Ten years ago, I was incredibly surprised to see a production such as Joss Whedon?s musical miniseries Dr. Horrible?s Sing-Along Blog. There were superheroes, there were songs, there was Neil Patrick Harris, there was a tragic ?love story?? Or there wasn?t?
As I?ve become more and more awaken to feminist issues, I?ve made it into a habit to analyze everything I used to love through a feminist lens.
Turns out, there are already some articles unpacking protagonist Billy (Neil Patrick Harris) and his Nice Guy persona. What I once thought to be an endearing loser hopelessly pining after a cool girl, I now clearly see as a creepy guy who is stalking an adult woman, capable of making her own choices.
The series finale is disappointing for many, mainly due to what happens with Penny (Felicia Day). There is no love here. Her death is ultimately a lesson for Billy, the price he pays to obtain what he really wants (even if in the end he doesn?t really care).
Felicia Day, who plays Penny, by Gage Skidmore.
Penny deserved her story to be told in a much more complex manner.
The Unsung Hero
Penny is the only one who fights for real change in the world. She?s an activist, walking the streets to get people?s signatures in order to build a homeless shelter.
While Billy also wants to change the world, his ambition leans more towards becoming a supervillain and entering the Evil League of Evil. In the end, he has selfish reasons for his goal.
Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) is the same. He?s a superhero who saves people, but he does it for the fame and glory. He?s clearly an insecure narcissist, who needs people?s attention in order to love himself.
Penny is, therefore, the only one who has selfless reasons for her good deeds. She?s also the only one actively working towards a better reality. It?s a shame that in the end, the shelter gets built thanks to Captain Hammer?s signature, because it was her project and she deserved better than that.
Longing for Love
Penny is the only main character in the story who longs for real love. Not approval, popularity, or validation, but love.
Contrary to her male counterparts, she is looking for the real deal, and she even questions what she has with Captain Hammer, because she wants to be sure that it?s true love.
We get a glimpse of a tragic back story when she sings that she has lived ?thinking love was fairytale and trouble was made only for me?. However, we can?t know what has happened to her because none of her suitors are interested in that.
Thus, Penny?s complex story remains untold.
A Body in a Battle.
The ending of the series reduces Penny to that: a body. She?s no more than a casualty of a war that is not hers.
We don?t get to see much of Penny?s activism, because the script reduces her to Billy?s laundromat partner. I know this is Dr. Horrible?s blog, so we see his perspective. However, his perception of her is not deep or rounded, he just sees her as someone who will be impressed by him, someone whose love is the ultimate prize, the ultimate stamp of approval that he needs. But what about her needs?
When she starts dating Captain Hammer she becomes, again, just an accessory in someone else?s story. Captain Hammer dates her just because she happens to be there and, more specifically, because she is someone Billy likes. He?s not really interested in her cause, but she makes him look good and enhances his popularity, so he endures her activism.
From this point on, the rivalry between Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer is expressed through their desire for Penny. It?s no longer about the Evil League of Evil, or the popularity of a superhero. It?s about her. They don?t care about Penny?s feelings, but ?having her? has become their ultimate goal, as a symbol of victory.
When Penny dies, she pays the ultimate price for what has happened. She becomes just a dying body at Billy?s feet. We don?t get to see what happens to her shelter or who has continued her acitivism.
We just see her die as a punishment for Dr. Horrible?s ambition. We see her die as a punishment for Captain Hammer?s narcissism.
We see Penny die as a punishment for not choosing Nice Guy Billy.
In the end, Dr. Horrible has gotten into the Evil League of Evil.
Captain Hammer is in therapy.
Penny is effectively erased.