting at his webcam, dumbstruck and numb, claiming he wouldn’t feel anything anymore gave the story a purpose.
    I liked the whole thing. It was wonderfully written and well acted. To all of you who seem to hate the third act: Please don’t eat me.

  15. T

    I respect it as an artistic choice, but it left me feeling a little nauseous. I’m not a big fan of depressing stuff, and I kind of just wanted to turn it off and get away when it got to the last song and kept building darker and darker up to the credits. Pretty grim.

  16. T

    And i agree with those who said they felt punked. It definitely didn’t fit with the lightheated tone of the rest of the series.

  17. I thought the third act was brilliant, honestly. Not having watched it in 3 separate pieces, as the first viewers did, I think as a whole the gradual turn from lighthearted to darkness is well done. The ending also surprised me, but the more I re-watch it, the more I like it! It’s…Horrible. Exactly what it should be, and because it ended on such a serious note, it gave the entire story farm more depth, complexity, and deep irony than if it had remained light throughout. Nope, I love Dr. Horrible, the movie and the character. I do wonder what the sequel will hold. Will the Doc be driven to truly dark deeds by guilt and depression over dead Penny, or will he somehow be redeemed, or (most likely) will Joss take his story in some unexpected direction? I have to say, having just recently discovered this short movie, it’s the best thing I’ve seen in years. There aren’t enough word to express how much I just loved this entire film!!

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