Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mr. Whedon and the Conclusion of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog


So, if you're on top of things at all you will have hopefully seen the third and final episode of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. May I remind you again that this post contains Major Spoilers, although I'll try not to spell it out so if you're skimming it over you won't see it. There are also very vague spoilers for all of Whedon's work, so if you want to experience the full effect, don't read this post.

Joss Whedon is one of my favourite writers. I think he's a pretty special guy, especially in his own genre: television. His characters- villains and heroes both- are vivid and unforgettable, each stealing the show as he or she and very occaisionally 'it' passes through, be it for an extended period or simply for one episode. His dialogue is always witty and funny and I think he makes it easy for other writers to write the same witty, funny dialogue for his characters. His plots are gripping, hilarious, surprisingly deep and moving and- on many occaisions- horribly tragic.

However, that doesn't mean that he does have his foibles. Many of Whedon's most ardent fans are able to peg down his style, knowing when he is likely to kill off a beloved character. Like all writers- like everyone in the world- he has a tendency to walk the same path again and again.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog captures Whedon in all his glory. Including, and here's the spoiler, the tragic ending. I have a love-hate relationship with Whedon's tragic endings. By far, the most moving episodes of television I have watched have been Whedon's. I know the traditional Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode to name in this context is The Body, but I put forth The Wish for equal consideration. And then there's of course the final episode of the Buffy television series, among many others. In the Buffy spinoff, Angel, there are a similar number of tragic episodes. And finally there's the movie Serenity which was the capstone of the short-lived but fabulous tv series Firefly, that I have on good authority makes strong men weep.

So Joss Whedon likes to make us cry. What of it? Why am I writing an entire post about this?

Whedon is very cruel to his audience. He knows what the worst case scenario is. He knows who and what we hold dear. Although many of his fans, as I mentioned before, have learned to expect the tragic conclusion or shocking (also tragic) twist, he still manages to surprise us and break our hearts.

It is what brings us back again and again that interests me. Whedon is very dark, but he's more of a realist than a pessimist. People die; Whedon's 'tragedies' acknowledge this, but he's not pessimistic about it. Whedon's deaths, especially the ones that have no episodes following them in which to heal the wound, often have twists that follow them that allow us to look through the tears and smile about it in the end. Think of the end of Serenity, the ultimate end of Buffy and- here in particular interest- the end of Dr. Horrible. Instead of leaving us down and destroying our faith in all that is good and holy, Whedon turns the end up just a very little, and gives us a little hope.

It has been noted by watchers more astute than I that whereas at the beginning of the 'blog' Dr. Horrible is expressing himself through the blog and the public figure is the mousy Billy, this is reversed at the end of the show. Dr. Horrible is very much the public figure and Billy, shown in the last scene, is expressing himself through the blog.

The final line of the show is, "I won't feel a thing." Whedon and his Dr. Horrible comrades have Dr. Horrible, garbed in red, conscience-free, boldly sing, "I won't feel..." then cut beautifully to a very sad, unconvinced Billy facing the camera in his video-blog position, who finishes the sentence with "... a thing." The sentence is complete, but the musical phrase does not end in a satisfying manner.

Not only does the Billy side of Dr. Horrible, however beaten, get the final word, he gets to say it in a way that makes it very clear that he does feel. He feels it very much so. His conscience is still there, crushed but present and, because of that incomplete musical phrase. And that is the little smile at the end of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, betraying the inner core of optimism that keeps us, Whedon's beleaguered but adoring audience, coming back- able to come back- for more.

Now go watch it all again.

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